This town of more than 24,500 sits on the northeastern corner of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake. The attractions of the lake itself and the huge range of adventure activities on offer make this one of the most popular backpacker stops in all of New Zealand.
Lake Taupo was formed by a volcanic eruption in 186 AD, which blew a 660m2 hole in the earth, and there’s still plenty of volcanic and geothermal activity going on in the area. The active geothermal field called Karapiti, or Craters of the Moon, is a lunar landscape of steam vents, craters, and mud pools close to Taupo on State Highway 1. Orakei Korako, about 25 minutes from Taupo on the way to Rotorua and across the Waikato River, is considered one of the best geothermal areas in New Zealand.
Trout fishing is a major attraction on Lake Taupo, and there’s a wide range of fly-fishing guides and trips available, many of which can be booked from hostels. You’ll need to buy a fishing license from the visitor centre or one of the angling or sports shops in town. You have a choice of spinning or fly-fishing on Lake Taupo, but only fly-fishing is allowed on the nearby rivers. Many restaurants will cook up your catch for you if you contact them in advance.
Nearby is the ever-popular Huka Falls, which is one of New Zealand’s most powerful (and definitely the most-visited) waterfalls. Although most buses and motorists stop off here to and from Taupo, the most rewarding way to visit is by hiking the Huka Falls Track that begins at the Spa Thermal Centre on Spa Road in Taupo.
But it’s the adrenalin-pumping adventure activities that draw backpackers in droves to Taupo. Bungee jumping, skydiving, kayaking, jetboating and Rock ‘n’ Ropes courses are all on offer. Taupo is considered to be the cheapest place to skydive in New Zealand, and attracts many backpackers for that fact alone. As such, there’s a very good backpacker infrastructure set up, with a wide range of restaurants, nightlife, transport and accommodation options.
The Taupō Connector is Taupo’s local bus service, which consists of three routes: Taupō Central, Taupō North and Taupō West. All three routes converge at the i-SITE Visitor Information Centre on Tongariro Street.
The cash fare is $2 for a one-way trip and $3 for a return trip. These fares are $1.50 one-way or $2.50 return if you pay with a BUSIT card (this is the same stored value smart card that is used on buses in Hamilton).