Lake Taupo: An introduction

Lake Taupo is New Zealand's great lake, source of the mighty Huka Falls and the beating heart of an active volcanic region.

According to Māori legend, Lake Taupo is the North Island’s heart. The largest freshwater lake in Australasia, it was created by an ancient volcanic eruption, and the land around it is full of natural thermal springs, bubbling mud and steam vents bursting through the Earth’s thin crust. 

On the lake’s edge, Taupo township has dramatic mountain views and is the ideal base for visitors year-round, offering all kinds of active adventures as well as pure relaxation.
 

Huka Falls, New Zealand's most-visited natural attraction, are on the Waikato River just north of Lake Taupo. South of the lake, Tongariro National Park has dual World Heritage status, recognising important Māori cultural and spiritual associations as well as the area's outstanding volcanic features.

Heritage

From violent volcanic origins to the settlement of Māori and European people, the Taupo region has deep cultural significance.

Lake Taupo was created by a massive volcanic eruption around 186AD. It is said that the huge eruption turned the skies of Europe and China a fiery red.

Māori arrived in the region about 700 years ago. For the Ngati Tuwharetoa iwi, which became the region’s dominant tribe, it was a tough existence. The unfertile, ashy soil made it difficult to grow kumara (sweet potato) and the lake was a poor food source.

Europeans arrived in the 1830s, but harsh conditions drove many away. Taupo township was officially created in 1868 with the establishment of an armed constabulary post, but it wasn’t until the 1950s, when land was cleared and fertilised, that the region began to flourish.

Māori culture

Lake Taupo region is culturally significant for Māori, and has many examples of historic and contemporary Māori culture.

Māori rock carvings, on a cliff at the southern end of Mine Bay, are an important contemporary cultural attraction. Master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell depicts  Ngatoroirangi, the legendary Māori navigator who first led his people into the area. Two smaller Celtic-inspired designs represent the south wind and mermaid. Located in a remote bay and accessible only by water, the carvings can be viewed from a launch or kayak.

Wairakei Terraces gives another insight into Māori history and culture. The replica Māori village at the world-first man-made silica terraces has Māori carving treasures, cultural performances and traditional hangi (earth oven) food. Visitors can bathe in the lovely re-created silica hot pools and enjoy Māori and European day-spa treatments. 

Luxury

Lake Taupo’s attractions make it a popular choice for luxury travellers. There are many lodges and boutique accommodation options for discerning visitors attracted by leisure activities and a peaceful freshwater setting.

Huka Lodge is an international award-winning boutique hotel in a stunning location on the banks of the Waikato River and just above the mighty Huka Falls. Surrounded by native bush and gardens, the 20-room lodge also has two exclusive sites – the Owner’s Cottage and the Allan Pye retreat.

New Zealand’s first exclusive retreat, Huka Lodge has a vast cellar and a reputation for fine dining in intimate inside and outdoor dining areas. Helicopters take guests on scenic flights over Lake Taupo to nearby active volcanoes or remote riverside fly-fishing spots. 

Adventure / outdoors

Lake Taupo region is a vast playground for fishing, hiking, mountain biking, water and snow sports. Kilometres of offroad trails offer some of New Zealand’s best mountain biking experiences. 

Tongariro River, on Lake Taupo’s southern tip, is considered one of the world’s best trout fishing destinations. Private guides also take anglers to remote rivers and streams only accessible to those in the know. 

The Tongariro is also the perfect river for first-time rafters and recreational kayakers. Tour operators offer day or overnight camping adventures along the river.

Tongariro National Park, a World Heritage Area south of Lake Taupo, is the location of the Tongariro Crossing. The famous alpine crossing between active volcanoes is one of the world’s best one-day mountain treks. Closer to Taupo, there are many forest and mountain walking tracks for all fitness levels.

For adrenalin junkies, Taupo has one of New Zealand’s most spectacular bungy jumps – 47 metres (154 feet) from a cantilever platform above the Waikato River for either a "water touch" or "high and dry" thrill. Sky diving is another popular adventure activity and offers unique views of the volcanic landscape. 

And by the way...

  • Lake Taupo's eruption was so huge that ash has been found in ice cores drilled in Greenland.
  • The region has 40 percent of New Zealand’s entire freshwater sports fishery.
  • The biggest trout caught in Lake Taupo weighed 23 kilograms ( 50 pounds).
  • Water flows over Huka Falls at 220,000 litres per second (enough to fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools).
  • Tongariro National Park was the fourth national park established in the world.
  • Taupo has the world's most unusual McDonald's restaurant, housed inside an old DC3 aeroplane.