Taupō: Natural wonders and natural waters

Another instalment of our trip around New Zealand! After we enjoyed our short stay in Rotorua, the next place we were staying in was the town Taupō (pronounced toe-paw). It felt like there was a bigger city centre than Rotorua, but we also happened to be in Rotorua on a public holiday, so we didn’t see very much open while we were there.

On the way to Taupō we stopped at Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Waimangu is a tourist attraction because of the geothermal activity that occurred only about 140 years ago, making it one of the youngest sites of its kind in the world. We had booked tickets online beforehand, intending to arrive at 9:30am. The ticket we bought was for a self-guided walk and also included a boat cruise that went for about an hour.

I‘m always fascinated by natural wonders—not simply the big and most mysterious and well-known wonders of the world, but phenomena that are a result of nature doing some incredible things. You can often find those things wherever you travel, as each city has its own history.

A large lake with some green trees around the edges. The lake has some steam rising from it and wind is creating a subtle current.
Frying Pan Lake is the world’s largest hot spring.
A stream of water with natural deep green and yellow colours, running past an earth-coloured flat area, surrounded by vertical rocky surfaces covered in foliage.
Mineral deposits creating this colour.
A natural hot spring with steam rising from it. The water in the spring is a vibrant aqua colour.
Gorgeous colour.

The guided walk took about two hours. There are some bus stops along the way, which we didn’t need but were presumably for people who wanted to do only certain parts of the walk. We only used one bus which was to take us from the cruise back to the information centre (you could walk all the way back if you wanted, though). The whole walk was easy with a bit of a steady decline, and lots to see and learn on the way, but there was also a hike of medium difficulty (with some steep parts) that went up and around to view some volcanic craters. This would have added extra time and skipped a few things on the main path. I think it would be worth checking out next time for some scenic views of Frying Pan Lake.

The boat cruise was quite good. There was commentary from the navigator and we could walk around the sides of the boat and get a better view of some of the lake. Much of the “terraces” formed by the volcanic activity were underground so we couldn’t see them, and the giant lake had once been separate lakes but were now one.

A view on a large lake, showing a large island made mostly from rock and short trees covering it.
Thankfully it didn’t rain while we were on the cruise.
A view of an island seen from the water on a lake. The island is uninhabited, with a rocky surface and small green trees on it. Hot steam is rising from the island and there are two swans in the foreground.
Great views on the boat cruise

Nick pointed out that we didn’t see any large geysers at Waimangu—we had, however, seen that a site called Wai-O-Tapu had a man-triggered geyser. We read some reviews that didn’t find this impressive, and after looking at both options, I was more interested in Waimangu because of how natural it was. Wai-O-Tapu seemed more like a theme park, which I personally was less impressed by. 😛 We would still consider checking it out on a future trip.

I should add that after the bad luck with the rain and floods in Auckland, we were constantly hoping it wouldn’t follow us on our drive down the North Island of New Zealand. It didn’t look too good before we were on our way to Waimangu, but we ended up not needing an umbrella the whole time we were there.

Before locating our Airbnb in Taupō, we stopped to see Huka Falls, only about five to ten minutes from the centre of Taupō. Beautiful blue water greeted us. There were many people taking photos. There were some walks around the area as well, none of which I’d done any research into, but we wanted to check into our Airbnb and explore the town, so we didn’t spend very long at the falls. I guess that’s the trouble with travelling—you have to accept that you may never have time to see literally everything.

A river with light aqua blue coloured water, rushing through vertical rock faces covered in green trees.
Amazing colour of the water at Huka Falls
Me, Georgie, an Asian woman with short dark hair, wearing a white brimmed hat, white denim jacket and white denim shorts, standing by the railing of a lookout with the falls from the previous photo in the background. I have my hands in my pockets.
A sign made up of separate letters with the text “#LOVETAUPO”, with a cloudy sky and a lake in the background
Iconic sign. I did get Nick to take a photo of me with it, but it was so windy!

We stayed in a cottage on the same property as a family in Taupō who had their own fluffy chickens and an extensive garden of fruit and vegetables. It was such a cosy home for our two nights in the town, and in a quiet spot. We didn’t have much of a chance to explore the garden as it was raining heavily both days we were in the town, but we did get an opportunity to feed the chickens on the morning we left.

A woman’s hand holding up a brown bag with a design reading “Taupo’s Treat, chicken food”, in front of a chalkboard reading “Welcome, please feel free to feed the chickens”.
A small fluffy grey chicken standing on a rock in a garden.
A chook just minding its own business
A woman’s hand with some chicken feed, holding it out to a fluffy gret chicken in a chicken coop.

We went to a pub for dinner on our first night, and a burger place dubbed the “best burgers in Taupō” on our second night. The pub was good, but what really stood out were the scallops. Seasoned well and cooked to perfection, I think they were just about the best scallops I’d ever had. They made a lot of scallops I’d had at restaurants before quite inferior.

A black plate served with seared scallops and salad.
Amazing scallops. 👌🏻
A burger in a cardboard box.
Best burgers in Taupo apparently. It was good!

On our only full day in Taupō we drove 45 minutes to Tongariro to do white water rafting/rapids. This is an activity I did a very, very long time ago when I was fifteen and my brother Brandon would have been twelve; my uncle in Indonesia asked if we wanted to give it a go. He made it sound exciting and thrilling, but I don’t think anything prepared us for Brandon falling out of the boat and the photographer capturing the shots of him falling out (and immediately being rescued/pulled back in). We got quite a laugh and it made for a good story. I felt like New Zealand would be a good place to give it a try as an adult.

After some research we went with the company Tongariro River Rafting. It was a bit confusing because I think we were trying to look for reviews and there were multiple entries for the same company or something like that. Either way, we recommend them! I liked that there was no suggestion to arrive early because the entire safety and instructional briefing was counted in the time. We started at 9:00am, got dressed in all our gear—a wetsuit over our swimmers, a fleece to keep us warm, an weatherproof outer layer, water booties, and life jacket and helmet—and jumped on a bus that took us to the location by 10:00am. It was two hours on the water, full of fun, then we got back on the bus and were done at around 12:30pm—1:00pm.

A group of seven people on a raft on river rapids. They all look excited and are holding their paddles in the air

The only disappointment we had was that they ran into a technical issue trying to retrieve the GoPro videos from our session, so we only got photos from the beginning and end of our trip, and no videos. They were included in the cost so there wasn’t really a loss. But I think the main source of disappointment came from the fact that I fell out of the raft on one of the rapids and it was most certainly caught on camera so we could have had a damn good laugh at that.

I wasn’t injured from falling out of the raft, other than a sore/bruised finger from trying to climb back in as a result of the pressure from the tough material of the raft. I don’t even remember exactly what happened but our instructor said to hold on and not fall out on a certain part, but it just so happened that I wasn’t holding on quite tightly enough and got thrown overboard. 😂 I had trouble holding onto my paddle while climbing in, so the instructor had to pull me back in (by my life jacket, as per protocol). Of course, I told Brandon, and we shed crocodile tears over the fact that we actually lost our own photos of him falling out of the raft in 2007, and subsequently I didn’t get any footage of me falling out of the raft. 🫠

The same group of people from the previous photo, still in a raft on river rapids
Having a good time, having a ball…
A similar shot to the previous photo but with a large splash of water obscuring one woman’s face
🌊 oh no 🌊

The rafting itself was fun but tiring. I think the most painful part was carrying the raft into the water to start. We had to walk on big, slightly slippery rocks, which was really unpleasant and uncomfortable. Our instructor called out, “Are you enjoying the complimentary foot massage?” 😂 Once we were in the raft, we quickly learned the different movements with our paddles and how to paddle as a team. There were dozens and dozens of river rapids. I lost count, but our instructor could remember how many were left. Some of them had names, including one called—if I remember correctly—“The bitch”. 😆

Food served on a table in a cafe; the plate closest to the camera has eggs benedict on it and the plate in the background has scrambled eggs and bacon.
A much needed meal after rafting for two hours straight.

I got used to paddling after some time—you engage your core a lot during the activity, and our instructor said that rather than using just your arms to paddle, you are using your hips. So it’s really a full body workout, and the fact that we are using our hips to do the movement was a pretty solid reminder to engage your core. And also make it less painful on your arms. I thought I would be extremely sore the next day but I actually wasn’t, so that was a relief.

As an adult, I can say that white water rafting was almost scarier, but I chalk that up to being a little more adventurous when you’re a kid, and less aware of risks because your worldview is so small. And perhaps I don’t remember every detail of my experience when I was younger—I remember it being more fun than scary.

When we left Taupō, we started heading down south towards the city of Wellington. It would be a long drive—over 4 hours—and Wellington would be our last stop on the North Island before heading to the South Island of New Zealand. We didn’t have too many activities planned for Wellington so we were quite keen to explore the town, and also enjoy the warm weather to come.

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