This is one road trip that is sure to get a little steamy. No, not like that (behave, please), but because the Rotorua–Taupō region is best known for its geothermal wonders. Some of the bubbling comes from beneath the earth. Elsewhere it can be found trickling down silica terraces or filling stunning mineral lakes. There’s one thing of which you can be sure; you’re going to need to become submerged at some point, so pack swimsuits and towels in the boot of the rental car.
Get set to cover just over 200km during the day, but the good news is you can take a circular loop, setting out south but covering more ground as you head back to Rotorua on your day trip to remember.
Set out in time to make Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland by 10am (it should take you about 25 minutes), because 15 minutes later is the presentation at the Lady Knox Geyser. This blast of heated H2O can reach 20m into the air, and the park’s team explains how it all happens. Then go for a stroll around. This landscape has been formed over thousands of years, and the colours and geothermal features here are said to be some of the most diverse in New Zealand.
While Wai-O-Tapu is basically on the road to Taupō, you’ll need to turn off for Orakei Korako. Also called Hidden Valley, this is another incredible geothermal attraction, but one with an impressive display of coloured silica terraces and a cave. You can’t enter Ruatapu Cave, but from the viewing platform you can see the pool of hot, acidic water 35m down.
Many of the geothermal attractions in this region are for your eyes only, but you’ll find the Spa Thermal Park, just outside the Taupō town centre. In Otumuheke Stream, a significant meeting and bathing place for Māori, you can sit beneath a waterfall or find a spot in a warm pool and simply soak. A few years ago, the facilities were updated, so there are now river-edge lounging platforms, a hot spring seating area and interpretive signs that explain the history and cultural significance of the area.
You can also walk a trail from Otumuheke Stream along the banks of the Waikato River to the incredible Huka Falls, New Zealand’s most popular natural attraction. It’ll take about two hours to do the walk, or you could simply point the rental car in that direction to save some time.
This city on the edge of a great lake is adventure central. If you’ve made good time in the rental car from Rotorua you can explore all Taupō’s various options, from cycling sections of the Great Lake Trails to taking off on a skydiving adventure that will give you a bird’s-eye view of the lake.
If you’re looking for more thrills, try Taupō Bungy, located on a clifftop. The panorama from the top is jaw-dropping and, after stepping off, you’ll plunge towards the rushing water of the Waikato River. In fact, there’s a water-touch option if that’s your idea of fun.
There’s speed on a different plane when you join a jet boat tour. There are several options, all of them wet and wild, but if you want to ‘surf’ the Nga Awa Purua Rapids, check out the offering from Rapids Jet.
One of the most interesting sights near Taupō are the Ngātoroirangi Māori carvings at Mine Bay. You’ll need to set aside half a day to take them in on a guided kayak tour, which is one of the best ways to view them, but there is a 90-minute scenic cruise that will get you close to these contemporary artworks by Matahi Brightwell if you’re short on time.
When it’s time to have lunch while you’re in Taupo, consider splashing out on a lake view at Plateau Bar + Eatery. There are plenty of low-key options, too. A favourite with locals is Cozy Corner, which serves up healthy, delicious cafe-style dishes.
You could head back towards Rotorua the same way and pick up some of the attractions you might have missed. There’s the Huka Prawn Park, which is both a themed adventure park and an aquaculture facility where they grow up to five tonnes of prawns each year. There are also behind-the-scenes tours to show how this kind of farm operates.
Not far away, if you fancy some more hot stuff, is Craters of the Moon, which only began bubbling and sending steam to the Earth’s surface in the 1950s.
Otherwise, take the road via Whakamaru and enjoy the scenery. There’s a stretch on the second part of this route that follows the Waikato River, and you should stop for a few minutes at Dunham’s Point Reserve to check out the view.
Ready to go on an adventure in the Rotorua region? Hire a rental car before you set off.