In the centre of New Zealand’s North Island, you’ll find an incredible destination for adventure and beauty. Set on the shores of its namesake lake, which is the size of Singapore, Taupō is a very popular destination for family and friends, thanks in at least some part to its geothermal attractions. But what if you’re on your own? Can you still have fun? Of course, you can.
Solo travel is for everyone, whether you want to make new friends or spend time getting to know yourself a bit better. You can meet other folks by joining tours or go for solitary hikes in the forest (just be sure to take your phone). You can also do things your other half or best friend might consider too much or simply explore a little aimlessly in your rental car without anyone hassling you for a plan. Here are some of the best things to see and do around Taupō when you set out on your own.
If you’re not afraid of heights, there’s plenty to get the adrenaline racing in the region. Take a dive from a platform high over the Waikato River with Taupō Bungy. This is New Zealand’s only clifftop bungy and you’ll drop 47m towards the water – you can even touch it if you like – before springing back up. There’s also the Taupō Swing, which takes you gliding above the river at speeds of up to 70km/h. Keep your eyes open if you can because the views are incredible.
To truly ramp up the heart rate, join the team at Taupo Tandem Skydiving. On the flight up, wipe what’s to come from your mind and marvel at Lake Taupō as it stretches out below you. When you reach the right altitude, you and your instructor will sit in the plane’s doorway before freefalling into the sky. From 9,000ft, you speed downwards for about 30 seconds before the parachute opens and you glide down to earth. Make sure you get the photo package too, so you can show the folks back home.
You don’t always have to get high to experience adventure. About a 15-minute drive from Taupō is Aratiatia, home of Rapids Jet. Jump into one of its boats for a 35-minute tour that incorporates an intro to the Waikato River before jetboating off to surf the waves of the Nga Awa Purua Rapids, speed through the narrowest point of the river, and find out about the geothermal water bubbling at its edge.
You might have seen pictures of it… An incredible carving depicting tattooed faces that look as though they might have been there for hundreds of years. In reality, the 14m-high Ngātoroirangi Mine Bay Māori Rock Carvings were the concept of artist Matahi Brightwell, who first saw the rock alcove in 1976. It took four years for himself and four other artists to plot out the design and carve it by hand.
If you’re feeling full of beans, join a four-hour fully guided tour with Canoe & Kayak out to the artworks. There’s plenty of time to enjoy the carvings, take photos and explore nearby caves. Otherwise take the short drive to Taupo Marina and join a cruise on the Ernest Kemp, a replica 1920s steamboat.
By far one of the biggest attractions in the region – in all of New Zealand, in fact – is Huka Falls. It’s only about 5km from Taupō and there are a few ways to see it. You can take the Hukafalls Jet to its base, getting so close you’ll feel the spray on your face from the 11m drop of rushing water. Its power is caused by the Waikato River, which is normally about 100m wide, narrowing to 15m and forcing the water to burst out as the gorge ends. At the rate the water rushes over Huka Falls it would fill an Olympic swimming pool in 11 seconds. There’s also the option to walk from Taupō or drive your rental car.
If you’re ready to check out one of the most active geothermal areas in New Zealand, head to Orakei Korako, a half-hour’s drive away. Follow the boardwalk through the park to see geysers, hot springs, bubbling mud pools and incredible silica terraces.
If you want to go for a quiet walk in the forest, drive down the east edge of Lake Taupo to Lake Rotopounamu, about an hour away. There’s an easy 5km loop track circling this much smaller lake. Part of Tongariro National Park, this water-filled volcanic crater and the walk around it is a favourite among tree and bird lovers. Listen for the song of small birds, like tui, bellbirds and native robins and tomtits, as you walk through the different forest ecosystems. Take a seat at one of the picnic tables along the way or on the sand at one of the lake beaches to enjoy this time on your own.
Ready for a solo tour of Taupō? Hire a rental car to get around easily.