Despite only being able to spend 2 weeks in New Zealand, I decided not to visit only on the Southern Island and its gorgeous fjords and glaciers but also to spend a few days in the Northern Island. My main objective was to hike the famous Tongariro Alpine crossing. But things didn’t go as expected… as they often do when travelling!
What to do in Taupo?
- Tongariro Alpine crossing: Taupo is one of the departure points to hike. Even if you don’t need to hike every week-end to successfully trek this one, the weather can make it very difficult. Always check the weather on this website: download the pdf by clicking on ‘Tomorrow’s weather update’ to check the hiking recommendations. I realised that the trek was not recommended for the next 2 days when we were in Taupo. I was very disappointed and hope to be back one day to enjoy the beautiful Red Crater and Emerald Lake. If yo manage to get there on a sunny day, Tongariro expeditions organises return shuttles leaving from Taupo early in the morning and allowing you for up to 9 hours to complete the track and they also rent all the necessary gear not to freeze to death up there!
- Taupo Museum: on the first afternoon, we went to visit to small cute Taupo Museum to discover more about the history of the region from fishermen to peace and love enthusiasts. I really recommend going! The surrounding garden is also very nice. We saw it very quickly while getting utterly soaked by the rain (which made me sick for the next 5 days).
- Walk along the Great Taupo Lake: Taupo is the largest lake in New-Zealand, it’s as big as Singapore! And there are many hiking opportunities. However, as the weather was terrible, we couldn’t explore as much as we would have liked to but there’s a big nice sign for picture, a beautiful Maori carving and for those who likes challenges Hole in One Taupo (I spotted that they look for summer workers to dive to collect to balls!)
- Huka falls: my initial idea was to cycle until the Aratitia dam but my mountainbiking skills combined with the dreadful weather made us change our plans. The River Side Mountain trail basically killed my legs from the start. The Rotary Ride was then much more pleasant although not always easy and I had to step down once of twice. After taking pictures of the gorgeous Hua falls, and with some energy some sun back, we decided to take the Huka falls to Aratiatia dam trail but only until the red bridge. We crossed the bridge to take the Red Bridge trail that was rather easy before swearing in all languages we knew on the steep and muddy Ferguson’s Gully. We crawled back on the easy Wairakei Tourist track until KEFI at the hub, a coffee place where you can book helicopter tours and we were able to dry whilst eating super nice cakes. From there we had to go along the Huka Falls road as the Redwood trail was closed. At the Rangatira Park lookout, we then hoped back on the Town to Redwoods trail. It was pretty fast!
- Spa: After an exhausting afternoon cycling in the rain and mud, time for a treat! Taupo is also famous for its spa waters. Many people go to the free hot pools of the Spa Thermal Park but without a car we didn’t have a good solution to keep our clothes dry once in the water. We wanted to go to the popular and cheap AC Baths (9$) but they were closed so we ended up in the more expensive (22$) but still very nice Taupo De Bretts Hot springs.
What people also do in Taupo (when they have more time and a better weather!):
- Doing terrifying activities like skydiving or bungee juming
- Boat tours: with Jet boats or to admire some Maori rock carvings
I can’t recommend enough our hostel in Taupo: our double room at YHA Taupo Finlay Jack’s Backpackers was super nice, wih a beautiful view from the terrace and a very clean shared bathroom. The kitchen was also the most organised ever, full of tips on local activities.
Eating & drinking in Taupo:
- Malabar restaurant: to enjoy super nice Indian food in the centre of Taupo
- Pub n Grub Taupo: for a delicious steak right on the lakeside
- Storehouse: to eat healthy food surrounded by plants
- Tank: for a good juice when the crapp weather won over your immune system (yes it’s a chain, but more cheaper than in Auckland!)
It was now time to go to our next destination: Rotorua! We didn’t book a car in the Northern island so we took another Intercity bus, well actually minivan, for one hour.
We arrived in the late morning in a busy city. We dropped our bags at the Rotorua Central Backpackers: a big house with many cheap rooms, nice common areas and a garden.
What to do in Rotorua?
- Government Gardens: As our double room (very large!) wasn’t ready when we arrived we went for a work to the nearby Government Gardens. The Rotorua museum (what a beautiful building!) was unfortunately closed but the gardens were very nice, with a soldiers memorial and a lovely Rose garden.
- Sulphur Point: we walked towards the lake to reach Sulphur Point and walk until Sulphur bay and its noisy birds. You can guess it from the name… get ready for some ‘nice’ smells!
- Whakarewarewa: this was definitely one of the best visits I made in New Zealand! Whakarewarewa is a living Maori village that opens its doors from 8.30am to 5.00pm to make tourists discover their home and culture. Unlike the Te Puia visitor opposite, here everything is authentic. The Maori cook their food, go to school, enjoy thermal pools in this village. There are regular guided tours throughout the day – and it’s a must! Your guide – actually lliving in the village, will talk to you about the history of the village and the beautiful geysers around it. Same goes for the cultural performance (2-3 times/day) with beautiful songs and impressive hakas. And once you’re done, explore the surroundings of the village: there are astonishing views on the lakes. If you don’t have a car, it’s simple to go: just hop on the bus 11 from the city centre!
What people also do in Rotorua:
- Go to spas: such as the Polynesian Spa and or a footbath in Kuirau Park. Many hotels also have their own pools.
- Hike or cycle in ‘The Redwoods’
- Admire other geothermal beauties such as Waimangu volcanic valley and Waiotapu (beware when planning your trip: the geyser gets triggered every day at 10.15am)
Eating & drinking in Rotorua:
- Patrick’s Pies Gold Star Bakery: the owner has won the NZ Supreme Pie Award 7 times!
- Ponsonby Rd Lounge Bar: for a nice tiki mojito
Next: bus 10 to Rotorua airport to fly to Christchurch! No need to arrive 2 hours before – it’s actually a very small airport with only one big space where you check in, buy books and drink a coffe while waiting for your flight!