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Family adventures on the southern shores of Lake Taupō

by Ceana Priest | Outdoor Kid

Dramatic landscapes shaped by fiery battles of Māori mythology and deep volcanic forces await discovery on the southern shores of Lake Taupō.

Bring the family and explore an ancient crater filled with emerald-colored waters, or hike to cliff-top vantage points for panoramic views of the shimmering waters of Taupō Moana.

And, since you're in a mecca for fly fishing, why not try catching an elusive trout with an afternoon of fishing - just grab a rod and license and give it a go! Then, watch stars appear in the night sky while soaking in the toasty thermal waters of Tokaanu Thermal Pools.

Lake Rotopounamu

Bring the togs and snacks to laze away an afternoon on the shoreline of this emerald-coloured lake nestled in an ancient crater on Pīhana. According to Māori legend, the love-struck mountains Tongariro, Taranaki, Tauhara and Pūtauaki/Mount Edgecumbe battled to win beautiful Pīhanga’s affection, with nearby Tongariro winning.

One of the lookouts on the Lake Rotopounamu Track

Today, the battlefield surrounding the 1,326-metre mountain is far less fiery and can be explored with a leisurely wander. Long Beach sweeps around the far side of the lake and is ideal for picnicking and swimming. For a shorter 1-hour-long adventure, visit Five Minute Beach or Ten Minute Beach.

Need to know:

  • Medium grade. Dirt paths with steps. Not suitable for buggies, bikes or wheelchairs.
  • Allow 2 hours (6km) for the loop or about 1-hour return to the first two beaches.
  • Toilet at Long Beach (BYO toilet paper).
  • No dogs.

Directions: From Tūrangi, drive towards National Park on SH47. Parking is available on the southern side of Te Ponanga Saddle (11 km from Tūrangi). Well signposted.

Tokaanu Thermal Walk | Tokaanu

Stroll through a landscape pockmarked with thermal vents, spluttering mud and crystal-clear thermal pools. Get close to the burbling action along boardwalks and easy trails beneath regenerating native bush leading to viewing platforms.

Tokaanu Thermal Walk

Historically, the thermal waters were a popular rest stop for coaches travelling from Whanganui to Taupō, and today you can still take a dip at the nearby Tokaanu Thermal Pools after a day of adventures.

Need to know:

  • Easy grade. Well-graded gravel path is suitable for buggies and assisted wheelchair users. No bikes allowed.
  • Allow 20 min for the loop.
  • No facilities.
  • No dogs.

Directions: Mangaroa Street, Tokaanu, SH41. The trailhead is beside the thermal pool complex.

Te Pōrere Redoubt | SH47 Tūrangi To National Park

In the shadow of Mount Tongariro lies a pair of impressive redoubts built in a British style that served as the site for the final significant conflict of the New Zealand Wars during the 1860s.

Te Porere Redoubt view platform. Photo by Outdoor Kid

Start your journey from the car park and keep an eye out for the endangered whio/blue ducks camouflaged on rocks next to the clear and flowing stream. Then, follow the easy gravel trail to the first redoubt’s viewing platform before continuing on a steady 10-minute climb along gravel paths with steps to the second, larger redoubt.

Need to know:

  • Easy grade. Well-graded dirt and gravel trail with steps. Not suitable for bikes, buggies or wheelchairs.
  • Allow 40 min return to both redoubts.
  • No dogs.
  • Te Pōrere is a wāhi tapu/sacred site; climbing on the lower redoubt walls isn’t permitted, and the upper redoubt is an urupā/cemetery, so viewing from the tower only.

Directions: The signposted car park on SH47 is near the junction with SH46, 26 km from Tūrangi.

Kiko Loop Track | SH1

Once ravaged for its red and silver beech trees, this regenerating forest has spongy moss growing alongside the trail and hundreds of kahakaha/perching lily clambering for space in the crooks of branches. Youngsters can easily navigate the undulating loop as it dips in and out of small, fern-filled gullies and over bridges back to the car park.

Walk or bike the Kiko Loop Track. Photo by Outdoor Kid

The aluminium bands on the trees help prevent possums from munching on a rare species of red mistletoe growing in the area. Confident young riders will enjoy the steep and sometimes narrow sections on two wheels.

Need to know:

  • Medium grade. Dirt paths – sometimes narrow and rooty. Not suitable for buggies or wheelchairs.
  • Allow 1 hour to 90 min to walk the nearly 4 km loop. Allow 1 hour for biking.
  • Toilet in the car park.
  • No dogs.
  • Bring the essentials, including a first aid kit and warm clothing, as this walk is relatively isolated.

Directions: Turn off SH1 onto Kiko Road about 10 km north of Tūrangi. Follow the well-graded gravel road for 17 km to the car park.

Urchin Campsite | SH1 Desert Road

Detour off SH1 to this free campsite within Kaimanawa Forest Park, surrounded by family-friendly walks and bike rides. The 20-minute-long Kaimanawa Forest Loop Walk winds through forest dominated by red beech with plenty of chirping from the treetops for budding bird spotters. This 1km loop adventure starts near the campsite entrance and is walking only - no dogs allowed.

Kaimanawa Forest Loop Walk. Photo by Outdoor Kid

Nearby, the Urchin Campsite to Pillars of Hercules passes through kāmahi and beech forest beside the Tongariro River on a leisurely out-and-back walk that includes a 40-metre-long suspension bridge over the deep Pillars of Hercules gorge. The fern-lined path is dual-use, so keep an ear out for mountain bikers. Allow 30 min one way for the walking and biking trail – no dogs allowed.

From the Urchin Campsite to the Pillars of Hercules. Photo by Outdoor Kid

Directions: From Tūrangi, drive 15 km south on SH1 before turning left onto Kaimanawa Road. A signposted turnoff to the campsite is a further 3.5 km along the well-graded gravel road.

Motuoapa Cliff Lookout Walk | Motuoapa 

Walk to the top of the volcanic cliffs behind Motuoapa for panoramic views of Stump Bay, Lake Taupō and the vast Te Matapuna Wetlands - home to globally threatened species of birds. During the weekends, watch a steady stream of fishing boats leaving Motuoapa’s small marina onto the sparkly waters of Lake Taupō.

The stunning lookout. Photo by Outdoor Kid

Need to know:

  • Medium grade. Dirt paths with steps. Not suitable for buggies, bikes or wheelchairs.
  • Allow 20 min return.
  • Dogs on leads.

Directions: Tangitu Street, Motuoapa Village, approximately 10 km north of Tūrangi.


For more family adventures, check out outdoorkid.co.nz

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