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Riding the Taupō Treasure Trails

by Ceana Priest | Outdoor Kid

Try a treasure hunt on two wheels these school holidays. Ceana Priest takes the family on three Taupō Treasure Trails, searching for green geckos, red bikes and blue ducks.

Grab a Taupō Treasure Trails passport, or download it from lovetaupo.com/treasuretrails. Then, complete one, two or all three trails, and return your passport to a participating business by this Sunday, 30 April 2024, to enter the prize draw.

Tūrangi Blue Duck Trail

Tongariro River Trail

It’s not hard to tempt the family into the saddle for a loop alongside the Tongariro River Trail. It’s a great mix of broad, flat trails and slightly narrower, more challenging sections.

It’s one of our favourite bike rides, and hunting for 12 wooden blue ducks makes it even better! After a few kilometres of smooth riding and some short, sharp switchbacks, there are stands of spindly kānuka to navigate before descending to the Tongariro National Trout Centre.

We had pre-booked a school holiday kids' fishing lesson, so Finn got some great tips from a seasoned angler before engaging in a short but thrilling battle with a "feisty" trout. Within half an hour, our catch was expertly smoked and seasoned for a delicious lunch.

After exploring the trout centre, we continued along moss-lined trails, past valleys covered in dense bush and ferns and zig-zagged across boardwalks towards the Red Hut Bridge.

We tried unsuccessfully to spy elusive whio/blue ducks surfing the river before turning homeward. Vantage points high above the river, views across farmland to Mount Tauhara and trails beneath towering stands of pine trees led to the Major Jones Bridge to reconnect with our earlier route. Finally, after a quick playground stop to burn off the last of everyone’s energy, we headed home, feeling happy with our successful duck-hunting adventure.

Need to know: 

  • Grade 2 | Easy
  • About 12km return to Tūrangi i-SITE
  • Allow 1.5 hours return for a steady ride with older children or up to 3 hours for dawdling and picnics.
  • Toilets near Tūrangi i-SITE, Taupahi Reserve Park, and Red Hut Bridge.
  • Playground at Taupahi Reserve Park.
  • Please keep dogs under control. 

Directions: Parking is available near Tūrangi i-SITE on Ngawaka Place, Tūrangi. The State Highway 1 underpass is beside Burger King. Tūrangi is 50km from Taupō.

Mangakino Green Gecko Trail

Waikato River Trails 

We discovered our first green gecko lurking near the trailhead, so with another 10 needed to solve the code, we set off along the wide, flat dirt trails with Lake Maraetai almost lapping the pathway on the Waikato River Trails. 

Boardwalks wind across wetland areas and between the towering harakeke/flax and toetoe, we spied wakeboarders and water skiers tearing past on the lake, with the occasional spectacular wipeout. The blue trail poles led us past duelling golfers on the Mangakino Golf Club fairway before the trail connected with the shoreline again.

A handful of dips and rises might have younger riders jumping off for short sections to push their bikes as the trail snakes along bush-clad gullies. Sheer rock faces appear on valley walls, surrounded by regenerating forest, with impressive lumps of granite to pedal past.

Finally, the trail turned inland, leading to the impressive 70-metre-long Mangakino Suspension Bridge dangling 12 metres above Mangakino Stream.

We grabbed a bite to eat at the picnic table and learnt about the area's history before returning along the trail and tracking down one mysterious gecko that had alluded us. Then, fish and chips at Mangakino Lakefront Reserve capped off our adventure before a quick 40-minute drive back to Taupō.

Need to know: 

  • Grade 2 | Easy
  • Allow 1.5 to 2 hours return
  • About 9km return
  • Trailhead beside the Mangakino Lakefront Reserve carpark
  • Toilet facilities, electric BBQ and playground at the Mangakino Lakefront Reserve.
  • Please keep dogs under control. 
  • The Mangakino Bus Stop Café has permanently closed.

Directions: Parking is available at the Mangakino Lakefront Reserve. Mangakino is 53km from Taupō.

Taupō Red Bike Trail

Great Lake Pathway

This urban treasure hunt was a crowd-pleaser. And the promise of post-adventure ice creams at Luna's Gelateria only added to everyone's enthusiasm. The flat concrete pathway provides the easiest pedalling of all three treasure trails, with playgrounds and tasty treats providing tempting detours. Look for 10 red bikes with painted letters hidden in nooks and crannies along the trail.

From the Taupō visitor centre, we headed towards the grassy Tongariro North Domain for some bone-jangling hill rolling before hopping back in the saddle and descending through an avenue of trees to Lake Taupō Marina. Nautically minded folk will enjoy the array of boats on offer.

Then, it was selfies and climbing the oversized triathlon sculpture. Overshadowing the new lakefront reserve is an immense pou with intricate animals, tangled vines and guardians of Lake Taupō carved into the single tōtara piece, surrounded by water features representing local rivers.

Visit at night to see the sculpture colourfully lit. After an out and back along the shoreline, with the perky volcanic peaks of Tongariro National Park on the horizon, it was straight to the ice cream parlour for treats while we unscrambled the code.

Need to know: 

  • Grade 1 | Easiest
  • Allow 1-hour return
  • About 3km return from Taupō visitor centre
  • Toilet facilities, playground and plenty of food options near the Taupo visitor centre
  • Suitable for buggies, scooters and walking
  • Please keep dogs under control.

Directions: Parking is available beside the Taupō visitor centre on Story Place.

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