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Summer in Taupō is a must-experience season. Trails crisscrossing the region range from short five-minute walks to longer hikes and lake-side strolls where ice cream and coffee shops are never far away.
Then, after a day of exploring, enjoy balmy evenings with twilight swims and laid-back picnics on the sandy shoreline of Lake Taupō. Or embark on a culinary journey through the town's lively dining scene before setting sail on an evening cruise across the trout-filled caldera. Finally, pamper weary legs with a soothing soak at Otumeheke Stream or wallow in the mineral-rich waters of Taupō DeBretts Spa Resort and Wairakei Terraces.
Stand in awe as millions of litres of water erupt from Aratiatia Dam, surging into a narrow rocky gorge and filling it with frothy, turbulent water in an impressive display of nature’s power. Watch the action unfold from the bridge or walk downstream to two lookouts offering prime vantage points to feel the misty spray as the gorge fills – there’s time to watch the dam gates open and quickly walk to the first lookout. Allow 30 minutes. Dogs on leads.
Summer release hours (October to March) - 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm
For a more leisurely outing, this pathway begins at the marina, where a brief detour to Kona Kones or Luna’s Gelateria will perk the kids up before heading south along the lakeshore. Grab a coffee from The Steaming Bean or Espresso Cove before making Two Mile Bay Sailing Club the turnaround point after wood-fired pizzas and watching the kids splash about on floating inflatables. Bring the togs for sunset swims in the shallow swimming bays. Dogs on leads.
After its peaceful winter slumber, Kinloch awakens into a bustling community of locals and visitors, mountain bikers emerging from the surrounding bush-clad hills and families sprawled on the sandy shoreline of Lake Taupō.
And, tucked behind the beach on the edge of town is an excellent family-friendly adventure along wide pathways to a fairy glade and through native and exotic tree stands beside the trout-spawning Whangamata Stream. Walk, bike or bring the buggies on this 60-minute adventure.
For all the summer vibes, this stroll is a must-do when visiting Taupō. The pretty riverside pathway meanders alongside the Waikato River, peppered with small bush-clad islands, to where a volcanic bottleneck blasts nearly a quarter of a million litres of sparkling blue water every second along a series of small waterfalls before a final 11-metre-high plunge into swirling whirlpools.
Multiple lookouts beside the rock chasm let you eyeball all the action. Allow about 45 minutes one way. Walking only. Dogs on leads.
If you can tear yourself away from the picture-perfect swimming beaches of Acacia Bay, the Rangatira Point Track is just a little further away. The shady trail leads to Whakamoenga Point, with its flat volcanic rocks jutting into the lake with a backdrop of Tongariro National Park on the horizon. This dramatic geological formation provides a launching pad for manu bombs, sedate picnics and also tempts anglers to dangle a line, hopeful of snaring a wily trout. Allow 30 minutes one way. Walking only. Dogs on leads.
Bring the togs and snacks to laze away an afternoon on the shoreline of this emerald-coloured lake nestled in an ancient crater on Pīhanga. A walking trail climbs steadily to the rippling lake before settling into a leisurely wander around its shoreline, lined with translucent kidney ferns. Long Beach sweeps around the far side of the lake and is ideal for picnicking and swimming. For a shorter adventure, visit Five Minute Beach or Ten Minute Beach. Walking only. No dogs.
The summit of Mount Tauhara offers some of the region’s best views across the volcanic-shaped landscape, but it’s not without a little heart-pumping action to get you there. But this doesn’t stop a steady stream of locals and tourists navigating the mountain before the final push to the trig at 1,088 metres above sea level. Locals’ tip: keep following the path to perch on exposed rocky outcrops for the best views. Time your ascent as the sun sinks and paints the Central Plateau in peachy hues. Allow two to three hours return. Walking only. No dogs.
There are plenty of enormous trees to peer at, clamber over and even ones with dark holes through the trunks to climb through - if the kids are brave enough. This 40-minute-long adventure is close to town and provides a shady escape from hot summer days. The well-graded trail passes through a mature podocarp forest with wizened trees that survived extensive fires and logging.
Follow ancient lava flows through dramatic barren landscapes to a snow-fed river tumbling 20 metres into a rocky valley before returning to the village through an alpine beech forest. And if two hours to complete the loop is a stretch for some family members, don’t miss the 15-minute long buggy- and wheelchair-friendly Whakapapa Nature Walk in the village with its stunning beech forest and mighty little plants that thrive on the side of the volcano. Allow two hours for the waterfall. Walking only. No dogs.
Take a day trip to this ancient rainforest on the western side of Lake Taupō to visit a seriously ‘kink in the neck’ high forest giant, the largest record tōtara with a whopping circumference of nearly 12 metres on the Pouākani Tōtara Tree Walk off SH30. Or, clamber up a 12-metre tower within kōkako country on the Forest Tower Track off Bismarck Road. The 20-minute buggy-friendly Tōtara Walk from the Timber Trail car park provides a whistlestop tour of a towering forest remnant.
And imagine how primeval New Zealand would have looked on a 15-minute stroll to Waihora Lagoon, where after heavy rain, the lagoon overflows into the surrounding swamp forest dominated by towering rimu and kahikatea - 4WD required for the lagoon access road.
Spend a little time in the Taupō region, and the mighty peaks and forests will surely beckon. Although these adventures — from half-day walks to overnight tramps — require more effort, everyone’s heart-pumping efforts will be well-rewarded.