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3-day Central North Island road trip

Explore Taupo’s incredible natural landscape on this 3-day nature-lovers itinerary.

Rally up your loved one or group of friends, leave work stress behind and reconnect with nature on a rejuvenating three-day break of exploration, adventure and active wellness.

Discover Taupo’s world-class mountain biking and walking trails, stunning natural wonders and great local cuisine on this wellness escape that will have you returning home feeling completely refreshed, rewarded and reconnected.

Taupo is easily accessible by car from every direction and is only 3.5 hours south of Auckland.

Here are some suggestions to help you cover off some of Taupo’s very best in just three days:

Day one - Kinloch

Overnight

Base yourself overnight in Kinloch - a picturesque village set on a quiet bay near the top of Lake Taupo, just 20 minutes from Taupo town. There are a handful of bike-friendly B&B’s to chose from, along with glamping and various AirBnB options.

Explore

By mountain bike or foot, spend time exploring the Great Lake Trail. Coordinating logistics is easy from Kinloch with several shuttles and mountain biking guides operating from here, ready and willing to help you with mountain bikes, transport and the best local knowledge.

The Great Lake Trail is made up of three sections – Waihaha, Kawakawa and the W2K. All are rideable in both directions, so you can choose to tackle them however you chose.

A favourite with locals, the W2K section (13 or 21.5km) starts from Kinloch and loops over the eastern peninsula of Whangamata Bay and into Whakaipo Bay. Expect long flowing descents, stunning vistas over Lake Taupo, lookouts, and excellent single-track riding through stunning native bush. Whakaipo Bay’s sweeping beach and crystal-clear water is the perfect place for a swim and picnic after your ride.

Before setting out be sure to organise your transport back to Kinloch from Whakaipo Bay. There is road access into the bay, so dropping a vehicle there is an option or book a shuttle to pick you up. The other option is booking a water taxi to collect you off the shores of the bay and jet you back around to Kinloch. Find out more about the W2K section of the Great Lake Trail.

Trail facts:

  • Grade 3 intermediate
  • 13km or 21.5km one way - can be ridden in both directions
  • 2.5 – 3.5 hours biking
  • 6 hours walking
  • Dog friendly

Maps are located at the Kinloch Domain or check out www.greatlaketrail.com for more information.

Dine

Be sure to call by for a drink or meal at the Tipsy Trout, located at Kinloch harbour with sweeping views of the beach.

'The Tipsy’, as it’s warmly referred to by locals, serves up delicious food, tasty Manuka Brothers’ coffee and boasts an excellent New Zealand wine list as well as locally brewed craft beers. The perfect place to wind down after a day of outdoor activities.

Relax

Make a visit to the 3 Art Gallery, located on Whangamata Road in Kinloch. The gallery brings together the work of three local Taupo artisans; Chris Hooton, Nancy Tschetner and Troy Grimwood, who specialize in using native and exotic wood and naturally coloured New Zealand sands. Here you can purchase a unique piece of art work, view the artists in action, or join a workshop and create your own special piece of art.

Did you know... 

Kinloch is home to two excellent golf courses, including the Jack Nicklaus designed The Kinloch Club that has been ranked as the best golf course in New Zealand - surrounded by rolling hills, and epic mountainous backdrops.

Plan your Kinloch stay

  • Kinloch

    Kinloch

    A picturesque village set on a quiet bay near the top of Lake Taupo, Kinloch is an in-the-know hideaway, particularly for keen golfers and mountain bikers.

    More info 
  • Cycling & mountain biking

    W2K section of the Great Lake Trails

    The W2K section of the Great Lake Trails provides great views across Lake Taupo and back down towards Kinloch, one of the most beautiful lakeside villages in the country.

    More info 
  • Cafes

    Tipsy Trout

    A visit to the Tipsy Trout in Kinloch will not leave you disappointed. With sweeping views across the marina, lakefront and children’s playground, our location is unique.

    More info 
  • Art galleries

    3 Art Gallery

    The 3 Art Gallery brings together the work of three local Taupo artisans using native and exotic wood and naturally coloured sand from around New Zealand. Purchase unique New Zealand art work, view artists at work or join a workshop and create your own piece of art.

    More info 

Day two – Turangi

Overnight

Base yourself overnight in Turangi for the second night of your long weekend. Nestled on the plains below the forest-clad Kaimanawa Ranges, Turangi is a basecamp for world-class fly fishing for trout and white water rafting on the pristine Tongariro River, and the gateway to the awe-inspiring beauty and adventure of the UNESCO dual World Heritage Tongariro National Park.

Turangi is an scenic 70-minute drive from Kinloch, through rolling farmland via the western bays. You can be sure to find some awe-inspiring photo spots along the way. There is a range of accommodation options in Turangi to choose from, including quaint fly-fishing lodges, lake and riverside motels, luxury lodges and cute B&B’s.

 

Explore

The Tongariro River Trail hugs the banks of the beautiful Tongariro River, enveloped in native bush and birdsong. This Turangi-based mountain biking and walking trail is intentionally built as a hideaway from the world and is perfect for all abilities.There are multiple entry points along the 15-kilometre grade 2 trail, so it’s suitable for beginner riders and families should you wish to shorten the loop. Expect to take around 1.5 hours to bike or 2 – 3 hours to walk this trail.

The Tongariro River is world renowned for its trout fishing and on this trail, you will pass famous fishing pools like the Major Jones and Duchess Pool, named after the Queen Mother who once fly-fished there. The Tongariro National Trout Centre at the far end of the trail is a worthwhile stop-off, where you can learn about freshwater trout and the native blue duck (Whio), and the two swing bridges swaying gently above the river are a fun addition to the ride. 

Tongariro River Trail facts:

  • Grade 2 easy
  • 15km two- way loop track
  • 1.5 hours biking
  • 2 -3 hours walking
  • Dog friendly

Dine

Turangi may be a small town, but there is no shortage of delicious eateries, quirky cafe's and restaurants to choose from. Creel Tackle House & Cafe in a historic fly-fishing tackle house serves up the most delicious freshly baked brioche this side of Paris, or if you have worked up an appetite try RUST, a licensed gourmet burger bar dishing up hearty burgers and local craft beers to wash it down.

Relax

Is there anything more relaxing than standing on the water’s edge listening to the sounds of the river as you await the gentle tug of a freshwater trout? For those who are keen to try your hand at fly-fishing there are many experienced fishing guides in the area who can show you their favourite spots and organise your fishing license and gear.

Tokaanu Thermal Pools are a longstanding favourite near Turangi, where you can bath in private natural mineral pools and soothe your muscles after a day of walking or biking. You can also wander through the nearby Tokaanu Thermal Walk and get an interesting glimpse into the earth’s inner workings with steaming hot mineral pools and spluttering mud pools amongst native bush.

If you are travelling with your family, a family rafting float down the pristine waters of the Tongariro River is the perfect way to spend a relaxing day together.

Did you know...

Just 10 minutes from Turangi, you will find a two-hour loop walk to Lake Rotopounamu, which takes you through beech forest populated by native birds, surrounding a hidden white sand beach perfect for picnics.

Plan your Turangi stay

  • Turangi

    Turangi

    Nestled on the plains below the forest-clad Kaimanawa Ranges, Turangi is a basecamp for world-class fly fishing for trout on the pristine Tongariro River, and the gateway to the awe-inspiring beauty and adventure of the Tongariro National Park.

    More info 
  • Biking trails

    Tongariro River Trail

    Discover stunning native bush, winding singletrack and lovely river views on this scenic looped ride along both sides of the Tongariro River in Turangi - perfect for the whole family.

    More info 
  • Trout fishing

    For decades, anglers have come from all around the world to Taupo to enjoy the whizz-and-plop of a fishing line casting into a rushing river or lapping lake… not to mention the thrill of hauling in a fat, shining wild trout.

    More info 
  • Hot pools

    Tokaanu Thermal Pools

    Soak, soothe and relax in the magical mineral waters of Tokaanu Thermal Pools.

    More info 

Day three - Taupo town

Overnight

Base yourself in Taupo town for the third night of your getaway. An incredibly scenic drive along the shores of Lake Taupo from Turangi to Taupo town, will take you around 40-minutes, but be sure to stop along the way for photo stops, and in the warmer months a dip in the lake.

The Taupo region's largest town is a bustling lakeside resort with photo-ready mountain and lake vistas every way you turn, boutique and luxury lodges, lakeside hotels and motels and family-friendly resorts. Take time to explore the town centre with boutique shops, cafes, and galleries and gorgeous public spaces to relax and watch the world go by.

Explore

Lake Taupo is abuzz year-round with activity, and within walking distance of the town centre you will discover departure points for lake cruises, sailing trips, scenic float plane flights, the unique doughboat experience, parasailing and the iconic Lake Taupo Hole in One challenge. 

The Huka Trails connect the town centre with natural attractions like Otumuheke Stream, Waikato River, Huka Falls, and Aratiatia Dam. Whether you are walking or biking, it is worthwhile taking time to experience the myriad of activities along the way including adrenaline activities like bungy jumping and jet boating, wakeboarding, scenic heli-flight or exploring the mountain biking trails in Craters Mountain Bike Park. The Wairakei Tourist Park is well worth a visit for anything from a round of golf, to fishing for prawns, geothermal walkways, a scenic river cruise, or ice-cream at Huka Honey Hive followed by a relaxing geothermal soak at Wairakei Terraces.

The Great Lake Pathway is perfectly suited for all members of the family with it's winding path following the edge of the lake right out to Five Mile Bay. Stop in for ice-cream, coffee, playgrounds, scenic photo stops or a refreshing beer and pizza at the Two Mile Bay Sailing Club

For adrenaline junkies, just minutes from Taupo town you will find skydiving, motorsport and the fastest recreational go-karts in the world!

Relax

If you prefer a slower paced holiday, Taupo town offers everything for a stress-free relaxing stay. Taupo’s natural thermal hot springs and spas have been a place for rejuvenation and purification for centuries in New Zealand. A full range of health, beauty and wellness treatments - from skincare to massage - can be found at the regions day spas, and there are several excellent yoga centres in the town centre.

Taupo's lakefront pedestrian-friendly town centre offers a stress-free shopping experience infused with small town charm and a distinct boutique feel - perfect for a relaxed morning shopping combined with dining at the towns excellent cafes, coffee shops and restaurants.

Dine

Enjoy the glorious views across the lake with a relaxed lakeside dining experience as the sun goes down, or dine fireside in the colder months. After a day on the snow or exploring the region, there are plenty of options from award-winning fine dining restaurants to bistros, pubs and family-friendly restaurants.

Did you know...

Trout can’t be bought or sold commercially in New Zealand, which means you won’t find it on the menu at your favourite Taupo restaurant. However, if you want to try the delicious taste of trout, you’ll need to catch it wild yourself and if you call in advance to make your booking, it's possible to have your chef cook it for you. Yum!

Plan your Taupo town stay

  • Shopping in Taupo

    Taupo’s pedestrian-friendly, lakefront town offers a stress-free shopping experience infused with small town charm and a distinct boutique feel.

    More info 
  • Cycling & mountain biking

    Huka Trails

    Ride a network of trails that wind along the Waikato River, connecting Taupo town with Huka Falls, Aratiatia Dam, Wairakei Tourist Park and Craters Mountain Bike Park.

    More info 
  • Scenic cruises & water activities

    Water is Taupo’s defining element, from the snow on our volcanic peaks to the steam rising from our geothermal vents. But the best way to enjoy it is to get right into or on to our lakes, rivers and hot pools.

    More info 
  • Geothermal hot pools in Taupo

    There are few things more relaxing than spending an afternoon soaking away aches and pains in one of the many mineral-rich thermal baths around Taupo and Turangi.

    More info 

Add a day - Mangakino

Overnight

Base yourself in Mangakino for an extra night. The scenic trip from Taupo town will take you around 45-minutes as you journey through geology created by ancient volcanic activity along with glimpses of lakes and hydro dams, the Waikato River, native bush and forestry.

Mangakino is a tranquil town on the edge of Lake Maraetai, where you can experience true relaxation surrounded by rolling hills, vast farmland and within proximity to six lakes and the epic Waikato River Trails network of walking and biking trails. There are hotel operators, lodges and various holiday home options to choose from.

Explore

Spend the morning exploring the Maraetai section of the Waikato River Trails, part of Nga Haerenga the NZ Cycle Trail network. The complete network of Waikato River Trails extend from Atiamuri in the south to the southern end of Lake Karapiro in the north and is broken into 5 sections, each section named after the lake that the trail is connected to. As well as the ever-present Waikato River, see wetlands, towering dams, lakes and three epic suspension bridges on this incredibly scenic trail.

The Maraetai section is easily accessed from the Mangakino Lakefront or Whakamaru Dam and is 12.1km one way with great views along Lake Maraetai. It is also home to the magnificent 70m Mangakino Suspension Bridge swaying gently 12m above the Mangakino Stream. For an alternative short and easy ride, the suspension bridge is under 5km from the Mangakino lakefront catering to any beginner riders in the group.

Maraetai section of the Waikato River Trail information:

  • Grade 3 intermediate
  • 12.1km one way – can be ridden in both directions.
  • 1-1.5 hours biking
  • 2.5 hours walking

Relax

Mangakino is well known for its freshwater lakes and myriad of water activities like wakeboarding and water-skiing, rowing, powerboating and fishing. Lake Maraetai is home to good stocks of freshwater trout, offering superb fishing from a boat, but if water is not your thing just lay back on the lakefront in the autumn sun and watch the activity go on around you.

Across the road from the Mangakino Lakefront, you will find the quaint 9-hole Mangakino Golf Course, with picturesque views of the lake and the surrounding forests. Although it’s a mainly open, easy walking course, it still provides a good challenge and you can extend the game to 18 holes if time allows.

Dine

Visit the Bus Stop Cafe on the Mangakino Lakefront for an ice-cream, coffee, pizza or the best hot chips in town. Make the most of the autumn sun here with a cool down swim in the lake and play on the pontoon.

Did you know...

Mangakino has a fascinating industrial history and some impressive engineering to boot. Take a drive to visit the heritage-listed Arapuni Power Station and Dam in Arapuni Village, around a 45-minute drive from Mangakino. Here you will find the stunning Arapuni swingbridge built in the 1920’s so that construction workers could access the power station site from the village. This bridge is not for the fainthearted, as one of the longest pedestrian bridges in New Zealand at 152 metres in length and 54 metres above the Waikato River.

If you have the time, you may wish to explore a short walk within the expansive Pureora Forest Park, an easy 30-minute drive from Mangakino, where you will find an ancient forest full of noble podocarp trees and native birdlife.

Plan your Mangakino stay

  • Mangakino

    Mangakino

    A tranquil town on the edge of Lake Maraetai, Mangakino is a holiday spot where you can experience true relaxation in a heartland New Zealand community. Time passes slowly among the rolling hills of rural dairy and sheep farms, with every day helping you get back to life’s simple pleasures.

    More info 
  • Cycling & mountain biking

    Waikato River Trails

    Mountain bikers can explore a series of trails along New Zealand's longest river - the mighty Waikato River. The trails cover about 100 kilometres of previously inaccessible Southern Waikato land from Lake Karapiro to the Atiamuri Dam.

    More info 
  • Scenic attractions

    Pureora Forest Park

    The 78,000ha Pureora Forest Park is an ancient rainforest of giant native New Zealand trees, totara, rimu, matai, miro and kahikatea, and rich with rare native bird life.

    More info 
  • Cafes

    Bus Stop Cafe

    Ideally located at the Lakeside Reserve in Mangakino, the Bus Stop Cafe is a unique converted 1972 Bedford bus with stunning views across Lake Maraetai.

    More info 

Extra time up your sleeve?

If you have spare time, be sure to check out the following Taupo highlights:

 

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