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by Ceana Priest | Outdoor Kid

Embark on a journey that intertwines the beauty of nature with the depth of cultural heritage in the Taupō region. From the thermal wonders of Tokaanu to the serene waters of Lake Rotopounamu, immerse yourself in experiences that highlight conservation efforts and the rich Māori history. For those who tread lightly and seek to understand the stories behind the landscapes, these trails offer a chance to connect with the land in a meaningful, respectful and sustainable way.

The Eco-trailblazers of today are like modern-day adventurers on a mission, blending exploration with a big dose of eco-consciousness. They're the kind of folks who leave behind nothing but good vibes and footprints, all while soaking up nature's wonders and unravelling its mysteries.

Journey through time and nature, intertwining seamlessly as you dive into Māori history at historic bathing spots or marvel at crystal-clear thermal pools. And don’t miss visiting Te Porere Redoubt at the southern end of Lake Taupō, with its impressive redoubts shadowed by Mount Tongariro, where you can almost hear the echoes of historic clashes.

And just a little drive away, you'll find Lake Rotopounamu, where conservationists are fighting to restore balance to the forest and keep the ecosystem alive for generations. So, get ready to blend history, ecology and a big dose of eco-warrior spirit on these light-footed adventures.

1. Tokaanu Thermal Walk | Tokaanu

Tokaanu Thermal Walk. Photo by Outdoor Kid

Stroll through a landscape of bubbling, gurgling hot springs, with boardwalks and easy trails winding beneath the native bush. You'll find viewing platforms to watch the hot-pot action emerging deep within the heated earth.

These pools have a rich history, being used by the local Māori tribe Ngāti Kurauia for cooking and dyeing clothes since way back in the 16th century. And the thermal waters were relaxing pit stops for travellers journeying between Whanganui and Taupō; even today, you can still enjoy a soak in the Tokaanu Thermal Pools nearby after a day of fun.

2. Lake Rotopounamu | Mount Pīhanga 

Lake Rotopounamu

Delve into the realm of Māori legends when North Island peaks duked it out to win the affections of the alluring mountain of Pīhanga – with Tongariro ultimately winning the fiery battle. The battlefield is far more sedate today, with dedicated conservation efforts preserving the rich diversity of the bush-clad slopes.

An easy trail leads to a stunning emerald-coloured lake, surrounded by delicate kidney ferns, where you can wrap up your adventure with a chill picnic and a splash at Long Beach. It's nature and good times rolled into one epic adventure with a touch of eco-warrior spirit!

3. Kaimanawa Wall | Kaimanawa Forest Park

Kaimanawa Wall. Photo by Outdoor Kid

Visit some of New Zealand's most mind-bending rocks. Are the mysteriously rectangular rock blocks remnants of a lost civilization, mystical power nodes or just Mother Nature's quirky handiwork? Geologists say they’re natural fractures in the ancient volcanic ignimbrite rock. But hey, why let facts get in the way of a good mystery? Come for the rocks, stay for the scenic drive through the beech forest – and maybe, just maybe, you'll unlock the universe's secrets along the way.

Need to know: 28 km from Taupō on SH5, turn onto Taharua Rd, then Clements Mill Rd through Kaimanawa Forest Park. The wall is about 12km on the left.

4. Otumuheke Stream | Taupō

Otumuheke Stream at Spa Thermal Park

Enjoy some liquid happiness in your ‘natural hot tub’ at Otumuheke Stream, a historically significant healing spot for generations of Māori. Soak away your worries in the stream’s thermal waters, mingling with New Zealand’s longest river, the scenic Waikato River. Let the bubbling waters tickle your toes and rejuvenate your spirit. And it's not just about the soak—there's a coffee cart for your caffeine fix and nearby changing facilities. Enjoy ancient traditions with a backdrop of nature’s beauty.

5. Aratiatia Rapids | Rotokawa

Aratiatia Rapids

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.


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