Central North Island Must Dos!
So technically, the centre of the north island is actually still part of the Waikato (I told you it was a big region!). Here are the must dos when you find yourself in the centre of New Zealand...
Lake Taupo isn't so much a destination as it is a region. The lake is over 600 square km and could fit the whole of Singapore inside of it. With a lake of this size, it attracts lots of watersports and kayaking opportunities, as well as boating - both private charter and organised trips. The town of Taupo, which sits on the north-eastern edge is a good size, with plenty of bars and restaurants and even the 'World's Coolest McDonalds' which features an airplane you can dine in!
Should you decide you would like to venture out onto the lake - awesome choice! There are plenty of options. The main choice in town would be LakeFun down on the harbour. From here, you can rent kayaks and other water gear, rent your own chartered boat or join one of the organised tours to the carving out on a rock in the lake. If you really want to see it all - take a tandem skydive with spectacular views over the lake and National Park.
There are actually lots of Maori carvings all over New Zealand - you will especially notice them on the Marae buildings and buildings that house the old wakas - canoes. This particular carving (only accessible by boat) was created over the course of 4 summers by a man named Matahi Brightwell, who gifted his artwork of his ancestors to the people of Taupo. It it that of a face, and stands 10 meters high from the water.
WHERE TO STAY:
Should you find yourself in Taupo for a few days (highly recommended) there are a few great freedom camping spots where you can pitch your tent or bring your campervan for a cosy nights sleep. Our favourite, was Five Mile Bay. On the eastern side of the town following the lake around, the bays are named accordingly - one mile bay, two mile etc. It will take you about 15 minutes to get to this spot, which is absolutely stunning and right on the lakefront. The sunset here is incredible, showcasing red and orange lights, reflected by the lake.
You can also use Acacia Bay if there is no space. These spots are so beautiful, they do get full pretty quick!
If you journey all the way down to the southern end of the lake, you will find yourself in a town called Turangi. Only 45 minutes from National Park, you can see the the mountains surrounding you as you get deeper into the valleys. Being so close to National Park, Turangi has the Tongariro River flowing through, meaning there is a great opportunity for rafters and fishermen. The river is rich with trout and so fresh you can drink from it. There are over 60 rapids here (grade 3) across 14km or 8 miles, so its the perfect opportunity for first time rafters (like ourselves) to experience the adrenaline.
If you keep an eye on our vlogs, we will be posting one about our trip soon!
We all love a free attraction. As a backpacker, on very limited funds, FREE is the word we all love to hear, and if you're passing between Taupo & Rotorua - a common travel route, you have to stop by and see this totally awesome waterfall. Although the drop is only 11m, it's the shear volume of water that passes through this canyon that draws you in. The Waikato River which is usually around 100m wide, suddenly narrows to just 15m, which sends the water gushing through at an astonishing 220,000 litres per second - enough to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool in about 11 seconds! The water is a stunning blue with frothy white foam gliding the tops of the waves. Truly, a picture perfect spot. You can take a jet or boat up the falls, walk around the track or simply drive to the car park at the falls.
ADDITIONAL STOP: CRATERS OF THE MOON
A 45 minute walk through a geothermal valley with craters which are 'moon-like' hence the name. At only $8 entry AND very close to Huka Falls, you should definitely stop by and check out this awesome site. If you take the added 20 minute loop walk on the upper walkway, you will get views over the craters as well. The biggest crater is approximately 40m!
THE TONGARIRO ALPINE CROSSING
Maybe this particular spot deserved it's own blog post - maybe I will do another with a more in-depth discussion on everything you need to know. Known as New Zealand's best day hike, this 19.4km trail takes you between the two summits of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe, with spectacular views of the craters and lakes left behind from previous eruptions. This is a super must do, even if you have very limited time in New Zealand. It takes anywhere between 6-10 hours to complete, depending on your fitness level and how many snaps you stop to take! However, be prepared, and make sure you check all the information available before you go - this is an alpine environment, and things can change very quickly once you are up there.