This is the ninth of a series of posts detailing mine and my sister’s trip to New Zealand’s North Island. View all the posts so far here.
Taupo is another North Island town built in an area of volcanic activity, and like Rotorua it offers geothermal attractions and active pursuits aplenty. Over a day and a half there, I walked to Huka Falls, kayaked to Orakei Korako thermal park, and ate one of the best chicken burgers I’ve ever tasted. But most importantly, Taupo was our gateway to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
We arrived in Taupo early in the afternoon and immediately checked into our hostel, Rainbow Lodge Backpackers. Then we had to somehow find lunch at 3pm, when every café and restaurant seemed to be shut. We tried the Storehouse café first and were told they were just closing, however, they recommended that we went to Pauly’s Diner which was owned by friends of theirs and sure to be open.
Pauly’s Diner is cash only so we had to find an ATM before ordering, but boy was it worth it. The fried chicken burger with slaw was the best I’ve eaten outside London, and the sweet potato fries and caramel milkshake were similarly amazing. Tama ordered the halloumi and mushroom burger with pesto, and although she loved it, couldn’t finish it due to being unaccustomed to that much cheese! I was only too happy to help her out…
Fully satiated, we next walked to the Spa Thermal Park and through it to Huka Falls. The scenic walk, which took us through the forest beside the river, was longer and more strenuous than we’d expected (but maybe that had something to do with our full bellies…)
When we eventually reached Huka Falls, we knew the walk had been worth it. The bright turquoise water of the falls is stunning enough on its own, but the violent force with which the water crashes down its course is astounding. We took some photos (in our unintentionally matching white tees) and had a chat with a man set to do the Iron Man competition tomorrow before heading back the way we’d come.
On the way back we passed the hot streams where the river water is naturally heated by the geothermal forces underneath. I would have liked to go in the water but was put off by how crowded the river was with people being loud and drinking. That didn’t stop Tama though, and she went for a brief swim before we headed back to Rainbow Lodge.
Kayaking down Waikato River
The next day we had a tour booked with Taupo Kayaking Adventures, where we’d kayak down Waikato River to Orakei Korako thermal park. We had breakfast in Rainbow Lodge’s busy kitchen before being picked up at 9am by our guide, Ryan, and our driver for the day.
Both men were really nice and friendly, putting us at ease straightaway. When we reached the riverbank we were given lifejackets and dry covers to put on, then helped into our double kayak. Ryan got into a kayak of his own and we followed him downriver at a slow pace, chatting all the way. At one point we stopped and got out so that Ryan could show us a bubbling geyser and some hot water pools hidden within a crevice of the river valley.
We reached the entrance to Orakei Korako quite quickly and with no difficulty – in fact, it felt a little too easy and too short a journey! Having paddled to shore, the driver loaded our kayaks back onto the vehicle and we went to sit in the visitor centre cafe. Here, Ryan and our driver brought out a packed lunch of sandwiches, cheese and pickled onion skewers, fruit, and cakes. They also bought us tea and coffee from the café. It was a really nice lunch.
Afterwards, Ryan, Tama and I hopped on a boat and were taken across the river to Orakei Korako. Ryan gave us a guided tour of the park, talking about each of the different sections and pointing out various flora and fauna. This included a funny part where he encouraged us to lie belly down on the ground and stick our heads in a steam funnel to get a natural facial!
Orakei Korako boasts particularly stunning swathes of coloured rock, which looked to me like waterfalls and swirling pools of paint. Other than these stand-out sights, Orakei Korako doesn’t offer anything that’s not also at Wai-o-tapu, Waimangu and Te Puia. But it was still very interesting to see, particularly with a knowledgeable guide to tell us more about what we were seeing.
At the end of the tour we were driven back to Rainbow Lodge. There was just one thing left on our North Island itinerary: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We began preparations that evening…
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All text and some photos (c) Juliet Langton, other photos (c) Tamasin Langton, 2018. All rights reserved.