Taupō & Ruapehu

​Movie star volcanoes, white-water rapids and under-the-radar geothermal wonderlands hide surprises such as a swim-up bar and New Zealand’s answer to Buckingham Palace in the heart of the North Island.


Stretching from Mt Ruapehu to Whakaari (White Island) in the Bay of Plenty, the Taupō Volcanic Zones is to thank for some of the region’s star attractions, including Lake Taupō, the triplet peaks of Tongariro National Park, and the steaming spectacle that is Orākei Kōrako.

Take a trip back in time to Aotearoa as it used to be on a bike ride or bush walk along an abandoned rail trail, or drive to a self-declared republic along the “Forgotten World Highway”.

In the towns, street art to rival that in Melbourne, family-friendly activities such as New Zealand’s first e-adventure park, and local delicacies such as Johnny Nation’s giant chocolate eclairs reward those who take the time to explore.

See & Do

Tackle one of the planet's best one-day walks, get up close to a thundering waterfall, and soak in a free natural thermal stream.

Climb an active volcano

This is actually much more than a walk: you'll be climbing up an unmarked route to the crater rim of Mount Ruapehu. Plus, it's guided, so if you're reasonably fit and active, it's an accessible expedition into the wilderness. After meeting at the Adrift Tongariro base, the adventurous bit starts at the Whakapapa ski area. Swing and sway along two chairlifts before getting serious with the hiking: up and over boulders and gravel, past a glacier, along the deceptively-named Restful Ridge to the Summit Plateau. Get your breath, and then have it taken away from you again by the long views, if you're lucky with the weather. Read more

There is no marked track to follow across Ruapehu's slopes. VISIT RUAPEHU

There is no marked track to follow across Ruapehu's slopes. VISIT RUAPEHU

You can reach the Mine Bay Māori rock carvings by boat or kayak. BROOK SABIN

You can reach the Mine Bay Māori rock carvings by boat or kayak. BROOK SABIN

Taupō’s hidden rock carvings

They have been called some of New Zealand’s most extraordinary contemporary Māori artworks, but you’ll need a boat to see them. Created in the late 1970s by master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell, the giant Mine Bay Māori rock carving of Ngātoroirangi on Lake Taupō soars around 14 metres above the water. No surprise it’s one of Taupō’s most popular attractions and can be reached by taking a scenic cruise or a kayak trip. Read more

The Taonui Viaduct is still visible, but not accessible. BROOK SABIN

The Taonui Viaduct is still visible, but not accessible. BROOK SABIN

The forgotten rail trail

The Ohakune Old Coach Road is a cycle trail (or bush walk) through a section of the old road which once connected railways from Wellington to Auckland. From Ohakune, the 15km track begins along gentle farmland before abruptly entering the Tongariro National Park. The forest is staggeringly beautiful, with a jungle-like feel that makes you realise this is what New Zealand looked like before humans began. The bush trail morphs into a cobblestone path, which was the original road linking the two railheads. You'll next reach the Taonui Viaduct, a smaller bridge that has fallen into a state of disrepair and is today a metal monument to the region's history. Continue down through the bush until you reach the Hāpuawhenua Viaduct, which still stands 114 years after construction. But the excitement doesn't stop there, with an abandoned train tunnel also left to explore. Read more

A GUIDE TO TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK

Born from the extremes of a still-active volcanic history, Tongariro National Park is a year-round adventurers' destination amid the rugged central heart of the North Island.

Expect to do a double-take when you first see Tongariro National Park's Mt Ngauruhoe. Having a starring role as Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy can do that to a volcano.

Ngāuruhoe's perfect cone is one of three volcanos punctuating this sprawling region alive with geothermal activity, and the alpine trifecta including Mt Ruapehu and Mt Tongariro provides a rugged and versatile backdrop to adventures in New Zealand's oldest national park.

Established in 1887 due to the foresight of Ngāti Tūwharetoa chief, Te Heuheu Tūkino Horonuku, Tongariro is also one of the world's oldest national parks, and was actually mandated three years before iconic Yosemite National Park in the United States.

Winter sports are the focus through the middle of the year, but once spring arrives with the blooming of mountain daisies and buttercups, tramping and mountain biking emerge as the best ways to experience Tongariro's alpine and tussock-tinged environment.

One of the planet's best one-day walks packs in shimmering alpine lakes, volcanic surprises and rust-red Martian landscapes, while it's possible to pedal through a cinematic scroll of history and natural spectacle.

Year-round, the energetic bars and cafes in nearby Ohakune are a fine end-of-day coda to snowsports, mountain biking or hiking, and even in summer, the upper slopes of Mt Ruapehu can be easily experienced by all travellers.

Read more

VISIT RUAPEHU

A thundering natural wonder

The biggest falls on our longest river, Huka Falls are by definition spectacular, so it's little wonder that these are the country's most-visited natural attraction. It does help, of course, that they are so easy to get to: just a five-minute drive from the town of Taupō. The mighty Waikato River is squeezed through a 15-metre-wide gorge and over a series of rapids, before thundering in a truly awe-inspiring display of power 11 metres down to the swirling pool below. The thunderous spectacle of 220,000 litres per second simply has to be seen to be believed. Read more

The falls spew 220,000 litres of water per second. BROOK SABIN

The falls spew 220,000 litres of water per second. BROOK SABIN

Whack golf balls into the lake

Unsurprisingly thought up one night in a pub and sketched on the back of a beer mat, the Hole in One Challenge has been a fixture on the Taupō lakefront since 1993. Three holes of varying sizes, from standard width right up to a vast 50cm in diameter, are located on a pontoon floating just over 100 metres out from the shore. They are the irresistible target for aspiring golfers, who buy buckets of balls to whack towards it with mostly predictable results. What can be relied upon, though, is the fun to be had in the attempt, by anyone able to swing a club and those encouraging/mocking them. Read more

Insider tip: Craters of the Moon is a 45-minute geothermal walk around Wairakei's steaming valley. It is open every day of the year except Christmas Day with admission only $8 for adults and $4 for children.
Stephen Heard, travel publishing coordinator

Cruise on a replica steamboat

The Ernest Kemp is a relaxing two-hour cruise on a dinky little pretend steamer painted red, white, yellow and green and looking like something out of a child's story book. It chugs around the town end of the lake while the captain tells some of the history and stories of the area, and the friendly staff serve passengers with hot drinks, snacks and a glass of wine or beer. With both indoor and outdoor seating, you needn't worry about rain. Read more

Ernest Kemp runs daily scenic cruises. LOVE TAUPO

Ernest Kemp runs daily scenic cruises. LOVE TAUPO

Northern Explorer passing through the Hāpuawhenua Viaduct. GREAT JOURNEYS OF NZ

Northern Explorer passing through the Hāpuawhenua Viaduct. GREAT JOURNEYS OF NZ

The North Island's epic rail journey

The Northern Explorer is an epic 11-hour train journey down the length of the North Island. Leaving the city behind for green and hilly landscape to reach the midway point of volcanic plateau, Tongariro National Park. A dramatic rail spiral allows trains to rise up to the plateau, where sit its three great volcanoes: Mount Ruapehu, Mount Tongariro, and the dramatically conical Mount Ngāuruhoe. With this wealth of scenery the route is a marvellous train journey, one that has been enjoyed by Kiwis and visitors alike since the North Island Main Trunk line was completed in 1908. Read more

A GUIDE TO WHANGANUI NATIONAL PARK

Framed by Whanganui National Park, the historic and culturally important Whanganui River is the remote backdrop to one of New Zealand's classic outdoor adventures.

Steeped in Māori history and culture, the Whanganui River meanders for 290km from Mt Tongariro to the Tasman Sea, making it the longest navigable river in New Zealand.

It's also a remote bush-clad waterway important to Māori in a spiritual sense, and in 2017 groundbreaking legislation granted the river the same rights as a person. This guaranteed an enhanced level of environmental and cultural protection, and after a 140-year legal battle, brought closure to the local Whanganui iwi who consider the river to be an ancestor.

Visitors can discover the region along the wonderfully scenic Whanganui River Road linking Whanganui to Pipiriki, but exploring the river by canoe or kayak while undertaking the Whanganui Journey is the national park's quintessential experience. Although it's solely a waterborne adventure, the Whanganui Journey is regarded as one of the Department of Conservation's Great Walks.

The flexibility to commit to the full five-day journey or focus on shorter, more accessible sections make it a good option for both active travellers and families, and there's also the option of negotiating the river's winding way on one of New Zealand's best cycle journeys.

Read more

VISIT RUAPEHU

Taupō's free warm water haven

Otumuheke Stream steams quietly through bush and scrub and along the edge of Spa Thermal Park in Taupō. Then it drops down a couple of small waterfalls, filling the pools below them with beautifully warm, silky mineral water, before finally easing into the mighty Waikato. It’s gentle, beautifully relaxing and, unlike the more commercial options available, completely natural. You just walk about 25 minutes from the town centre and through the park down towards the river. Once there, you climb down the steps at the stream’s edge to soak in one of the pools, or even sit directly underneath the little waterfall. You choose how hot you want the water by where you sit. Read more

Otumuheke Stream is free for the public to enjoy. JOEL MCDOWELL

Otumuheke Stream is free for the public to enjoy. JOEL MCDOWELL

Inside tip: Though the Otumuheke pools are rarely crowded, you can explore further upstream for even more privacy, and higher temperatures.
Pamela Wade, freelance travel writer

Set aside around an hour to walk Orākei Kōrako. BROOK SABIN

Set aside around an hour to walk Orākei Kōrako. BROOK SABIN

The steaming geothermal valley

The geothermal version of Jurassic Park is 30 minutes outside town: Orākei Kōrako. Arriving at the car park is a magical experience. Across the other side of Waikato River is a valley of spectacles: everything is steaming, boiling, hissing or mushrooming into the air. You’ll first board a small boat to head across the river, then follow a snaking boardwalk which passes more than 20 geysers, hot springs and mud pools. There's even a rare geothermal cave; one of only two that are known to exist in the world. Read more

Rapids Jet goes down the Nga Awapurua Rapids. BROOK SABIN

Rapids Jet goes down the Nga Awapurua Rapids. BROOK SABIN

Ride our biggest rapids

Taupo's Rapids Jet breaks the jet boat mould by adding whitewater to the mix – meaning big bumps and jumps. The 35-minute trip passes through the narrowest canyon on the Waikato River, and races around the Nga Awapurua Rapids – the biggest commercially jet boated rapids in New Zealand. It feels like you're whitewater rafting, without expending any effort. You'll also ride the Fuljames Rapids, where parts of The Hobbit was filmed. Read more

A nod to the past

It’s New Zealand’s worst rail accident, which saw 151 people lose their lives when, on Christmas Eve 1953, the Wellington–Auckland night express plunged into the flooded Whangaehu River at Tangiwai thanks to volcanic mudflow that damaged the rail bridge. Pay your respects at the disaster memorial which was upgraded a few years ago and is a touching tribute to the victims. Read more

Army cannon at the National Army Museum. VISIT RUAPEHU

Army cannon at the National Army Museum. VISIT RUAPEHU

Waiouru's well-presented military museum

On the outskirts of the little town of Waiouru, which is dwarfed by the nearby bulk of Ruapehu, a strikingly modern building houses the National Army Museum, documenting 175 years of military history. The displays, some of which are interactive, range from the hulking tanks outside to mini uniforms indoors for children to try on, with in between enough information, photos, videos, artefacts and personal stories to make the whole experience both educational and emotional. Read more

Lego lovers will enjoy Mind Junction. BROOK SABIN

Lego lovers will enjoy Mind Junction. BROOK SABIN

For indoor thrills

If you or the kids are a fan of the hit TV show Lego Masters, you'll want to stop at Mind Junction. This adventure centre for kids has the largest permanent Lego display in New Zealand - alongside lots of other activities like a giant outdoor maze, radio control boats and a fully functioning flight simulator. The Discovery Centre is a highlight - it's accessed by a pitch-black 'sensory tunnel' - then out you pop in a room full of experiments. Kids will learn about space, sound, light and Earth while playing with interactive displays.

Bike the lake

The all-season Great Lake Trails hug the shore of New Zealand’s largest lake, taking you through forest and wetlands, waterfalls and beaches with ridiculous panoramic lake views. The usually two-day 90km ride can be broken up into shorter sections with shuttle services from Adventure Shuttles. The track is mostly smooth with some hill climbs and slightly more remote sections, making it best suited for well-prepared and reasonably fit bikers. Read more

The Great Lake Trails run for 90km around the lake. LOVE TAUPO

The Great Lake Trails run for 90km around the lake. LOVE TAUPO

The dam releases several times per day. BROOK SABIN

The dam releases several times per day. BROOK SABIN

The power of water

Aratiatia Dam is the site of a regularly-scheduled release of water down a rocky gorge, about 13km downstream from Lake Taupō. Four times a day, sirens sound a warning, and the two spillways are opened, allowing a huge surge of water to thunder over the rocks. From being a steep staircase of dry black boulders threaded by an almost invisible stream and punctuated by still pools, within minutes it turns into a raging river, the turquoise water foaming white as it powers down the narrow gorge. The contrast is astonishing and awe-inspiring. Then, half an hour later, the gates are shut and the torrent shrinks to a stream again. Read more

Hidden Gems

Have a go at husky racing, strap in for a rafting adventure, and see the country's largest collection of privately owned dinosaur skeletons.

The hidden hot spring

Wairakei Terraces and Thermal Health Spa is less than 10 minutes' drive out of Taupō but has a fairytale-like atmosphere. The complex has three large baby blue coloured pools, with the mineral-rich water bubbling up from a geyser. After soaking healing properties of the pools, visitors can head off on a fascinating stroll around the terraces on a geothermal walkway and get within a few metres of the geyser. Read more

The three pools at Wairākei Terraces are different temperatures. BROOK SABIN

The three pools at Wairākei Terraces are different temperatures. BROOK SABIN

More than a dozen classic Old West Town buildings line the main street. SIMON MAUDE

More than a dozen classic Old West Town buildings line the main street. SIMON MAUDE

Ruapehu's slice of the Wild West

Tucked away in a remote valley, 35km off SH4 along the Ruatiti Valley and literally at the end of the road, is the perfect recreation of an 1880s Wild West town, complete with bat-wing doors on the Lucky Strike Saloon, a Courthouse, livery stable and Marshal's office. Old West Town started out as a personal project, but now anyone can strut, gun on hip, down Main Street, chow down under the stars on a barbecue at the Chuck Wagon, and then snuggle in for a peaceful night in one of the themed rooms in Miss Nancy Ann's Hotel Parlour. It is closed over winter when the weather shuts the valley, so go in summer when the days are long and everything is accessible and looking its best. Read more

Insider tip: Taupō's Spa Park has 9- and 18-hole disc golf courses that can be used for free.
Stephen Heard, travel publishing coordinator

Big on street art

Taupō isn’t just about the water. This town of 25,000 also goes big on art, with several galleries and regular exhibitions. But if street art is more your thing you’re in luck because numerous laneways and streets around Taupō are covered with bright aerosol art just begging to be Instagrammed. At last count, that included around 80 walls. Who needs to go to Melbourne with street art this good? Read more

Adorable husky cuddles

Steve and Taniya Coxhead run the country's biggest husky racing kennel. Timberline Racing Huskies has regular tours of their kennels which includes a racing display (towing a quad bike) followed by a cuddle with the dogs. The rest of the tour is spent in Steve's "Racing Cave" where you learn all about huskies, including sledding's fascinating history. Read more

Steve and Taniya Coxhead run Timberline Racing Huskies. BROOK SABIN

Steve and Taniya Coxhead run Timberline Racing Huskies. BROOK SABIN

The garden is full of delights. LAVA GLASS STUDIO

The garden is full of delights. LAVA GLASS STUDIO

Eye-catching garden of glass

About ten minutes’ drive away from the centre of Taupō you can wander around a garden full of a variety of delicate-looking, but robust, artworks of all sizes, from a rainbow big enough to walk through, to drifts of shiny flowers and flocks of arty birds. Once you’re full of admiration and wonder for these beautiful pieces, you can enter the Lava Glass Studio studio to see how those delights were made, and probably be tempted to buy some. There’s also a licensed café onsite, where you can enjoy delicious, locally-produced food served with artistic flair. Read more

Tongariro's hidden alternative

There's a far easier and arguably just as stunning walk a few kilometres down the road from New Zealand's best day hike. Also located within the Tongariro National Park, the Tama Lakes Track offers similar scenery to the alpine crossing – minus the thigh-burning climbs. There is a fairly steep ascent to the second of the two bright blue lakes set within explosion craters created some 10,000 years ago en route, but it is optional. And nothing compared to the Devil’s Staircase and subsequent uphill scramble to the Red Crater. At 17 kilometres return, the track is only slightly shorter than the crossing but, as it’s relatively flat, it’s a breeze to walk in comparison. Read more

Insider tip: One of the region's best short walks is the two-hour return walk to Taranaki Falls, which flows over an old lava field.
Brook Sabin, travel journalist

Wairakei is heated by a geyser, which you can walk right up to. BROOK SABIN

Wairakei is heated by a geyser, which you can walk right up to. BROOK SABIN

The Chateau is one of the country’s most iconic properties. BROOK SABIN

The Chateau is one of the country’s most iconic properties. BROOK SABIN

Ruapehu has two ski areas. BROOK SABIN

Ruapehu has two ski areas. BROOK SABIN

Mount Ngāuruhoe appeared as Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. BROOK SABIN

Mount Ngāuruhoe appeared as Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. BROOK SABIN

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Wairakei is heated by a geyser, which you can walk right up to. BROOK SABIN

Wairakei is heated by a geyser, which you can walk right up to. BROOK SABIN

The Chateau is one of the country’s most iconic properties. BROOK SABIN

The Chateau is one of the country’s most iconic properties. BROOK SABIN

Ruapehu has two ski areas. BROOK SABIN

Ruapehu has two ski areas. BROOK SABIN

Mount Ngāuruhoe appeared as Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. BROOK SABIN

Mount Ngāuruhoe appeared as Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. BROOK SABIN

Ride a forgotten valley

Floating down the Tongariro River feels like a trip back to New Zealand before humans arrived. The river passes towering canyons, pumice cliffs, dense native bush and more than 60 rapids. Tongariro River Rafting's main trip is on Grade Three rapids; this 14km journey is the perfect balance of adventure and scenery - with little chance of falling out. A family-friendly option for younger kids includes a section of Grade Two rapids - where children as young as three can join. Winter rafters are kept warm with several super-cosy layers and a hot spring soak afterwards. Read more

The rafting trip is suitable for anyone ten or over. BROOK SABIN

The rafting trip is suitable for anyone ten or over. BROOK SABIN

The Dinosaur House is in a historic building in the centre of Raetihi. BROOK SABIN

The Dinosaur House is in a historic building in the centre of Raetihi. BROOK SABIN

Raetihi's hidden dinosaur house

While Ohakune gets more attention, a tiny town less than 20 minutes away is the epitome of a hidden gem. Raetihi has an exciting small-town cafe and arts culture, and a fascinating dinosaur museum that kids will love. Dinosaur House is home to the country's largest collections of privately owned dinosaur skeletons, fossils and life-size models, painstakingly collected over decades by Ian and Sarah Moore. The museum has enormous moving dinosaurs, documentaries, and even dinosaur arcade games. It's a must-stop if you have kids in tow.

Lakeside climbing

On the northern shore of Lake Taupō, take about a two-hour hike from Kinloch to Kawakawa’s humble campsite for some of the best rock climbing in the North Island. With a mix of trad and sports climbing routes, the lakeside climbing walls deliver a seriously stunning blue backdrop to your ascent. Finish the day off with jump into the water and do it all over again the next day. For those who don’t have the climbing gear or experience, but who still want to earn a fresh dip in the lake, the hike to Kawakawa is also a mountain biking trial you can loop in one day. Read more

A republic with its own passport stamp

The self-declared republic of Whangamōmona doesn't take itself too seriously. A goat once won the presidency before being replaced by a poodle. The only way in is via the “Forgotten World Highway”, deep into an untamed wilderness between Taumarunui and Stratford. The buildings are quaint and the town is quiet, but once every two years thousands gather for Republic Day when visitors are asked to buy a passport to enter. It costs a few dollars for a Whangamōmona Passport, or you can get a stamp in your own passport for $2. Read more

The fat tyre electric scooters are easy to ride. BROOK SABIN

The fat tyre electric scooters are easy to ride. BROOK SABIN

Eco-friendly family fun

Taupō is home to the country's first e-adventure park – E for electric. Pure Kiwi Adventures has a set of Segways, and fat tyre electric bikes. These are used on a series of forest tracks, which includes exploring geothermal activity in the area. You'll be surprised at what you can do with a Segway, including going up and down steep hills. A tour on the fat tyre bikes takes you further afield, with more geothermal features to discover.

The Timber Trail features eight suspension bridges. CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

The Timber Trail features eight suspension bridges. CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

A rewarding two-day ride

The 85km-long Timber Trail through Pureora Forest Park is widely regarded as one of the country's best two-day rides, attracting mountain bike enthusiasts from around the country. Twisting singletrack paths cut through the scenic conservation park, weaving past towering rimu, kahikatea and mātai and following old logging roads and tramlines. The Timber Trail Lodge is an accommodation stop at the halfway point of the trail, with 20 rooms available for riders to rest their legs. Read more

Insider tip: Taupō's AC Baths has a series of outdoor pools which includes a "bombing pool", a Tarzan swing and hydroslides. Entry is $9.50 for adults and from $4.50 for children.
Brook Sabin, travel journalist

Eat & Drink

Have lunch in a giant doughnut-shaped boat, grab a famous chocolate eclair for pocket change, and journey to New Zealand’s highest cafe.

Pizza in a doughnut

Forget sitting at a restaurant, one of the best places to enjoy a pizza is floating out on Lake Taupō. Doughboats are, as their name suggests, a giant doughnut-shaped boat with a table in the middle and a cabana for shade. Grab a group of up to six friends or family and be let loose – you'll have a small electric motor to set off and explore, within a boundary. You can order an elaborate grazing platter when booking, or bring along a pizza, and have a catch-up with friends while puttering around a volcano crater. Read more

Donutboats were launched on Lake Taupō by couple James and Laurel Wells. BROOK SABIN

Donutboats were launched on Lake Taupō by couple James and Laurel Wells. BROOK SABIN

The chefs table

One of New Zealand's best dining experiences is where you would least expect it: on top of a remote hill in the Ruapehu hinterland. The Chef's Table is like a journey to the dining equivalent of heaven. You first need to drive to the remote Blue Duck Station. You will then ascend a mountain to find a hilltop hut overlooking a primeval expanse of land. There, in an off-the-grid restaurant, you will be served a 10-course degustation, prepared with fresh ingredients from the farm. You can even stay the night on the hill in a secluded cabin. Read more

Two Mile sits right on the lake. LOVE TAUPO/FELICITY WITTERS

Two Mile sits right on the lake. LOVE TAUPO/FELICITY WITTERS

The best bars in Taupō

You can't get any closer to the lake at Two Mile Bay Sailing Club. In fact, this popular bar at the lake’s edge boasts one of Aotearoa’s few floating bars. Come for the beer, wine and cocktails, stay for the delicious pizzas. The Crafty Trout takes its beer seriously. There’s a wide range to choose from, including IPAs, dark porters, wheat beer, mead and apple cider. There’s even beer-based cocktails. The only problem you’ll have at Vine Eatery & Bar is deciding which of the 200 or so bottles of wine you want to drink. Read more

WHERE THE LOCALS EAT

Paul Froggatt and Katherine Froggatt-Ong of Huka Lodge.

Embra

Embra is one of the newer places to go in Taupō. The chef is a gentleman called Phill, who has worked briefly here at Huka Lodge as well as at Poronui Lodge. He was in Scotland but has recently come home and opened up a small place with really good food. The five-course tasting menu is excellent and it’s a great place to have a proper sit-down dinner and spend an evening. It’s really good honest cooking.

Thai Delight

Thai Delight is great for authentic Thai flavours. When we take the family we always order the tom yum soup and the kids love the pad thai. In terms of curry, they do good green and red curries but also a great massaman. The same lady also owns a modern Thai place called The Mira which does a lot of nice seafood dishes and has a couple of western dishes if you have a mixed group.

The Brantry

We like The Brantry for its special events. They always have something interesting going so it’s well worth looking ahead on their website and booking in if you know when you’re going to be in town on a specific date. We’ve been to their Gin Dego and Matariki special dinners and it’s so great to see someone doing something a bit differently. They have a Hunter Gatherer dinner and some cooking school events coming up, which should be fun.

Read more

VISIT RUAPEHU

A delight for all the senses

Tucked into a neat garden in Acacia Bay are both colourful and original artworks, and a licensed café serving delicious food all day. Even better, though, there is real art to admire in the garden. At L'Arte Cafe and Gallery there are metal and pottery sculptures to catch your eye as you walk up the path, some of them kinetic, but the main act is the spectacularly colourful outdoor living room with sofas, armchair, fireplace, tables and a window. Each surface is a marvel of jigsawed pieces of bright tile, smooth and decorative. Read more

Johnny Nation's eclairs are like a meal. BROOK SABIN

Johnny Nation's eclairs are like a meal. BROOK SABIN

Better than carrots

Ohakune may be the carrot capital of New Zealand, but it's also home to famous chocolate eclairs. The family-run Johnny Nation's Chocolate Eclair Shop, which has been operating for more than 70 years, serves giant cheap eclairs and, during the ski season, it sells more than 1200 a day. At $3 each, you won't find better value.

Insider tip: Visit The Blind Finch in Ohakune for its decadently thick hot chocolates with enormous dollops of flamed marshmallow.
Brook Sabin, travel journalist

The view from Knoll Ridge Chalet is constantly changing. BROOK SABIN

The view from Knoll Ridge Chalet is constantly changing. BROOK SABIN

NZ's highest cafe

The journey to New Zealand’s highest cafe starts at the Base Station at Whakapapa ski area, on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu. The Sky Waka is the longest and most-advanced gondola in the country, travelling at six metres a second along the 1.8-kilometre wire. You pass frozen waterfalls, ancient lava flows and deep snow-covered valleys, before a sleek gondola station emerges through yet another layer of clouds. Up the top is the Knoll Ridge Chalet where, above the clouds, there's a big focus on local ingredients - like angus from Ohakune and carrots from Horopito. There's also a cafe, and food truck-style tuck shop in winter. Read more

Insider tip:In Taupō you can eat your McDonald’s inside a decommissioned DC3. The plane can fit 20 across ten tables.
Stephen Heard, travel publishing coordinator

WHERE THE LOCALS EAT

Phillip and Nora Blackburne of Embra restaurant.

Rosemary’s

For drinks and a good time, Rosemary's is the place to go. Pool tables, smash burgers, live music, décor well fit for a dive bar – this is the spot for a good night out with mates.

Huka Lodge

If you are willing to go a little out of town, the world-famous Huka Lodge absolutely delivers an impeccable fine dining experience – Paul is an outstanding chef and we are so lucky to have him here in Taupō.

K’s Kitchen

Phill does love a bit of Korean fried chicken from K's Kitchen for lunch! It’s his guilty pleasure. They have a food truck that is family-run and their fried chicken on its own - or their chicken burgers - are sublime. They are usually parked up on Spa Road or at the Sunday market in Northcroft Reserve.

Read more

VISIT RUAPEHU

Stay

Stay at the foot of Mt Ruapehu in a grand chateau, take the family to a hydro-slide holiday park, or escape to a remote farm station.

Great value glamping

Ruapehu has an exciting collection of glamping sites, including one that's perfect for families. Kinloch Glamping is set on a 500ha family farm, where you might see the odd cow – but that’s about it. Instead, you’ll marvel at the view, which includes Mount Ruapehu on a clear day. The campsite is designed for entertaining, with an outdoor deck for food and wine and two outdoor baths. Importantly, for those who like a level of comfort, the site has a full shower and bathroom block.

Kinloch Glamping is set on a 500ha farm. BROOK SABIN

Kinloch Glamping is set on a 500ha farm. BROOK SABIN

DeBretts has two hydro-slides. BROOK SABIN

DeBretts has two hydro-slides. BROOK SABIN

A hydro-slide holiday park

DeBretts Hot Springs are designed for kids and adults alike. Children can spend the day at the hot water playground, or racing up and down the hydro-slides, while parents relax in the nearby thermal pools. This popular complex can be crowded during holidays, but off-peak, it's a great place to unwind while the kids burn off their energy. The property has a range of accommodation options on-site.

Nightsky Cottage is nestled among native bush. BROOK SABIN

Nightsky Cottage is nestled among native bush. BROOK SABIN

Secret star cabin

Tucked away on the edge of the Tongariro National Park, Nightsky Cottage is so undisturbed that there's a resident population of kiwi you will hear at night. Aside from the solitude, the star of the show is, literally, the stars. The cabin has a large skylight for observing the stars, or there is an outdoor deck where you can wrap yourself in a blanket to enjoy the elements. The bathroom is another highlight: you will find two freestanding baths overlooking the bush. The cottage is also environmentally friendly; the soaps and bath bombs are handmade, and your plush duvet is created from 175 milk bottles. Read more

NZ's version of Buckingham Palace

Sitting proudly on the lower slopes of Mt Ruapehu, you can't miss the iconic Chateau Tongariro. You’ll feel like royalty walking inside, as you pass chandeliers and a cosy grand hall with a roaring fire. The hotel has everything from cabin rooms right up to suites. The facilities are a real strong point, designed to accommodate large amounts of people if the weather is horrid up the mountain and guests just want to lounge around. There is an indoor heated plunge pool, a large sauna and cinema, which has regular free screenings throughout the day. The upper lounge hosts high tea with views of Mt Tongariro. Read more

The Chateau sits at the foot of Mt Ruapehu. BROOK SABIN

The Chateau sits at the foot of Mt Ruapehu. BROOK SABIN

Blue Duck Station's overnight cabins are in a stunning remote location. BROOK SABIN

Blue Duck Station's overnight cabins are in a stunning remote location. BROOK SABIN

Luxury on a hilltop

If you want a winter escape disconnected from the rest of the world, head to Blue Duck Station, which is surrounded by the Whanganui National Park. The drive there is exceptionally windy, but it's well worth the effort. The remote farm has a series of affordable accommodation options alongside activities such as horse trekking, jet boating, kayaking and a cafe. The hugely popular fine-dining experience known as “Chef's Table” – where a feast is prepared in a luxury kitchen on top of a hill – has closed for winter, but reopens in September.

Golf and luxury

Just a 20-minute drive from Taupō, the Kinloch Manor and its cluster of villas sit on a hill overlooking the township of Kinloch and the lake and mountains beyond. A striking angular white building surrounded by low-profile, wooden villas, the manor was opened in 2016 to offer luxurious accommodation and easy access to the 18-hole golf course, as well as the region’s many other activities. The main building features soaring windows for appreciation of those spectacular views. Read more

NZ's first swim-up bar

Lake Taupō Holiday Resort is a serious contender for the country's best holiday park. The resort has New Zealand's first swim-up hot pool bar and cafe. The hot pool also has a large screen playing movies each night – and sporting matches whenever they are on. In the far corner, there's a giant hot pool cave with artificial glow-worms and wētā. Outside the pool, the fun continues with pedal go-karts, a jumping pillow, an adventure playground and games room. The holiday park is big: it can fit more than 1000 people in peak season between tent sites, caravan parks, motel rooms and units. Read more

The resort has a swim-up hot pool bar and cafe. BROOK SABIN

The resort has a swim-up hot pool bar and cafe. BROOK SABIN

Enough room for the whole family

Wairakei Resort Taupō is a historic low-rise hotel sitting on 169 acres of landscaped grounds in the region's geothermal valley. Some of Taupō best-known attractions are a short car ride away, while New Zealand’s largest lake and its bustling village are only 5km down the road. There’s everything you could possibly need around the sprawling park-like property including two thermal pools, a 9-hole golf course, two full-size tennis courts and children’s playground. Read more

SECRET RUAPEHU ESCAPES

Retaruke Country Estate

For an all-inclusive luxury experience, one of the best in the region is found less than 10 kilometres west of National Park Village. Retaruke Country Estate is part of a vast 1600-hectare farm that stretches from dense bush to an impressive plateau. The grand lodge works on an exclusive use basis - meaning you can gather up to three couples to share the cost. The nightly rate includes all activities on the property, such as horse riding, farm tours, off-road adventures, mountain biking, hunting and trout fishing – to name just a few.

Retaruke Country Estate. VISIT RUAPEHU

Retaruke Country Estate. VISIT RUAPEHU

Te Awa Glamping

On a private slice of the Whanganui River, you'll find one of the region's best glamping escapes. Te Awa Glamping has all the luxuries of a five-star hotel with a dramatic location. You'll be treated to a welcome basket on arrival, a plush bed, designer indoor bathroom, an outdoor bath for stargazing, and a huge selection of blankets for those colder nights. There is a massive variety of things to do around the area, but you're best to unwind here, then spend a few nights somewhere else to enjoy everything the region has to offer.

Blackfern Lodge

This remote lodge is nestled in the Pureora Forest Park, a 78,000-hectare wilderness with ancient trees and majestic bird life. The lodge can be accessed via the magnificent Timber Trail, a bike track that weaves along old logging lines through dense forest. You'll find the lodge at the 35km marker on the trail, where you turn off and ride a further 6km. Aside from a self-catering option, the lodge offers an all-inclusive package, meaning you'll arrive to find home-cooked meals, a comfy bed, and a spa to soothe those muscles.

Posh Pioneers. VISIT RUAPEHU

Posh Pioneers. VISIT RUAPEHU

Posh Pioneers

If you're after a decent amount of adventure for a night away, Posh Pioneers is for you. There is no road to the retreat - instead, you need to follow the mighty Whanganui River. One of the more popular options is to paddle into the retreat, after which you'll be taken to the lodge, where a hot drink and scones will be waiting. After a hot shower and tour of the camp, you can expect a home-cooked meal before retiring to one of six pioneer-style wagons. The escape minimises its footprint with solar power, local produce and an advanced composting toilet, which looks much like a traditional one.

Read more

The view of Mt Ngāuruhoe from Chateau Tongariro. BROOK SABIN

The view of Mt Ngāuruhoe from Chateau Tongariro. BROOK SABIN

The lagoon pool at Lake Taupō Holiday Resort. BROOK SABIN

The lagoon pool at Lake Taupō Holiday Resort. BROOK SABIN

Skotel is said to be NZ's highest hotel. BROOK SABIN

Skotel is said to be NZ's highest hotel. BROOK SABIN

Activities at Blue Duck Station include kayaking and horse riding. BROOK SABIN

Activities at Blue Duck Station include kayaking and horse riding. BROOK SABIN

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The view of Mt Ngāuruhoe from Chateau Tongariro. BROOK SABIN

The view of Mt Ngāuruhoe from Chateau Tongariro. BROOK SABIN

The lagoon pool at Lake Taupō Holiday Resort. BROOK SABIN

The lagoon pool at Lake Taupō Holiday Resort. BROOK SABIN

Skotel is said to be NZ's highest hotel. BROOK SABIN

Skotel is said to be NZ's highest hotel. BROOK SABIN

Activities at Blue Duck Station include kayaking and horse riding. BROOK SABIN

Activities at Blue Duck Station include kayaking and horse riding. BROOK SABIN

Sponsored picks

Lake Taupō is calling

Here’s your guide to off-the-beaten-track places to eat, play and stay in the Taupō region this winter.

Fishing at Western Bays. SUPPLIED

Fishing at Western Bays. SUPPLIED

Sponsored picks

Relax and rejuvenate in Ruapehu's winter wonderland

Get ready to linger a while longer, breathe in that crisp mountain air and retreat off the beaten track in Ruapehu this winter.

Experience Tongariro Alpine Crossing on a guided winter expedition. SUPPLIED

Experience Tongariro Alpine Crossing on a guided winter expedition. SUPPLIED

Visuals: Brook Sabin, Radha Engling

Words: Brook Sabin, Stephen Heard, Siobhan Downes, Lorna Thornber, Alan Granville, Juliette Sivertsen, Trupti Biradar, Sharon Stephenson, Pamela Wade, Alexia Santamaria, Laetitia Laubscher

Editors: Trupti Biradar, Stephen Heard

Stuff Travel's Go To Guides are created in partnership with Tourism New Zealand