Great news – you’ve got a long weekend and you’ve decided to head down to Taupo from Auckland for 3 days. With so much to see and do on the way down and once you get there, planning your days can take up valuable time so let us save you the trouble and check out our awesome 3 day itinerary below and just get ready to have yourselves a little adventure. Sound good? OK – let’s GO!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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1Auckland to Taupo (279kms – 3 hours 20 mins)
Day 1 of this road trip is about the journey, not the destination! It’s a solid 3.5+ hour drive to Taupo depending on the traffic out of Auckland so take your time on day one to stop off at some of the fantastic places along the way –they might just surprise you! There are a couple of ways to head down to Taupo so the great news about this round trip is you get to come back a different way to the route you take on the way there – we will leave it up to you to pick which way round you do it but we are going to start with the trip down SH27.
Matamata (161kms – 1 hour 52mins from Auckland)
One of our main reasons for coming this way first is to stop off in one of our favourite locations in the North Island. Many people have never heard of Matamata (even though it’s so good they named it twice!) but speak the words ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘The Hobbit’ and you soon see that spark of intrigue that only comes from the opportunity to visit one of the most famous movie sets in the world.
That’s right people, the first major stop off on this adventure takes us to Hobbiton and the home of The Shire made famous in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. Take a guided tour of The Shire and you’ll soon see from the rolling hills why Director Peter Jackson chose this location. Wander through the 44 unique hobbit holes including Bag End before stopping off for a pint in the Green Dragon Inn. This is a must for all Lord of the Rings fans and even if you’re not, it’s well worth a visit as it’s a truly captivating place.
If you’ve got the time, a trip to the Wairere Falls is also worth a shout. At 153m, these are the highest waterfalls in the North Island and there is a great walking track that will take you up to a lookout where you can enjoy some pretty awesome views over the Waikato as well as a bird’s eye view of the falls.
Putaruru (29.5kms – 25 mins from Matamata) – Chainsaw Collection at the New Zealand Timber Museum
Before you head out of Putaruru, stop for a visit to the international acclaimed Blue Spring with crystal clear blue waters. Pack a picnic and head along the Te Waihou Walkway to reach the spring. The walk takes about 1.5 hours each way and passes through rolling farmland, New Zealand native bush and even some waterfalls.
Mandatory waterfall photo taken, it’s time to keep heading south – Tokoroa is our next stop and we hope you’re hungry!
Tokoroa (22.3kms – 16 mins from Putaruru)
Surrounded by the Kinleith forest, it’s perhaps not so surprising that Tokoroa is a logging town with not a whole bunch going on. The thing we love about Tokoroa though is the man size portions of food served up in just about every eatery in town. Even their website doesn’t beat about the bush ‘No pretensions here; just honest kiwi hospitality and lumberjack-sized meals’ – lunch anyone?
There are plenty of walks both long and short in and around Kinleith Forest so if you fancy dusting off your hiking boots and heading for a tramp, this is a great place to do it.
It’s only another 66 kms to Taupo from Tokoroa which should take you just under an hour so hopefully you will have had a great day road tripping down and arrive in Taupo ready for the long weekend.
2Taupo and around
Taupo is a great place to spend a couple of days no matter what you are in to. Whether it’s a relaxing weekend on the shores of the lake that carries the same name or something more adrenaline fuelled like chucking yourself out of a plane, Taupo has it all.
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Lake Taupo was actually created nearly 2000 years ago by a volcanic eruption which, according to Maori folklore ‘darkened the skies in Europe and China’ – pretty explosive stuff!! What we’re left with is New Zealand’s largest lake where you will find some of the best fishing in the country as well as some geothermal activity at the Craters of the Moon.
With so much to see and do here, we’ve put together some of our highlights:
Although this is a guide to off the beaten track activities, it wouldn’t be right for us not to mention the amazing sky diving over Lake Taupo. As you will be aware, New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world and sky diving opportunities are abundant all over the country but Lake Taupo is a GO Rentals favourite and luckily for you, Taupo Tandem Skydiving is a GO Play partner giving you a 5% discount. The views as you hurtle out of the plane towards the lake are spectacular and if you can, we recommend you get the photo pack – it’s well worth the extra dollars to remember this day.
Use your GO Play card here
For you budding Rorys out there, Lake Taupo throws up a challenge – can you land your ball on a green floating in the middle of the lake? If the answer is yes, and more importantly, if you can get a hole in one, your trip to Lake Taupo just got a whole bunch better as there are some big prizes up for grabs. Even if you don’t play golf, it’s pretty satisfying just whacking balls into the lake!
This is a great little detour as you head out of Taupo and well worth it as it’s not every day you get to see a river that is usually 100m wide get squeezed through a gap which is only 20m wide over a 20m drop! Apparently 220,000 litres of water gushes over the falls every second (that is a LOT of water) – we haven’t as yet managed to see any salmon leaping up the falls and we’re not sure it’s possible – what do you reckon?
Only accessible by water are the magnificent Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay. Take a boat trip or if you’re feeling energetic, hire a kayak around the secluded bays and beaches that border Lake Taupo where you will find this fascinating carvings.
Lake Taupo has an abundance of rainbow and brown trout so if a day relaxing, sitting back and casting your line sounds like your idea of heaven, then you’ve come to the right place. If you want something a bit different, you can always have a go at fly fishing in the Tongariro River.
The Great Lake Trail is one of the 23 great rides of New Zealand and must for cycling enthusiasts. Covering a total distance of 71kms, this one is not for the feint hearted and it is recommended that you take 2-3 days to enjoy the cycle properly. That’s not to stop you heading out onto the track for a few hours though to catch some magnificent views of the lake and Tongariro National Park.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Although many people choose to stay up in the National Park, it is possible to head off and do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing from Taupo and there are bus companies that will shuttle you up to the start of the walk but be prepared for an early start.
The walk itself is often referred to as the best one day walk in New Zealand and is a highlight for many travellers to these shores. The weather can change quickly out on the walk so make sure you pack for all seasons from the sun cream to the warm base layers – even if it’s a lovely sunny day when you set out, things can soon change out on the track.
A gentle start to the walk will soon be replaced by some gradual climbs before the steep ascent to Red Crater where you get some amazing views looking down to the Emerald Lakes. Make sure you have your camera at the ready as there are so many photo opportunities on the walk.
Lord of the Rings Fans
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan (we won’t hold it against you if you’re not – promise!) then this is the place for you. Home to the sinister Mordor, you’ll soon start to recognise landscapes from the trilogy and a look over to Mt Ngauruhoe should bring flashbacks of the infamous Mount Doom. If you have the fitness and the equipment, climbing to the summit of Mount Doom is a possible add on to your day but be aware that this is a steep climb and should only be carried out by experience climbers.
By the end of the walk, you’ll probably feel like Frodo and Sam so treat yourself to a big feed and a cold beer at the end of a great day when you get back to Taupo.
3Taupo to Auckland (279kms – 3 hours 20 mins)
So after a busy couple of days heading down this way and an action packed day in and around Taupo, it’s time to head back to the big smoke of Auckland. Depending on what time you need to get your car back to Auckland, there may be time to squeeze in some of the activities you missed out on yesterday so make the most of your time here with so much to see and do. We’re going to be taking a different route back up to Auckland so there are a couple more stop offs on the way back to break up the journey.
Pureora Timber Trail (77.6kms – 1 hour 10 mins)
Another one for cycling enthusiast and another one of the 23 great rides under Nga Haerenga, The New Zealand Cycle Trail, the Pureora Timber Trail will take you through some spectacular forest terrain, over suspension bridges and through ecological areas showcasing the remnants of the forest that once dominated the area. At 77kms, this is another 2 day cycle but there are lots of shorter trails you can take from the starting point at Pureora Village located off SH30.
Waitomo Caves (69.8kms – 1 hour 10 mins)
This is one of those unique things not to be missed. The Waitomo Caves have been formed by rivers and streams pushing through the soft limestone over thousands of years and are now home to some amazing sights and sounds. From the stalactites and stalagmites that grow from the floor and ceiling to the incredible glow worms that light up these underground grottos, this is a detour that is well worth the extra kms.
If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, you can always experience some blackwater rafting inside the caves where you‘ll be transported through the caves in a rubber ring. Sounds pretty cool to us.
Te Awamutu (39.7kms – 33 mins)
Known as the rose capital of New Zealand, November to April is a great time to visit Te Awamutu to smell the beautiful flowers in full bloom. During season, you can take in the magnificent sight of over 2000 rose bushes in full bloom next to the visitors centre.
Notable residents of Te Awamutu include the Finn brothers Tim and Neil who are the men behind the internationally successful band Crowded House. Te Awamutu gets a mention in their debut single from their self-titled debut album ‘Mean to Me’. There’s a little bit of trivia to bore your car companions with!
Hamilton (28.9kms – 28 mins)
Nestled on the banks of the Waikato River, Hamilton is a great stop off on the way back to Auckland to grab a bite to eat after all the adventure of your morning trip up from Taupo. With some great riverside walks, the stunning Hamilton Gardens and a wealth of places to eat, it’s a great way to break up the journey before the final leg back up to Auckland.
Pokeno (71.4kms – 55 mins)
As you head north and Auckland draws ever closer, we have one last stop off for you before you hit the city but we think it’s one you’re going to enjoy! The Pokeno ice cream store is renowned for the biggest ice creams in the country. Pokeno Takeaways, on Great South Road, will sell you a 15-scoop ice cream (yes, you read that right). Treat yourself. See, we told you it was worth it!
From here it’s just over 52 kms to Auckland which depending on traffic should take you anywhere from 35 mins to an hour to allow plenty of time.
So that brings this three day adventure to Taupo to an end – we hope you have enjoyed it and found some of our tips handy – if you have come across any hidden gems on your travels, make sure you share them with us on our GO Explore Facebook page and help out your fellow travellers!