On the town’s outskirts is a concentration of natural wonders, all within a few minutes of one another. Here you’ll find boiling mud, hissing steam harnessed by the Wairakei power station, and the clear-blue Waikato River, which cuts a deep swirling course north over rapids and through deep-sided gorges.
The majority of sights and activities are within 10km of Taupo, flanking the Waikato River as it wends its way north, and are accessible through Taupo’s tour companies. Huka Falls Road loops off SH1 a couple of kilometres north of Taupo and passes the Reids Farm free campsite and Huka Lodge (one of New Zealand’s most exclusive luxury retreats) en route to the first port of call, the magnificent Huka Falls (hukanui, or “great body of spray”). Here the Waikato, one of New Zealand’s most voluminous rivers, funnels into a narrow chasm before plunging over a 9m shelf into a seething maelstrom of eddies and whirlpools; the sheer power of some three hundred tonnes of water per second makes it a far more awesome sight than the short drop would suggest. A footbridge spans the channel, providing a perfect vantage point for watching the occasional mad kayaker making the descent, usually on weekend evenings. The car park is only open until 6pm but you can park outside and walk in at any time.