I realize it’s highly unlikely you’re looking for another reason to visit New Zealand. You’ve probably already got a list longer than Rory’s reasons for attending Yale — even (or maybe especially) if, like me, you’ve already been there.
But sometimes I sit down to write about the country I actually live in, and then 1001 things to say about New Zealand pop into my head, and as I see it, I’ve got two options: fight it, or just share some more NZ content.
I guess it’s pretty clear which way I’ve chosen to go. If you’re unable to visit New Zealand anytime soon, you might just wanna close this window out right now. (We’ll miss you, but I understand.)
The town of Taupo sits on the rather obviously named Lake Taupo: the country’s largest, formed from a volcanic explosion thousands of years ago. Taupo is one of New Zealand’s most popular spots for skydiving — partly for the value (the highest jump for the price you pay), partly for the views (though it’s not like NZ is lacking in that department).
But even if you’ve got no urge to jump out of a plane, and even if you come from a place where you’ve got enough lakes to visit, thank you, there are still a some good reasons to visit this area.
My favorite day in Taupo was spent taking the Huka Falls walkway along the Waikato River. This track begins with a visit to nearby natural hot springs, and ends with one of New Zealand’s most stunning water features, the eponymous Huka Falls. It’s no skydive, but it costs significantly less money. (As in: none.)
The starting point of the walkway is located in the Spa Park, just a few kilometers from Taupo’s town center, at Otumuheke Stream. Unlike the hot springs in nearby Rotorua, the ones here are suitable for swimming. The stream is wicked hot, but it runs right into the cold river, and the mixing point provides a range of temperatures perfect for a dip.
There are no changing rooms here, so if you plan on swimming, you might want to wear your togs — Kiwi for “swimsuit” — under your clothes.
Not keen on jumping in? It’s still a lovely spot, with a cute little waterfall and rocky shallow pools of clear water.
I visited in December — height of New Zealand’s tourist season — and there were maybe three other people at the springs during the hour I spent there. Of course, whether that was typical or just a lucky lull, I can’t say.
What I can say is that these are not the only hot springs in the Taupo area. If you find Otumuheke Stream too crowded for your taste, that’s just a little motivation to go in search of another lesser-known spot. (My lips are sealed.)
From the hot springs, you can start the walkway to the falls. The walk is fairly flat, and takes you through some gorgeous forest. If you get too hot, you can always pop into the river for a quick refresh — or, better yet, do a bungy jump right into the water.
And yes, it really is that blue.
About three kilometers from the hot springs, you’ll come to the intensely rushing water of Huka Falls. “Huka” is the Maori word for “foam,” and I’m guessing you don’t need me to explain how that name came to be.
If my extensive Instagram experience is any indication, these falls may be the most photographed spot in New Zealand. And not without reason: they’re beautiful and, something we really like around here, totally free. What more could you want?
Before you answer: there’s also ice cream.
Huka Falls Walkway: According to Great Lake Taupo, this walk takes around two hours return. Keep in mind these estimates are typically on the slower/more generous side. The estimate does not include the time it takes to get from the center of Taupo itself to the Spa Park and back (which could easily add another hour if you’re walking).
Parking: There are car parks at both the Spa Park and Huka Falls, if you’d like to drive to the start or see these spots without doing the walk.