I realize it’s highly unlikely you’re looking for another reason to visit New Zealand. You’ve probably already got a “pro” list longer than your arm — and if you ask me, it’s not too hard to see why. The last thing you need is another blogger to come along and rub your face in the fact that you’re not there right now. (Unless you are there right now, in which case: lucky you!)
Of course, you might also have a few items on the “con” side of the list. Maybe it’s “so far away,” or you aren’t sure if you’re “outdoorsy enough” to enjoy it, or — and this is probably the most likely scenario — you keep hearing how expensive it is.
Sadly, I’m not here to challenge that assessment. New Zealand can be a real drain on your wallet. For most of the world, it’s a long and costly flight to get there; and once you factor in accommodation, food, alcohol, and activities, the bill runs up quick. I was lucky enough to visit on a working holiday visa, which allowed me to earn New Zealand dollars to pay New Zealand prices, but not everyone has that option or wants to use it.
Luckily, thanks to its wealth of gorgeous scenery and natural phenomena, NZ also offers plenty of free ways to spend your time. For one example, let’s look at Taupo.
The North Island town of Taupo sits on the rather unsuprisingly named Lake Taupo — the country’s largest lake, 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) and partly for the views (though it’s not like NZ is lacking in the views department).
But even if a skydive is out of your budget, and even if you come from a place where you’ve got enough lakes to visit, thank you, there are still plenty of good reasons to visit this area.
My favorite and least expensive day in Taupo was spent exploring the Huka Falls Walkway. This track begins with a visit to nearby natural hot springs, continues along the unbelievably turquoise Waikato River, and ends at one of New Zealand’s most stunning water features — the eponymous Huka Falls.
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 more well-known hot springs in nearby Rotorua, the ones here are suitable for swimming. The stream itself is wicked hot, but it runs right into the cold river, and the mixing point is the perfect temperature for a dip.
There are no changing rooms, 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, also known as the height of New Zealand’s tourist season, and there were only two or three other people at the springs when I was 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, picturesque forest. If you get too hot, you can always pop into the river to cool down — or even 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 going to assume you don’t need me to explain how that name came to be.
If my extensive Instagram experience is any indication, Huka Falls may be the most photographed spot in New Zealand. Perhaps ironically, given the theme of this post, it’s also the first place I encountered pay toilets while in New Zealand. But aside from that, they’re totally free of charge — not to mention, a rather breathtaking sight. What more could you want?
Before you answer: there’s also ice cream.
Huka Falls Walkway: According to the New Zealand Department of Conservation, this walk takes around three 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 Taupo’s town center 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.