Millennium Hotel and Resort Manuels Taupo
In the heart of New Zealand’s North Island, Taupo is a compact town nestled along the banks of the stunning Lake Taupo and Waikato River. The local landscape has been heavily shaped by the still-active Taupo Volcano; the lake was created some 26,000 years ago by a large volcanic explosion and numerous hot springs are dotted around the town today. Unsurprisingly, Taupo is a popular destination for hikers, water-sports enthusiasts and adrenalin junkies as well as those seeking rest and relaxation in the thermal pools; fortunately, there are plenty of hotels and restaurants in the town to serve their needs!
After getting settled in the hotel, a good place to head first is the i-SITE Visitor Information Centre on Tongariro Street; here it’s possible to get the latest tourist information and pick up useful maps and leaflets. It’s also located in the main shopping area of the town where a good selection of restaurants, boutique shops and outdoor activity stores can be found. Nearby is Riverside Park which offers several popular attractions enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. A market is held here every Saturday featuring local produce such as artisan cheeses and bread and the food stalls also sell delicious local delicacies. The Unison Amphitheatre plays host to famous musical acts and the Great Lake Convention Centre is the place to see theatrical performances and exhibitions. Also in the park is Taupo Museum which showcases Maori artefacts and others fascinating curios: highlights include an ancient Maori canoe, a Kiwiana caravan and the peaceful, award-winning Garden of Wellbeing.
Next to Riverside Park is the Waikato River, New Zealand’s longest river. Its source is just south of Lake Taupo in Mount Ruapehu, and it flows all the way to the Port Waikato on the Tasman Sea, around 150 miles north. Along with the lake, the river plays a large part in drawing tourists to the area. One such attraction is the Huka Falls, the most visited natural attraction in New Zealand; a short drive north of Taupo, it’s a truly awesome sight to behold with over 200,000 litres of clear, blue water cascading down every second! Arguably the best way to see the spectacle is to take a boat trip up the river but there are also several viewing platforms which give great views. Before heading back to the hotel, a walk to Aratiatia Rapids offers another amazing event; a few times a day, water is released from Aratiatia Dam causing ferocious turbulence in the river.
There’s much to see and do in and around Lake Taupo. Lake Terrace is a popular spot for a walk along the lake’s edge and it also features several hotels with views over the lake. One of the most popular activities is to take a relaxing boat trip around the lake with some cruise companies also visiting the delightful Maori Rock Carvings in Mine Bay. These carving, which are only accessible by boat, were created by Matahi Brightwell and his team of artisans in the 1970s over a four-year period; various characters are depicted including the South Wind and a mermaid while the most striking image is that of the face of legendary Maori explorer Ngatoroirangi, reaching an impressive 45 feet in height. A more energetic way to see the carvings is to paddle there in a kayak and, to get the best views over the lake, parasailing takes intrepid adventurers 800 feet into the sky!
There are several places to enjoy the hot water springs in Taupo. One of the most popular is Otumuheke Stream in Spa Thermal Park on Spa Road. The stream is heated to a very pleasant temperature and flows into the Waikato River; the point at which the hot and cold water meet is reported to be quite invigorating. Best of all, it’s free but can get quite busy at times, so getting there early is advisable. There’s also a nice trail from here to the Huka Falls to the north which takes around two hours there and back. Another less well-known hot spa is located at the far end of Lake Terrace; Warm Water Beach features hot springs at low tide and is also free. Nearby, Taupo DeBretts offers plenty of spa treatments and a waterpark with exciting hydro slides. It also offers high-end hotel accommodation for those seeking a bit of luxury.
The Wairakei Geothermal Power Station’s visitor centre to the north of Taupo offers a fascinating look at how renewable energy is drawn from the hot springs; it’s possible to drive around the site or alternatively there are sometimes guided tours available. Nearby, Wairakei Natural Thermal Valley provides the opportunity to see geysers, walk through hot springs and watch birds in their natural habitat. Perhaps the most stunning landscape is the nearby Craters of the Moon which best shows the extensive geothermal activity in the area. For those wanting to partake in a bungy jump, that most famous New Zealand export, then head to Taupo Bungy on Spa Road. It features the country’s highest water-touch bungy and the ominously named Cliffhanger Extreme Swing, probably not for the faint-hearted! If there’s still time before checking out of the hotel, a trip to Lava Glass on State Highway 5 is a popular activity where visitors can learn about the art of glass blowing.