16 best free things to do in Taupō

There are numerous free things to do in Taupō – each of them worthwhile and memorable. Join us as we share all of the best free activities (and super-low-cost ones) in this beautiful lake-side town.

This list proves that you do not have to spend a lot to enjoy an adventure in this beautiful region.

In the middle of New Zealand’s North Island, Taupō is 3.5 hours from Auckland and 4.5 hours from Wellington. It is a popular destination, whether you are a Kiwi or a tourist.

There, you will find the magnificent Lake Taupō surrounded by unbelievable natural delights. Expect to see geothermal valleys, hot springs, and forests.

Lake Taupō is the largest freshwater lake in the Southern Hemisphere and was once a super-volcano that last erupted 1,800 years ago. To help you understand the scale, Lake Taupō is said to be larger than Singapore, which means there is a lot to explore!

Luckily, there are many free things to do in Taupō and its region, making the area particularly budget-friendly. This natural playground has activities and sights to please everyone, with surprises at every turn. Get ready for the trip of a lifetime!

With this list, you will leave Taupō with unforgettable memories and a happy wallet. 

Some businesses are experiencing staffing challenges post-COVID. If you want to guarantee a space at a restaurant or attraction, we suggest pre-booking.

The Most Fantastic Free Things to do in Taupō

Join us as we share the best things to do in Taupō when travelling on a budget.

1. Check Out the Mighty Huka Falls

The Huka Falls are an outstanding natural attraction that have to be seen and heard when visiting New Zealand. It has become famous for its incredible beauty and massive flow – 220,000 litres per second of water cascades down this 11-metre high waterfall!

The mighty falls result from the narrowing of the Waikato River as it gushes into Lake Taupō.

Did you know that this is one of New Zealand’s most photographed natural attractions? It’s also one of the best waterfalls in the country. It is out-of-this-world and is one of the best free things to do in Taupō.

Cost: Free

Wairakei, Taupō 3384

Turbulent waters of a river gushing through the mighty Huka Falls.

2. Walk or Bike the Huka Trails

There are a number of fantastic paths that connect together to form the Huka Trails. These tracks are suitable both for walking and mountain biking, ranging from grade 1 – 3.

Each and every one of them are beautiful, providing incredible views of the Waikato River as you weave your way through local bush.

You can begin the Huka Trails at Huka Falls or the Hot Springs (there is car parking at both).

This is an enjoyable way of experiencing the Taupō region’s raw beauty, making it one of the best free things to do in the area.

Cost: Free

Two persons riding a mountain bike beside a calm river.

3. Unwind at the Otumuheke Hot Springs

One of the most unique (and free) things to do in Taupō is to enjoy the Spa Thermal Park.

This is a historical bathing and meeting place for Māori. We suggest you take the time to read about the historical significance of the area from the boards on display. 

The Otumuheke Hot Springs are an exciting natural attraction, where you can enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Waikato River. Make sure you experience the difference in the temperature between the pools and the river – it is extraordinary. 

Tourists and locals enjoy relaxing in the natural rock pools and waterfalls – it’s a beautiful place to unwind.

In addition, you will find a playground for children, BMX course, café, changing facilities and car park on-site.

Don’t forget your togs (swimming costume)!

Cost: Free

281 Spa Road, Tauhara, Taupō 3378

Tourists dipping into the steaming Otumuheke Hot Springs.

4. Enjoy Lake Taupō

Taupō’s main attraction is its impressive lake, so you should put some time aside to enjoy it to its fullest.

A lot of activities are based on and around the lake. For example, you can swim there, in its transparent water (which is up to 13m deep). There are many different swimming spots to be found on the road around the lake via the South-Eastern Bays.

You might also discover the perfect places for a picnic on the shores of this great lake – this is another one of the best free things to do in Taupō. 

Cost: Free

5. Look on in Awe at the Aratiatia Dam Release

Near Huka Falls, you are able to watch the Aratiatia Dam release. There you will see a large expanse of water drop from the dam gates and into the gorge – it’s incredibly impressive!

Watching the rapids is an epic sight – it is easily enjoyed from one of the viewing platforms. It takes place every day at 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm (all year) and 4 pm in the summer.

You may even notice this setting from the film The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – from the famous barrel scene in particular.

Remember to arrive early, before the dams have been released, and wait for the sirens that will tell you the rapids are due to start.

It certainly is exciting watching the calm stream change to roaring rapids. 

Cost: Free 

630 Aratiatia Road, Rotokawa 3377

6. Camp near Lake Taupō

Discovering Taupō by campervan or tent is an exceptional experience that is cost-effective.

If you are in a self-contained vehicle, you can camp in many locations across the Taupō region. Just ensure you are respectful, check the signs and make sure you have an in-date self-containment warrant.

Alternatively, if you are camping in a non-self-contained vehicle, you can camp at Mangakino Recreation Reserve, Whakamaru Domain, Whakamaru Recreation Reserve, Hipapatua Recreational Reserve/Reid’s Farm. 

These sites are in addition to a number of amazing holiday parks scattered around Taupō (which do charge a fee).

Cost: Free

7. Cycle Freely around the Lake

The Great Lake Walkway is a 10km cycle route with breathtaking views from Taupō Harbour to Five Mile Bay. You’ll be able to spot Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu, as well enjoying the lake up close. 

This fantastic track was voted New Zealand’s best Urban Ride in 2017. Along the way, there are several areas where you can stop to relax, rest or have a picnic. Whilst riding, try to spot the native Kowhai trees that provide shelter for the area’s wildlife.

Even if you don’t have access to a bike, you can also enjoy the route on foot.

You really don’t have to spend a lot to have an exhilarating experience in the region. 

Cost: Free

8. Hike Mount Tauhara

This hike is a 2.5km trail uphill to the summit of Mount Tauhara. It usually takes around 2-4 hours to complete, depending on your fitness level (and how many times you stop to take a picture).

The views at the top are spectacular as it overlooks Lake Taupō in all its glory!

Sure, the hike can get steep in places (as you will reach 1,088m) but it is definitely worth adding to your list of free things to do in Taupō. 

Remember to bring plenty of water and to wear suitable clothing and footwear because the path can be challenging in places. 

Cost: Free

Tauhara Forest 3379, New Zealand

9. Relax in Waipahihi Botanical Gardens

Visiting the Waipahihi Botanical Gardens is a serene and peaceful experience. It is one of our favourite free things to do in Taupō because we just love their beautiful flora mixed amongst the forest trees. 

It is a beautiful place to have a picnic, with many picnic tables and open spaces.

The many walking trails of the botanic gardens are arguably best enjoyed in the spring (October and November) when the flowers are in full bloom.

They’re open every day until dusk for you to enjoy. Be sure to add this to your Taupō bucket list!

Cost: Free but donations to preserve the gardens are welcome.

Cnr Hyde Avenue &, Shepherd Road, Waipahihi, Taupō 3330

10. Visit a Local Playground with Your Kids

If you’re in Taupō and wonder what free things there are to do with kids, then why not take them to one of the exciting playgrounds? 

There are a number of awesome play spaces in the region with the following consistently being ranked at the top.

  • The Pirate Playground in Acacia Bay, which has ample green space, incredible views of Lake Taupō, and the best attraction of all – a sizeable pirate ship.
  • The Tongariro South Domain which is near the Taupō Museum and has large climbing frames and a huge outdoor chess set.
  • The Spa Park Playground near the hot springs – it has swings, large spaces and a bike/skate area. 
  • The Wharewaka Point Playground, where the kids can enjoy slides, swings and a dip in the river!

Cost: Free

11. Watch the Bungy Jumpers Take a Leap of Faith

There is no better feeling than that of bungy jumping!

For many though, jumping off a bridge (or platform) really is a step too far.

If that sounds like you, you might still enjoy swinging past the AJ Hackett bungy jumping site to watch the craziest jumpers do the unthinkable!

One of the most gorgeous jump sites in the world, the crystal-clear water below and surrounding bush really is unrivalled, making it the perfect spot for spectators to watch on in awe.

A shirtless man spreading his arms while diving on a bungy jump.

12. Watch the Lake Taupō ‘Hole in One’ Challenge

If you fancy something different, then head down to the lake to watch people try their chances by testing their golfing skills at the ‘Hole in One Challenge’.

It is owned and operated by locals, and its purpose is to help new and recreational golfers to develop their stroke whilst having a bit of fun.

Punters try to hit a hole in one to gain a cash prize of $10,000 (along with other prizes)! The only catch is that the hole is on a floating pontoon on the mighty Lake Taupō.

If anything, it is fun to watch, cheer, and encourage those giving it their best shot, but it is cheap to try too. The average success rate is one hole-in-one every two weeks.

Could you be next?

Cost: Free to watch. $1.50 a ball or 15 balls for $15.

Pro Tip: Whilst you’re there, snap a photo by the great big Taupō sign – it’s just along from the Hole in One Challenge and includes beautiful views of the lake.

13. Learn Something New at the Taupō Museum

The Taupō Museum is open every day from 10:00 – 16:00 and aims to share the region’s stories with its visitors. One of the most impressive permanent displays is the Ora Garden, which the NZ Gardens Trust have declared a Garden of National Significance. 

It also boasts a collection of Māori treasures and includes a virtual journey through the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

It is also a great place to take kids because of it’s awesome play areas and family-friendly activities. 

Cost: $5 or free for Taupō residents.

14. Be amazed at the Craters of the Moon

The Craters of the Moon is a geothermal wonder where you’ll experience thermal activity, including steaming earth, colourful soil, bubbling mud and whistling vents.

You will walk across a well-maintained boardwalk and pass by viewing platforms, where you’ll witness this extraordinary phenomenon. 

The circular route takes roughly an hour, and (as it’s a complete circle), you won’t need to worry about getting lost! The visitor kiosk does provide a map, though – just in case!

What’s more, it is accessible, safe and the staff are extremely friendly.

Though it’s not quite free, where else can you complete an incredible and unique nature walk like this for only $8?!

Cost: $8

171 Karapiti Road, Wairakei, Taupō 3377

A huge crater, also known as Crater of the Moon, with steam coming out of the ground.

15. Dine Inside a Real Plane!

If you’ve ever passed through town in Taupō, you’ve probably noticed something that looks a little out of place… a decommissioned DC3 plane, to be exact!

There are seats inside the plane for your dining enjoyment, and you can even hop in and view the cockpit as well! Unsurprisingly, this store was recognised as one of the “10 coolest McDonald’s around the world“.

Don’t leave Taupō without a picture of yourself with their awesome dining area!

Cost: Free – just purchase something to eat and/or drink.

16. Explore Tongariro National Park

The UNESCO World Heritage Tongariro National Park is the oldest national park in the country and is a natural and geothermal wonderland. It is the perfect place to visit if you love the outdoors and crave to see exceptional natural landscape.

You can expect to see glacial features, stunning lakes and steaming craters, just to name a few. 

The Tongariro National Park is full of wonders to please even the most adventurous soul – from short hikes to one of the best day hikes globally, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This full-day hike is 19.4km, sees hikers ascend 765m and descend 1,125m, over an 6-8 hour period. The highlights include the geothermal emerald lakes and Mt Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom). 

Remember to check current information about volcanic activity and weather conditions before visiting. 

Cost: The National Park is free. However, if you opt to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, you will have to book a shuttle to reach the start, as it is not a return hike. It will likely cost between $35-$45. 

Whakapapa Village State Highway 48, Whakapapa Village, Ruapehu 3989

The small Tongariro Emerald Lake on top of a steaming mountain.

Taupō is a fantastic region with so many natural sights just waiting to be discovered.

Enjoy exploring this geothermal wonderland.

Guest post by Rachel and Nico, from Average Lives.

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