Taupo, North Island
I would not call it the number one jetboat experience in New Zealand - this clearly is the race through the narrow gorge of the Shotover River near Queenstown. Still the Huka Jet ride is a nice adventure, and they perform 360° spins and race at a speed of 80 km/h along the rocks as close as possible to make you scream.
The main difference to the Shotover is that the Waikato River on which the blue Huka Jets operate is much wider even on the narrower stretches, so can never get as scared as when you have overhanging rocks on both sides.
The most impressive moment is when you reach the foaming waters of crystal round pool below the mighty Huka Falls which roar down a steep cliff face eleven metres above you.
As the Waikato runs through a geothermal region the Huka Jets also pass clouds of steam. They rise where a hot stream joins the river. Other points of interest you will see on your 30 minute trip are the Huka Prawn Park, the Wairakei Geo-Thermal Power Station and the Aratiatia Dam.
The Huka Jets operate daily except Christmas Day.
Summer (October - April) 8.30 a.m. - 5.00 pm (in Dec/Jan until 5.30pm)
Winter (May - September) 9am - 4pm
Children must be one metre tall. Bags and video cameras are not allowed on the boats. Bring warm clothes (including gloves) in winter.
Compared to the biggest waterfalls in the world the Huka Falls - located in the Wairakei Tourist Park, just a short drive from Taupo - are nothing. They are not even high. They are rumbling over a just eleven metre high cliff face. However, they are impressive. More than 200,000 litres per second thunder over this cliff face and precipitate into a deep circular basin.
The Waikato River, New Zealand's longest river, provides the water. The falls occur when the river, after flowing in rather a wide bed, has to pass a 200 metre long narrow chasm. The cliff is made up of silicified conglomerate. It is part of a chain of freshwater lake beds, the so-called Huka Beds, which cover the region around Taupo and Wairakei. They are very deep, and were formed by by former geothermal activity. In greater depths such activity is still present - and very well visible at the geothermal wonderland of nearby Orakei Korako.
There is a good view of the falls from a loop road just off the main highway. From the carpark you walk over a bridge, and then along the east bank of the river several vantage points and viewing platforms. From there you see best what the name "Huka" means: foam...
I have a travel guide in which The Hidden Valley of Orakei Korako, 40km north of Taupo, is not even mentioned! Ridiculous! To me it is New Zealand's most spectacular geothermal attraction. But to my relief in another travel guide it is marked as one of the world's finest geothermal areas ;-)
Already the way to this area through lonesome farmland is great, and to reach it you have to cross Lake Ohakuri (part of the Waikato River) by boat. Already from the boat you can see the spectacular scenery: Striking orange, white and black striped rocks reach down to the landing and, past some of the 23 geysers, lead up to the sensational white silica terraces, which are NZ's best since the famous Pink and White Terraces disappeared after the eruption of Mt. Tarawera.
Those terraces form the base of the thermal park that was partly flooded in 1961 when Lake Ohakuri was created for power generation. Many feared that this flooding would have destroyed the wonders of Orakei Korako, but indeed it rejuvenated the activity and made the area even more attractive.
The walk leads through native bush, full of tree ferns, the tall pongas and also silver ferns. The highlight of this walk is the Sacred Cave (Ruatapu). You wander 40m down to a mirror lake, and from there you have the magic view back to the arch-shaped entrance of the cave, the silhouettes of high ferns reaching into this picture frame. The water of the lake is so clear that you might not see and step into it. It is said that the water has the ability to clean jewellery if you hold it in the water for five minutes. Even better: If you put your left hand into the water a wish will come true ;-)
The fantastic colours of the Rainbow and Cascade Terrace are created by hot water algae growing in temperatures of about 60°C and more! The Golden Fleece is another fault scarp created by a massive earthquake. The Artist's Palette shines in a lot of different colours and is pock marked by over 120 crystal clear blue pools. All along the walk you will spot bubbling mud pools.
A nice resort area for trout fishing and skiing at Mount Raupehu slopes. Or just slidding down the snow slopes on a plastic sheet. I did not have the patience to fish but collected cool basaltic stones that can float on water. The hot water tubs available in most of the accommodation is a fun get-together with barbecue of fish caught or bought from the local fish shop.
Taupo is on New Zealand's North Island, and is perched on the side of a massive lake, coincidentally called Lake Taupo !
Taupo is very tourist friendly, and there is plenty to do in the surrounding areas.
It is still within the geothermal zone so there are some places such as "Craters of the Moon" that are well worth a visit if you haven't already had your fill of them from Rotorua.
The famous Huka Falls are a few miles out of town and definitely worth a visit.
The Lake itself is enormous and a great site for fishing and/or watersports of most descriptions.
You can also do bungee jumps, if that's your kind of thing, or for the more sedate amongst you visit the Honey Farm and learn all you want to know (and more) about the honey bee.