Smouldering volcanoes, emerald green lakes, giant redwoods, raging rapids and cultural Maori landmarks – these are just some of the sights you'll encounter on drives from your North Island getaway hotel, Millennium Hotel and Resort Manuels Taupo.
Blue and Green Lakes and Buried Village (about 105km each way)
From your Millennium hotel, head north on SH5, then follow the Tarawera Road (30A) for a scenic drive by California redwoods and mountains covered in umbrella-shaped tree ferns. Climb to the lookout above Blue Lake (Tikitapu), which is 27m deep and gets its rich blue colour from light reflecting on the lake’s pumice and rhyolite bottom. In contrast, nearby Green Lake (Lake Rotokakahi) is much larger and deeper, with a sandy bottom creating a beautiful emerald colour in certain light conditions.
Make a stop at the Buried Village (Te Wairoa) attraction to visit its museum, geyser, waterfalls and cafe. Originally, there were beautiful pink and white silica terraces here, but these were destroyed when the volcano, Mount Tarawera, erupted. The photographs and exhibits on display are well worth a visit. Rejoin SH5 for your return.
Art Deco Napier (about 110km each way)
Known as the Thermal Explorer Highway, the SH5 offers jaw-dropping landscape views en route to Napier. Tree-covered mountains, sheep-nibbled fields, mossy pines and fruit-laden orchards line the winding road. As you descend into Napier, the views of Hawkes Bay are outstanding.
Take a guided walking tour to better appreciate this coastal town’s Art Deco architecture and browse for souvenirs at the Art Deco Trust gift shop, before returning to your luxury hotel in Taupo.
Rainbow Mountain Scenic Reserve, Huka Falls and the Aratiatia Rapids (about 60km each way)
Take SH5 north from Taupo to Huka Falls, which is one of the most visited spots in New Zealand. ‘Huka’ in Maori means foam and as the 100m-wide river is forced through a 15m-wide gorge, it makes a dramatic roar.
Some 8km farther is Aratiatia Dam. Arrive just before 10am, 12pm or 2pm (and also 4pm during summer) and stand on the bridge near the power station. Sirens sound before the dam gates open, releasing a flood of water from Lake Taupo, turning the stream into a rush of white water.
A further 47km north is Rainbow Mountain Scenic Reserve. View the aqua-coloured lake and towering ochre-red cliffs of Maungakakaramea, which emit wisps of geothermal steam.
Lake Tarawera (about 109km each way)
Lake Tarawera offers a splendid scenic drive around its shores, with lakeside bushland, panoramic viewpoints and beautiful homes making it a diverse and enjoyable trip. Stop for photographs and refreshments at Rotomahana Lookout, Katukutuku Bay and the site of the upended Waka (canoe) totem pole, which was erected as a memorial to a Maori chief.
From this elevated viewpoint you can see the three peaks of Mount Tarawera, which is a volcano that erupted in 1886. There's also a ferry from Boatshed Bay to Hot Water Beach, so bring a towel and bathe in waters fed by thermal springs as part of your trip.
Tongariro National Park (about 95km each way)
Follow Lake Taupo's eastern shoreline on SH1, past Motutaiko Island. At Turangi, join SH47, which skirts around the western side of the three snow-capped volcanoes that make up Tongariro National Park, New Zealand’s oldest national park and a World Heritage Site.
The drive provides great views of Mount Tongariro (1968m), which last erupted in 2012. Shortly after, Mount Ngauruhoe comes into sight (2287m), followed by Mount Ruapehu, the highest peak (2979m). It’s possible to climb the summits of all three mountains in two days and depending on what trek you decide to go on, you’ll be greeted by volcanic craters and glacial valleys.
When your adventure has ended, return along the Desert Highway plateau (SH1), the highest road in New Zealand.
For more breathtaking destinations to explore, book a stay at Millennium Hotels and Resorts’ other New Zealand hotels.