The Great Lake Adventure

Water slides, river adventure and nature discovery would have to be the ultimate ingredients for a good family holiday. Of course, with young kids, there has to be plenty of action, but combine all that with a relaxing soak in a hot mineral pool each night ... and now you’re talking parent language too!

We really saw Great Lake Taupo through fresh eyes when we ventured off for a week with the kids. Some days were just so chilled-out, others had us bouncing down rapids on the Tongariro  River. We tried new things and made little discoveries ... there is so much ‘natural adventure’ around. That’s what we loved the most: how so many of the activities are very much linked to the area ... rafting, jet boating, geothermal parks, Huka Falls, hot waterfalls and prawn fishing.  For the kids, they were experiencing ‘Taupo’ - not just any destination with a host of fun rides and activities.

Keen for your kids to really see what clean, green New Zealand is all about? Here’s a mix of indoor and outdoor activities we chose:

in the water

Taupo DeBretts mineral hot pools

As our base, we swam here twice a day. The kids could have played all day on the Dragon slide and warm water playground (or see ‘STAY’ further on in the story for more details).

AC Baths

Recently refurbished, this warm water park is full of slides, rope swings, bridges and plenty of places for the kids to swim underwater and dive. Also has a cafe, some undercover areas in case of bad weather, and is right next to The Edge Indoor Rockwall.

Tokaanu hot pools

After an energetic afternoon rafting on the Tongariro, it was really nice to take the kids to a decent-sized, private mineral pool where we could chill a bit and enjoy the luxury of it being just for us. They are warm though, so the kids can’t last too long and remember, no heads under the water. Preschoolers are free.

Otumuheke stream, spa park

Free to visit, these naturally-formed mineral pools merge with the cold Waikato River. Find your ideal temperature, while the kids enjoy clambering around the rocky pools and playing under the mini waterfalls. We kayaked down river to have a soak, but you can also walk there from Spa Road.

on the water

The Squeeze with NZ Riverjet

A real favourite for our kids because, of course, who could resist speeding boats (not too scary though) and an adventure through narrow rock crevasses to discover a hot waterfall. It was like a Journey to Middle Earth. NZ Riverjet were great with the kids every step of the way.

The warm water falls in The Squeeze was an unexpected discovery.

The Waikato River Kayak Cruise

Kayaking is a very peaceful way to be adventurous with the kids. Learn about the water flow, the Waikato, have a soak in natural hotpools on the riverbank and let the older kids feel independent on the water (younger kids shared a boat with us).

Tongariro River Rafting float trip

With younger kids, we chose the easier rapids, which still produced plenty of excitement and screaming from our crew. Rafting can’t help but produce smiles, and the youthful, yet experienced, TRR guides know how to relate to the kids. Great fun!

The rapids were tame, but the kids were highly excited on the Tongariro River Rafting trip.

action

Action World

The ultimate blow-up playground, designed to give kids quick success. My son is hooked on the trapeze. There are areas for little ones too and, if you’ve been to Action World elsewhere before, Taupo has a few unique activities on offer.

It was almost impossible to coerce the kids away from the trapeze at Action World.

Huka Prawn Park

We could have stayed here all day! Fishing for prawns is unexpectedly very addictive, and easy for the kids to manage the process themselves. Pay to get in, then keep what you catch ... we became far too relaxed idling the day away on the mini jetties under large umbrellas. Although, we did manage to drag ourselves to the restaurant and scoff large amounts of garlic prawns.

We spend hours lounging around and catching prawns at the Huka Prawn Farm.  Very little success, but a lot of fun had by all.

Adventure Mini Golf Turangi

Based around the terrain of the Central Plateau, expect to see a river rafting challenge including a water feature and the Grand Chateau, complete with windows and doors. Like most kids, ours could play mini golf all day, even if they do squabble, cheat and fly around at lightning speed - doing far more circuits than they should!

The Edge Indoor Rockwall Taupo

Head here on a rainy day, or to help the kids burn up a bit of energy. The wall is very large and impressive, but also has a good area for younger kids or beginner climbers. Alongside the AC Baths.

Mountain biking along the Tongariro River Trail

We hired bikes at the Tongariro River Rafting depot, and rode the new River Trail to the Trout Centre. Nice wide trails and lovely scenery.

Lion Express Train

If you have preschoolers, this little train is right beside the park on the lake and runs a circuit around the gardens. Even big kids secretly like this. Visit Taupo I-SITE for times.

The Lion Express Train is a great adventure for littlies.

discovery

Orakei Korako

Definitely the best display of thermal activity. We loved the experience here: the little boat ride, the native bush, the board walks and, of course, the geysers. The landscape is like an artist’s palate with steaming, bubbling mud and pools. Science made fun. Not suitable for prams or children who can’t stay on the path.

Craters of the Moon

You can take the little ones here as this is very pram-friendly, and easy on the pocket. It’s quite warm, so plan for an hour during cooler times of the day in summer. You will see bubbling mud pools, steam holes and boiling water.

Volcanic Activity Centre

For kids who love science and volcanoes, they can touch, push, see and hear all about it at this Centre. We were keen to teach our budding scientist a bit of background before we hit the sights.

Tongariro National Trout Centre

This was a surprisingly picturesque and well laid-out centre, teaching kids (and adults) all about trout. Check out our Tots to Teens tile on the sponsors’ wall. See Troutcentre for kids’ fishing and family events.

free activities

The free activities in Taupo are fun for the kids, so mix up both paid and free activities to make your budget stretch a bit further.

  • Huka Falls along the Spa road walk
  • Aratiatia Dam (dam is opened at 10am, 12pm and 2pm each day)
  • Hot water mineral pools alongside the Waikato on Spa Road
  • Playground on the lake and the Skate Park
  • Honey Hive shop
  • Walks around Taupo and Tongariro (pick up a Lake Taupo Guide to Walks and Hikes from the Taupo or Turangi I-SITE Visitors Centres)

did you know

There is no sulphur smell in Taupo (just a little when you are very near to a mud pool or geothermal escape hole).

The Great Lake Taupo area includes Turangi, Tongariro and Mangakino.

There are seven rivers pouring into the Lake, but only the Waikato River comes out.

Lake Taupo is actually a Volcanic Lake sitting on one of the six super volcanoes scattered around the world.

If you use Taupo as a base or tag-on to a skiing holiday, it is only 1 hour 25 mins drive to Whakapapa and 1 hour 55 mins drive to Ohakune.

In the middle of winter,  some water activities are closed because the Lake is too cold.

The mineral pools at De Bretts are emptied and refilled every night!

kids’ favourite discoveries

  • Hot water waterfall alongside the Waikato River
    (the Squeeze Riverjet)
  • Rare blue duck spotted while rafting on the Tongariro
    (River Rafting)
  • Pumice stone collected around the Lake
  • Hot water rock pools on the Waikato river (while Kayaking,
    or off Spa Road)
  • The delicious taste of trout cooked in butter and sprinkled
    with roasted almonds and lemon zest

ages and stages must do’s

Under-5s

Lion Express Train

5- to 8-years

Huka Prawn Farm

9- to 12-years

The Squeeze with NZ Riverjet

All ages

De Bretts hot pools with water slide and kids’ warm water playground

stay

We stayed at De Bretts in a two bedroom chalet. This family-friendly resort made our holiday really comfortable and easy on so many levels. The kitchen facilities were clean and modern, making it easy to prep lunches and have simple dinners in the chalet. It was very warm and quiet, so sleep came easily for all of us. The most exciting part of DeBretts however, particularly for the kids, was the access to the hot pools. The kids would have been just as happy to never leave the premises, and to simply exist between chalet, cafe and hot pools. We took a trip down most mornings and every evening, which brought on the most restful slumber I’ve ever had.

You can go to the hot pools as part of your stay at DeBretts (chalet, units or campsite), or simply pay to go in if you’re staying somewhere else. They have two large mineral pools and 12 private pools fed by a natural geothermal spring, the Onekeneke. There are two cooler fresh water pools for those who like to swim and dive around (because you can’t put your head under in the mineral pools). The Dragon water slide is very exciting; it’s fast and swirling in some parts. My kids described it as having more whoosh than swish, so definitely not too tame for our daredevil boys. For kids who like it a bit more low-key, the warm water splash area is fabulous. Warm water spurting out everywhere, things to climb on, places to chase friends and all safely fenced-in, so parents can easily keep an eye on things.

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