A lessor known part of the North Island, at least to me before researching, was Tongariro National Park. Starting in Lake Taupo it was less than two hours (this includes a few photo stops and breakfast stop) to the base of Mt Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park. The day then consisted of a hike to Taranaki Falls, catching the Sky Waka to the top of Mt Ruapehu and then settling into the night under the volcano. I would highly recommend a visit to anyone who ventures to the North Island.
We just passed through Lake Taupo, however we did make use of the geothermal activity in the area by selecting lodging that included a private geothermal tub (great for those muscles). Would I have stayed longer if time allowed? Probably not. We arrived just after lunch, after exploring Waimangu Volcanic Valley and Huka Falls, which allowed enough time to have a look around town and the lakefront. If you are short on time one night is plenty as there is much more to do either side of Lake Taupo.
Okay, no one can visit Lake Taupo without seeing the immense power that is Huka Falls. The water is so blue but also so loud from passing through such a small gap. It was really dark the day we visited with the threat of rain, which seemed to make the blue water pop.
After skirting Lake Taupo to the south and crossing the Te Ponanga Saddle (awesome view so make the stop) you end up in a plateau dominated by Mt Tongariro and Mt Ruapehu.
If you don’t have the time or strength to complete the Tongariro Crossing (just under 20 km), the Taranaki Falls loop (6 km) is highly recommended. Or do both. We set off on the hike anti-clockwise which meant we had views of Mt Tongariro for most of the outward journey across the plains before following the creek line back to the starting point.
After completing the hike, and a bite of lunch, we continued up Mt Ruapehu via car then the Sky Waka Gondola. Unfortunately, it was one of the worst snow seasons on the mountain and there was only a bit of remnant snow at the top. There is a cafe to purchase a hot chocolate while people watching.
While travelling NZ we stayed in a variety of 3-star motels and Air BnB’s all averaging about $100 NZ a night. One of the best views of the trip was from an Air BnB just south of Mt Ruapehu. The accommodation was basic, small and cosy, but what made it was the uninterrupted view of the mountain.