How to Visit Taupo on a Budget
Budget travellers, get ready for a destination where free and cheap experiences just happen to be the town must-dos! Wedged between New Zealand’s largest lake and longest river, Taupo provides plenty of opportunities to explore natural attractions along its walkways and bike trails. Check out hot springs, mesmerising river rapids, geothermal parks and more! When you’re not exploring the natural wonders, relax in the town at the affordable eateries and in your cool and comfortable hostel/motel/holiday park. We go through it all in this travel guide to Taupo on a budget!
Budget Tips for Taupo
- Visit in the low season (May to September) to see discounts on accommodation and activities
- Fill up most of your itinerary with the free activities in Taupo and be choosy about the more expensive Taupo must-dos
- Book into one of the budget accommodations – seriously, they’re pretty good!
- Use your accommodation’s self-catering facilities to save money on food – there is a Pak n’ Save, Countdown and Bin Inn (for eco-friendly packaging) in town
- Want to hire a bike? Some of the hostels hire our mountain bikes for cheaper than bike rental shops. They might not be as high quality, but they are still good for the Riverside Trails and riding along the lakefront
- Want to do the Tongariro Crossing? You might want to wait until you get to Turangi, National Park or Whakapapa villages to get cheaper shuttles.
For more general budgeting advice, check out the 11 Ways to Save Money When Backpacking in New Zealand.
Free Activities in Taupo
With the most visited natural attraction in New Zealand being located in Taupo, the town sets the right tone for free things to do. We’re talking about Huka Falls – just one of a few amazing free attractions found along the mighty Waikato River. These tumultuous rapids are a must-see, accessed just off Huka Falls Road or along the River Side Trail (2 hours return) starting from Spa Park. We might suggest the latter so that you can take a dip in the free natural hot springs of Otumuheke Stream, which is complete with changing rooms and a pop-up cafe. For more information on getting to these places via the walking trails, check out the 8 Best Walks in Taupo.
Mix up some of your walks to natural sights with some foodie experiences that you can enjoy for free. For instance, have you tried New Zealand’s famous manuka honey yet? Go down to the Huka Honey Hive in the Wairakei Tourist Park to taste all kinds of manuka and bush honey, as well as honey mead. There are also honeybee displays so you can watch the little buzzies in action, while their honey tours are quite affordable.
And if you have more time to spare, head to the Aratiatia Rapids for more tumultuous fun. Located just off State Highway 5, the Aratiatia Dam is released every 10am, 12pm, 2pm in winter and 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm in summer. This makes for an epic display of rapids charging down the Waikato River.
For more free activities, head over to 12 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Taupo.
Cheap Activities in Taupo
And for an activity that has an admission fee but is still affordable, you might want to check out Taupo’s cheapest geothermal park, the Craters of the Moon. Venture on the boardwalks with steam billowing below your feet as you explore a geothermal cratered valley. The main loop takes about 40 minutes to walk, while a side loop to a lookout is an added 20 minutes. The attraction costs less than NZ$10 per adult.
Typically costing around NZ$40 for a half-day rental and NZ$60 for a full day, mountain biking and cycling Taupo’s bike trails are an affordable way to explore while experiencing adventure. Ride along the Waikato River to see the attractions mentioned above, cycle on the smooth surface of the Lion’s Walk on the lakefront, and much more! Check out the 10 Awesome Bike Trails Around Lake Taupo to compare your options. Note – you can get cheaper bike rentals from hostels like Taupo Urban Retreat.
Finally, for a fun and slightly silly thing to do in Taupo, try out the Hole in One Challenge on the lakefront. The Lake Taupo Hole in One is a driving range on the lakefront itself, where the challenge is to pot a hole-in-one on a floating platform on the lake. If you win, you get a NZ$10,000 prize! If not, well, it only costs NZ$1 per ball or NZ$15 for 18 balls.
Cheap Eats in Taupo
Wrap up a day in Taupo with some of the local meals that won’t put you too over budget. For instance, try some classic fish and chips on the lakefront by picking up a pack at The Fish Box (Rainbow Drive) for under NZ$10.
Otherwise, the backpacker hostels of Taupo will keep things cheap for dinner, such as Tejano Cantina & Fiest Bar (Tuwharetoa Street) by Based by the Lake serving irresistibly cheap Mexican favourites like tacos, jalapeno popper platters, nachos, burrito bowls and much more. Taupo Urban Retreat (65 Heuheu Street) has a bar serving NZ$5 chilli con carne every night!
For something a little heartier, get a roast dinner from Prime Roast (Gascoigne Street) for just over NZ$15, while Pauly’s Diner (Paora Hapi Street) is a good option for affordable gourmet burgers.
Get more recommendations in our Cheap Eats in Taupo.