287km (178 miles) SE of Auckland; 84km (52 miles) S of Rotorua; 155km (96 miles) NW of Napier

Over the last decade, Taupō has become one of the most desirable places on the North Island for Kiwis to both holiday and reside, so it’s in growth mode. Although it’s not yet a resort-style destination, it’s on its way there. Recently, the waterfront has undergone a massive redevelopment to enhance its biggest asset: great Lake Taupō, the country’s largest lake.

At 46km at its longest point (28.5 miles), it’s impressive not just for its size, but for what lies beneath: A magma chamber is located between six and eight kilometers (3.7 to five miles) under its surface. In fact, the lake is actually the caldera of a super volcano, responsible for the most violent volcanic explosion the world has seen in the last 5,000 years. (It’s estimated that it spewed ash as high as 50km or 31 miles into the atmosphere.) Although it last erupted 1,800 years ago, the volcano remains active today, with activity and volcanic unrest being detected as recently as late 2022. Despite its volcanic history, the water is on the frigid side—even in summer, it can sit around 15°C (59°F).

Kids love swimming in it though, and you’ll find plenty of other activities catering specifically to young families. And while Rotorua might get most of the attention for being a geothermal wonderland, Taupō also has its own geysers, hot springs, and silica terraces to explore. As a result, Taupō's small population of 26,000 can double in the summer months, so expect it to be a little crowded during these times and book in advance.  

Alternately, look to Lake Taupe’s southern shores, where you’ll find Tūrangi. Sitting on the banks of the Tongariro River, the little town is famous for its rainbow trout fishing, but it’s also a popular base from which to start the Tongariro River Crossing, go skiing on Mount Ruapehu (which is visible across the lake), try out whitewater rafting, or base yourself for adventures in the surrounding regions.