Australia and Oceania > New Zealand

Lake Taupo: The Largest Lake in New Zealand

lakeLake Taupo
countryNew Zealand
surface area612 km2
maximum depth186 m
average depth97 m
lake typeCrater lake
length46 km
width33 km
catchment area3,422 km2
altitude356 m
volume60 km3
inflowsWaitahanui River, Tongariro River, Tauranga Taupo River
outflowsWaikato River
islandsMotutaiko
shore length163 km
mixing typeMonomictic
residence time6,070 days
frozenNever freezes
trophic stateOligotrophic
originTectonic
average discharge113 m3 / sec.

Lake Taupo Information and Facts

Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand by surface area. Located on the country’s North Island, it has a surface area of 616 km2 (238 square miles), and a maximum depth of 186 meters (610 feet).

Lake Taupo has a shore length of 193 kilometers (120 miles), and its primary outflow is the longest river in New Zealand, the Waikato River. The most important inflowing rivers include the Tongariro River, the Waitahanui River, and the Tauranga Taupo River. The lake is well-known trout fishery, with introduced stocks of rainbow trout and brown trout.

Formed by a Supervolcanic Eruption

The caldera in which Lake Taupo is located was created by a supervolcanic eruption which took place around 26,500 years ago. Geological records indicate that the volcano has erupted 28 times during the last 27,000 years.

The event which led to the formation of the Lake Taupo caldera is called the Oruanui eruption. The massive eruption is the largest known in the world in the last 70,000 years. It ejected a total of 1,170 cubic kilometers of material and caused several hundreds square kilometers of land to collapse, forming the caldera.

The Hatepe Eruption

The most recent major eruption, the Hatepe eruption, took place in 180 AD. It ejected about 100 cubic kilometers of materials, out of which 30 cubic kilometers were ejected in a very short time span of just a few minutes. It is considered one of the most powerful eruptions in the last 5,000 years, it devastated a great part of the North Island, and it expanded Lake Taupo even more. New Zealand was only settled by the Māori around 1280, so North Island was uninhabited at the time of the Hatepe eruption. The Horomatangi Reefs were formed by the last known eruption at Lake Taupo, which happened 30 years after the Hatepe eruption, and was much less intense.

Near the Horomatangi vent, underwater hydrothermal activity is still taking place. Geothermal fields and hot springs can be found both North and South of the lake, at Turangi and Rotokawa. Extremophile micro-organisms that are capable of surviving in extreme hot environments live in these springs.

The volcano is considered dormant, not extinct. This is due to moderate Fumarole activity and the hot springs from around the lake.

Flora

The area around Lake Taupo is dominated by conifer forests that feature many types of ferns beneath the canopy. These ferns include the thread fern, the drooping spleenwort (or weeping spleenwort), the rasp fern, the kangaroo fern (or hound's tongue), and the fragrant fern. These forests are also home to several types of shrubs.

Fauna

Species that are native to Lake Taupo include the northern koura (or crayfish) and kokopu (or whitebait). Two important species of trout have been introduced here from Europe and California in the 19th century, brown trout and rainbow trout. The smelt has also been introduced subsequently, as food for the trout.

The underwater geothermal vents are home to sponges and associated invertebrates.

Tourism and Recreation

The lake is a major tourist attraction, and the town of Taupo attracts more than 2 million tourists every year, with the busiest time being around Christmas and New Year, in the summer season.

Some of the most popular activities on Lake Taupo include kayaking, sailing, and water-skiing. The forests around the lake offer biking and hiking opportunities for all levels of experience.

Probably the most popular activity on the lake is fishing. The largest natural trout fishery in the world is located in the town of Turangi. It is an ideal place for fishing enthusiasts to try to catch the big one. Turangi can also serve as a base for exploring the Tongariro National Park, where New Zealand’s most popular day walk takes place, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, or for skiing at Turoa and Whakapapa ski fields.

The area around Lake Taupo has a temperate climate. Maximum temperatures range from 23.3 °C in January to 11.2 °C in July during the day. The minimum nighttime temperatures range from 11.6 °C in February to 2.2 °C in July. Winter and spring have the most rainfall, from June to December.

New Zealand’s most visited attraction, the incredible Huka Falls, is located just North of Lake Taupo, on the Waikato River.

The Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge is a tour around the lake, and can take from 4 to 10 hours or anywhere in between. Another very popular local sport is skydiving. The Kellogg's Iron Man is also hosted by Taupo.

Rock Carvings

The Mine Bay on the northwestern side of the lake is home to Māori rock carvings, which are more than 10 meters in height, and were created in the late 1970s by John Randall and  Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell. They are only accessible by kayak or boat.

The carving represents Ngatoroirangi, a navigator who guided the Te Arawa and Tuwharetoa tribes to the Taupo area, more than 1,000 years ago. It is also meant to protect Lake Taupo from volcanic activities. The cliff is very popular among tourists, and hundreds of boats and yachts visit it every day.

How to Get There

Lake Taupo is located approximately at the center of the North Island, a 3.5-hour drive from Auckland and a 4.5-hour drive from Wellington.

Lake Taupo Fish Species

Brown trout
Trout
Rainbow trout