New Zealand is a wonderful and beautiful country, but somehow the North Island seems to be overlooked by travellers compared to the South Island. What a shame. The North Island has a lot to offer! I spend about 3 weeks there last year, but was short on time compared to the things I wanted to do. Here I have gathered my favorites from my visit to the North Island. I have put the favorites in order of visiting.
This is a cool “little” city – with about 393,600 residents not big for a capital city! Surrounded by mountains and located just at the water it is a lovely city for a small stroll. Take a walk at the harbour, where it seems like most of the daily life takes place, if you are lucky you might be able to see a seal. Just keep an eye on crowds gathering some place at the harbour. You will also be able to find small vendors and live music here. Enjoy your evening at the bars and restaurants in Cuba Street and go shopping in all the great shops – seriously they have a sale all the time! Wellington is really good at street art/graffiti – it is all over the place.
Napier is really something different. A small town full of art deco. It is pretty cool walking down the street watching all the art deco buildings, but the best part in this town is the beach. It is beautiful and rather different to most beaches. There aren’t a lot of black beaches in the world and this is one of them and I think all the wood at the water made it even more beautiful.
The action center of the North Island. Here you will be able to go skydiving, river rafting, mountain biking – you name it. The city lies just by the huge lake, where you will be able to take small strolls, boating and enjoy the beaches. Taupo is also a great jump point to Tongariro National Park, the oldest national park in the North Island and home of many scenes from Lord of the Rings including Mount Doom (Mt Ngauruhoe). In order to get there you will need to go on the famous day trek The Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Rotorua is most likely like nothing you have ever seen before. It might smell like rotten eggs, but it is a place which shouldn’t be missed! Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity. In the city center you will find the city’s park, where you probably will meet the first geothermal activity. Not far from the city center you will find Wai-O-Tapu, a national park which shouldn’t be missed. It is home of green, blue, orange and yellow lakes and is a wonderful place to explore. Come before 10 a.m. and you will be able to see the Lady Knox Geyser erupt.
Waimangu Vulcanic Vally is also a beautiful national park. It is actually the world’s newest geothermal eco-system. It is not as amazing as Wai-O-Tapu, it is completely different. The park has less visitors and some of them will actually just take the bus from place to place, so if you choose to walk you will have the park pretty much to yourself – it is a very easy walk, so everyone should be able to do it.
Try the luge for a fun ride down Mount Ngongotaha. From Mt. Ngongotaha has a great view of the city, Rotorua Lake and Mokoia Island. Take some time enjoying the view, perhaps with a cup of coffee in the cafe, before getting some action! A trip to New Zealand shouldn’t be without getting some knowledge about the Maori culture. By visiting a cultural “village” you will be able to learn about the culture, eat a traditional hangi meal (a meal cooked in the ground). It is very touristic, but still a great experience, because you really get to know the culture in a different way that you might otherwise do.
These are just some of the highlights of Rotorua, there is plenty more to do here! Go visit Rotorua lake to see black swans and enjoy the atmosphere. Visit the Redwood Forest to walk around the huge redwood trees and the green and blue lakes nearby or try a spa. Yes, Rotorua has a lot of blue and green lakes, but they are all different 😉 Rotorua is worth at least a few days of your time!
Okay, Matamata doesn’t have a lot to offer, but they have one thing – Hobbiton. It is pretty obvious when you arrive to this town. They are so proud of Hobbiton that even their I-site (tourist information) is shaped as a hobbit hole! The tour of Hobbiton is worth it, even if you aren’t a fan of the movies. The guides will tell you stories from the sets during your tour and they will tell you all the special effects they used while making the movies. The tour will end at the Green dragon with a beer or a ginger beer. The set is beautiful and you will be surprised of what they did to make the effects and visualizing the vision Peter Jackson had! I wouldn’t tell anymore, I think you should hear the fun stories yourself.
Coromandel is peaceful, beautiful and has a lot to offer for the nature lover. Trek to Coromandel Cove through the lust forest and you will be rewarded with amazing views of the water. Visit Hot Water Beach, where you will be able to dig yourself a hole and mix sea water with the 60ºC warm water from the underground, but be careful, you might end up burning yourself at the warm water if you don’t mix it with the cold. Coromandel has a lot of beautiful beaches so it is just about choosing the one you would like. You will probably also pass by Coromandel Town, where you will be able to enjoy the water at the harbour. It is especially beautiful in the morning mist!
Northland is probably most famous for the Cape Reinga Lighthouse where the Tasman sea and the Pacific Ocean meet. It was a bit touristic for me with music and everything, but Northland still has a lot to offer. Take a visit to Whangarei waterfall, a small place without many tourists and Tane Mahuta, the largest kauri tree in NZ. A tree? You might think, but you wouldn’t believe how big and impressive it is until you see it – 51.5 meters high! You can also visit Bay of Islands and Kawiti Glow Worm caves, which is less visited and cheaper than Waitomo Glow Worm Caves.
Most people start their trip in New Zealand here in Auckland or in Christchurch. Auckland is probably the only “real” big city in the North Island. Sure, the North Island do also have Wellington, the capital of NZ, but it never really feels like a big city like Auckland does. Spend some time walking the streets, visiting the harbour and the Sky tower. It is a wonderful city for 2-3 days, there are also the option to visit the nearby beaches and islands
Written by Tine Haslam
Tine is a Danish travel blogger at A World of Backpacking (aworldofbackpacking.com). She has travelled 30 countries on 6 continents and now use her knowledge to help other backpackers get the best trip as possible and inspire them to travel to new destinations. She writes about budget travel, but it doesn’t mean that she saves on experiences. Read her blog and get inspiration from all over the world.