The Best Places to Visit on New Zealand’s North Island
New Zealand is one of my favourite places in the world to visit. Living in Australia, it’s a natural holiday destination for us as it’s only a three-hour flight across the Tasman from the east coast and it’s one of the most travel-friendly destinations in the world.
I have spent a lot of time in the South Island on my trips to New Zealand, however, there is so much to see and do in the North Island that I wanted to share five of my favourite destinations with you and show you some of the amazing places you can visit in the North Island.
For most of us, Auckland is the natural starting point for any North Island adventure. It is the largest city in New Zealand and is the hub for most international flights into the country.
It is also jam-packed with amazing things to do.
I guess Auckland is always a funny one for people that grow up in NSW – it sometimes feels like a smaller version of Sydney with its Harbour Bridge and Sky Tower that both dominate the city skyline, however, once you dig a little deeper, you find that Auckland is so much more than these to iconic landmarks.
From the tranquillity of the beaches of the North Shore to the black sand beaches on the rugged west coast, Auckland is full of great little suburbs and hidden gems. You could spend a week here and only scratch the surface of things to see and do but here are three of my favourites:
- Take a ferry across the Waitemata Harbour to Waiheke Island and sample some wine and visit some of the bohemian galleries found on the island.
- Hire a scooter and take a ride along Tamaki Drive to visit the beautiful bays including Mission Bay and St Heliers.
- Take a stroll along the waterfront and Wynyard Quarter, enjoying an afternoon drink in the sun and watching the hustle and bustle of the waterfront.
Bay of Islands
After leaving Auckland, one of my favourite places to visit is the beautiful Bay of Islands. Located around 4 hours north of Auckland, the Bay of Islands is one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations and for good reason.
I usually base myself in Paihia – the gateway to the Bay of Islands and as you might have guessed, a lot of the action up here is out on the water, exploring the 140+ islands in the area.
The easiest way to explore the region is on a guided tour and there are several that leave from Paihia daily. Take a trip to the world-famous Hole in the Rock, stop off at one of the many islands and take a stroll and if you are lucky, you might also see dolphins or even whales at certain times of the year.
The easiest way to travel around the North Islands is to rent a car. There are pretty frequent bus services which will get you from A to B, however, a lot of the fun is found between A and B and you can only truly discover this in your own car. GO Rentals is a great local rental car company that I have used in the past and they have a fleet of modern cars of all sizes to choose from.
In your rental car, you can take a day trip up to Cape Reinga – the most northerly point in New Zealand where you can watch the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide which is very cool.
Located around two and a half hours from Auckland is the spectacular Coromandel Peninsula. This is definitely on the bucket list for many people who visit the North Island and has quickly become one of my favourites.
Like many of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations, a lot of the best things to see and do in the Coromandel are located on the coast. New Zealand has over 15,000 kms of coastline and the Coromandel enjoys one of the most spectacular stretches.
I usually base myself in Whitianga – one of the largest towns on the peninsula located on the east coast. There is plenty going on in and around the town but it’s a great base for exploring some of the main hotspots that include:
- Hot Water Beach – a chance to dig your own hot tub in the sand
- Cathedral Cove – one of the most spectacular beaches and settings in New Zealand
- Hike the Pinnacles – the mountain range that separates the east from the west
The Coromandel is a North Island bucket list destination but make sure you check out my list of 50+ things to do in the South Island.
Heading south from Auckland, you have a number of options, however, Rotorua has always been my favourite.
Rotorua is the geothermal capital of New Zealand with a lot of geothermal activity going on in and around the city. There are lots of places you can visit to find out more and witness some of the amazing natural phenomenons created by the geothermal fault lines that run through Rotorua.
Rotorua is also a great place to discover more about the Maori culture with a big population of Maori based in Rotorua and a number of attractions in the city that offer the opportunity to discover more about the history of New Zealand, Maori people and the culture.
Rotorua is also a great destination for those who love the outdoors with some amazing walking trails and mountain biking opportunities. The Redwoods are one of the most popular places to mountain bike in the North Island so give it a go when you’re in town.If you are looking for more inspiration when it comes to hiking in New Zealand, check out my list of the best hikes in New Zealand’s South Island.
Rounding out the list of five of my favourite destinations on the North Island is Napier. Located on the east coast, Napier is a haven for wine lovers and the Hawke’s Bay is one of New Zealand’s premier wine-growing regions.
The city was rebuilt following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated the city in 1931. When the city was rebuilt, it was done in the Art Deco style that was fashionable at the time and those buildings are one of the main attractions of the city today. The city also hosts an annual Art Deco festival.
If you enjoy walking or biking, the coastal paths around Napier are great for exploring and Te Mata Peak is a highlight of the region. Cape Kidnappers, as well as being a popular destination for golfers thanks to the world-class golf course, is also a great spot for nature-lovers and the gannet colony located at Cape Kidnappers is an amazing place to visit.
The North Island of New Zealand is spectacular and whilst many people flock to the South Island, those who choose to spend time on the North Island are never disappointed. I’ve only picked out five of my favourite destinations on the North Island and there are plenty that I missed out including:
- Mount Maunganui
- New Plymouth
New Zealand is a destination for those who love the outdoors and the North Island is a great place for those who love to explore. Of course, New Zealand also has its fair share of rain and there are plenty of things to do if the weather is not so great including some amazing museums, world-class dining as well as plenty of indoor activities.
If you are stuck in your hotel and looking for entertainment, there are plenty of options on your phone these days. Whether it’s watching a movie on Netflix or maybe playing a game on one of the huge number of online gaming sites such as Betway, there are certainly plenty of options if you are stuck with an hour to kill.
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