places to visit in the North Island

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 are 8 places in the North Island which shouldn’t be missed!

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Wellington Harbour

Wellington
This is a cool “little” city – with about 393,600 residents it is actually not much bigger than my city and it is the capital city of New Zealand! 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! One thing I really enjoyed in Wellington as well is the street art! You will find it in the small streets and on old buildings, they are really beautiful and cool!

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Street art, Wellington

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Napier beach

Napier
Napier is really something different compared to the rest of New Zealand. 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 a beautiful beach and rather different than 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 🙂 It wasn’t really something I was looking forward to (you have to compromise when having a travel partner), but this town took me by surprise, perhaps it was just because we met a wonderful couple and had a fun night!

Taupo
If you want action in the North Island? This is the place to go! Skydiving, mountain biking, bungee jumping, rafting, riding on a jet boat and trekking – e.g. to Mount Doom/Tongariro (unfortunately it was closed when I was there 🙁 ). There is plenty to do even though the town is small. I recommend a trip to Huka falls and Aratiatia Rapids, a dam opening its gates everyday at 10:00am, 12:00pm, 2:00pm, 4:00pm and it is actually more spectacular than you might think 🙂 And take a walk at the lake, but be ware of the black swans as they might get aggressive 😉

Champagne pool

Champagne Pool, Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua

Rotorua
This was without a doubt my favorite part of the North Island, probably because it is unlike everything I have seen before! Sure, it might smell like rotten eggs, but it shouldn’t be missed! When driving there we accidentally came across a beautiful waterfall which we had to ourselves – great start! 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 activity. You have probably heard about the Wai-O-Tapu National Park and if you haven’t then you have without a doubt seen the photo of a lake with an orange edge on a lake. This national park shouldn’t be missed! Otherwise you will be missing green, blue and orange lakes and a landscape unlike most other. Come before 10 a.m. and you will be able to see the Lady Knox Geyser erupt. What can I say? GO!

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Waimangu Vulcanic Vally

Waimangu Vulcanic Vally is also a beautiful national park. It is acutally the world’s newest geothermal eco-system. It is not as amazing as Wai-O-Tapu, it is completely different. I visited this park and enjoyed both of them really much! This park has less visitors and some of them will actually just take the bus from place to place, so if you choose to walk – it is a very easy walk, then you will pretty much have this place to yourself 🙂

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Mitai cultural experience

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 cop 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. We went on the Mitai experience and ware really happy about it. Ask your camp site or hostel if they can make a great price for you. We were able to save a lot because we were there during winter. Price at summer starts from NZ$110.

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 near by! 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!

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Hobbiton movie set

Matamata
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 to Hobbiton might be a bit pricey NZ$75, but it is worth a visit, even though you might not be a fan of the movies (I had a non-movie fan with me and she enjoyed it). 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 stories yourself 😉

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Coromandel Cove, Coromandel

Coromandel
Another places I immediately fell for! It is really peaceful and again has a lot to offer for the nature lover. Trek to Coromandel Cove through the lust forrest 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 – it happened to me 😉 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!

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Coromandel Town Harbour in the morning

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Whangarei waterfall

Northland
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 than Waitomo and it only cost NZ$20 we didn’t had time to visit these places because the main road from Auckland to these two places was closed.

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Auckland
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 🙂 (I was recommend Piha Beach, but didn’t have the time to visit the beach) Bonus information: The admission for the Sky Tower is NZ$28, but if you dine in the you will only have to pay from NZ$30 for the dinner and the admission is free! But you need to make reservation first, it can be sold out for days (in the low season).

Have you ever been to New Zealand? What did you think of the North Island?

This article was also published at traveljobs but it has been moderated since

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Siden jeg var barn har jeg drømt om at tage ud og rejse. I år 2011 tog jeg for første gang afsted på en længere rejse. Det endte med at blive seks måneders solorejse og siden har jeg blot forsat med at rejse. Jeg elsker kultur, at se steder som jeg ikke har set før og mødet med de lokale. Jeg rejser sjældent med en guidebog eller kort, da jeg er ret god til at finde vej og elsker at gå på opdagelse. Til gengæld er også jeg utrolig god til at miste mine ting og burde snart indberegne erstatning for mistede ting i mine budgetter....

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