Top attractions in North Island
Experience a choice of must-see attractions in New Zealand's North Island, including:
Explore the ‘City of Sails’, New Zealand's largest city, where sailing is an institution and the city's Hauraki Gulf is one of the world’s finest boating playgrounds.
Ride a ferry to scenic Waiheke Island or down the Waitemata Harbour to historic Devonport. Climb to the top of the 328m Skytower for the best views over the city, visit Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World for a close encounter with sharks and penguins, see Maori artefacts at the Auckland Museum and take in a live cultural performance.
Browse the chic boutiques of Parnell or Ponsonby and at sunset head to the Viaduct basin, promenade beside super yachts then wine and dine at a nearby trendy bar.
More about Auckland. . .
Discover the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve, located north-east of Whangarei, for a taste of New Zealand’s best scuba diving. Warm tropical currents make the Poor Knights inviting for a wide variety of tropical species that aren't found elsewhere in New Zealand's waters.
In the turbulent sunlit waters, discover kelp forests, caves, dramatic underwater arches, sponge gardens and gorgonian fields teeming with fish, shellfish, urchins and anemones.
See subtropical species of fish, known for their friendliness, such as spotted black groper, mosaic moray and Lord Howe coralfish. And look out for stingrays cruising the waters in summer.
Explore on foot a vast geothermal expanse of steaming geysers, sulphurous smells, hissing vents and plopping yellow mud pools in the hot volcanic heart of New Zealand's North Island.
At Te Whakarewarewa thermal valley watch as the world famous Pohutu Geyser erupts on cue each morning with a 30m-high spout of mud and hot water; the geyser continues this display up to 20 times a day. Learn about Maori culture and traditions at the nearby culture institute with its art gallery, a replica Maori village and friendly working craftspeople.
Or head further south to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland to see a vast expanse of multi-hued rocks, springs, pools, lakes of bubbling black mud, the famous Champagne Pool and the Lady Knox Geyser, which erupts daily up to 20m-high.
Tongariro National Park
Explore the vast wilderness landscape of this UNESCO World Heritage site, home to three active volcanoes – Ngauruhoe, Tongariro and Ruapehu. In this 80,000ha park you can trek through mountains, deserts, lakes, rich farm land and paddle down pristine rivers, including the Whanganui River – New Zealand’s longest navigable river.
Take a Lord of the Rings tour and discover the land of Mordor and the Emyn Muil (Iwikau Village at Whakapapa), Ithilien Camp (Mangawhero Falls) and Orc Army scenes (Rangipo Desert). Or, during snow season, ski the slopes of Mount Ruapehu, which erupted as recently as 1996.
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Regarded as the best one-day walk in New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a challenging hike across a remarkable landscape of craters, steaming lakes and volcanic formations.
Follow the streamside track as it climbs out of the Mangatepopo Valley near Wakapapa, around the edges of old black lava flows, past yellow buttercups and white foxgloves to Mangatepopo Saddle between Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro, with panoramic views to Mount Taranaki.
With the smell of sulphur a reminder that this is an active crater, continue on to Red Crater, the highest point on the Tongariro Crossing. From here you can take a two-hour detour to the summit of Mount Tongariro or descend past the stunning green Emerald Lakes (caused by minerals leaching from the surrounding thermal area), around the flanks of North Crater through tussock slopes to end up in a green beech forest.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing takes seven to eight hours, or longer in the opposite direction.
Created almost 2000 years ago by a volcanic eruption, Lake Taupo is New Zealand's largest freshwater lake – about the size of Singapore Island – and offers a range of adventure activities: fish for rainbow and brown trout year round from one of the last wild trout fisheries in the world; kayak past towering cliffs and Maori carvings at Mine Bay and discover sandy beaches in secluded coves.
Mountain bike through the lush forests surrounding the lake; hike through exotic and native forest to the cascading 11m-high Huka Falls; wander on wooden walkways between boiling mud pools and open vents spewing sulphurous steam at the nearby primeval Craters of the Moon; or drop from the skies at the largest tandem skydiving drop zone in the world.
Explore the rugged volcanic hills on numerous hiking tracks that lead through the typical coastal forest of ancient kauri, puriri, kohekohe and pohutukawa trees, to secluded untamed beaches.
Follow the Kauri Block Track to an old Maori pa (fortress) for spectacular 360-degree views of the Coromandel Ranges, offshore islands and township. Or take the easy two-hour stroll to the pretty white sands of Cathedral Cove, where you can relax beneath pohutukawa trees or kayak, swim and snorkel in the crystal clear waters.
Further south, you can dig your own thermal spa in the sand at Hot Water Beach, south of Hahei. For two hours either side of low tide, hot springs bubble up through the sand – the legacy of the region’s volcanic past.
Read more about the Coromandel . . .
Abseil down a 100m cliff into a subterranean canyon system for an underground action-packed adventure of a lifetime. Squeeze along damp passageways crowded with immense stalactites and stalagmites, drift through a glow-worm grotto, wade through swirling waters past underground waterfalls and swim through dark underground waterways.
Or drift along subterranean streams in a rubber raft – blackwater rafting is an easy way to explore the cave system.
With experienced guides to keep you safe, the caves offers several underground adventures, including the Ruakuri Cave System, the Haggas Honking Holes and the vast Mangapu Cave. Aboveground adventures include guided abseiling, horseback riding, quad biking and jet boating.
Set foot on New Zealand’s most active volcano site, just a boat ride from the coastal town of Whakatane. Once off-limits, White Island is home to three volcanic cones that spew hot water, boiling mud, steam and hot sulphurous gases into the air – temperatures of up to 800C have been recorded here!
Stroll barefoot (it’s the rule) across hot sand and volcanic ash to the edge of the main crater, inhale the bitter odour of sulphur, listen to the hissing vents, see yellow and white sulphur crystals growing around the edges of steaming fumaroles and be prepared to run to your boat if the ground starts to tremble!
This private scenic reserve can also be reached by helicopter and with diving and snorkelling around the island – watch out for cruising hammerhead sharks. White Island makes for a great adventure.
The Whanganui River
Explore the wilderness of the Whanganui River from the comfort of a Canadian canoe or a kayak on a three- to five-day trip from Taumarunui through the rugged hill country of Whanganui National Park to Pipiriki.
Drift through steep-sided canyons, past abundant birdlife and native forests. Navigate more than 200 rapids (never beyond Grade II) and take time to go ashore on this 145km river adventure.
Easy-to-follow trails lead to scenic viewpoints, caves and historical points of interest, including the ancient Maori pa (fortress) of Tieke Kainga.
Discover one of the largest and most complex Maori pa (fortress) in New Zealand at the scene of the last great battle between British troops and Nga Puhi forces led by Hone Heke and Kawiti. The final assault on the pa took place in January 1846. Located inland from the Bay of islands, south-east of Kawakawa.
Te Papa (Wellington)
Be inspired in the 'Museum of New Zealand', which provides an interactive look at NZ's history and culture. Discover an impressive range of exhibits that include a huge Maori collection, with a marae (meeting house), discovery centres for children, a re-creation of a European settlement and contemporary art and culture.