North Island activities
New Zealand's North Island offers a huge array of outdoor activities, including:
Hiking – With so many tracks to choose from, New Zealand is a hiker’s fantasy come true. Try the Lake Waikaremoana Track in the Te Urewera National Park, a journey that leads you through pristine rainforest overlooking beautiful Lake Waikaremoana.
Or hike the Tongariro Northern Circuit in the Tongariro National Park for a four-day alpine adventure that takes you through a wonderland of active volcanoes, boiling mud pools, fumaroles and sulphurous pits alongside tussock grassland and through New Zealand’s only desert.
Don’t miss the tracks around Mount Taranaki, a huge volcano sitting at the centre of Egmont National Park: hike through kamahi rainforest, tussocks and alpine flowers such as daisies, lilies and orchids, many unique to the mountain.
Horseback riding – Get into a pioneering spirit with a horseback trek through pristine landscapes that are little changed from the days of the early settlers. The North Island offers a range of horseback treks, from the picturesque valleys and rugged forests of the Coromandel Peninsula and the spectacular hill country near Taihape, to the mountain ranges, native forest and vast sheep and cattle stations around Mangaweka, located in the middle of the North Island.
Biking – New Zealand offers a diverse array of cycling options, from the sedate to the insane. The spectacular scenery is the only distraction from the thrills available. Cycle along a wine trail, explore a coastal road past golden surf-washed beaches or go cross-country along a disused railway track.
For an exciting one-day, two-wheel adventure, cycle the 42 Traverse, one of the best mountain bike tracks in New Zealand’s North Island. Starting at Kapoors Road, Taurewa, the ride follows old logging trails through State Forest 42 in the Tongariro Forest.
The 46km-long trail descends 570m and provides several river crossings, challenging downhill and muscle-testing uphill sections through lush native forest with sweeping views over volcanic mountains. Depending on fitness levels, the ride takes between four to seven hours to complete. Mountain bikes can be hired locally and the Tongariro Forest Adventure Map provides info on local points of interest as well as helps to keep you on track.
Or discover 70km of trails in the Whakarewarewa Forest, near Rotorua; go heli-biking in the untouched wilderness of the Kaimanawa mountains of Tongariro National Park; or try the Makara Peak Park, a 200ha area just 10 minutes from central Wellington and one of the most popular mountain bike tracks in New Zealand.
Sailing – Hire a bareboat or skippered charter yacht for a sea-flavoured taste of the scenic maritime reserves around the Bay of Islands and the Hauraki Gulf. Or step back in time and experience the Bay of Islands as Captain Cook did aboard a fully rigged sailing schooner such as the R.Tucker Thompson. Be active and rig the sails or just enjoy the sea breeze and passing scenic islands.
Rafting – Drift through a forested wilderness, thrill to a white-knuckled, wide-eyed journey down turbulent rapids or float the inky blackness of black water rafting through underground caves. Try the Mohaka River, only one hour from Napier, for thrills that range from gentle Grade II scenic trips up to Grade IV white water adventures.
Head to the Rangitikei River, New Zealand's premier Grade V white water rafting trip or float through the glow worm-flecked underworld of Ruakuri Cave on an inner tube. Try the Kaituna River, snaking through bush-clad canyons, and plunge down the 7m-high Tutea Falls into the white-knuckle foam below for some adrenalin-packed fun.
Kayaking – Paddle a sea kayak around Te Matuku Marine Reserve on Waiheke Island, only a short ferry ride from downtown Auckland. Spot a variety of native birds including, if you’re really lucky, the endangered dotterel. Or take a five-day kayak trip down the historic Whanganui River through some of the North Island’s prettiest scenery.
Surfing – Journey south of New Plymouth via Surf Highway 45 to find multiple surf beaches on Taranaki’s east coast. Taranaki's hemispherical coast collects 180-degrees of ocean swells, so you can be almost certain that the surf will be pumping somewhere between New Plymouth and Hawera. Head to Back Beach, Kumara Patch, Graveyard and The Dump.
Fitzroy beach is popular due to its accessibility and dependable surf, and Komene Beach, five minutes from Okato, has the added attraction of black swans, oystercatchers, ducks, gulls and pied stilts. Or head to Lyall Bay, just minutes from Wellington, or the waves at nearby Wairarapa.
Fishing – Cast a line for brown and rainbow trout and salmon in the Rakaia, Rangitata, Waimakariri or Waitaki rivers on the east coast of the North Island. The season lasts from mid-December to late April.
Skiing – Head to New Zealand’s best ski slopes on Mount Ruapehu and at Whakapapa with more than 65 trails across 1050ha. With 30 groomed trails, a huge variety of off-piste areas for intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders as well as a separate area for beginners (Happy Valley), this is a great destination for all levels of skiers.
Golf – Choose from more than 400 golf courses around the country, playable year round. Some of the best courses include: Kauri Cliffs golf course, an eye-popping 6510m par 72 that overlooks Matauri Bay in Northland where you can play holes that wind through marsh, forest, farmland and atop cliff faces that plunge dramatically into the sea; Cape Kidnappers in Hawkes Bay, a 6400m par 71 that also offers plays atop dramatic cliffs with spectacular sea views; and Gulf Harbour golf course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr, a 6400m par 72 golf course located on the Whangaparoa Peninsula, 40 minutes north of Auckland, meandering through native grasses and vegetation with sweeping views over the stunning Hauraki Gulf.
Driving – Rent a car and enjoy some memorable drives. Take the 150km ‘Forgotten World Highway’, a heritage trail between Taumarunui and Stratford, winding over four mountain saddles, through the 180m Moki tunnel and along the spectacular Tangarakau Gorge. Or try the Pacific Coast Highway, a 420km ocean-flavoured odyssey through spectacular coastal scenery and photogenic seaside villages, forest wilderness and the grape growing districts of Gisborne, Napier and Hastings.
In the north, the Twin Coast Discovery Highway begins in Auckland and travels north, tracing both coasts to Cape Reinga and back for a memorable journey of white-sand beaches, giant kauri trees, relaxed seaside towns and ports where you can go diving or take a cruise around the Bay of Islands.
Or drive along the seemingly endless wave-lashed golden strand of Ninety Mile Beach to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand. While there, climb up to the lighthouse and take in the panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea as they merge.