Hands up who doesn’t think New Zealand is incredibly beautiful? Can’t see many hands from here… I love New Zealand, I find its landscapes diverse and spectacular. My husband and I chose New Zealand as a honeymoon destination, there was no argument, the choice was obvious. I’ve tried skiing in New Zealand but my very favourite thing to do is a good road trip. This year, we opted to discover some of the North Island. We only had a few days over Easter so it was nothing too extensive but one has to start somewhere. Our road trip resulted in 5 New Zealand North Island Highlights and 2 Epic Fails. Read on…
New Zealand North Island Highlights: Auckland Harbour
Living in Sydney, I’m not normally attracted to large cities when I travel, I prefer nature and wilderness. However, Cyclone Cook prevented us from heading straight to Coromandel Town and we had to stay overnight in Auckland. The harbour offers a nice walk and there are plenty of restaurants on the waterfront.
New Zealand North Island Highlights: Mount Eden
Auckland is sitting on a field of volcanoes and they could wake up anytime… So it makes sense to visit the volcano field in the middle of town… I find this a slightly disturbing thought but there are houses everywhere around Mount Eden. Used as a Pa or village by various Maori tribes until the 18th Century, Mount Eden is a great vantage point over Auckland two harbours and other volcanoes. However, it is a New Zealand North Island highlight!
The best way to get there is by car, and you’ll have to walk up from the carpark. There is a viewing platform at the top and you can walk around the volcano crater. Entering the crater is not permitted as it is considered sacred by the Maori people.
The view over the Auckland CBD and two harbours is quite stunning. Apart from the volcano craters, it is quite built up and I sure hope there is no further volcanic activity for a while yet!
New Zealand North Island Highlights: The Coromandel Peninsula
Whilst Cyclone Cook limited our progression to the north of the Coromandel Peninsula, we did drive across from Thames to the Bay of Plenty. If you are in the region of Auckland and Tauranga, taking a drive to the Coromandel is a must. It’s an easy drive across one of New Zealand’s best features: green rolling hills.
I think I’ll never tire of these views and those colours! To me, this view is a definite New Zealand North Island Highlight!
Whangamata Beach is a great place to relax for a while and take a dip in the ocean.
New Zealand North Island Highlights: Mount Maunganui
Tauranga is quite busy and industrial, but Mount Maunganui is a lovely coastal town, with a range of restaurants, shops and holiday accommodation, at the foot of a small mountain. The beach offers great surf and, if you climb “The Mount” as it is known locally, you will see stunning views over the Bay of Plenty.
New Zealand North Island Highlights: Rotorua and Te Puia
Rotorua is a must when you visit the North Island. Yes, it does deserve its nickname of “RotoVegas”, referring to its strip of motels, but it has a lot to offer. It’s a great adventure destination and I was very tempted by the zorbing… A full day is a very minimum for Rotorua and we decided to focus on Te Puia, the “Geothermal Wonderland”.
If you have an interest in geothermal activity (or even if you don’t) or need yet another proof that the Earth is alive, you must visit Te Puia and watch the geysers in action. It is such an unusual place that it should definitely be on your New Zealand North Island highlights.
Some of them are constantly spitting out steam and hot water, whilst others are less active. A walk through the Te Puia park is a great experience, with bubbling mud pools and smoke (it’s steam, really) coming out of various places.
The geysers in action are spectacular if you don’t mind the smell of sulphur.
New Zealand North Island Highlights: Maori Culture
Te Puia is also a cultural centre, where you can acquaint yourself with Maori culture. When visiting Te Puia, I recommend joining the Haka. The full ceremony includes a formal welcome with a fern leaf being thrown to the chief of the (tourist) tribe and the war dance you see at rugby matches. The chief of the tourist tribe has to pick up the leaf in order to demonstrate friendly intentions. The presentation takes place in the Marae or meeting house.
I’m always a little wary of cultural presentations, as I’m afraid of participating in cultural exploitation. However, I didn’t get this impression at all at the Marae. On the contrary, the mood was light and the Maori people seemed genuinely keen to welcome the group of tourists and present their culture.
Te Puia also houses kiwi birds, a nocturnal and flightless bird, symbol of New Zealand, and the Maori Arts & Craft Institute.
If you have more time in Rotorua, there are plenty of other activities like hot pools, lunching at a traditional Maori “hangi” and many other adventure-style pursuits.
First Epic Fail
We had two epic fails on our short trip to the North Island, and it was all our fault… We wanted to visit the Waitomo Caves to see the glow worms. It’s a two-hour drive from Tauranga so we should really have planned it. We got there and found that all the tours were fully booked for the rest of the day… Epic fail!
I blame my honeymoon experience of the South Island, where there are fewer people. The North Island is much busier and some of the tourist attractions fill up pretty quickly.
So, after some waiting around and a bad meal, we headed back to Tauranga. It’s a shame, the photos of the glow worms look really spectacular!
Second Epic Fail
The second fail of the day, (yes, we had two in one day) was Hobbiton. We hadn’t planned it either, we drove past it on the way to Waitomo Caves. All the tours were also booked… I have to say, at NZ80 per person, I’m not sure I would have paid that. I haven’t even see the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit movies, so I had really no idea.
The scenery around Hobbiton is stunning though, those green rolling hills again… I might have to reconsider my position on my next visit and make both places part of my New Zealand North Island highlights.
So, here it is, in a short period of time, we had 5 New Zealand North Island Highlights and 2 Epic Fails. Two epic fails in one day is a lot, in my view, so we’ll have to work on our pre-planning. Do you have any stories of travel epic fails you want to share? Please share in the comments below!