A list of New Zealand North Island highlights to plan your trip

5 New Zealand North Island Highlights and 2 Epic Fails

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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…

We actually went back for two weeks in New Zealand South Island recently, including to the West Coast. We love driving in New Zealand!

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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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I think I’ll never tire of these views and those colours! To me, this view is a definite New Zealand North Island Highlight!

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Whangamata Beach is a great place to relax for a while and take a dip in the ocean.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Driving in New Zealand

New Zealand Helicopter Tours

Stunning New Zealand Lakes

Do you have any stories of travel epic fails you want to share? Please share in the comments below!

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43 thoughts on “5 New Zealand North Island Highlights and 2 Epic Fails”

  1. Ant @ OurCookery.com

    It would have been awesome to see the glow worms. New Zealand is on our bucket list! Excellent review.

  2. I LOVE New Zealand, I have actually only done the south island and Wellington so you have given me some great ideas on what to do when we go back. I too have been skiing there and am super keen for a NZ road trip. Beautiful pics!

    1. The South Island is absolutely beautiful and the best for a road trip, the roads are very good and there is hardly anyone there. The ski is OK in my view but doesn’t match the French Alps… I’m biased, I have a house there!

  3. thesecretlifeofanactress

    Wonderful pics! I’d love to visit New Zealand!! One day! 🙂 And for your fails… well you’ll have to plan a trip back :))

  4. I moved to New Zealand just over a year ago from South Africa. We live on the north island and you have listed all my favourite places too. Beautiful pictures and a lovely post.

    1. Hi Marion, I’m glad you like my post. If you live in New Zealand, don’t miss a visit to the South Island, it’s so beautiful! I would love to go back this year!

  5. Thank you for sharing these images. I especially loved the ones you took of Te Puia. It brings back amazing memories!

  6. I LOVE New Zealand too. I’m sure one of your pictures is a beach we stayed on – the one at the top, with the island in sight? We went there for a wedding and stayed in a strange pod house that was built by its architect owner. Such a cool house and we could see farm animals and the sea while lying in bed! A great trip. I’d love to see more of NZ. We drove up to Waihi Beach after that, but still haven’t made it to the South Island at all.

    1. Hi Rachel, the photo was taken on Tauranga Beach and the island in the background is Mount Maunganui (not really an island) and I got beautiful lighting! I hope to return to the South Island soon, I went there for my honeymoon and it was awesome!

  7. I loved the glow worms it’s a shame you didn’t get out there I’m sure you would’ve loved it

    Also did some white water rafting as part of the tour and abseiling both amazing too

    1. Hi Sam, yes I’ll have to go back to see the glow worms, it looks spectacular! I’ve done white water rafting in the South Island, it’s good fun!

  8. New Zealand looks like a dream! Such beautiful scenery. I love when travel destinations beauty comes from nature and are not man-made – so much more charming. My highlight of this post would be the Bay of Plenty. How stunning!

    1. Hi Nancy, a month in New Zealand would be great, you could include the South Island as well. I learned a valuable lesson with the Waitomo Caves, I won’t get caught up again!

  9. I’d so love to visit New Zealand! It’s such a beautiful location and being huge fans of Lord of the Rings, despite the price and crowds we’d absolutely have to visit Hobbiton!!

    1. Believe it of not, I didn’t watch the Lord of the Rings movies, I only saw little bits of it but I thought the story was too complicated to take it on. No wonder it was filmed in New Zealand though, it’s such a beautiful country! I think next time I will go to Hobbiton, it’s a really beautiful place, regardless of the movie set…

  10. That view over the Auckland CBD is gorgeous!! Also the North Islands remind me of Maui some (where we honeymooned). And if you could see my hand raising, you would see it waving wildly. I haven’t been there yet, but I have never seen a photo of NZ that wasn’t just drop-dead gorgeous and I’m dying to go!

    1. Hi Heather, it’s pretty special that Auckland has volcanoes in its suburbs… I agree with you that there are no bad photos to be taken in New Zealand, it’s such a beautiful country!

  11. Lovely highlights to keep in mind for when I go to NZ. Auckland is definitely on my list, seeing the harbour and Mount Eden. Rotorua I have heard so much about too and the geothermal activity would be fascinating to see. Thanks for the tips Delphine.

    1. Hi Tania, the geothermal pools at Rotorua are quite fascinating. It doesn’t smell very nice but it’s a very good way to demonstrate that the earth really is a living thing!

  12. It may be silly, but Mount Eden is so much greener than I had expected; I should have guessed from the name. And those views! Those green rolling hills of the Coromandel are definitely something to enjoy to the full. I would be excited to see Te Puia. Nature is definitely awake and showing off her incredible skills right there.

    1. Hi Bernadette, Mount Eden was indeed very green, maybe it’s because it’s a sacred place? New Zealand is generally very green, it’s a nice change from dry Australia…

  13. I really need to get to the North Island of New Zealand, we have friends on the South Island and every time we go over we spend all our time down there. I’ve heard the islands are so much different from each other.

    1. Hi Sally, I don’t blame you for going back to the South Island over and over. It’s still my favourite, I’m going back in November. I enjoyed the North Island but I found it much more crowded than the South Island.

  14. Great tips. I am heading to New Zealand for the first time this year. Unfortunately, I won’t have time to get to the North Island. Only a few days in Auckland. But I am sure I will love the country and need to go back. Saving this for a future visit.

    1. Hi Dana, New Zealand won’t disappoint, it’s such a beautiful country. I wish I’d had more time in Auckland, there are more things to see and do. My next trip is to the South Island, I really look forward to it!

  15. Wow! I want to visit Te Puia. I’ve never experienced geothermal activity in front of me and it’s so fascinating and beautiful. The sulphur smell isn’t pleasant, but I’m sure I’d get used it 🙂 I hope to visit New Zealand soon. Such a beautiful country.

  16. Never knew that Auckland is sitting on a volcano. I would love to see a volcano, though not a live one. But yeah, never saw a volcano in my life! Sad that you weren’t able to see the glow worms. I can imagine how beautiful they might me. Guess you were there during the peak time.

    1. I’ve been on a live volcano, it’s pretty impressive… Although it wasn’t one that spits out lava or anything like that. As for the glow worms, it was a busy period, however I suspect it’s quite busy all the time

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