Five must do’s on New Zealand’s North Island

Tongariro and Ngauruhoe

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A year in New Zealand gave me plenty of time to visit quite a lot of this spectacular country.

Due to New Zealand’s handily compact nature though, you don’t need as much as a year to get to see most of the splendour on offer.

If I was visiting New Zealand’s North island, and didn’t have all the time in the world, then these would be the places and things that I would absolutely want to visit.

Here are my five highlights of the North Island, from my year in New Zealand. I hope you enjoy it - a south island version is also available!

Climb Mount Taranaki

Rising incredibly improbably from otherwise flat surf fringed farmland, the two and a half kilometre high Mount Taranaki is the north island’s second highest mountain. It is also quite probably one of the hardest day hikes available in New Zealand, so is not for the faint hearted.

Taranaki Trail Begins-001

This volcano cone was my absolute favourite day hike in New Zealand, combining stunning views of the north island with a seriously challenging walk. It takes 6-8 hours all in, and if you are looking for a hike that is far away from the crowds you will encounter on something like the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, with views to match, then this is the one.

Hike the Tongariro alpine crossing

Ok, so I’ve just provided you with an alternative to this walk, but really, if you like hiking (and this is almost a prerequisite to visiting New Zealand!), then the day long Tongariro alpine crossing hike is an absolute must.

Rated by the Lonely Planet, and pretty much everyone you will talk to, as the number one day hike in New Zealand, this takes you across the spine of Mount Tongariro, in the Tongariro National Park, a volcanic plateau home to the North Island’s highest peak, Mount Ruapehu.

Mount Ngauruhoe and the South Crater

It’s also home to lakes of startling colour, volcanoes which stood in for Mount Doom (complete with steam – these are active volcanoes!) and views across the North Island that are unbeatable without a helicopter.

Yes, it’s going to be busy during the summer months (if you can, visit in the shoulder season months around October), but just take your time, and enjoy the views. If you are feeling fit, the side trek up Mount Ngauruhoe is breathtaking. Literally.

Take a road trip around the east cape

The east cape of New Zealand’s north island has got to be one of its best kept secrets. Despite it’s incredible rugged beauty and fascinating Maori culture, less than 1% of all visitors to New Zealand make it out here.

Tolaga Bay Cliffs at sunset

This means you get deserted beaches, coastal jungle and endlessly scenic roads to yourself, which is no bad thing. I’d advise putting two to three days aside to do this area justice, giving you time to explore all the highlights, including New Zealand’s most easterly point. You will not regret it.

Get volcanic in Rotorua

New Zealand sits firmly on the Pacific ring of fire, and nowhere is this more apparent than the town of Rotorua. With a permanent sulphurous odour keeping you company (think rotten eggs), attractions here are distinctly of the boiling mud variety.

Champagne Pool - Wai-o-tapu thermal wonderland - Rotorua 2

There are a number of ways to get up close and personal with remarkable volcanic scenery. I’d recommend visiting one of the volcanic parks, my favourite being Wai-O-Tapu, the “Sacred Waters”. Here you will be astounded by a shooting geyser, weirdly coloured lakes, and more boiling mud than you can shake a stick at. It’s really other worldly stuff.

As well as peering at boiling mud, you can take the waters in Rotorua itself, at one of the many spas. The Victorian English travelled here to cure themselves of all sorts of ailments back in the day, so there must be something to it.

Finally, Rotorua is also the north islands adventure capital. You can bungy, sky dive, white water raft, jet boat and more, with some of the most competitive prices available in New Zealand. The locals call this place Rotovegas for a reason!

Escape to Northland

If all of the above seems like a lot of work, then I can advise a road trip up to the far north of the North Island. Here you will find sparkling bays studded with islands, forests home to some of the most ancient trees in the world and truly massive sand dunes.

Spirits Bay Beach

Again, you will want to spend a few days exploring this area, as the trip from Auckland to the far north and back again is at least a thousand kilometres. The benefits are myriad though, with the far north boasting New Zealand’s most temperate climates. Not a bad place to spend a Winter, if you have the time to spare.

Further reading & resources

If you need more information to help you plan your New Zealand adventure, look no further than my series of New Zealand guides, which cover everything from finding free internet to buying and selling a vehicle, to the perfect one month itinerary in New Zealand.

If you'd like some physical resources to further plan your trip, then the following should help:

Free options and other online resources

If you prefer your guides less physical and a bit more online, then the following are good resources:

Plan your Accommodation now!

Finding the best deal on your accommodation is an important part of trip planning – helping you to get the most from your budget, as well as find the property that is right for you.

  • Our current favorite way to find the best deals on accommodation is with HotelsCombined. These guys let you search over 100 booking sites at once, including, Agoda and TravelPony, and nearly always get the best price. Try them and see!
  • We have also recently found Yonderbound to be an excellent resource for getting the best accommodation deals around the world, (get $10 off your first trip with this link!) although it doesn't quite have the selection yet of some of the larger sites.
  • Finally, if you prefer an apartment or more of a hosted stay, then I recommend AirBnB. I've tried all the others, and AirBnB consistently has the most options for locations around the world. Plus, if you've never used them before, you'll get a $25 discount on your first booking with this link!

Between these options, you should find the best prices and places to stay for your trip, as well as a good selection of reviews and feedback to help you make an informed decision.

Thanks for reading my five favourite things to do on the south island of New Zealand! Got a favourite that you think I missed out? Let me know in the comments below!

Those therefore were my five highlights of New Zealand’s north island. Think I missed something? Let me know in the comments below, and do check out the south island version!

This post is available as part of my free series of offline ebooks! If you liked it, and would like to be able to access it offline, why not check out all of my guides , which are available for download now!

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  1. So very beautiful, the pictures.  I bet it was very difficult to pin down just five highlights, even for the North Island.  Thanks for your post!

  2. Thanks very much Henry. Picking highlights is always a challenge, but it really makes me think about the stand out experiences. And yes - the south island is going to be a real tricky one to do!

  3. Those photo's are absolutely amazing! I love the "East Cape" one.

  4. Thanks very much Peter :) It's a stunning place to be sure.

  5. I love volcanic spots. Are NZ flights cheap from OZ? I'm headed to aussie land next june on a working visa and I'd love to go to NZ.

  6. Hey Mica :) Flights certainly are cheap, there are a number of carrier that fly from major cities in Australia (such as Melbourne, Sydney and the Gold Coast) to NZ. Try Jetstar, Air New Zealand, Pacific Blue etc.. There are some very budget options and if you book in advance you can get flights for very little. is also a good way to get a bargain flight :)

  7. Simply superb, Laurence, as always :)

  8. New Zealand is such a gorgeous country.

  9. Tongariro alpine crossing hike wins for me. Lovely place. Great article. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Wow what a paradise to be in !!

  11. i need to go now that i have been on this blog.. Love it!!

  12. I hear skydiving in New Zealand is a great way to see the landscape ‡¡‡

    1. NZONE Skydive (Queenstown) - the only way to go !!!

  13. Been there, done that =)
    Ready top go back anytime =)
    NZ simply is an awesome country!

  14. All great spots but you should have had Mount Maunganui and also the Coromandel Peninsula :)

  15. These are pretty awesome! I would definitely do three out of the five. The two hikes and Northland definitely appeal to me. I would do the first two hikes and then go to Northland to rest we aching body :)

  16. I love the photos you have here and much more than a sight, I wished I can be in NZ to enjoy this too. I have never been to NZ and this one inspires me to include it on my bucketlist though.

    Cheers :)

  17. We were in the North Island in January for the first time in 30 years. Love it and your photos are magnificent!

  18. Great List! I have only been on the South Island, but desperately want to go back to NZ to explore the North Island. These places will definitely be on my list.