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 highlights of the North Island, from my year in New Zealand. I hope you enjoy it – a south island version is also available!
Must See Sights on New Zealand’s North Island
1. 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, and definitely a “must see” for your New Zealand visit. It is also quite probably one of the hardest day hikes available in New Zealand, so is not for the faint hearted.
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.
2. 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.
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.
3. 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, and a definite must see. Despite it’s incredible rugged beauty and fascinating Maori culture, less than 1% of all visitors to New Zealand make it out here, which is a shame as it was one of our favourite things to do in New Zealand.
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.
4. 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.
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!
5. 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.
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 and a number of must see sights. Not a bad place to spend a Winter, if you have the time to spare.
6. Visit the Glowworm Caves
The region known as Waitomo in New Zealand is famous for its caves, some of which are noted for being home to thousands of tiny glowworms, who give off an eerie light. You can almost imagine yourself falling over Gollum in the darkness. If you’re not too busy having fun rafting, rapelling and generally messing around – this is New Zealand after all, you didn’t think caving was ever yoing to be anything but extreme?
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:
- This collection of New Zealand travel guides on Amazon.com (Amazon UK for EU readers)
- The Lonely Planet Guide to New Zealand on Amazon.com (UK / EU link)
- The Rough Guide to New Zealand on Amazon.com (UK / EU link)
Free options and other online resources
If you prefer your guides less physical and a bit more online, then the following are good resources:
- The Wikitravel guide to New Zealand
- New Zealand’s Department of Conservation website
- The official New Zealand tourism portal
Those therefore were some of my must see sights on New Zealand’s north island. Think I missed something? Let me know in the comments below, and do check out the south island version!
There are 21 comments on this post
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Sam @ Green Global Travel says
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.
NZONE Skydive (Queenstown) – the only way to go !!!
Kees den Hartigh says
We were in the North Island in January for the first time in 30 years. Love it and your photos are magnificent!
Wends of Journeys and Travels says
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.
Jeremy Branham says
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 🙂
Randall Goya says
I hear skydiving in New Zealand is a great way to see the landscape ‡¡‡
Cole @ Four Jandals says
All great spots but you should have had Mount Maunganui and also the Coromandel Peninsula 🙂
Leona Sky says
Been there, done that =)
Ready top go back anytime =)
NZ simply is an awesome country!
Bryan Murphy says
i need to go now that i have been on this blog.. Love it!!
These pictures are great!
DES Daughter says
Simply superb, Laurence, as always 🙂
Wayne Hurlbert says
New Zealand is such a gorgeous country.
Tongariro alpine crossing hike wins for me. Lovely place. Great article. Thanks for sharing.
Reza Ahmed says
Wow what a paradise to be in !!
These pictures are great!
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. Grabaseat.co.nz is also a good way to get a bargain flight 🙂
Mica Ivealis says
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.
Thanks very much Peter 🙂 It’s a stunning place to be sure.
Pete @ whichwayto.com says
Those photo’s are absolutely amazing! I love the “East Cape” one.
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!
Henry Lee says
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!