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Things to Do in North Island

Home to crystal-clear lakes, volcanic islands, bubbling mud pools, empty beaches, dense forests, and vibrant cities, New Zealand’s beautiful North Island offers something for everyone—and activity-filled, informative tours to maximize your experience. Shop 'til you drop in the chic boutiques of Auckland or Wellington, sample award-winning wines among the vineyards of Martinborough, or experience the rugged coastal beauty of the spectacular Coromandel Peninsula—one of New Zealand’s most isolated regions. Using Auckland as a base, you can take in top attractions such as the otherworldly Waitomo Caves, where bright green glowworms hang in cavernous subterranean tunnels. For an altogether different outdoor experience, Rotorua’s steaming geothermal landscapes and the Bay of Islands’ peaceful coves are all within easy reach. The fertile valleys of Waiheke Island offer relaxing food, wine, and art tours; and you can delve into New Zealand’s open wilderness among the mighty Waitakere Ranges. For fans of Frodo, Bilbo, and their respective adventures, “Lord of the Rings”–themed tours help you fulfill any Tolkien fantasies by visiting the rolling hillsides of Matamata, used as a Middle-earth filming location in the trilogy. Of course, no visit to the North Island is complete without witnessing the haka—a traditional Maori dance proudly demonstrated by native Maori tribespeople across the island.
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Te Mata Peak
16 Tours and Activities
The one notable exception to the vineyards and plains surrounding Hastings, craggy Te Mata Peak rises 1,300 feet (396 meters) above sea level and offers sensational views. Set just south of Napier and Hastings, Te Mata Peak is renowned for its sweeping, 360 degree views, which stretch from the coastline out to the farms that ring the towns of Hawke’s Bay.
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Mission Estate Winery
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New Zealand produces some of the world’s most renowned, award-winning wines, and Mission Estate Winery on the outskirts of Napier is where it all began. Founded in 1851, Mission Estate was started by missionaries who journeyed from France with little more than a dream and a couple of vines. Now, nearly two centuries later, Mission Estate continues to operate as one of New Zealand’s best wineries, and is a staple on any shore excursion or wine tasting tour of Napier.
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Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings
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The unique art and handicrafts produced by New Zealand’s Maori population are among the country’s most vibrant and celebrated art works. There are few better examples of the Maori Rock carvings at Mine Bay. One of the most striking attractions of Lake Taupo, the immense carvings adorn the cliff faces of the bay, towering over 10 meters high.

Although the designs appear like the remains of an ancient Maori settlement, they were in fact carved by artist Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell in the 1970s, taking three summers to complete. The dramatic works are some of the largest rock art of their kind in the world, depicting Ngatoroirangi – the Maori visionary who guided the Tuwharetoa and Te Arawa tribes to Lake Taupo over a thousand years before. Flanking Ngatoroirangi are two smaller carvings depicting the south wind and a mermaid, and utilizing traditional Maori stone-carving techniques.

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Auckland Harbour Bridge
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57 Tours and Activities

The magnificent Auckland Harbour Bridge is an eight-lane motorway bridge that spans Waitmata harbor between St Mary's Bay in Auckland and Northcote Point on the North Shore.

The bridge is 3,348 feet (1,020 meters) long and 15 stories high. Although it is an imposing sight from land, one of the most exciting tourist attractions for visitors to Auckland is to get up close and personal with a bridge climb or bungy.

The climb involves clamoring up the steel struts to the top of the bridge where you will see spectacular views of Auckland, known as the “City of Sails.” Bungying sees thrill-seekers falling 147 feet (45 meters) to touch the waters of Waitmata Harbor.

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Tiritiri Matangi Island
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Tiritiri Matangi Island is an open wildlife sanctuary devoted to the protection of local endangered species. The island is tightly controlled to keep out predators such as cats and mice, which hunt fragile bird species, including the tiny kiwi birds you’ll see running around the island.

With about 80 species of birds, Tiritiri Matangi is a must-see for birdwatchers, and the air is rich with varieties of birdsong rarely heard on the mainland. Guided walks can help you spot and identify the various types of birds, and you can find the trailheads of walking tracks at the visitor center. The Kawaura Track winds through coastal forest and 1,000-year-old pohutukawa trees, while the Wattle Track leads to the oldest working lighthouse in New Zealand. Head to Hobbs Beach, just a short walk from the ferry dock, to take a swim and spy on blue penguins in their nesting boxes.

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Lake Rotorua
56 Tours and Activities

Although the Rotorua area is speckled with dozens of lakes, Lake Rotorua is a different entity, detached from its neighboring lakes. Larger, deeper and much, much older, geologists believe it dates back over 200,000 years. Some of Rotorua’s other lakes were created by the Tarawera eruption of 1886, but Lake Rotorua is the original waterway to grace this section of the North Island.

Unlike the ocean, the waters of the green-hued lake are colored by sulfur and minerals, and the 920-foot elevation makes it a little cooler to the touch. It is the second largest lake on the North Island, is surrounded by a geothermal playground and offers a variety of activities for travelers. Take a cruise through the Ohau Channel, which connects with Lake Rotoiti, or go fly fishing where the waters connect and try to reel in a big one. Slide into the seat of a kayak and silently paddle the lakeshore, or strap on a helmet and go hurtling over falls while rafting on a nearby tributary.

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Redwoods Forest Whakarewarewa
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Rotorua is a place of geysers, mud pools, Maori villages, and lakes, but it’s also rung by Redwood forests that house some of the world’s best mountain biking. Here in the Redwoods Forest Whakarewarewa, just minutes from the center of town, visitors will find a network of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding that weave through towering Redwoods. Though the area was planted for commercial forestry, it’s also become a favorite spot for outdoor recreation, where mountain bikers fly thousands of miles for the chance to experience the trails.
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Waimangu Volcanic Valley
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When the North Island of New Zealand’s Mt Tarawera erupted in 1886, it forever changed the Rotorua landscape into a valley of steaming wonder. This is a mystical land where lakes boil and mountains are bathed in steam, and walking past pools of bubbling mud is just another daily occurrence for visitors here. Of all the places in Rotorua to encounter this geothermal wonder, the Waimangu Volcanic Valley area offers one of the largest zones for exploring.

This site has an enormous hot spring, which is believed to be the largest in the world. Take an easy 45-minute stroll past geysers, fumaroles and fissures to learn how this exceptionally “young” landscape is literally changing by the day. Avid hikers can split off on the Mt Hazard trail to get better views of the valley and gaze down on the multi-hued lakes, radiant in turquoise and greens. One such lake provides one of the best activities in the valley—taking a cruise on Lake Rotomohana.

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Hauraki Gulf Islands
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The sixteen Hauraki Islands are scattered off the coast of Auckland in Hauraki Bay. Auckland’s summer playground, they contain some lovely places to get away from it all and indulge in walking, horse riding, swimming, eating and drinking. Island highlights include Waiheke Island which is described as a magical island paradise and is home to over 7,000 people. Its beaches are beautiful and safe for swimming, sea kayaking and fishing, making it a popular holiday spot in summer. The rest of the year there are lovely walks and lots of restaurants, cafes and vineyards to visit. On Tiritiri Matangi Island, which is being returned to its original forest, you can explore the unusual fauna and birdlife native to New Zealand. You can also see the gulf’s oldest lighthouse, circa 1864, which is now the brightest lighthouse in the southern hemisphere. The cone shape of the dormant volcano that forms Rangitono Island provides some excellent walking opportunities with great views of Auckland Cit
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Zealandia Ecosanctuary
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Just 10 minutes from central Wellington, the unique Zealandia wildlife sanctuary and conservation park is one of New Zealand’s premier eco attractions, restoring the flora and fauna that once surrounded the city.

The Karori Wildlife Sanctuary’s restored forest and wetlands provide a habitat for more than 30 native bird species, as well as frogs, lizards and cute green geckos.

View the exhibition tracing the development of New Zealand’s natural history, take a guided walking tour through the predator-proof, 225-hectare (550-acre) sanctuary, then refuel at the park’s cafe overlooking the lake.

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More Things to Do in North Island

Mt. Victoria Lookout

Mt. Victoria Lookout

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One of the best places to get your bearings in the city of Wellington is from the Mount Victoria Lookout. The panoramic views stretch from the harbor islands all the way to planes taking off and landing at the airport south-east of the city center. Mount Victoria is 196 meters (642 feet) high. The lookout is topped by a triangular memorial to Antarctic explorer Admiral Byrd.

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Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)

Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)

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New Zealand’s premier museum is Te Papa Tongarewa.

Known as Te Papa (‘our place’), the museum takes an inspiring and interactive excursion through New Zealand’s history, art and culture. The museum’s prized collections focus on the areas of art, history, the Pacific, Maori culture and the natural environment.

There’s a freshness and vibrancy to this museum’s curatorship, with a huge collection of Maori artifacts, hands-on activity centers for children, re-creations of Maori meeting houses and colonial settlements, contemporary art and high-tech displays.

Take a tour of the highlights or target your favorite area of interest. Touring exhibitions are also displayed here.

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Wellington Cable Car

Wellington Cable Car

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Operating since 1902, the Wellington Cable Car is one of the city’s most famous sights. The ride, from the central business district to the city’s tranquil botanic garden, offers a stunning light show inside the tunnels as well as gorgeous vistas of Mount Victoria and Wellington Harbour as you reach the top.
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Te Puia

Te Puia

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When you first catch a glimpse of Pohutu Geyser thundering up from the Earth and crane your neck skywards at a column of water that’s nearly 100 feet high, you begin to understand why this place has drawn visitors for literally hundreds of years. Only five minutes from central Rotorua, Te Puia is a geothermal and cultural attraction in the Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley. When compared to Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, Te Puia is closer to the geysers and also offers an impressive center of Maori arts and crafts. Tour the bubbling, geothermal landscape with a native Maori guide, and then retreat to the national weaving and carving schools to watch Maori students re-create the traditional arts of their ancestors. For a look at furry kiwi birds, there is a small, dark kiwi enclosure that houses the national bird, and for arguably the best evening in Rotorua, return at night to experience Te Po—a traditional ceremony and hangi feast of eating, dancing and lore.

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Mt. Tarawera

Mt. Tarawera

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Near the northeast coast of the North Island is Mount Tarawera, the volcano responsible for a massive eruption that destroyed the famed, naturally occurring Pink and White Terraces and buried three Maori villages, including Te Wairoa, in 1866. The volcano is currently dormant, but visitors can book several different guided tours of the mountain, ranging from helicopter, 4-wheel drive vehicles and mountain bikes.

The area around Mt. Tarawera is breathtaking in its beauty and captivating in its thermal characteristics. Nearby are both the Geothermal Wonderland of Wai-O-Tapu and the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley near Te Puia, the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. At Tarawera's foot is Lake Rotomahana, which offers numerous recreational activities including fishing, water skiing and boating.

In addition to Lake Rotomahana, Mt. Tarawera's eruption formed many others, as the rift and domes formed from the explosion dramatically altered the surrounding landscape.

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Tamaki Maori Village

Tamaki Maori Village

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Built by two brothers in 1989, the Tamaki Maori Village is the destinatition for an authentic Maori experience. If you are looking for a Maori encounter beyond the typical performance found at hotels, this is the place to go.

The village is itself a recreation of an actual Maori settlement, and in this village, guests experience "The Chronicles of Uitara," a story following a single warrior line from 3,000 BC to the present day. Based on true events effected by actual people, the Chronicles of Uitara is reenacted by the most sought-after historical performers in the country. Guests will be enchanted and hooked by the tale, dramatically recreated with action-packed choreography. Following the story, the evening culminates in a traditional hangi feast.

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Government Gardens Rotorua

Government Gardens Rotorua

40 Tours and Activities

The Government Gardens in central Rotorua are so bountiful that they could easily be mistaken for a piece of the old English countryside. If it weren’t for the telltale scent of sulfur that wafts through the air from the nearby hot springs, many visitors would forget where they’re standing, due to the Edwardian architecture and dignified landscape.

As it happens, this 50-acre compound on the shore of Lake Rotorua was gifted to the Crown by Maori tribes. Taking what was once a patch of scrubland peppered with therapeutic hot pools, the area was transformed into a public park complete with manicured lawns and the famous baths. To add to the impeccable nature of the gardens, an ornate bath house was constructed on the property and now serves as a piece of architectural history. Standing stoically above the flower gardens that burst with color each spring, the building houses the Rotorua Museum of Art and History, which is also well worth a look.

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Rotorua Museum (Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa)

Rotorua Museum (Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa)

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The Rotorua region is steeped in New Zealand's history, from the days of the Maori settlers to the advent of European explorers. At the Rotorua Museum, you'll get an in-depth view of Rotorua's past, seen through cinema, galleries and historic locales.

When you get there, you'll want to spend some time in the Te Arawa and Tarawera galleries - the former houses an extensive collection of ancient Maori art and artifacts, as well as treasured antique photographs from the European colonial era. The latter is dedicated to the eruption of Mt. Tarawera and the destruction wreaked in 1886. After you've explored the galleries, you'll want to check out the Bath House, an architectural icon of yesteryear, known the world over for its supposed curative therapies and a centerpiece for New Zealand tourism. In the Bath House, guests were encouraged to bathe in various types of mineral waters during the health craze of the early 20th century.

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Sulphur Point

Sulphur Point

5 Tours and Activities

The first thing you notice when you arrive in Rotorua isn’t the natural beauty; instead—it’s the smell. From the moment you set foot in this North Island hot spot, the pungent smell of rotten eggs seems to waft in the air like a cloud. Don’t worry— it doesn’t take long to get used to the smell, and it’s actually the result of fresh sulphur and the Earth’s volcanic flux.

While the smell is noticeable all across town, nowhere is the sulphur more beautifully evident than at the sands of Sulphur Point. Here, on Lake Rotorua’s southern end, sulphur particles suspended in the shallows turn the water a milky white. The constantly shifting geothermal wetland houses 60 species of birds, which somehow survive the warm waters and boiling, earthy minerals. Follow the boardwalk around the point to find steaming mud pools and vents, and signed placards along the boardwalk explain the volcanic action.

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Ohinemutu

Ohinemutu

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Ohinemutu was the first settlement in the region established by the Ngati Whakaue people. Originally used as an entry hub for visitors and food headed to the neighboring villages, Ohinemutu is now a suburb of Rotorua city, but it is still a perfect example of how Western and Maori cultures integrated. Visit the Te Papaiouru Marae and St Faith’s Church, and you'll see how the two peoples collaborate, as Maori carvings and woven panels complement the Tudor-style architecture.

Ohinemutu's preservation of Ngati Whakaue is not to be missed. St. Faith's church is well known for a window etching of Jesus wearing a Maori cloak - it faces the lake, giving you the impression that Jesus is walking on water. The century-old church's rich decorations are a must-see.

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Viaduct Harbour

Viaduct Harbour

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There was once a time in the early 1990’s when Viaduct Harbor was a downtrodden port. With an infusion of money from the America’s Cup, however, this aging corner of the Waitemata waterfront was fantastically transformed into one of the city’s most popular districts.

Bars, restaurants, and high-end apartments line the pedestrian mall, and some of the most luxurious yachts in the South Pacific can be docked at the nearby marina. By day, Viaduct Harbor is a great place for people-watching from the patio of a comfortable café, and watch as visitors ogle at sailboats which sit in the Viaduct Basin. By night, the Viaduct turns into a hopping scene of popular bars and restaurants, and Auckland locals and passing tourists mingle with yachties on leave. More than just bars, restaurants, and luxurious sailboats, Viaduct Harbor is also home to the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum.

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North Head Historic Reserve (Maungauika)

North Head Historic Reserve (Maungauika)

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To early Maori this strategic viewpoint was known as Maungauika, and looking out over Auckland’s Harbor and the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, the summit of this ancient volcanic cone was perfect for fending off an attack. In the 1800s, under European rule, the hill was fortified with cannons and guns to deter a Russian invasion, and was again fortified during both World Wars to protect the precious harbor. Though the attacks themselves thankfully never came, the tunnels, guns—and view—still remain. As the fortification of the hill slowly grew, it ultimately became the preeminent coastal defense system in all of New Zealand. The guns here were cutting edge for the time they were built and installed, and included a pair of “disappearing guns” that would actually recoil back into the ground once they had fired a shot. The guns are visible at the South Battery, which along with tunnels dug by prisoners using light from flickering lanterns.

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Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island

10 Tours and Activities

Aucklanders swarm to Waiheke Island in summer to make the most of its stunning beaches, which are some of the safest and cleanest in the world for swimming and water sports like sea kayaking and snorkeling.

Some of the best beaches include Palm Beach, a secluded beach so named for the palms at the east end, which is not to be confused with the clothes-optional Little Palm Beach. Blackpool Beach is popular with windsurfers and the perfectly romantic Cactus Bay, which can only be accessed by boat or kayak, is popular with picnicking couples.

As well as the beaches, the 22 vineyards and numerous olive groves are popular with wine aficionados and gourmets on weekend getaways. Excellent restaurants and cafes dot the island and many offer food that complements the local wines. Settlement on the island goes back 1,000 years to the first Maori settlement. On the island today you will still find scattered remains of Maori sites, including cooking pits and terraced.

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Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto Island

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Auckland is famous for many different things, although volcanoes aren’t usually one of them.

While the sailboats, wine, and iconic waterfront are just a few of the city highlights, there nevertheless sits a volcanic island just minutes from downtown Auckland. Symmetrical, rugged, and only 550 years old, a visit to volcanic Rangitoto Island is one of the best day trips from Auckland. Ferries depart from the city’s north shore and cross the bay in about 25 minutes, and once on shore, an hour-long trek leads to a summit which was active just centuries ago. Though experts expect that Rangitoto Island will eventually erupt again, currently it’s safe to trek on the island without fear of an eruption. While the climb to the summit can be rocky and strenuous, the panoramic view of the Auckland skyline is regarded as one of the best in the city.

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