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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
15 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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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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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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Auckland Harbour Bridge
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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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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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Lake Rotorua
54 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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Waiheke Island
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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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Paihia
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27 Tours and Activities

The resort town of Paihia services the villages and islands of the Bay of Islands.

Boasting the area’s best accommodation and restaurants, Paihia Harbour is the ideal place to base yourself while you explore this lovely part of New Zealand.

Hire a kayak to paddle out to the islands, follow the rivers winding in from the bay, or take a walk through kauri forest to lookouts over the water.

To walk from Paihia to neighboring Waitangi is a pleasant 40 minutes one way.

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More Things to Do in North Island

Government Gardens Rotorua

Government Gardens Rotorua

37 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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Waitemata Harbour

Waitemata Harbour

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Waitmata Harbor, often referred to as Auckland Harbor, is one of two beautiful harbors surrounding Auckland. Its name refers to 'obsidian glass' in Maori language and its spectacular waters are said to sparkle like the dark volcanic glass that early settlers found in the area.

The harbor made a stunning backdrop for the 2000 and 2003 America’s Cup and for the sailing enthusiast there is the opportunity to live the experience and sail an America's Cup yacht. The Motu Manawa Marine Reserve covers an area in the southwest of the harbor surrounding Pollen and Traherne Islands. The reserve covers salt marshes, mangrove swamps and shellbanks. It is best viewed from a sea kayak.

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New Zealand Parliament (Beehive)

New Zealand Parliament (Beehive)

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New Zealand’s architectural symbol is the beehive-shaped Parliament House in Wellington. Hosting the executive wing of parliament, ‘the Beehive’ was built between 1969 and 1981, and features murals and artworks by noted New Zealand artists.

The building has 10 floors, filled with cabinet rooms, prime ministerial offices, a banqueting hall, function rooms and several restaurants. Take a free guided 1-hour tour or drop into the visitor center in the ground-floor foyer. You can sit in the public galleries of the debating chamber when the House is sitting.

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Auckland Sky Tower

Auckland Sky Tower

25 Tours and Activities
The tallest man-made structure in New Zealand, Sky Tower offers breathtaking views for 50 miles (80 kilometers) in every direction. There is plenty to do up this high; relax with a coffee in the Sky Lounge, enjoy a revolving feast at the 360-degree Observatory Restaurant or, in true New Zealand fashion, you can also jump off Sky Tower. At 1,076 feet (328 meters) tall the Sky Tower is taller than the Eiffel Tower and it took two years and nine months to build. It was built to withstand 125 mph (200km/h) winds and magnitude 7.0 earthquakes. It has three viewing levels and climbs into the antenna mast or around the exterior can be organized. The tower gets around 1,450 visitors a day and is one of Auckland’s main tourist attractions. During the year it is lit in the various colors of causes and charities to show Auckland's support.
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Weta Workshop

Weta Workshop

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When it comes to The Lord of The Rings, New Zealand is always famously mentioned for the enchanting beauty of its scenery. From deeply-gouged canyons and ominous volcanoes to lofty, snow-covered peaks, the physical beauty of Middle-earth was arguably the films’ greatest draw. What many moviegoers don’t realize, however, is that the filming locations for The Lord of The Rings were just a fraction of the overall production. Mythical creatures such as orcs and balrogs were needed to prowl those canyons, and professional makeup and creative design were needed to round out the set.

While there are numerous tours to Lord of the Rings filming locations in cities across New Zealand, there’s only one tour where you can visit the place where the magic was all tied together. At Weta Workshop in the suburbs of Wellington, this 65,000 sq. ft. facility is where much of the design, props, makeup, and weaponry were created in the making of the films.

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Zealandia Ecosanctuary

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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Auckland War Memorial Museum

Auckland War Memorial Museum

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Perched on top of a dormant volcano, the Auckland War Memorial Museum is one of New Zealand’s finest museums. The Museum is the place to explore Maori and Pacific Island history with the largest collection of artifacts in the world, including buildings, canoes, carvings and around 1.2 million images.

An extensive permanent exhibition covers the wars in which New Zealand has been involved both at home and abroad. Exhibits include Spitfire and Mitsubishi Zero airplanes and models of Maori pas (earth fortifications).

Children will have fun exploring in the Stevenson Centre where they can get up close with bugs and birds and even touch a real elephant tooth. The Walk on the Wild Side self-guided tour explores the evolutionary history of New Zealand’s plants and animals giving kids the chance to see dinosaur bones and fossils.

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Waitomo Caves

Waitomo Caves

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107 Tours and Activities

There are a variety of activities to partake in and the fascinating cave system with its geological wonders and fantastic creatures to explore.

Climb through the long galleries and lofty chambers to view stalactites formed over thousands of years by the constant dripping of water. The cave system itself is over two million years old.

A highlight of the caves is the glowworm grotto; illuminated by thousands of glowworms suspended from the cave ceiling, it is a magical place.

If you seek an adventure that plays with your senses and provides an unforgettable thrill then try abseiling (rappelling) into the awesome limestone tomb to experience the adrenaline rush as you clamber and scramble up through the black abyss and waterfalls in your pursuit of daylight.

Other tours offer the chance to float on an inner tube through the maze of underground rivers then rush through a downhill river system to emerge in Waitomo forest.

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Hauraki Gulf Islands

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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CentrePort Wellington

CentrePort Wellington

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The capital of New Zealand, but only its third largest city, Wellington is the geographic and cultural centre of the country. Located on the southern tip of the North Island and sitting on a sparkling harbor, it is a primary departure point for ferries crossing Cook Strait to the South Island. With a vibrant arts scene and a variety of galleries, theatres and museums, Wellington has an undeniable charm and energy.

If you are arriving on a large cruise ship, you will dock at Aotea Quay, located between the Interislander Ferry Terminal and the train station. From there, a walk into the city centre is about twenty minutes. You might also take a free shuttle if offered by your ship or catch a shuttle operated by the city, which costs around five New Zealand dollars. Smaller cruise ships dock at Queens Wharf, which is right in the centre of town.

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Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

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49 Tours and Activities

Like much of New Zealand's attractions, the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland centers on walking outdoors - but what a walk! The park is New Zealand's most colorful and diverse geothermal attraction; visitors follow demarcated tracks through a stunning variety of volcanic phenomena. You'll see fantastic, naturally colored hot-and-cold pools, the world famous Champagne Pool, the amazing Lady Knox Geyser and the massive craters that are the hallmark of the Rotorua region's volcanic heritage.

You'll want to bring a camera and plenty of film/memory cards - the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland has some truly amazing views and scenery. New Zealand is known for its natural beauty, but this geothermal park accentuates it with its unusual geothermal topography. In particular, the shimmering water flowing over the Sinter Terrace Formations is not to be missed.

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Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga

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The northern end of Ninety Mile Beach is lit by the flashing beacon of Cape Reinga lighthouse.

Lighting the point where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet, the remote lighthouse has an atmospheric end-of-the-world feeling, the ideal spot for long walks on the beach.

On the very tip of the cape is the 800 year-old pohutukawa tree, whose roots hide the entrance to the Maori Underworld, where the souls of the dead return. It’s a particularly spiritual place for the Maori, so eating and drinking here is best avoided.

Walks lead from here to surrounding bays and capes, and the area’s signature dunes.

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Cape Brett and Hole in the Rock

Cape Brett and Hole in the Rock

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Wild and lonely Cape Brett is a remote location on the scenic back road leading along the coast from Russell.

Along the route is the traditional Maori village of Rawhiti, the starting point for the rugged 7.5-hour trek to Cape Brett. On reaching the cape, hikers are rewarded with shelter for the night in the Cape Brett Hut.

For non-hikers, Cape Brett is a popular day cruise destination from Paihia or Russell. The cape is famous for its ‘Hole in the Rock’ on neighboring Motukokako Island, a natural archway formed by ceaselessly pounding seas over the centuries.

As well as spotting dolphins, penguins and other wildlife along the way, the cruise passes a lovely seaside landscape of sandy beaches and rocky cliffs, and the lonely lighthouse on the tip of Cape Brett.

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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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