When you start researching New Zealand, you often find plenty of hype about South Island but not as much on North Island. Loosely, you can describe North Island as more luscious, with some truly stunning coastlines, white sand beaches, geysers, capital city Wellington, and Hobbiton itself.
With all that in mind, here are five destinations you should include in your North Island adventure. You’ll get a lot more out of your trip if you get yourself a flexible bus pass with Stray, which specialises in ‘off the beaten track’ adventures across New Zealand.
Being an island country means New Zealand naturally has a lot of coastline and plenty of beaches to explore, but tiny Hahei on the pristine sands of the Coromandel Peninsula offers more than just a pretty beach. It’s situated right next to a marine reserve, meaning the coast is a protected area where you can go snorkelling or hiking to explore the natural wonders both underwater and above. It’s also only a short drive from the naturally occurring Hot Water Beach, where you can actually dig your own hot pool in the sand!
Must do: Take a guided sea kayaking trip or scenic boat tour along the coast to the stunning Cathedral Cove, which most people recognise from the Narnia films.
With its unusual black sands, rugged coastline and a world-famous left hand surf break, Raglan will give you the best west coast beach experience. Raglan’s funky little township is nestled on a sheltered inlet and has a friendly laid-back vibe. The small town is full of surf shops, local crafts and organic cafes ready to serve up your daily caffeine hit in style. It’s a fun place to hang out, with paddle boarding, kayaking and walks on offer, however Raglan is really all about the surf. With some of the best waves in the world it appeals to both the pros and the learners, with some great local surf schools.
Must do: Sign up for a surfing lesson and hit the waves. Even if it’s your first time, don’t be surprised if you catch a little bit of surf stoke and want to stay longer!
While this place is no secret, a trip around North Island is not complete without a stop in Rotorua. It’s the best place to learn more about New Zealand’s rich Maori heritage, as well as being home to many of the North Island’s best known adventure activities. For the adrenaline junkies, you can access a world-class mountain bike forest (free of charge and caters to all levels), try zorbing, ziplining, white water rafting or schweebing. Plus, it’s a literal hotspot of natural geothermal activity, where you can observe (and smell) geysers, bubbling mud baths and a steaming landscape.
Must do: Take your pick, there’s so much to do! Learn more about the local Maori by visiting one of the centres, soak in a natural hot pool or get stuck into some of the many adventure activities on offer!
4. Blue Duck Station
After Rotorua, you may feel the need to get off the beaten track and venture into a more rural setting that epitomizes the heartland of New Zealand. Look no further than Blue Duck Station, a vast high country farm located in one of the most remote parts of central North Island. As well as being a working station, Blue Duck has a strong conservation ethos, where many programs are underway to eliminate damaging pests, restoring native bush and protecting endangered bird species, including their namesake the blue duck.
Must do: Go on a half-day horse trek through lush landscape, rolling hills and winding rivers to get a real appreciation of this breathtakingly beautiful farm.
5. Tongariro National Park
Located in the heart of central North Island is the Tongariro National Park, a UNESCO Dual World Heritage Site and one of the most visually impressive places in all of New Zealand. Within the park lies a volcanic plateau where dormant volcanoes are used as ski fields in winter and hiking trails in summer. If you think the landscape looks familiar, that’s because this area was the filming location for Mordor in The Lord of the Rings movies, with Mt Ngauruhoe serving as the real life Mount Doom!
Must do: While there are plenty of shorter walks in Tongariro National Park, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the one to put on your bucket list. This 19km hike takes you up onto a volcanic plateau, passing arid peaks, enormous craters and fluorescent green lakes where you’ll discover exactly why this trail is rated as one of the best one-day walks in the world.
How long and how to get there?
While it may appear to be a small country, looks can be deceiving when it comes to New Zealand’s exciting and varied environment. Aim to give yourself at least ten days in order to see and do everything on offer on North Island. The destinations outlined in this article are all included on Stray’s guided hop-on hop-off route. A North Island pass (Jill Pass) will give you a fun, varied and fully flexible experience, enabling you to visit all the iconic destinations along with some more interesting off the beaten track places you won’t find in a guide book.