The North Island of New Zealand has some iconic tourist destinations, the natural landscape is totally unique and you can get a great mix of action and sightseeing. We’ve been around the whole island, and here are what we consider to be the Top 5 must-sees in the North Island:
TONGARIRO ALPINE CROSSING
This is an 18.5km one way day hike which crosses the volcanic centre of the North Island, between the summits of Mount Tongariro (1967m) and Mount Ngauruhoe (2287m). If you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings, Mt Ngaurahoe was cast as Mt Doom in the movies, and the landscape of this volcanic area will make you feel like you are trekking across Mordor.
Make sure as with all hikes to plan your trip with care – visit one of the websites that specialize in the region and can provide details for weather, gear and transport.
If you need any more convincing of how incredible the Tongariro Crossing is, check out this beautiful video.
Rotorua is a treat to visit – even for native New Zealanders, this central plateau city is a wonderland and an incredible place to get the best of adventure, scenery and culture. Kind of like the Queenstown of the North Island, everything you can imagine wanting to do can be done in Rotorua:
- Bungy jumping
- Sky diving
- Luge tracks
- White water rafting
- Jets boats
- Gondola rides
- Animal parks
- And so much more!!!
We think the thing that makes Rotorua special is the volcanic activity. Visiting somewhere like the thermal wonderland of Wai-O-Tapu is almost like travelling to another planet. There are shooting geysers, coloured lakes, brilliant coloured rock formations and of course, Rotorua’s famous “egg smell” which comes from all the sulphur.
The only downside to Rotorua is that because it is a major tourist market, things can be expensive. So budget accordingly and take advantage of sites like GrabOne or promotions being run by our Host Families travel partners.
The East Cape is where you go if you want to feel like you’re alone with the world – it has a tranquil feel about it and you will find a lot of peace here.
The views and scenery are amazing – lots of long stretches of deserted beach and towering cliffs. Activities are also on the quiet side, you won’t find much adventure tourism here. Think about horseback riding, fishing and cultural museums. Maori culture is strong on the East Cape, and if you’re familiar with the movie Whale Rider, this is the kind of landscape you’ll be in.
It’s not the quickest or easiest place to travel to, with long winding coastal roads, but will be worth it if you make the effort.
Check out the OutEast website which covers information for everything of the East Cape, from isolated beach towns such as Wairoa to the closest east coast city of Gisborne.
Northland is the area at the top of the North Island, and it holds some spectacular sights worth your time to travel to visit.
Cape Reinga is the most northern tip in New Zealand that is open to the public and is marked with an ancient pohutukawa tree (believed to be over 800 years old), a lighthouse and a signpost. It is also where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet, so you can imagine how incredible the view is.
This place holds special, spiritual significance in Maori culture as the place where spirits return to their ancestral homeland. Because it is a sacred site, eating is not permitted at Cape Reinga, but there are many beautiful picnic spots along the way.
90 Mile Beach is another feature of Northland renowned for amazing sunsets and surf breaks. Interestingly, the beach is officially a highway so driving is allowed – however only in 4WD vehicles and at times that work in with the safety of the tides. If you take a coach tour from Kaitaia, this is the best way to experience driving along the beach.
If you are after a bit of adventure in Northland, you can’t go past the Te Paki sand dunes. These huge golden mountains are fun to climb up, and even more fun to surf down. It’s fast and thrilling – you can hire boards on site which is a good option because they’re safer and easier to control than a simple piece of plywood or cardboard. The reserve also offers tramping, swimming, diving, fishing and bird watching so there is an activity for everyone.
There is so much more to see and do in Northland! Northland’s tourist website has good advice and links to read before you plan your trip.
WAITOMO GLOWWORM CAVES
The Waitomo Glowworm Caves are world renowned and are very high up on most travelers must-see list. The glowworm called Arachnocampa luminosa is unique to New Zealand, so you’re only going to see these amazing creatures here.
Thousands of them light up inside the caves and create what seems like a starry night sky with their luminescence. You can catch a boat ride which will take you slowly through the peaceful caves, and the expert guides will tell you all about the history and science behind Waitomo and the Glowworm caves.
Host Families NZ have travel partners that run deals on trips to Waitomo, so let us know f this is somewhere you want to visit.