The north island of New Zealand has beautiful beaches, geothermal wonders, active volcanoes, rugged mountains, lush forests and many places for you to get to know more about the Māori culture.
The south island of New Zealand has taken most of the attention from travellers however, the north island has also amazing places you don’t want to miss while travelling through New Zealand. It’s breathtakingly beautiful as well and compared to the south island there are more cultural activities to do and the history of New Zealand to explore. Don’t choose between the islands if you’re planning to travel to New Zealand; go to the north and south island. Make sure to read our blog about the 20 places every traveller should see on the South Island.
Let’s continue with the North Island of New Zealand: 14 places every traveller should see!
#1 Bay of Islands – North of the North Island New Zealand
We begin in the north of the north island: Bay of Islands, the sub-tropical destination in New Zealand with more than 150 small islands surrounded by turquoise waters, white sandy beaches and beautiful bays. The Bay of Islands is one of the most popular places for travellers on New Zealand’s north island and we totally understand why. We loved it!
Many travellers leave or fly-in via Auckland. They start or end their journey through New Zealand in the most northern part of the north island. A 3-hour drive from Auckland will get you to the bay of islands with cute towns like Paihia, Russell and Kerikeri. Besides the beautiful nature, there’s a lot of history here. The Māori’s were the very first people to arrive in New Zealand (on the north island) and it was the Bay of Islands where the first Europeans set foot many centuries later. It was in Waitangi, next to Paihia, where the English and the Māori signed a Treaty document to continue as one nation. Although this Treaty document is still a point of discussion to this day.
You can visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds to learn more about Māori history. Or watch our Māori documentary which we are very proud of:
Things to do in the Bay of Islands
There are so many things to do in the Bay of Islands. From relaxing on one of the beautiful beaches, or doing all sorts of water activities like kayaking, parasailing, supping, diving and sailing. You can spot dolphins, whales and some times orca’s in the Bay of Islands. And if you want to experience the Bay of Islands from the sky you can go on a helicopter flight, go parasailing and my favourite: go skydiving. I did my very first skydive in the Bay of Islands. Scary for a couple of seconds, but after that: total freedom!
The town Paihia is the gateway to the Bay of Islands and is the place where you can hop on most of the tours. Travel with ease by booking your Bay of Islands activities here. You can travel to the most northern part of New Zealand to the remote and Cape Reinga and beautiful bay Te Hapua. From the Bay of Islands, this is a couple of hours drive away. If you’re looking for more untracked wilderness and fewer crowds this a drive you won’t regret.
Useful links Bay of Islands
#2 Auckland – North Island New Zealand’s biggest city
One-third of the New Zealand population lives in the biggest city of New Zealand: Auckland. Even though it’s the biggest city of New Zealand, it’s not the capital. Wellington in the south part of the north island is the capital of New Zealand. Auckland is built on the back of more than 50 volcanoes and is surrounded by a green landscape. It has a city centre with a couple of high buildings but for the most part, Auckland is very stretched out.
The city centre is close to the harbour of Auckland and the harbours are the reason why Auckland has grown into such a big city. You’ll see a lot of sailboats in the harbours of Auckland because Aucklanders like to sail a lot. It’s not surprising that Auckland is called the City of Sails. The surrounding waters, small islands and beautiful bays of Auckland are perfect for sailing.
Things to do in Auckland
If you’re looking for trendy restaurants, cute coffee bars and nice places to go for a drink or a bite to eat you’ll have to go to the harbour of Auckland. You can walk from Queens Warf to Wynyard Quarter and find many restaurants along the seaside.
From Queens Warf, you can hop on a boat to explore the waters of Auckland, visit Waiheke island for wine tasting or ziplining or sail all the way over to the Coromandel; known to be the most beautiful secret of New Zealand’s north island.
For a view from the sky, you can visit the Sky Tower in the city centre which is 328 meters high. It’s the highest building on the southern hemisphere. With a clear sky, you’ll have an amazing view of Auckland and further places on the north island of New Zealand. For another great view over Auckland, you can visit Mount Eden, the highest volcano in the city. By visiting this natural wonder you will also discover more about Māori history. A precious piece of Māori history can be found here. Book your Auckland activities here.
Experience real kiwi life by visiting a game of the All Blacks in Eden Park. The All Blacks are the National Rugby Team of New Zealand, famous for their haka before every game. And Eden Park is the biggest stadium in New Zealand so if you want to visit a Rugby game? Do it in Auckland. Look for game dates and tickets for the All Blacks
Useful links Auckland
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#3 Coromandel – Best kept secret on the North Island
As I mentioned before the Coromondal is New Zealand’s north island best-kept secret. The Bay of Islands gets most of the attention of travellers, however, more and more travellers are starting to discover the Coromandel as well. The Coromandel Peninsula is one of the most beautiful places on New Zealand’s north island. As locals would describe it. You can hop on the 2-hour ferry from downtown Auckland that takes you via Waiheke island to Hannafords Wharf, a 20-minute drive from historical Coromandel town. Or you can drive up to the Coromandel via Kopu.
Things to do in the Coromandel
Explore the Coromandel Town for a little bit of history. The closest beach to Coromandel town is Long Bay. Visit the beautiful Cathedral Cove by walking the track from Hahei beach to this cove. Discover white sandy beaches, beautiful turquoise waters and amazing rock formations. It’s a bit of a walk but very rewarding. Sunrise and the hour afterwards is the best timeslot for amazing pictures. For a bit of relaxation time go to Hot Water Beach. The name says it all: It’s a beach and there is hot water. This beach has underground natural geothermal hot springs. Create your own ‘pool’ in the sand and enjoy your day.
Useful links Coromandel
#4 Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park
Like everywhere on the north island, New Zealand has so many beautiful hiking tracks to discover. And the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park is no exception. You can find over 300 kilometres of tracks in this forest. It’s a very accessible park for hikers with Karangahake Windows Walk as one of the favourites. A lot of locals from this area of New Zealand’s north island love to do this track every couple of weeks.
As you probably know the Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. They were the very first people in New Zealand and arrived on the north island about 1000 years ago. It was the Māori that formed the tracks through the subtropical Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park. They hunted in this park and used the plants for food and medicine. You can reach this park from access roads that run directly into the park from the towns Tauranga, Paeroa, Te Aroha and Matamata.
At tourist information points in these towns, you can pick up a track map for the park. From Te Aroha, you can hike up the summit of Mt Te Ahora with an altitude of 952 m. And another great walk is the Waitewheta Track, with lots of deep gorges and waterfalls to explore. Within the Kaimai Mamaku Forest, there are plenty of huts, shelters and picnic areas.
#5 Raglan – North Island surfing spot no. 1!
If you’re into surfing than don’t skip this ocean town on the west coast of New Zealand’s north island. You’ve probably already heard about it. Raglan is famous because a lot of people believe Raglan has the most consistent left-hand break in the world. If you catch a wave you can ride it for 2 kilometres!
Many Bay even featured in the cult surfing movie The Endless Summer. Raglan is a lively town and has a very creative culture like a lot of surf towns do. So if you’re not really into surfing but you do like the vibe, you’ll be very happy to stay in Raglan for a couple of days. Great restaurants & coffee bars are waiting for you as well as many other cool activities.
Useful links Raglan
You’ll find the heartland of the Māori in Rotorua. It’s the gateway to the Māori culture and it’s also the town of mud pools, geysers and green forests. It’s a geothermal paradise for everyone who is looking for some relaxing time in the many natural hot pools and wellness centres Rotorua has to offer. And that doesn’t mean you have to pay a lot of money. In a lot of holiday parks, hotels and resorts of Rotorua the hot pools are for free. This town has something for everyone.
You can cruise over the multiple lakes in the area, go on a volcano tour, witness the biggest geyser in the southern hemisphere ‘Pohutu Geyser’ that splashes regularly every 20 minutes, hop on the skyline for an amazing view or go rafting at Kaituna River and conquer the 7-meter Tutea Falls. Which is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world! I went rafting down this waterfall together with my father and I have never seen him so scared. Ever! It was such a thrill-seeking moment that we’re still talking about it to this day.
Māori cultural experiences Rotorua
If your into the more cultural side of New Zealand’s north island you can get your fix in Rotorua. You can choose between multiple different Māori cultural experiences. Visit the living Māori village Whakarewarewa and watch live performances and get an intimate look of the day-to-day life of the Māori. And eat a traditional Māori cooked meal ‘Hangi’.
In Whakarewarewa and Te Puia, you can watch the Pohutu Geyser but from Te Puia, you’ll have a better view. Te Puia has the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute so you can see how the Māori do carving, weaving and other traditional arts. If you want a Ta Moko (tattoo) you can do this in Te Puia as well.
If you want to experience a Māori night out you can choose between Tamaki and Mitai Māori Village. Both are great and offer a Māori cultural show and a traditional Hangi meal. You’ll be picked up and dropped off at your hotel or in town. The entrance fees of the Māori experiences are quite high so if you need to choose you’ll have to make a decision if you want to explore by yourself during the day or be entertained at night. At every cultural experience, you’ll see a Haka performance and you’ll get a great impression of the Māori culture. So there’s no bad choice. Everywhere you’ll have an awesome Māori experience.
Useful links Rotorua
#7 Te Urewera
Te Urewera is an almost uninhabited area on New Zealand’s north island, with lots of mountains, lakes and beautiful rainforest to explore. The Huiarau Mountains are the most dominant ones with peaks of 1400 meters high. Te Urewera is covered with rainforest for the most part and in the south are the lakes with amazing scenery: Lake Waikaremoana and Lake Waikareiti. But what’s so special about Te Urewera is that since 2014 it’s not a National Park anymore.
The government gave up ownership of the land and it’s now a legal entity. That means Te Urewera has the same rights, powers, duties and liabilities of a legal person.
This all started with a Māori tribe who started the Te Urewera Act. The Māori see nature as their ancestors and it’s their custom to always try to protect nature. And on the north island of New Zealand, where most Māori live, they’ve done a great job. Not only Te Urewera has the same rights as a human, but also the Whanganui River on New Zealand’s north island has the same rights as well. So cool right?!
Te Urewera is now one of the most protected areas of New Zealand’s north island, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore this beautiful area. The lakes are popular for hiking, kayaking and fishing. The small town of Aniwaniwa is the starting point of several short and long walks. One of New Zealand’s Great Walks is the Lake Waikaremoana Track that takes up to four days and leads you along the west side of Lake Waikaremoana on the north island. In Aniwaniwa you can find a visitor centre, accommodation and kayak hire.
Useful links Te Urewera
#8 Lake Taupo
The heart of New Zealand’s north island is the beautiful Lake Taupo. It’s only a 1-hour ride from the other main attraction on the north island of New Zealand, Rotorua. Did you know that Lake Taupo is the biggest lake from New Zealand? Well, now you know! And Taupo is the starting point of the longest river in New Zealand the Waikato River, which means “running water” in Māori.
Things to do Lake Taupo
There is so much to do in the town Taupo and around Lake Taupo. From adrenaline-filled activities, like bungee jumping, jet boat, skydiving, to beautiful hikes around the lake with amazing views. On clear sky days, you can even spot the peaks of Tongariro National Park, 30 kilometres away. This place is great for outdoor lovers.
You can explore the outdoors during the day and also eat at one of the delicious restaurants in the town Taupo at night.
The Lake is ideal for boat trips, kayaking and fishing. And the volcanic environment of Lake Taupo provides thermal activities like hot springs and natural spa treatments. The spectacular Huka Falls is the main attraction of Lake Taupo. It’s one of the most popular falls of New Zealand’s north island.
And you can spot the Huka Falls in Wairakei Park. The Waikato River flows through this park and where normally the river is 20 meters wide at the Huka Falls it’s a 100 meters wide which produces this spectacular 11-meter waterfall! The water drops down into a foamy lake and that’s where the falls got their name from Huka means ‘foam’ in Māori. You can even visit the Huka Falls with a jet boat which is the perfect combination if you’re looking for an adrenaline and nature experience.
Get a list of all the activities in Lake Taupo here.
Useful links Lake Taupo
#9 Kaimanawa Forest Park
Another amazing forest on New Zealand’s north island, Kaimanawa Forest Park. And it’s closeby Lake Taupo and Tongariro National Park, also on this list. So you can visit all these beautiful places in New Zealand’s north island just from one spot.
Kaimanawa Forest Park is popular for the more experienced hikers, but the park also caters for short-term campers and hikers who love to do shorter walks. The easy walks are The Pillars of Hercules walk and The Kaimanawa Forest Road Walk.
The Pillars of Hercules track is a 10-minute walk that leads you to a beautiful gorge with the Tongariro River passing by. The Kaimanawa Forest Road Walk is a 20-minute walk that leaves from Urchin camping area and leads you through native forests where the Kaimanawa Forest Park is famous for. Read more about The Kaimanawa Forest in this brochure.
#10 Whanganui National Park
Whanganui is a very special place on New Zealand’s north island. After Te Urewera, the Whanganui River is the world’s second natural resource to be given its own legal identity. This almost 300-kilometre river runs through the Whanganui National Park and is the Park’s biggest attraction. It also plays a very important spiritual role in the lives of the Māori tribes from this area. “I am the river, and the river is me.” is how they express their relationship with the Whanganui River.
Things to do Whanganui National Park
Whanganui National Park is very much unspoilt because the majority is only reachable by foot or canoe. So the best way to explore it is to go kayaking, canoeing and jet boating down or up the river. A lot of trips start from Pipiriki or you can book them in Whanganui City. The Bridge of Nowhere is a popular attraction to visit as well. Which literally goes nowhere. It was built in 1936 to get to the upper side of the park but closed 6 years later. Now it’s become a popular tourist attraction.
There is also an (unpaved) road along the river from Whanganui to Pipriki. This track is great to explore by car, hiking or cycling. You’ll find beautiful gorges, cliffs and amazing waterfalls. It’s also a faster way to discover the park but maybe less impressive than exploring it from the water. Like everywhere else on the north island of New Zealand, the Whanganui National Park offers great hiking tracks. You can do the Matemateaonga Track which is also a part of an old Māori track. It’s a very quiet track because it’s very remote and you can only reach the start and end point via the water by boat. It’s an easy 42-kilometre track which takes up 4 days and leads you passed beautiful viewpoints within Whanganui National Park.
Useful links Whanganui
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#11 Mount Taranaki
Mount Taranaki, also called Mount Egmont or Taranaki as the Māori say is a sleeping volcano on the west point of New Zealand’s north island. Mount Taranaki is part of the Egmont National Park, and is 2518 meter high and was formed by a volcanic eruption 70.000 years ago.
The mountain is sacred to the Māori. The Māori tell a beautiful story on how New Zealand’s north island landscapes were once created. Here it goes:
Taranaki first belonged to the Tongariro volcanic group in the centre of New Zealand’s north island. When Tongariro caught him “cheating” with the beautiful Pihanga, his sweetheart which is also a volcano at Lake Taupo. Taranaki had to leave the area. Like in every infidelity story Tongariro went crazy. He was so angry at Taranaki that he blew off his top. Taranaki felt defeated and moved to the west coast of New Zealand’s north island. And because he was so bitter, he stabbed himself which caused a big scar in the area: the Wanganui River. What a great story, right!?
Things to do Egmont National Park
There are multiple activities to do like hiking through the beautiful forests of Egmont National Park. You can even go snowboarding and surfing on the same day! The wild coast of Egmont National Park has 12-world-class breaks. But for a more relaxing coastal experience, you can walk along the coastline on the famous New Plymouth’s Coastal Walkway. New Plymouth is one of the cheaper cities to stay on New Zealand’s north island. So if you’re travelling on a budget you might want to consider staying for a couple of days in New Plymouth. It has a vibrant cafe and festival culture and there are lots of museums and galleries to visit. And great outdoor activities to do.
Useful links Egmont National Park / New Plymouth
- Tourist information Egmont National Park
- Tourist information New Plymouth
- Best places to stay in Egmont National Park
- Best places to stay in New Plymouth
#12 Tongariro National Park
Tongariro National Park s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s New Zealand’s oldest national park and lies in the centre of the north island. It’s volcanic paradise with Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe (featured in The Lord of the Rings) as the highest peaks. Mt Ruapehu is the highest mountain on the north island of New Zealand. The park has a very important cultural and spiritual role for the Māori and UNESCO recognized this as well as the beautiful volcanic characteristics of Tongariro National Park.
Things to do Tongariro National Park
Did you know you can ski on an active volcano?? Yes, you can on New Zealand’s north island! Mt Ruapehu has the largest ski fields in New Zealand. With skifield Whakapapa on the north side and Turoa on the south-west side of Mt Ruapehu.Als you can also do the world’s greatest single day hike in the world: The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The views from this 8-hour hike will match the amazing views of Roy’s Peak at Lake Wanaka and the Hooker Valley Track at Mt Cook on the south island of New Zealand. Get more info about this hike here.
Useful links Tongariro National Park
- Tourist information Tongariro National Park
- Best places to stay in Tongariro
- Book your activities in Tongariro National Park
Wairarapa is just a 1-hour drive from Wellington in the south of New Zealand’s north island. And it’s the go-to-region for fine wine, from the vineyards of Martinborough, and great food. In the small town of Martinborough, you can visit more than 20 boutique vineyards at just walking distance from town.
Don’t forget to try the award-winning Pinot Noir of this region of New Zealand’s north island. Discover the Tararua Mountains to the west of Wairarapa and visit the southernmost point of the north island Cape Palliser.
And for a more historical day visit Greytown: New Zealand’s first inland town. In this colonial village, you can stroll around the many wooden Victorian buildings and go shopping at antiques, crafts, gift shops and galleries. Beyond Masterton, you can explore the wild scenery of Castle Point beach with a beautiful lighthouse and only the sea between you and Antarctica.
Useful links Wairarapa
Wellington is the small capital of New Zealand with a good mix of nature, culture, history and cuisine. It’s the gateway to the south island of New Zealand. The 4-hour ferry to Picton leaves the harbour of Wellington multiple times a day. At first side, you don’t expect much from Wellington. But don’t be fooled but it’s cover. Wellington has so much to offer cuisine wise and history wise. You will find cute coffee bars, beer cafe’s and hip bars in the neighbourhood of Te Aro and at Cuba Street. The inhabitants of Wellington are masters at fine dining so expect great restaurants, night markets and food trucks as well.
Things to do Wellington
Relax at the inner-city beach Oriental Bay during summer where it becomes a prime swimming, cycling and waterfront dining destination for locals. At the waterfront in Wellington, you can visit one of the world’s best interactive museums: Te Papa Tongarewa Museum. It’s New Zealand’s national museum Te Papa means ‘our place’.For great view panoramic view you hike up Mount Victoria or ride the cable car up the hill to Kelburn. Walk the beautiful Makara Peak or walk the City to Sea walk where you experience the best of Wellington’s waterfront. Find a list with all the activities in Wellington here.