When it comes to travelling to New Zealand, the magical South Island is often on the receiving end of most of the attention. With Queenstown, Franz Josef, Milford Sound and more, it’s one of the coolest places to visit in the world. But don’t make the mistake of underestimating the North Island. Mountain peaks, beautiful beaches, stunning green forests and incredible geothermal landscapes: the North Island has it all. So, we’ve rounded up some of the coolest things to do in North Island, as well as some of the most breathtaking sights that you must see during your visit.
1. Explore Waitomo Caves
These world-famous glowworm caves have been operating for more than 130 years and offer up a truly mesmerizing experience. So, they’re well worth a visit. What’s really interesting is that many of the tour guides for the Waitomo Caves are direct descendants of the Māori chief who originally explored the caves and they are now dedicating their lives to sharing those stories and their history with visitors.
2. Play make-believe at the Hobbiton Movie Set
The Hobbiton Movie Set is one of the main locations used for both the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies, making it a significant travel destination for the millions of die-hard fans of the franchise!
The Hobbiton village is situated on a family-run farm in Waikato in New Zealand and the tours include highlights such as the Party Tree, Bagshot Row, and Bilbo’s Bag End home. The hyper-realistic movie set was designed by the Lord of the Ring’s production team a year before they started filming with truly spectacular attention to detail, allowing you to experience the magic as if you were part of the story.
3. Visit the Huka Falls
These gorgeous waterfalls on the Waikato River are a vibrant shade of blue and hold some serious power, with water barrelling over the 11-metre drop at 220,000 litres per second. It’s a mighty sight to behold.
You can take the scenic route by walking the Spa Park to Huka Falls trail through verdant forest, or opt for adventure with a jet boat or river cruise ride. There’s also a viewing platform allowing visitors to get up close and personal with these majestic falls – but maybe pack a poncho.
4. Visit Wai-O-Tapu
This place is hot, hot, hot! Wai-O-Tapu is an active geothermal region at the southern end of the Okataina Volcanic Centre. Thousands of years in the making, the Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland boasts colourful and geo-diverse attractions like the vibrant green Lake Ngakoro, bubbling mud baths, the multi-coloured Champagne Pool (pictured below) and explosive geysers.
Image source:Sebastien Goldberg / Unsplash
5. Kayak down the Whanganui River
Renowned for its great beauty and significance to the Māori people, paying a visit to the Whanganui River is one of the best things to do in North Island. On the North Island Off-Grid trip, traveller’s can explore the region out of the base of Blue Duck Station. You can hike along the bays of the lengthy river – 290 kilometres – or cycle one of the many bike trails through the Whanganui National Park. One of the coolest things you can do is kayak down the river, observing the natural beauty, before taking an exhilarating jet-boat ride back up.
6. Hike the volcanic landscape of Mount Tarawera
The awe-inducing Mount Tarawera famously erupted in 1886 when the summit split open, wreaking havoc on the natural landscape and surrounding villages. Now, the towering mountain is a popular tourism destination on the North Island, with a bunch of adventurous activities to enjoy.
You can kayak along the surrounding Lake Tarawera, check out gushing waterfalls in the Bay of Plenty, take a dip in the lake shores thermal springs known as Hot Water Beach, or hike the trails through the Mountain’s colourful craters and pine forests.
7. Discover the Bay of Islands
An enclave of more than 140 subtropical islands, the Bay of Islands are renowned for their striking beauty and pristine natural sights. On Contiki’s trips to this tranquil region, travellers are based out of the charming town of Paihia, while Opua, Russell and Kerikeri are also popular choices.
Immerse yourself in the history of the region with a tour of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, check out the best swimming spots with a boat trip through the islands, go mountain biking through the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park or try parasailing above the pristine blue waters.
8. Go for a hike in Te Mata Park
The Te Mata Trust Park is home to the Te Mata Peak, with plenty of hiking and biking trails to enjoy. The lush greenery of the mountain and the extensive network of tracks make this a chilled-out activity to add to the itinerary. But the epic views are the main drawcard of this sight. On a clear day, the mountain peak offers views of the Heretaunga Plains, Hawke’s Bay, Mount Ruapheu and Mahia Peninsula.
Image source:Steve Philip / Unsplash
9. Learn to surf in Raglan
With a black-sand coastline and world-famous surf break, Raglan is the perfect destination for beach bums and laid-back travellers. Take a surfing lesson in the mesmerising Manu Bay, go for a dip in Ocean Beach, check out the black-sand Ngarunui Beach and watch the sunset while enjoying some local ‘fush and chups’ at Raglan Fish or Jo’s Takeaway.
10. Go white water rafting on the Kaituna River
Another iconic activity to add to your bucket list, white water rafting is an exhilarating experience – and it doesn’t get much better than rafting down the Kaituna River in the Rotorua region.
Strap on a life-vest and neon helmet, grab an oar, and experience the rush of white-water rafting through 14 rapids and over the world’s highest rafted waterfall, the 7-metre Tutea Falls.
11. Skydive over Lake Taupō
Taupō was formed thousands of years ago by a major volcanic eruption, which led to the creation of the lake and geothermal sites like Orakei Korako. The town is named for the enormous lake – seriously, it’s about the same size as Singapore – and its other scenic highlights.
Signing up for the Tandem Skydive over this picturesque region is a highlight of several Contiki trips – like the Northern Choice trip – and it’s got to be one of the most fun and cool things to do in the North Island!
12. Discover Wellington’s amazing food scene
Wellington is known as one of the best spots to eat in New Zealand, thanks to a thriving foodie scene. The cool capital city boasts trendy food trucks, experimental eateries and vibrant bars. Taking a foodie tour through the city streets or conduct your own, checking out different spots for brunch, snacks and dinner each day.
Some top spots to eat include Baobab and Best Ugly Bagels for coffee and Brunch, Mr Go’s for Hawker-style modern Asian cuisine, La Boca Loca for fresh Mexican dishes, the Mt Vic Chippery for tasty classics like fish and chips, Burger Liquor for extravagant burgers and Crumpet for a cocktail and some jazz.
13. Museum of New Zealand – Te Papa Tongarewa
In the capital city of Wellington, take some time to immerse yourself in the rich history of New Zealand and check out some incredible cultural collections significant to the Maōri people at the Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa). There are incredible artworks, installations, nature exhibits and even the world’s first Maōri virtual reality experience.
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14. Zipline on a Rotorua Rainforest Canopy Tour
Want to try something truly spectacular on the North Island? The Rotorua Rainforest Canopy Tour sees you wake at dawn, to watch the sunrise from high up in the treetops. After sunrise, you’ll have some coffee and brekky, before being harnessed up to soar through the trees of the ancient forest. It’s a pretty spectacular thing to add to your NZ bucket list.
15. Learn about Māori culture in a traditional Marae
On the Off-Grid trip, travellers stay in a traditional Marae – an ornately carved Māori home. There, you’re able to learn about Tikanga and Kawa, Māori customs and protocols, help prepare a Māori hangi feast while listening to traditional stories around the table, learn Wairua and Rongoa Māori /Romiromi, Māori spirituality and traditional healing practices, and discover traditional performing arts.
16. Visit a Kiwi conservation project
Think Kiwi birds look cute in pictures? Wait until you see one in person! Check out the Rainbow Springs Nature Park near Rotorua, where you can take a behind the scenes tour of the of a Kiwi conservation project and see baby Kiwi birds in the hatchery.
The project completes important work in continuing the lifeline of Kiwi birds: at present, there 68,000 left in all of New Zealand and the population is steadily declining by about 2–3% a year. Through their efforts, the project has been able to protect 2000 eggs from predators, nurturing the chicks and releasing them back into the wild once they reach 1kg in weight.
17. Take a Sky Walk in Auckland
With the famous City of Sails harbour, a trendy foodie scene, quirky bars and fashion boutiques, Auckland has fast become the ‘cool’ capital of New Zealand. Taking an on-ground walking tour to see the sights is one of the ultimate ways to explore the city, but for the best views? You can’t go past the Sky Walk experience.
Take a walk on the wild side with a Sky Walk around Auckland’s 328m high Sky Tower to check out the best view in the city. Or, kick things up a notch with the exhilarating Sky Jump, taking the ultimate leap of faith from the 192m deck, enjoying 11 seconds or pure adrenaline as you plunge to the ground attached to a controlled wire.
Thinking of popping over to New Zealand now that the Trans-Tasman Bubble is open? Check out our guide to travel in the bubble here.