From White Sand – Blue Skies of Northland to the rugged coastline of cosmopolitan Wellington – Discover the hidden gems in our North Island…
If you are self-driving New Zealand?
Your journey North will end here, at Cape Reinga.
Where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Oceans Collide.
As the saying goes “Life Is A Beach” but Northland has much more to offer!
90 Mile Beach – actually only 55 miles but it is still an impressive beach, famous in New Zealand for the ’90 mile beach fishing competition’ that is normally held in March.
As well as fishing, 90 Mile Beach is famous for swallowing cars and the occasional tour bus.
Trapped in soft sand and demolished by incoming tides.
Yes, you can legally drive on 90-mile-beach
But don’t use your hire car, you can be sure your rental agreement or travel insurance won’t cover that!
There is excellent hiking, rock fishing, and camping in Northland there is excellent accommodation throughout Northland if you require a hotel or B&B, though, in my opinion, the most beautiful unspoiled areas are basic camping grounds more suited to backpackers who are happy to rough it, or those of you traveling in campervans.
To learn more about the hiking options and excellent DOC camps in the area – visit the DOC site
Spirits Bay – If you appreciate remote beaches – then you will love Spirits Bay there is great fishing from the rocks so buy a hand line or cheap fishing rod, you stand a good chance of catching a fish for dinner, there is often great surf – but also strong rips, so be careful when swimming at Spirits Bay, or to be safe, swim in the lagoon.
Waitangi – The Bay Of Islands – arguably the cultural center of New Zealand – the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is New Zealand’s most famous historic site, a little controversial at times, but well worth a visit. To quote their website “We have an education program to suit the needs of those wishing to learn about the bi-cultural beginnings of our nation.”
Paihia – take a boat trip to view the dolphins, Hike in the hills, find a secluded beach for a swim, paddle a kayak or you could visit Kawakawa for a pee? Ok, that requires explaining! – Kawakawa is famous for a Hundertwasser Toilet
Hundertwasser lived in Kawakawa area for 25 years and wanted to give something back to the community – So Kawakawa now has a world famous toilet? now how many towns can proudly boast about their public toilet!? – you gotta see it to believe it – very cool!
Whangarei – Two hours drive from Auckland with about 50,000 permanent residents living and playing in Whangarei enjoying the sub-tropical laid back lifestyle. Here is a quote from the official site of the Whangarei District,
“From sand dunes to volcanic cones, from rolling pasture to craggy headlands fringed by picturesque Pacific beaches, our environment supports people producing fine foods and wide-ranging art works, busy professionals and talented youth, all in a classic kiwi lifestyle.”
Sounds nice! It is a great website with loads of useful information.
To help plan your road trip and decide which North Island Region holds the most points interest – bookmark this map of New Zealand regions.
Auckland City – You will almost certainly land in Auckland when you first arrive in New Zealand. When you do, you may find this article on the Things To Do In Auckland useful…
Auckland highlights are both man-made and natural. The man made include Kelly Tarlton’s sea life aquarium on Tamaki Drive – great entertainment for the whole family, or the Sky Tower also family friendly especially when it is raining and you need to entertain boisterous children.
Auckland natural attractions tend to be based on the Sea, Beaches or surrounding Islands with Waiheke Island being the most accessible from Auckland City a pleasant 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland City,
Gt Barrier Island is more remote and offers great hiking, fishing, surf if you have the time it is well worth visiting Great Barrier to experience the laid back lifestyle, white sand beaches and rugged interior the access to Great Barrier is by plane or boat and weather dependent.
You can fly to the Barrier using Great Barrier Airlines, they operate daily out of Auckland Airport and North Shore’s Dairy Flat airdrome – it is a 35 minute flight.
Or travel by ferry, a leisurely 2 ½ hour ferry ride from Auckland with Fullers this is a passenger only service.
Ferry services for cars, can also be taken to Great Barrier on SeaLink‘s Eco Islander ferry, this takes approximately 4 ½ hours and operates all year round. Passengers traveling without vehicles can also take this service. All ferries to the island arrive at Tryphena
The Barrier is best visited outside of New Zealand Christmas holiday period unless you enjoy the buzz of holiday crowds.
The sheltered bays around Great Barrier Island are the No.1. holiday destinations for Auckland boat owners, at this busy time of the year the Island loses its remote undiscovered feel, that is the attraction of the Barrier for many.
Waikato – Home to the finest farmland in the North Island.
Dairy Cows, Racehorses and Fat Lambs are raised on Waikato’s rich pastures.
Matamata has long been the traditional area to breed racehorses – but more recently Matamata has become world famous for Hobbits or to be more precise it is home to – Hobbiton Movie Set Tours.
Matamata is only a 55 minute drive from Hamilton and 1 hour 53 minutes from Auckland.
Waitomo Caves: If you have time to visit only one attraction in the Waikato region then I suggest you visit Waitomo
There is a range of unique attractions available, You can choose from gentle boat rides through ancient cathedral-like caverns … its rock ceiling alive with sparkling glowworms.
Or if that is just too tame for you Urban Warrier Types? Abseil deep into the bowls of the vast Cave Network then Black Water Raft your way out – several hours later you should see daylight again.
You choose the intensity – Waitomo supplies the venue …
Otorohanga Kiwi House is a breeding center and sanctuary for New Zealand’s unique native birds and reptiles, many of these birds are rarely seen in the wild.
Otorohanga Kiwi House is a magical attraction for the whole family – one of the few places you can enjoy close-up viewing of our national bird, the Kiwi, in it’s specialized nocturnal enclosure.
You are guaranteed to see the elusive some-what shy Kiwi Bird … along with native birds and reptiles you rarely see in their natural habitat, including the worlds last remaining dinosaur? all be it, a tiny dinosaur, the Tuatara.
OK, so the Tuatara is actually a “Sphenodon Punctatus”, but all his relatives became extinct 60 million years ago – so he/she must come close to qualifying as a dinosaur?
Coromandel Peninsula: Travel Time, 2 hours 30 minutes. Auckland to Whitianga
Hot Water beach – the clue is in the name – at low tide you can dig a hole in the sand to create your own hot pool take a shovel and try it.
Be very careful when swimming at hot water beach.
It is one of our nasty secrets. The tidal rips on this beach cause major problems with visitors or inexperienced swimmers resulting in a number of drownings and close calls.
Swim between the flags only!
Hiking in the Coromandel Ranges or choose the shorter walks along remote coastline tracks.
You could visit Stony Bay to enjoy the rugged beauty of an undeveloped corner of Coromandel Peninsula.
Coromandel is an area especially suited to campervan travel there are countless DOC camps or privately own camping grounds available, many of them are in beautiful locations.
Freedom Camping, on the side of the road or at rest stops is not encouraged, take the time to seek out official camping sites
Bay Of Plenty
Rotorua should be at the top of your “to do list” when visiting New Zealand.
Conveniently placed in the center of the Bay Of Plenty, famous for its thermal activity Boiling Mud, Raging Steam Vents and Mysterious Odours …
As well as, 13 peaceful lakes with many short bush walks, all accessed within a 40 minute radius of your Rotorua Accommodation.
Interesting activities abound in Rotorua deciding what to do first, will be your main concern.
Read our detailed article on Rotorua Attractions
Mount Maunganui is a great option if you feel the need for a relaxing day at the beach.
“The Mount” is a popular safe swimming beach with a great vibe there are few nice cafes.
Feeling Fit? the walk to the summit of the mountain offers excellent views and photo opportunities.
If you prefer flat ground when walking choose the easier track around the base of the mount – either way you can recover with a soak in the Mount Hot Pools.
The East Coast or East Cape, as it is sometimes known is one of the few unspoilt coastal areas in the North Island, many of the local towns or attractions haven’t changed in the 30 + years that I have been visiting the East Coast.
This for many people is the main attraction of the East Cape!
The coastal road to the East Cape is perfect for campervans there are several sites to park and camp for the night all of them with access to the sea and beautiful coastal views – The drive around the East cape is a little bit “off the beaten track” so be sure to keep your fuel topped up, as there are limited refueling opportunities between major towns.
Tolaga Bay is one of my favorite spots on the East Cape – a basic but very nice caravan park right on the beach, there is an interesting walk to Cooks Cove, another attraction is the Tolaga Bay Wharf, this concrete wharf is a prime spot to catch a fish for dinner or maybe a small shark?
You won’t see many local people swimming from this wharf!
Te – Urewera National Park is another highlight if you are a confident driver I would recommend the Waikaremoana Road – for the sheer scenic beauty of it, this road takes you through the heart of Te-Urewera National Park – if you wish to experience real New Zealand (as in remote rugged bush) then you should drive this road, plus if you are feeling fit allow a few day’s for Hiking while you are in the Urewera’s.
Lake Waikareti is my recommendation if you decide to walk in the area, you can stay in the local camping ground and enjoy the track as a single day walk, or take your time and walk as a leisurely two day walk, by staying overnight in Sandy Bay hut – this hut is in a stunning location on the shores of Lake Waikareti. I view the Lake Waikareti track a superior walk to the so called “Great Walk ” around Lake Waikaremoana that most people gravitate to.
Central North Island
Central North Island is one of my Favourite Areas in the North Island I’m sure you will love it too. I’ve hiked, camped or made use of the many DOC Huts, through all Seasons for many years now – the area is wild, unspoilt and captivating, I guarantee You will never be bored.
It is also very accessible with a little care and planning whatever your experience or fitness level … Home to one of New Zealand’s premier attractions – Tongariro National Park – 3 active volcanoes, stunning blue or emerald lakes, steaming fumaroles, fantastic hiking or mountainbike trails and two major Ski-Fields – make Tongariro National Park an action packed must-see destination for all ages.
If hiking is your thing then you should not miss walking the Tongariro Crossing it is the one track in New Zealand that lives up to the to hype that surrounds it – on a fine day, it is simply stunning, on bad day, it is still worth walking if you are not going get the opportunity again!
But be aware it is a moderately difficult alpine walk but do-able for those of you in good health with average fitness … the most important consideration safety wise is the weather, it changes constantly, take warm clothes a raincoat as well as something to eat and drink as the stream water along the way, is not fit to drink …
There is cell phone coverage for most of the Crossing especially when you are up high – in the clouds.
Many who complete the 19.4-kilometer distance will tell you the climbs can be steep and the weather unpredictable, though the amazing scenery is strikingly unique to the Crossing,
Simply put, the 7-8 hour walk is your Hike of a lifetime, well worth the Blood, Sweat & Tears.
Central North Island also offers some of the best trout fishing in New Zealand – The Turangi area gives you easy access to a selection of the finest fly fishing streams in New Zealand, as well, you have the option of boat fishing on Lake Taupo. If your aim is to experience wilderness fly fishing as well as luxury accommodation then take a look at Poronui Station in the Central North Island it may be just what you are looking for?
Mount Taranaki: is the main draw card in the Taranaki region it’s almost perfect conical shape is very similar to Mount Fuji in Japan, it sits close to the Tasman Sea on the West Coast, the mountain is prone to extreme weather changes so care is needed both in summer and winter when hiking or climbing Mount Taranaki – the mountain and surrounding Farmland is a stunning sight on a clear day.
Whanganui River: is similar to Mount Taranaki in that, it is a little off the main tourist trail, but both places are well worth a visit if you have the time, (allow 4-5 days) The Whanganui River can be seen quickly and easily by Jet Boat if time is short, or in the summer months take a 3 -5 day Guided Kayak Trip down the Whanganui River this trip allows you plenty of time to experience this wonderful wilderness area, as well, some guided kayak tours offer an introduction to authentic Maori Culture as you travel and camp in their Tribal Lands.
Napier is the main city in the Hawkes Bay, it well known and admired for its Art Deco Architecture that is prominent throughout the City, Hawkes Bay is a productive growing area both for table fruit and wine grapes – if you enjoy visiting Boutique Wineries and sampling their signature wines then you will enjoy Hawkes Bay.
Castle Point in Wairarapa: is famous for dramatic sunrises and gale force winds, almost every photo you see of Castle Point includes the cast iron lighthouse – its flashing light ( 3 times every 30 secounds) has been keeping boats off the rocks and shining the way for seafarers since 1913.
Museum Of New Zealand: Te Papa is promoted as a modern interactive Museum, it is an interesting place to spend a few hours with the family especially if it is raining and blowing a gale outside!
Mount Victoria: when the weather is perfect the best place to be in Wellington is the Mount Victoria lookout great for video or photos whether you are there during the day or at night it is an impressive view.
Wellington Waterfront: stroll along the waterfront and enjoy the busy harbour and the feel buzz of this fascinating city, as well as being considered the culture capital of New Zealand.
Wellington is well known at least locally for it’s “Coffee Culture” there are many interesting and diverse cafe’s in Wellington we list a few of them in our Things To Do In Wellington article.