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If you didn’t already know, New Zealand is split into two islands – the South Island and the North Island. And both islands couldn’t be more different from each other.
While the South Island is famous for its giant snow-topped mountains, glaciers, and gorgeous tourist towns like Queenstown, Wanaka, and Christchurch, the North Island has a whole host of incredible places to explore.
You can visit breathtaking beaches like the black sand Piha Beach and Ninety Mile Beach, which you can drive along! Not to mention how many awe-inspiring national parks are here, like Egmont National Park and Tongariro National Park.
The North Island is the most populated island by far – with 3.9 million people living here as opposed to just 1.2 million people on the South Island. It’s home to vibrant cities like Auckland (the biggest city in the country) and Wellington (the coolest capital city in the world).
Honestly, you could spend a year on the North Island and still not see it all! I’m blessed because I live in New Zealand and have managed to explore a ton of amazing places. So, that’s why I’ve put this blog post together to introduce you to the North Island’s hidden gems as well as give you some essential tips for visiting the North Island’s most popular tourist destinations, like Auckland and Wellington!
So, let’s dive in and discover the 20 best places to visit on the North Island. I love each spot equally, and I just know after reading this, you’ll be determined to squeeze them all into your New Zealand itinerary!
- 20 BEST Places to Visit on the North Island
- 1. Auckland
- 2. Wellington
- 3. Hobbiton
- 4. Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
- 5. Mount Maunganui
- 6. Tauranga
- 7. Whangarei
- 8. Waiheke Island
- 9. Hawke’s Bay
- 10. Taupo
- 11. Rotorua
- 12. Egmont National Park
- 13. Whanganui National Park
- 14. Raglan
- 15. The Coromandel
- 16. Paihia/Bay of Islands
- 17. Cape Reinga
- 18. Tongariro National Park
- 19. Muriwai Beach
- 20. Piha Beach
- Thanks for reading!
- Why I Book Tours with Viator
- Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
- Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
20 BEST Places to Visit on the North Island
As the biggest city in New Zealand, it should come as no surprise that Auckland is one of the best places to visit on the North Island. It’s also the most popular tourist destination in the whole country – with over 2 million people stopping by annually! Nicknamed the “City of Sails” because of its prime position on the southern Waitematā Harbour, there are heaps to do in this vibrant city, and you’ll be hard-pressed to fit it all into one day, which is why I recommend allowing at least two full days in Auckland.
You can take your pick of adrenalin-pumping tours in Auckland like skydiving or bungy jumping, or if you’re after a more relaxing vacation, hike to the summit of Mount Eden (a dormant volcano) or stroll along the bustling Auckland Foreshore Heritage Walk, which is 5 kilometers (3 miles) long and passes parks, busy wharves, and residential neighborhoods.
Mt Eden is only a 20-minute bus ride (or an hour’s walk) from the CBD, and one of the most popular Auckland activities is to hike up to see the large crater at the top! As I mentioned, Mt Eden is a dormant volcano – so don’t worry, the last eruption was 15,000 years ago! From the top is an epic viewpoint, very Instagram-friendly FYI. This loop trail is just over 2 km (1.3 miles) long and will take about 40 minutes to complete.
And I just have to mention the Auckland Sky Tower here, easily the most recognizable building in the city’s skyline. This iconic structure is a whopping 1,076 feet (328 meters) tall! As you can imagine, the views from up here are pretty epic, but the best vantage point is at the top of the tower where you can even see as far as Waiheke Island! If you’re short on time, I highly recommend pre-booking your admission ticket to the SkyTower here as it will save you queuing time – tickets are only $40 NZD.
Another must-do in for your Auckland itinerary is to spend a few hours wandering Ponsonby, a hip, cool neighborhood that’s full to the brim with boutiques, bustling restaurants, and quirky cafes. Conveniently located just 2 km (1.2 mi) from the CBD, it’s the place to be for foodies. For food, I love Prego, a famous Italian restaurant in Auckland, or The Blue Breeze Inn, an authentic Chinese restaurant.
- Where to stay in Auckland: Auckland is a huge city, so deciding where to stay in Auckland can be a challenge. I really like CityLife Auckland because it’s centrally located – just a 6-minute walk from the Sky Tower! It’s a mid-range hotel but has a luxurious feel with an indoor saltwater pool and rooms that range from one-bedroom suites all the way to a rooftop Penthouse Suite.
Undoubtedly, one of my favorite capital cities in the world – Wellington, is everything a city should be. It’s cool, walkable, and has loads of great restaurants, cafes, and breweries (yep, there are no less than 20 breweries in Wellington!).
It’s also home to what I believe to be the best museum in the world – Te Papa. This fascinating and free-to-visit museum offers an insight into the Maori and colonial cultures and natural history that shaped New Zealand. And not forgetting the colorful foodie haven that is Cuba Street and the famous Wellington Cable Car, which has been in operation for over 120 years.
Outside the CBD, you can visit Zealandia, one of the first fully-fenced eco sanctuaries in the world, and an awesome day trip from Wellington. It’s a must for animal lovers, and here you will find unique native wildlife and birds like the takahe, tui, and takariki and reptiles such as the tuatara and the green gecko. When I visited, I booked this 2-hour guided walking tour of Zealandia and learned so much that I reckon it’s well worth the $60 NZD price.
If you’ve rented a car in Wellington and love marine life (especially seals!), you should head to the Red Rocks in Owhiro Bay during the winter months to see over 300 seals lazing about on the rocks. The Red Rocks are a 30-minute drive from downtown, and the walking track to the seals is 7.4 km (4.6 mi) long.
For the best view in Wellington, hike to the Mount Victoria Lookout, where you will be treated to a 360-degree view of Hutt Valley, the eastern beaches, and the Miramar Peninsula. My top tip is to aim to get to the summit for sunset for the most breathtaking view! There are a few hiking trails that lead to the lookout, but the most popular option is the 4.6 km (2.8 mi) Mount Victoria Loop Track that starts at Courtenay Place and takes about 1.5 hours to complete.
And finally, did you know that one of the world’s best special effects and prop companies is located outside Wellington? Yep, the famed Weta Workshop and Cave, founded by none other than Sir Peter Jackson (director of the Lord of the Rings movies), is one of the most popular attractions in Wellington. On a guided tour of the workshop, you will learn about the practical effects used in these movies and get to know the tools and technology the staff here use to make their creations! You will also get an up-close look at the costumes and props from the Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia movies!
- Where to stay in Wellington: If you’re on a budget, The Marion Hostel is a great option. I stayed here on my last visit and loved that it’s right in the heart of the city and even has a rooftop terrace. They have big dorm rooms starting around $44 NZD or private accommodations around $134 NZD for two people. You can book this awesome boutique hostel on Booking.com or Hostelworld.com.
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, it’s likely you’ve come to New Zealand specifically to visit the Hobbiton Movie Set. Located in the rural town of Matamata, getting to Hobbiton from Auckland is a 2.5-hour drive. Hobbiton is, without a doubt, one of the best things to do on the North Island of New Zealand. And as you can guess, it’s extremely popular. In 2015, it welcomed its millionth visitor!
In Hobbiton, you’ll get to fully explore the Shire and see the Hobbit Holes (there are 44 of them here), the Mill, and the famous Green Dragon Inn. Even though I’m not a huge LOTR fan, I still really enjoyed it here. I even brought my mum and she loved it too!
The most basic and most popular tour on offer is this Hobbiton Movie Set Tour, which is two hours long and includes a Hobbit Southfarthing cider, beer, or soft drink at the Green Dragon Inn. This tour costs $89 NZD per adult, children aged 9-16 cost $44 NZD, and children aged 8 and under are free. You may also purchase a family pass (two adults and two teens) for $225 NZD.
Another tour option is this Evening Banquet Tour, which starts at dusk and also includes a drink in the Green Dragon Inn. But the difference is that after your drink, you’ll sit down to an amazing two-course banquet feast. When your belly is full, you’ll enjoy a lantern-lit walk back through The Shire and get to see Hobbiton in the moonlight.
But if you don’t have a rental car or simply don’t fancy driving there yourself from Auckland, I recommend This Hobbiton tour from Auckland as it combines a visit to the famous movie set with another top attraction – the spectacular Waitomo glow worm caves (more on that later!). It’s a full day of amazing experiences and there are literally HUNDREDS of 5-star reviews! You can book your spot here.
In short, even if you’re not a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, Hobbiton is still a pretty amazing place to visit!
- Where to stay near Hobbiton: The Kauri Lodge is a super clean, comfy, and convenient self-catering apartment that includes free breakfast items and great views of the surrounding area. It’s a secluded spot where you can really soak up the beauty of the Waikato countryside, and it’s only 15 minutes away from Hobbiton.
4. Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
The Waitomo Caves are one of New Zealand’s most popular and best glow worm caves, so I just had to include them on my list of the best places to visit on the North Island! The Waitomo Caves are essentially a network of caves, sinkholes, and underground rivers that are home to millions of glow worms.
The caves are a 2.5-hour drive from Auckland and around an hour from Hamilton. It’s worth noting that you can only explore the Waitomo Caves on a guided tour!
The cheapest tour option is this guided tour that’s just 45 minutes long (ideal if you’re short on time!). It’s a small group tour that starts with an easy walk through the cave system to the huge Cathedral Cave. From here, you will hop into a boat and float through the caves to see the impressive glow worms up close. This tour costs just $61 NZD per person when you book online.
If you’d prefer a more action-packed tour, then consider this Black Water Rafting Waitomo Cave Tour. It involves floating in an inner tube through the caves. It’s 3 hours long and costs $170 NZD. If you like, you can upgrade to a 5-hour Black Abyss tour. Both tours include wetsuits, boots, helmets, and all the safety equipment you’ll need to keep you safe, as well as a hot shower at the end. You can book either option through Viator!
- Where to stay near the Waitomo Caves: The Waitomo Village Chalets is one of the top places to stay near the Waitomo Caves. A short 10-minute walk from the glow worm cave, this is a great option if you want to be the early bird who catches the glow worm (ha!) and be among the first in the caves.
Why I Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
5. Mount Maunganui
If you’re after a beachy getaway on the North Island, look no further than Mount Maunganui, with its great year-round weather, chilled vibe, epic surf, and white sand beaches!
Huddled along a peninsula in the top half of the North Island, it’s a super-popular holiday destination with both overseas and local visitors. Whether you love the great outdoors and are keen to try some of the best North Island hikes, surf at one of New Zealand’s most beautiful beaches, or simply want to shop until you drop in the quirky downtown area – Mount Maunganui’s got you covered.
The most popular activity here is hiking to the top of the hard-to-miss Mount Maunganui, which looms over the town. Yep, this town is named after an extinct volcano. This track is called the Mauao Summit Walk and should take most people 40 minutes to complete. It’s a moderate hike, and there are several different paths you can pick to climb to the summit. But it’s worth the slog as the panoramic views of the Bay of Plenty from the top are stunning.
If climbing to the top of Mount Maunganui sounds a little out of your comfort zone, you can walk around it instead on one of these other trails.
Maunganui Beach is one of the top places to surf in New Zealand, thanks to the consistent waves here. It’s also a stunning beach. If you’re keen to learn to surf, you’ve come to the right place, as there are plenty of surf schools here. But my pick is Hibiscus Surf School which has a shop right on the Main Beach.
- Where to stay in Mount Maunganui: Don’t let the word “motel” fool you. The Mission Belle Motel feels like a little European escape with incredible views of Mount Maunganui. It’s a Spanish-style building that has been renovated into huge guest rooms that are bright and airy with gorgeous windows that actually open!
The largest city in the Bay of Plenty, the coastal haven of Tauranga, is one of the best places to visit on the North Island, especially during the summer. Because this city is pretty much entirely surrounded by water, most of the top things to do here involve the beach – from surfing to swimming with wild dolphins! But, there are plenty of land-based activities, too, such as hiking one of the many beautiful trails at McLaren Falls Park and eating your way around The Strand – a vibrant, restaurant-filled area beside the downtown waterfront.
First up, and a must-do in Tauranga, is this dolphin cruise, which is five hours long and gives you the chance to swim and snorkel alongside wild dolphins. However, this tour is only available during the summer months (November to May). Prices start at around $150 NZD per person and you’ll want to book in advance!
McLaren Falls Park, a 10-minute drive outside of Tauranga, is a huge park filled with great hiking trails and heaps of different species of trees! My favorite trail here is the short and easy waterfall track walk, but try to do this one at night, as you’ll get to see glow worms on both sides of the track! There are plenty of other activities in the park, including fishing, kayaking, and even disc golf. You can camp here, too, for as little as $23 NZD per person!
- Where to stay in Tauranga: Try out a waterfront hostel that has million-dollar views of the harbor but without breaking the bank! Wanderlust NZ has a huge balcony overlooking the harbor, and the historic building has been recently renovated. There are two shared kitchens to cook in, a lounge area, and a wide variety of rooms. The rooms book up quickly so check Booking.com or Hostelworld.com for availability!
Related Read: If your next stop after Tauranga is Rotorua, be sure to read our guide to the best stops on the drive between Tauranga and Rotorua!
With a nickname like “The City of 100 Beaches”, it’s easy to see why so many tourists are enchanted by the small city of Whangarei in the far north of the North Island. In fact, this artsy city offers the best of both worlds: a vibrant downtown area that’s within throwing distance of fantastic beaches, lovely hiking trails, and even a glow worm cave!
The Bream Head Scenic Reserve is home to some of the best hiking trails in the area, including the super-scenic Te Whara Track (my favorite!). This 7.5-kilometer (4.7-mile) trail follows an ancient Maori track through some of Northland’s most spectacular coastal forests.
This coastal forest reserve is located 40 minutes from Whangarei, and here, you’ll also find abundant wildlife like the unusually-named pūpūharakeke (a flax snail that’s a threatened species), many coastal birds, and several lizard species.
New Zealand has many beautiful waterfalls, and one of my favorites is the stunning Otuihau Whangarei Falls. A 1-kilometer (0.6-mile) loop trail leads to a seriously picturesque waterfall that drops into a big, bright blue pool. This waterfall is conveniently located just a 10-minute drive from the city.
There’s a reason why Whangarei is named the “City of 100 beaches,” as there are heaps of white sand beaches and secluded bays a short driving distance from the CBD. You can surf on most beaches here, but Ocean Beach is my clear winner. It boasts crystal-clear water and lots of peaks that can be surfed on both sides.
- Where to stay in Whangarei: BK’s Pohutakawa Lodge is set to a backdrop of green hills, yet only an 8-minute walk to the city center. This discount accommodation is great value for your money and comes with comfy beds, a microwave, a fridge, cooking facilities, and shared laundry machines. The setting is peaceful and quiet, and the rooms are super tidy.
8. Waiheke Island
Known as New Zealand’s “Island of Wine,” Waiheke Island is the perfect weekend (or even mid-week) escape from the bright lights of Auckland. Just a short 35-40 minute ferry ride from the North Island’s biggest city will have you on this small island, which, to me, is one of the most gorgeous parts of New Zealand.
Home to cliffside trails, white sand beaches, a cute cafe-filled town, and of course, famous wineries – as soon as you step foot onto Waiheke, you’ll likely say to yourself, “I never want to leave.”
Ferries from the Auckland Ferry Terminal to Waiheke are very regular, as there are two ferry companies operating this route. The Fuller’s fast ferry takes just 35 minutes and costs $55 NZD in return. It’s cheaper to buy the tickets online and they are valid for an entire year.
If you want to take your rental car over, you’ll need to catch the Sea Link ferry, which is about an hour long ride and costs $137.50 NZD per car and driver or $23.50 NZD per foot passenger. A good alternative is to book a guided day tour from Auckland to Waiheke. You’ll still need to take the ferry over, but then all of your transportation to three boutique wineries and back to the ferry dock is covered.
Driving around Waiheke is an easy, pleasant experience and gives you lots of freedom to explore. But if you don’t have a car, there is no need to worry as there are public buses and taxis here. Personally, I rented a bike when I visited, and it was such a lovely experience pedaling from winery to winery and getting some exercise in!
Speaking of wineries, there are over 30 of them here, including Man O’War Vineyard, which has an epic waterfront location, and Mudbrick Vineyard (their Chardonnay is one of my favorite New Zealand wines!). If you’re hungry, there are two restaurants onsite that overlook the Hauraki Gulf.
I highly suggest booking a guided winery tour to ensure you get the full “Island of Wine” experience. Then you don’t need to worry about getting to each winery, and you can sit back and enjoy the delicious wines and epic views. It’s the perfect way to visit the island’s award-winning wineries!
I loved this Premium Full Day Waiheke Wine Tour, which stops at 3-4 boutique vineyards and includes complimentary wine tastings at each one. You’ll travel comfortably in an air-conditioned vehicle with your own local guide. The wineries change on this tour all the time (there are so many on Waiheke!), so be sure to mention to your guide if you have one you really want to visit. This tour costs $179 NZD per person and can be booked online here.
- Where to stay on Waiheke Island: The Oyster Inn is set in a superb location – right across the street from Oneroa Beach. Every room is designed with wooden flooring and wooden furniture – total beach vibes! Plus, you get a complimentary breakfast from their restaurant.
9. Hawke’s Bay
Another incredible wine region on New Zealand’s North Island is Hawke’s Bay. This sunny spot on the east coast is one of the top wine regions in New Zealand. It’s blessed with fertile soils and warm weather – the winning combination for wine growing. Famed for their red wines, especially Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their Chardonnay is also renowned.
There are so many wineries in Hawke’s Bay that wine tasting while you’re here is an absolute must! Home to famous wineries like Linden Estate Winery, Mission Estate Winery, and Craggy Range Winery, it’s no surprise that wine tasting is the number one thing to do in Hawke’s Bay.
I always recommend joining a wine tasting tour in Napier instead of doing it yourself, as that way, your transport is covered, and you don’t need to worry about having a designated driver. When I last visited, I jumped on this Half Day Small Group Hawkes Bay Wine Tour and loved it. It includes tastings at a few different wineries as well as the stunning Te Mata Peak (more on that below!).
The largest city in Hawke’s Bay – Napier, is another must-stop in this region. The city is known as the Art Deco Capital of New Zealand, and the streets here are lined with colorful art deco-style buildings that house quirky shops and cafes. When you’re done wandering the lovely downtown area, why not get your blood pumping on a whitewater rafting tour like this one or hike up the Bluff Hill Lookout?
Speaking of hiking, Te Mata, as I briefly mentioned earlier, is a sacred mountain that stands an impressive 399 meters (1,309 feet) tall! You can hike to the top, but keep in mind it’s a moderately challenging route that will take you 1.5 hours to complete. Alternatively, you can drive or cycle to the top. The view from up here is astounding, and you’ll get a 360-degree view of Maungaharu Ranges, Cape Kidnappers, Kaweka, and Ruahine.
- Where to stay in Napier: For the ultimate comfort, opt for The Crown Hotel. This hotel is in the heart of Ahuriri, overlooking the ocean and within walking distance of Perfume Point. You can also access a gym, free private parking, and laundry facilities here.
Related Read: The closest major city to Napier is Wellington, which is a 4.5-hour drive away. If you plan to drive this scenic route, be sure to read my blog about the 12 best stops between Napier and Wellington!
If it’s an adventure you’re after, Taupo is the spot for you! Named after the lake of the same name (Lake Taupo), this small town offers plenty of adrenaline-pumping activities and tours such as jet boating and kayaking to Maori rock carvings!
The massive lake – it’s the biggest in New Zealand and about the same size as Singapore – is the center point of the town. Not only is it photogenic, but it’s where many of the best Taupo activities take place, like the aforementioned kayaking tour!
Just 7 km (4 miles) from town, you’ll find the famous Huka Falls, part of the longest river in New Zealand (the Waikato River). These falls are insanely powerful because the river narrows into a ravine just before the falls, and the narrowing massively increases the water pressure. In fact, the water gushes down Huka Falls at a rate of 2,20,000 liters per second. It could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in less than 11 seconds!
You can watch and photograph Huka Falls from the viewpoint, or to really get up close to this natural phenomenon, hop on this thrilling jet boat tour. It sure is an exhilarating ride as your driver speeds past rugged cliffs and maneuvers some knuckle-clenching 360-degree spins along the way. It costs $143 NZD per person.
The world-famous carvings were created by master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell and his small team in the 1970s, and the tallest carving here towers over 10 meters (32 feet) high! It’s one of the largest rock art displays in the world!
Now, after all, that adrenaline-fuelled fun, you’re probably in the mood to relax, and lucky for you, there’s an awesome adults-only hot spring nearby. The Wairakei Terraces is home to four hot pools surrounded by lush vegetation. Each pool has a different temperature. The awesome DeBretts Spa Resort is also home to two natural hot pools that are filled by a natural spring called Onekenek. And the mineral waters in these pools help relax muscles and soothe sunburns.
And finally, if you’re a craft beer lover like me, be sure to stop by the quirky Crafty Trout brewery. It looks like a fishing lodge, and the decor feels a little random, but honestly, their alpine-crafted beers (there are 14 varieties) and pizzas are awesome!
Where to stay in Taupo: At Baycrest Thermal Lodge, you can book a room with your own private hot tub. This lodge is just off the main road opposite Lake Taupo and has stellar views of the lake. You can choose between ground-floor apartments with a private hot thermal pool or first-floor apartments with a spa bath and balcony.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Rotorua. If not, let me summarize – this small city in the heart of the North Island is a hub for geothermal activity, and you’ll find loads of NZ hot springs and geysers here.
As well as that, it’s one of the best spots in the country to get a taste of Māori culture. Conveniently, it’s just a short drive (63 km/ 9 miles) from the coastal town of Tauranga.
Like Taupo, there’s an abundance of thrilling tours on offer in Rotorua, and two of the most popular are ziplining and whitewater rafting. In fact, Rotorua is home to the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world! Yep, Tutea Falls is a 7-meter (23-foot) drop that’s easily one of the best whitewater rafting experiences in all of New Zealand.
While there are several different whitewater rafting tours in Rotorua, this particular tour is very well-rated. You’ll ease into the experience with some easier rapids on the Kaituna River before you reach the famous waterfall and raft right over it! Towards the end of the tour, you’ll get the chance to cliff jump off a 3-meter (10-foot) cliff. The entire experience is $115 NZD and tends to sell out because it’s so popular, so grab your spot on the raft here while you can!
As I said, Rotorua is a hotbed for geothermal activity, and here you’ll find unique geothermal parks – which are like an amusement park but with a big focus on all things geothermal!
Some of the best geothermal parks in Rotorua include:
- Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland – is situated on the north side of a collapsed volcano crater. It’s the cheapest thermal park in Rotorua at only $32.50 NZD. Here, you will get to see the largest mud pool in New Zealand and the Lady Knox Geyser, which can shoot water as high as 10-20 meters (33-65 feet) into the air.
- Te Puia Thermal Wonderland – Discover one of only two geyser fields in the world still in its natural state at this 60-hectare park. It’s full of geysers and mud pools, including the Pōhutu Geyser, which is the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere! Guided tours are $90 NZD and also include a stop at the new Kiwi Conservation Centre!
- Hell’s Gate – Although the name may be a little off-putting, there’s nothing frightening about this thermal park, which is one of the most active geothermal areas in Rotorua. As you walk through here, you’ll be surrounded by mud volcanoes, clouds of geothermic steam, and the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. The geothermal walk is $42 NZD per person which also includes a chance to try Maori carving and a mud foot pool!
On the same note, Rotorua is also home to some great hot tubs and Secret Spot Hot Tubs is my absolute favorite out of all the different hot pools in New Zealand. As the name suggests, the place offers hot tubs tucked away in a forest overlooking Waipa Stream. They are all private cedar tubs, and each one fits up to 6 people. Amazingly, the water in the pools comes from a hidden stream in the Whakarewarewa Forest! But the best part is they have a full bar and snack service that they can deliver right to your hot tub! You can book your own private hot tub online here for $39 NZD per person!
Something a little different from the above and a must for animal lovers is the Agrodome. You’ll get to learn all about New Zealand’s farming culture on a local sheep farm. You’ll have plenty of chances to interact with the animals, and you can even hand-feed the sheep if you want!
The Whakarewarewa Forest, or “The Redwoods” as the locals call it, is located only five minutes from downtown and has 160 km (100 mi) of winding paths that pass under forest canopies of Redwood, Douglas Fir, Eucalyptus, and Larch trees. The Redwood Memorial Grove Track is one of my favorite trails here, as it takes you across a thermal pond and through some European larch trees.
And finally, be sure to end your day in Rotorua at the iconic “Eat Streat” – a food court with an outdoor dining area and a covered pathway. It’s open all year round, and the walkway is heated, making it cozy during the winter. You’ll find everything from Italian food, hearty pub fare, Indian cuisine, and ice cream.
- Where to stay in Rotorua: For a more luxurious stay in Rotorua, the Rydges Rotorua offers a scenic view and a relaxing atmosphere located on the edge of Redwoods Forest and overlooking the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Reserve and Historical Village. There’s also a heated outdoor swimming pool, gym, and award-winning restaurant on-site!
Related Read: If you plan to drive to Rotorua from Auckland, be sure to check out my blog, which lists 13 of the best stops between the two cities!
12. Egmont National Park
If you’re looking for an epic adventure through one of New Zealand’s National Parks, Egmont is the answer! This is one of the most dramatic volcanic landscapes in the country!
Egmont National Park (also known as Taranaki National Park) has recently been renamed Te Papakura o Taranaki. This park is popular among adventure-seekers who love the great outdoors. And if you’re hoping to explore the beautiful scenery on foot, you’re in luck. There are many advanced hiking trails, including summiting Mount Taranaki, which is one of the world’s most symmetrical volcanos.
The Pouakai Circuit is one of the bucket list things to do in New Zealand! This 2-3 day hike loops around Mount Taranaki/Taranaki Maunga and covers about 25 km (15.5 mi). It offers the very best views of the dormant volcano while exploring the diverse scenery. This is an advanced track and is steep, with stairs and tree roots in places. Like me, you may need to stop for some breaks now and again.
Despite the challenge, this trail is well worth it. I loved passing through the flowery and grassy area at the Ahukawakawa Swamp. You’ll also walk under the tall Dieffenbach Cliffs, along Boomerang Slip, and see Kokowai Stream. This stream is pretty cool because it has red-tinged water from the manganese oxide in the ground.
When hiking this trail, people tend to stay overnight at the Pouakai Hut and Holly Hut. So make sure to bring your sleeping gear. Camping costs $5 NZD per adult and runs on a first-come, first-served basis. If you prefer a bunk in the hut, it’ll cost $25 NZD per night, and you’ll need to book it ahead of time online.
It’s best to climb Mount Taranaki between December and April. If you’re visiting New Zealand in winter, this trail will be snowy and slippery.
- Where to stay near Egmont National Park: The best place to stay near Egmont National Park is the city of New Plymouth, a 30-minute drive away. Here, I suggest the Millennium Hotel New Plymouth. The hotel is just a short walk from town and on the waterfront, with rooms overlooking the Tasman Sea.
13. Whanganui National Park
One of the best national parks in New Zealand is Whanganui National Park. This massive park is home to the biggest lowland forest on the North Island as well as a wide variety of native wildlife, especially birds. As such, bird-watching is very popular here, so keep an eye out for tui, kereru fantail, and the beautiful whio (a rare blue duck) during a visit here!
This national park is also home to the longest navigable waterway in the country – the Whanganui River, and it’s on this river that one can complete one of the Great Walks of New Zealand. This is a little confusing as the Whanganui Journey isn’t a walk but a canoe/kayak journey along the Whanganui River.
The route starts in Taumarunui and ends at Pipiriki. It’s a whopping 145 km (90 miles) long, and most people allow 5 days to complete the full journey. While it’s one of the best things to do in this area of the North Island, it’s not for the faint-hearted as it’s hard-going, and your arms will be aching at the end of it. If you’re not a seasoned kayaker, I’d consider the shorter, 3-day version instead. And if you’re tight on time, you can also do smaller sections on a day trip; just ensure you have transport organized at your chosen ending point.
The Whanganui Journey passes through breathtakingly beautiful landscapes, like forested valleys and steep-sided canyons. Despite the hard slog it entails, I found it to be such a peaceful journey. Plus, you’ll get to see the many unique birds I mentioned earlier along the way!
- Where to stay in Whanganui: For budget travelers, the Braemer House B&B and Hostel has many options including beds in shared dorms and private rooms. This charming bed and breakfast and hostel combo comes with a nice garden and is located in a cute neighborhood right by the river.
If you’re a fan of quirky surf towns with loads of delicious restaurants and cafes, then Raglan is the best place you could visit on the North Island. For a beach town with such a relaxed vibe, there is a surprising amount of adventure sports on offer, such as rock climbing and canyoning. But you can also try out more relaxing activities like a sunset cruise and digging your own private hot pool at a relatively unknown hot water beach!
I highly recommend spending some time wandering the town on your first day to get a feel for this cool town! Make your first stop Raglan Roast on Bow Street for a strong Kiwi-style coffee.
One of the best hikes in Raglan is the ginormous Bridal Veil Falls, which stand at 55 meters (180 feet tall). It’s a relatively easy 20-minute walk into the falls, although I should note that your return walk to the car park may take a little longer as you have to climb back up the 300 steps. Instead, you could opt for the 10-minute walk to the top of the falls, which is a shorter, easier experience. This trail is wheelchair and stroller-friendly, and the view from the viewpoint here is magical!
If you love to surf, you’re in luck, as Raglan is known as one of the “surfing capitals” of New Zealand. There are several excellent NZ surf beaches within driving distance of Raglan town, each suitable for different abilities. Whale Bay is one of the most famous but is only advisable for advanced surfers.
Don’t miss visiting one of the hidden gems of the North Island – Kawhia Hot Water Beach. Similar to other more popular hot water beaches (like Coromandel Hot Water Beach which is next on my list!), you actually dig a hole in the sand to make your own private hot pool! The difference at Kawhia is that it’s much less busy. The beach is a little hard to find, so you’ll need to drive to the end of Ocean Beach Road and walk across the sand dunes onto Ocean Beach (its official name). You can only dig at low tide, so check tide times before leaving!
End your day in Raglan in the best way with this sunset cruise. The boat’s design means you can explore hidden bays and beaches. Toward the end of the tour, venture out deeper into the harbor to watch the sky light up in various colors. It costs $60 NZD per person. Add on an additional $15 NZD if you want to try their delicious fish and chips, which will be served on board.
- Where to stay in Raglan: The Silos Apartments, are probably the coolest place to stay in Raglan. They’re boutique apartments within converted cement silos, so essentially, they’re edgy on the outside and super stylish on the inside. Plus, they’re located right on the Raglan Wharf, so you can opt for a sea-view apartment.
15. The Coromandel
The Coromandel Peninsula is easily one of the most beautiful destinations on the North Island. Here, you’ll find scenic mountain ranges, dense native forest, and white sand beaches – it’s no wonder this is one of the most popular vacation spots in the country!
Home to Hot Water Beach, where you can dig your own natural hot pool, and the famed Cathedral Cove, as seen in The Chronicles of Narnia movies, it’s no wonder this place is popular with locals and tourists alike!
First up is Hot Water Beach, and it’s quite the natural phenomenon. The unique experience is made possible by thermal water, which bubbles below the sand’s surface, and when you dig in the right spot, the water that comes up is steaming hot – how cool! The best time to visit is two hours before or two hours after low tide, as this is the only time you can access the hot water areas. Oh and bring a shovel! I tried digging by hand the first time I went, but luckily a lady let me borrow her shovel or I would have been there forever!
Keeping with the topic of beaches, New Chum Beach, one of the most recognizable beaches in New Zealand, is located in the Coromandel! It’s been voted as one of the top 10 beaches in the world numerous times, and what’s great is that despite its “famous status,” it remains a bit of a hidden gem as there’s no road into it! Instead, you must walk here starting at the Northern end of Whangapoua Beach, and you will need to walk along the rocks to New Chums. This will take 40 minutes each way, and be sure to wear suitable footwear.
If you love The Chronicles of Narnia movies, you’ll definitely want to check out Cathedral Cove, which was featured in the famous films. It’s so popular, and it’s estimated that 500,000 tourists visit Cathedral Cove annually. You can’t drive to this stunning location. Instead, you can walk 3.2 km (2 miles) each way, join this 3-hour kayaking tour to Cathedral Cove, or hop on a boat tour.
The fourth option is to catch this water taxi service to Cathedral Cove from Hahei Beach. It’s a fast and cheap way to reach the Cove, costing approximately $40 NZD return per adult.
One of my favorite hikes in the Coromandel is the Pinnacles Walk. You can either do it as a day hike or an overnight hike, and it’s 7 km (3 hours) each way to the summit. Keep in mind the trail involves some scrambling and the use of ladders. Along the way, you’ll pass the Pinnacles Hut (1 km/.6 miles from the summit). If you have pre-booked, you can spend the night here and enjoy the Pinnacles view the next morning at sunrise from the summit.
- Where to stay on the Coromandel Peninsula: For a peaceful retreat, it’s hard to beat the town of Tairua, which is tucked away near the southern tip of the peninsula. The Tairua Shores Motel is a quaint harborside property conveniently located next to Tairua Wharf, and only a 2-minute drive to the city center or a 10-minute walk to the beach.
16. Paihia/Bay of Islands
I just love visiting sunny Paihia (also known as the Bay of Islands) in the far north – it’s definitely one of the best places to visit on the North Island. It’s such a relaxed little town with lots of great cafes and restaurants, a lovely beach, and a rich Maori culture. As a matter of fact, one of the most important Maori sites – the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is located here!
The Cape Brett Track is one of the most popular hikes here, and it’s a moderate, 16-kilometer (9.9-mile) trail that will take around 8 hours in total and boasts incredible coastal scenery. At the end of the hike is Cape Brett Hut, which offers excellent views and is the perfect place to spend the night. There are 20 bunks here, and a night here will set you back just $25 NZD per adult.
Without a doubt, one of the most popular things to do in Paihia is to cruise out to the iconic Hole in the Rock. On this cruise, you’ll pass right through the middle of the hole, showcasing your captain’s impressive driving skills. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and other marine life.
The Hole in the Rock cruise is 4-5 hours long, and along the ride, your local guide will tell you all about the history of the area and the Maori legend behind the rock itself. The tour also includes the chance to see the lighthouse up close and the Grand Cathedral Cave. Tickets start from $150 NZD per person, and you can be picked up in either Paihia or Russell.
Another popular thing to do in Paihia is to catch a short ferry over to the historic town of Russell. This small coastal enclave was the first seaport in New Zealand and has a fascinating history. You can learn all about it as you wander the streets here. Be sure to pop into the pub inside the Duke of Marlborough Hotel for a drink or a bite to eat, as it’s one of the oldest pubs in New Zealand!
- Where to stay in Paihia: Situated just across from the Paihia wharf, Haka Lodge Paihia is an upmarket backpacker lodge that offers stunning views of the bay. The lodge has a range of accommodation options to suit your needs, including dorms, twins, and doubles.
Related Read: The drive from Auckland to Paihia is a popular road trip on the North Island, and it will take you over 3 hours without stops!
17. Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga is a truly stunning area that sits at the most northern point of New Zealand. It’s also the point where two oceans meet (the Pacific and the Tasman), and as well as that it’s a very sacred place to Māori people. In fact, to them, it’s the most spiritually significant place in the country. They believe that it’s at this point, after death, that all Māori spirits travel up the coast to enter the spirit world.
The lighthouse at Cape Reinga is so photogenic, and it’s a short walk to here from the car park. You can also walk from here to the magical Te Werahi beach. You’ll certainly get windswept here as the narrow trail teeters along the edge of Cape Reinga’s cliffs.
It’s a long 3-hour drive (197 km/122 miles) from Paihia to Cape Reinga, but you can break up the journey by stopping at the famous Ninety Mile beach and Te Paki sand dunes, where you can try sandboarding!
Ninety Mile Beach is a very long and beautiful beach that’s not actually 90 miles long (it’s 55 miles), but it’s pretty hard to tell when you’re there! This beach is officially a highway, but according to the locals, it’s only suitable for 4WDs and is only safe to drive on at specific tide times. If you don’t fancy driving it, take a walk along it and admire its wild ruggedness, or try to stop by for sunset!
I recommend booking this tour from Paihia if you don’t have transportation or are short on time. It’s great because you’ll jump on a small plane to enjoy a scenic flight to Cape Reinga. Then, once you land in Cape Reinga, you’ll visit Ninety Mile Beach, drive along the beach, explore Cape Reinga Lighthouse, and visit Tapotupotu Beach. It’s such a scenic way to see this area, so splurge on the $492 NZD cost and book online here!
- Where to stay near Cape Reinga: Because it’s such a long drive from most major towns/cities, I recommend stopping along the way and spending a night at Kaitaia or Coopers Beach!
18. Tongariro National Park
Tongariro National Park is one of the most famous national parks in the country, thanks to its dramatic volcanic scenery and unique plant life and wildlife. And, of course, it was featured in the Lord of the Rings movies. Yep, the Tongariro Crossing was used as the home to the Dark Lord Sauron!
There are no less than three active volcanoes here, and it covers a whopping 80,000 hectares of space, which is roughly the same size as New York City! But instead of skyscrapers, you’ll marvel at cascading waterfalls, alpine lakes, and glaciers here. It’s also the oldest national park in the country, so I guess now you can see why I’ve included it on my list of the best places to visit on the North Island!
For adrenaline junkies, white water rafting in Tongariro National Park is a must. This rafting tour takes you to the Tongariro River to go paddling through 50 Grade III rapids, which is a pretty heavy upper body workout, let me tell you!
But, the most popular thing to do here is to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike, one of the most popular day hikes on the North Island. Would you believe over 150,000 people complete this iconic hike every year? The 19-kilometer (12-mile) trail crosses over the volcanic terrain of Mount Tongariro, and you’ll be blown away by the wild and rugged scenery along the way! It’s a long and strenuous hike that takes 6-9 hours. It’s important to note that it’s not a loop, so you will need to organize transport to the start or the end of the trail because doing it both ways really isn’t possible in one day!
If you prefer guided tours (like me), try out this half-day guided walk where you’ll see some of the most impressive features in the park, made famous in the Lord of the Rings! All your hiking equipment is included (even crampons in the winter!) and the guides will lend you proper clothes and footwear if needed. They really go above and beyond!
Another much longer hike option here is the Tongariro Circuit, a 45-kilometer (28-mile) loop, which is essentially an extended version of the Tongariro Crossing. Although quieter than “the crossing,” as locals call it, it’s still one of the Great Walks in New Zealand, so you’ll need to book your place online in advance! It takes an average of four days and three nights to complete the circuit. The trail starts and ends in Whakapapa, and you can either camp or stay in hut accommodation along the way.
- Where to stay in Tongariro National Park: Your best option is to stay in nearby Taupo, which is an hour and 15 minutes from Tongariro National Park. For a unique stay here, consider Taupo Debretts Spa Resort, which is great for families. You have the option to stay in the lodge or book an entire cabin. The hot springs, pools, and waterslides on site are a huge bonus, too!
19. Muriwai Beach
Around a 45-minute drive from Auckland, you’ll find the black-sand Muriwai Beach, which is not only famous for its beauty but also for the gannets that nest on the cliffs here between August and March. To see the birds, park in the parking lot and walk the marked trail up to the viewing deck.
Besides seeing gannets, there are many other things to do at Muriwai Beach. I have to give a shoutout to the stunning trails here, especially those near Maori Bay, so as you can guess, hiking is popular here. But did you know you can drive on Muriwai Beach itself if you have 4WD? Yep, you must apply for a permit online first, and then you can drive this lengthy beach!
If you don’t have a 4WD, you can walk along the beach, and there are a couple of different car parks along the Coast Road from where you can easily access Muriwai Beach.
Surfing is also popular here, but it’s only suitable for intermediate or advanced surfers due to the strong waves. You can take surfing lessons with Muriwai Surf School or hire a wetsuit and a surfboard from them. You’ll also spy lots of paragliders on this stretch of beach thanks to the favorable south-westerly winds on this coastline.
Near the “gannet cliffs” is another glorious beach called Maori Bay. It’s much smaller and quieter than Muriwai Beach, and there are various short walking trails close to here, which lead to beautiful coastal viewpoints. But if you don’t fancy walking, you can simply admire the views of the bay and surfers and paragliders doing their thing!
There are many ways to see the best of the wild west coast, but I recommend taking a guided tour to really immerse yourself in the experience. One option is this scenic wine region tour – which takes you through the scenic areas of Waimaulu, Kumeu, and Huapai and stops at Muriwai. You’ll also get to stop at one of New Zealand’s most picturesque regions, and sample wines at a local winery.
- Where to stay near Muriwai Beach: There are no hotels directly in Muriwai Beach, however, there are a few nice choices in the nearby towns of Waimauku or Kumeu, or on the outskirts of Auckland. A good option is Freshwaterfarm Cottages Muriwai. This cozy spot is perfect for a romantic getaway in New Zealand as it has a private porch bathtub and modern cottage decor. A full English/Irish breakfast is available every morning.
20. Piha Beach
And last but definitely not least is Piha Beach, one of the most iconic beaches in New Zealand! This scenic black-sand beach is also on the wild west coast of the North Island and is a popular spot for surfing, swimming, fishing, and hiking. In the hills around the beach, there are several serene walking paths through the native forests.
Auckland is only an hour’s drive from Piha and if you don’t have a car, booking this tour is a great way to get to Piha Beach without stressing about transportation. You’ll also learn from an informative guide about the area.
If you’re a surfer, you’ll recognize the name as one of the famous surfing locations in New Zealand. If you plan to surf here, keep in mind that specific areas are reserved only for swimming. Piha Beach is known for its strong currents and big waves, so it’s best suited for intermediate surfers and above! And if you’re a newbie or want to enhance your skills, you can take surfing lessons here.
But you can still enjoy the beautiful black sand beach if you’re not a surfer. Take a walk along the coast, take a refreshing swim, or just relax and admire the picturesque cliffs surrounding the beach. There are also several excellent restaurants and cafes in the area.
Piha Beach is just under a 50-minute drive from Auckland, but if you don’t have a rental car, you can book a tour to Piha Beach. This particular tour is great because it provides transport from your hotel in Auckland to Piha Beach and includes a guided rainforest walk. This small group tour is 5 hours long and includes an afternoon stroll on Piha Beach.
- Where to stay at Piha Beach: For budget travelers, Piha Beachstay Accommodation is my top choice! This tranquil, lodge-style building is surrounded by native bush. It’s located only a 15-minute walk from Piha Beach so you can take advantage of all the local activities without a car!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. My top choice for a motorhome company is Star RV because they have beautiful motorhomes at affordable prices. You can check prices and availability for Star RV motorhomes online here. Alternatively, you can use Motorhome Republic to search all motorhomes in NZ. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
Whew, and there you have it – 20 of the best places to visit on the North Island! I think the North Island is underrated – I mean, it’s got vibrant cities, gorgeous beaches, scenic hikes, magical national parks, and more – who wouldn’t want to spend time here?
Thanks so much for reading! Was this guide helpful? If so, browse around My Queenstown Diary and check out more of my blogs about the North Island, and New Zealand! I’ve left some of my most popular guides here: