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33 Cool Things to do on the North Island of New Zealand

33 Cool Things to do on the North Island of New Zealand

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Are you planning a bucket-list trip to the North Island? That’s exactly what I was doing when I first traveled to New Zealand, and I found so many unique and flat-out cool activities here that I couldn’t tear myself away. Now I call it home! 

I’ve traveled all over the North Island and found more than meets the eye. Check off some epic outdoor adventures like summiting a mountain or a multi-day canoe trip, and dive into the culture through a Maori village experience, the iconic glow worms, and visit Hobbiton (of course!).

This list has a lot of variety, so there’s something for anyone. But regardless, it shows the absolute best of the North Island!

Things to do on New Zealand’s North Island

1. Stare in awe inside the Waitomo Caves

Check out all those glow worms!

One of the most awe-inspiring parts of all of New Zealand is seeing glow worms! They live in dark, humid places, making the caves on the North Island a haven for these little critters. Despite the name, they aren’t worms but fungus gnat larvae … which certainly doesn’t sound as charming as “glow worms”. They are predominately in New Zealand and Australia, but the Waitomo Caves on the North Island are the most popular spot to see them. 

When I first visited, I couldn’t believe how beautiful these glow worms were. It looks like a starry night sky! Visiting Waitomo is even more fun because you have to take a boat to reach the glow worms. Plus, Waitomo is a beautiful cave system, made up of 300 limestone caverns. 

If you’re coming from Hamilton (the largest city near Waitomo, just 1 hour away), you can join a tour from the caves themselves. I joined this 45-minute boat tour of Waitomo, and it was magical floating through the cave system, looking up at the faux-night sky. I really appreciated the guides, as I learned about the science of these critters and interesting Maori history too! 

You can book this tour for $75 NZD and they have departure times all through the day, but I recommend booking in advance as it’s a popular way to experience the caves. 

If you are short on time and dying to visit the glow worms from Auckland (a 2.5-hour drive), this Waitomo and Hobbiton tour is one of the best ways. Waitomo and Hobbiton are just 1 hour apart, so it’s really easy to visit both on this full-day tour. Allow a full 12 hours for this experience, as you’ll spend a good chunk of the day driving and admiring the scenery. They provide pickup from your Auckland hotel and coordinate all entrance fees and transportation.

With over 1,500 5-star reviews, I’d say this is one of the best ways to see the glow worms from Auckland! You can book this tour for $370 NZD.

Whether you’re coming from Auckland or embarking on an epic North Island Road trip, you’ll need to book a tour to see the glow worms. Luckily, the option of departing from Waitomo is the same price as you’d pay in person, and they offer 24-hour free cancellation. You can reserve your spot now, and still have flexibility – yay!

2. Geek out at Hobbiton

Bailey sits in the door of a red Hobbit home at Hobbiton, NZ
You don’t want to miss Hobbiton!
Bailey nocks on the door of Hobbit Hole at Hobbiton Movie Set in NZ
Anyone home?

I’m not exactly sure how many people travel to New Zealand solely for Lord of the Rings attractions, but I know it’s a lot. So, while you’re on the North Island, stop by the most popular thing to do here – visit the Hobbiton movie set!

I had such a fun time exploring Hobbiton and the Shire, and I’m not even a huge fan of the movies (shh, don’t tell the others!). But knowing just how iconic this place is, I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit. 

Because this is such a popular attraction, you have to take a tour to visit. You can book this general admission Hobbiton tour in advance here, which lasts for 2.5 hours. I got to see all the cute Hobbit Holes on the hillside and even peek inside one, as well as stop by the Green Dragon Inn for a complimentary pint. It was honestly just cool seeing the movie set in real life, and all that went into making these legendary movies! 

I will say that this general Hobbiton tour didn’t give as much detail or free time as I would have liked. It was pretty much just a time for me to look at and take pictures of the Hobbiton set. This tour is $120 NZD and should definitely be booked in advance, as tours usually fill up by early afternoon if you wait to purchase your tour there. 

If you’re looking for a more immersive experience, I’d recommend this Hobbiton tour from Auckland. It also includes a stop at Waitomo Caves (bonus!) and the tour guides do such a great job of explaining the details of this intricate movie set. It’s also a great way to see these two iconic places on a convenient day trip. I would say they are both “can’t-miss” North Island attractions – that’s why they are at the very top of my list!

This tour from Auckland is $370 NZD and includes roundtrip transport, entrance to Hobbiton and Waitomo, and amazing tour guides. It’s a small group too, so it’s a much more immersive experience!

3. Surf in Raglan

Surfing in Manu Bay, Raglan
Surfers at Manu Bay point break!

Did you know New Zealand’s North Island is full of amazing beaches? And with great beaches also comes great surfing! Raglan is the hotspot for surfing in NZ and it’s also a fantastic place to learn if you’ve never been. 

Raglan is a super cute surf town on the western side of the North Island, about 2 hours from Auckland. My full guide on Raglan has tons of info, but this town is basically made for anyone who loves the outdoors and surfing truly rules as king here!

During the summer, over 100,000 people visit each month for hiking, exploring the cute downtown, and some of the best sunsets in the country. But, if you’re looking to surf here are the best places to do so!

If this isn’t your first rodeo (or shall I say, first time catching a wave) head to Whale Bay, which is perfect for advanced surfers. This is definitely a local surf spot and a bit of a hidden gem. I recommend starting near the rocks at the western end of the bay and surfing at low tide. But, it’s really beautiful here, so simply enjoy the scenery too!

But of course, the most famous surf beach in all of New Zealand is Manu Bay. You might know it from the movie Endless Summer and it also has the longest left-hand break in the world – so it’s iconic for all sorts of reasons. If you’re a decent surfer, you might be able to catch the legendary 2-kilometer/1.2 mile wave! Manu Bay is a quick 15-minute drive from Raglan, and even if you aren’t surfing, it’s fun to come and watch!

And if this is your first time surfing, head to Ngarunui Beach. This beach is ideal for beginners because the waves are more consistent and make for an easier surfing experience. Ngarunui is also patrolled by lifeguards during the summer, so the added security net helps beginners feel safer (at least it did for me!).

Raglan Surf School also offers a great 2-hour surf lesson on Ngarunui Beach. It’s a small group class, so you can laugh along with others and try to tackle this new skill. The guides are fantastic, making you feel so secure and confident! You can book this lesson here for $94 NZD, including a surfboard and wetsuit. 

4. Visit Hot Water Beach

Hot Water Beach New Zealand at sunrise
Can you think of a better way to see the sunrise?

This is certainly one of the coolest items on this list of things to do on the North Island. Hot Water Beach is located on the Coromandel Peninsula, about 2.5 hours from Auckland. Here, you can dig your own hot water spa on the beach! So I guess it’s not literally “cool” but you get the idea!

The North Island is full of geothermal activity, so the thermal vents under this beach heat up the water below. There are specific parts of the beach that you have to go to, but once you find it, simply dig a hole and have an ocean-side spa. 

You can only access these hot pool spots within 2-hours on each side of low tide. So sometimes, that means a sunrise soak! It’s worth an early wake-up, trust me. Depending on the time of the tide, be prepared for a bit of a crowd too – this isn’t quite a secret anymore. 

To find the exact spots to dig your hot pool, check out my guide here!

5. Te Papa Museum

Gallipoli display at the Te papa Museum in Wellington, New Zealand
The Gallipoli wax statues were amazing to see

Would you believe that one of the most visited places in New Zealand is a museum? The Te Papa Museum is actually really neat to explore. Located in Wellington CBD, this museum has had over 34 million visitors throughout its lifetime, so I’m not the only one who loves it!

The Te Papa Tongarewa (its full name) means “container of treasures” in Maori. As with so much of New Zealand’s history, the artifacts in the museum are from the traditional Maori people and the museum works closely with native Kiwis to develop programs. 

You can visit the museum on your own for free, but I personally recommend this first-entry experience to get a closer look. You can get into the museum 30 minutes before it opens to see exhibits before the crowds get there. The Explore Gallipoli Exhibition (in the picture above) was created by the famous prop company, Weta Workshop Wellington, and is truly remarkable.

This exhibition is made up of giant sculptures that are 2.4 times the size of an average person. They depict New Zealand war heroes and the detail is incredible, I was blown away when I saw it. It tells the story of the infamous Gallipoli Battle, if you’ve spent any time in NZ you’ll be familiar with this piece of history! This early entry ticket is $15 NZD.

I also really enjoyed this small group tour of the Te Papa museum. It gave our group a 1-hour tour and a deeper look at the taonga (Maori treasures) that live here. I learned so much about Maori art, history, and culture, it was really immersive. This tour is $23 NZD and worth every penny to learn more about my favorite museum!

Related Read: After you explore Wellington, you can easily head to the South Island! Here is all the information about catching the ferry from the North to the South Island.

6. Explore Waiheke Island

View of the vineyards on Waiheke Island on a wine tour
The real reason I come to Waiheke is for the wine!

Waiheke Island is a gorgeous part of the North Island and makes for an incredible day trip from Auckland. It’s well known for its pristine beaches with impressive cliffs and white sand. But more famously, Waiheke is known for its wine – which is the real reason I visit! 

You can hop on a ferry from Auckland Ferry Terminal, located near the CBD. The Sea Link ferry allows cars and takes 1 hour and 20 minutes to cross over to the island, and the ride is quite lovely. Prices range from day to day, but it will cost anywhere between $150-$170 NZD for a car and driver, or around $25 NZD per person. The Fuller’s fast ferry is much shorter, only 35 minutes, and is $55 NZD per person (return). 

Once you’re on the island, there is plenty to do – check out my top things to do on Waiheke blog before you go! Explore the adorable main town, Oneroa, or relax at one of the many beautiful beaches. Of course, my favorite activity is going wine tasting, and I love this food and wine tour that meets you at the ferry wharf!

I loved visiting some of Waiheke’s best wineries (they are pretty luxurious, let me tell you!) and trying a ton of different wines. They also served us local cheese, oysters, and a massive platter lunch at one of the vineyards. This experience lasted for 5.5 hours, and my guide even offered to drop us back at the ferry station or hotel! It was well worth the $272 NZD and showed me the best of the island!

If you plan on staying the night on Waiheke Island to explore for a few days, I highly recommend booking your hotel as far in advance as possible. The island isn’t huge, so your choices are limited – see all your accommodation options here!

7. Maori Culture Tour in Rotorua

Bailey at the Rotorua Maori experience.
A Māori culture tour is a must-do in Rotorua!

Rotorua is home to a huge population of Māori people, so this is the best place to go to learn and experience their culture. My recommendation is to visit a Māori village for an unforgettable evening! 

Visiting the Te Pā Tū Māori Village outside of Rotorua was not only a fun experience, but a great chance to learn about New Zealand’s history and traditions! There were traditionally dressed warriors, and a Powhiri welcome ceremony, and they demonstrated tools, ways of life, and games. The best part was the Haka performance and the Hāngī feast for dinner. This style of cooking is an underground oven and the slow-cooked meat and vegetables my mom and I had were so yummy!

I spent three hours in the village and couldn’t believe how much I learned and enjoyed myself. I think it’s an essential addition to anyone’s North Island trip. This Māori cultural experience in Rotorua is $260 NZD and includes transportation, dinner, and an evening of fun! 

If you’re in Auckland and still want to get a full Māori experience, without having to drive to Rotorua, you’re in luck! This full-day tour from Auckland is led by an Indigenous Maori guide, who will spend the full day driving you to important sites and tell you about the history, legends, and traditional culture. I love that you can experience Auckland in a new way and learn about the people that made New Zealand what it is today! This tour includes hotel pick-up and transportation, national park fees, lunch, and your amazing guide for $395 NZD. 

8. See the Gannet Colony at Muriwai Beach

Gannet colony at Muriwai Beach NZ
Gannets at Muriwai Beach!

Muriwai Beach easily makes my list of the best day trips from Auckland. Not just because it’s a beautiful beach, but because there’s a massive gannet colony here! If you’re not sure what a gannet is (you’re not alone), it’s a big white bird, similar to seagulls but far less obnoxious.

This place is special because it’s the only gannet colony in the region, and every August to March you can come and see thousands of these beautiful creatures! To the south of Muriwai Beach, you’ll spot big cliffs and chances are more than a few gannets on them! There is a viewpoint and trail to walk along, but it can close due to storm damage. If that’s the case, you can still see gannets from a distance from the car park.

Another way to see the nests between Muriwai Beach and Maori Bay, on Otakamiro Point requires a 4WD vehicle as you’ll need to drive along the beach. Be sure to apply for the free permit to drive here! But, it’s worth any hassle because the drive is absolutely spectacular. 

However, if you’re just passing through Auckland and don’t have a 4WD rental car, you can easily visit Muriwai’s gannets on a guided tour. This 3.5-hour tour to Muriwai takes care of the driving for you, and you can learn about the gannets from your guide. Best of all, you get to stop at a winery along the way – making for a lovely afternoon of my favorite activities (outdoor exploration and drinking wine!). This tour is $175 NZD and includes hotel pickup and drop off, national park fees, your guide, and wine tasting!

9. Kaituna River Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater rafting on the Caituna river in Rotorua, New Zealand
The famous Tutea Falls drop on the Kaituna River

There is no shortage of thrilling activities on New Zealand’s North Island, but whitewater rafting on the Kaituna River is probably the greatest! This is because the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall, Tutea Falls, is on this route. You can go over the 7-meter (23-foot) drop, which definitely got my adrenaline pumping when I did it! 

I’m not the only one who loves this experience – this rafting tour has over 1,300 5-star reviews! You can join this same tour and catch a thrill on the Kaituna River, in a quick 2.5-hour experience. The rafting adventure starts with some calmer rapids, to warm you up a bit. Then before you know it, you’re heading over the famous falls! 

And for those true adrenaline junkies, you can also jump off a 3-meter (10-foot) cliff after! Don’t worry, this tour keeps safety as the main priority and provides instructions and gear, plus your expert river guides. It is only 20 minutes from Rotorua and they provide transportation to and from your hotel, so it makes for an epic half-day activity. I recommend wearing a swimsuit and bringing a towel and change of clothes for the ride home – you’ll definitely get wet. 

You can book this experience for $115 NZD which will give you one hour on the river, plus all of your transport and instruction time!

10. Hike to the Pouakai Tarn

A man at the Pouaki tarn with a reflection of Mt Taranaki in Egmont National Park, NZ
The Pouakai Tarn at sunrise
Bailey looks at Mt Taranaki from near the Pouakai Tarn in Egmont National Park, New Zealand
A viewpoint near the Pouakai Hut

New Zealand is famous for hiking, so I obviously had to add a few hikes to this list! The Pouakai Tarn Track is located in Egmont National Park, and the closest town is New Plymouth. Pouakai Tarn is a small alpine lake, famous for perfectly reflecting Mt Taranaki. It’s stunning, as you can see in the photo above, and hiking this route easily makes my list of the most popular hikes on the North Island

There are a few different tracks to reach Pouakai Tarn and Hut, depending on how long you want to hike. The Hut is just 10 minutes from the Tarn, and I definitely recommend staying the night here, as there’s a lot of hiking to do in one day. It’s important to note that the Pouakai Hut has moved to reservations due to its popularity, so you must book it in advance here!

I took the Mangorei Track, you can find the trail info here! This took me about 2 hours to reach the Pouakai Hut, and it was mostly uphill so I’d recommend it for people with a decent level of fitness. There are wooden steps and a boardwalk, both can be slippery when muddy, but the hike through the forest is absolutely beautiful! Especially through the Ahukawakawa Swamp and once you catch your first glimpse of Mount Taranaki – that makes it all worth it!

If you’re an advanced hiker looking for a challenge, you can take the Dover Route, starting on Carrington Road. This track takes about 3.5 hours and will go by the Pouakai Trig before reaching the Tarns and Hut. 

Regardless of which route you go, be sure to wear warm clothes and good hiking boots. If you choose to stay at the Pouakai Hut, remember to book it in advance on the DOC website for $15 NZD. 

When you stay the night, you can see the gorgeous Pouakai Tarn at sunrise, which is the best time to see Mt Taranaki’s reflections!

Related Read: Looking for more outdoor adventure? Check out my 50 favorite New Zealand hikes here!

11. Mount Taranaki Summit

Bailey climbs stairs to the summit of Mt Taranaki
Climbing up Mt Taranaki!
The view from the summit of Mt Taranaki, New Zealand
View from the summit!

For even more of a challenge, you can summit Mount Taranaki itself. I only recommend this if you’re a confident hiker and have previous experience, as it’s a very difficult vertical climb. But, the views are worth it, and how epic does summiting a mountain on New Zealand’s North Island sound?

The best time to summit Mount Taranaki is from December to April, or else the mountain will be a slippery climb since it’s covered in snow. If you go from May to November, you’ll need to have previous mountaineering experience, proper safety equipment, and feel confident climbing a mountain covered in snow and ice.

The hike is 6.3 kilometers (4 miles) to the summit and typically takes 5-6 hours to reach the top. The last 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) is a vertical climb and is quite challenging – to say the least! There isn’t much protection from the elements and you’ll have to scramble over rocks. Even during the warmer months, you still might experience slippery parts of the track!

Was this track difficult? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely! There is nothing more satisfying than finishing a heck of a climb, and the incredible views below were the cherry on top. 

You can find a detailed guide to the Mount Taranaki Summit Track here, and you’ll want to park your car on North Egmont Road to get started. Cheers!

12. Drive the Thermal Explorer Highway Between Taupo and Rotorua

Bailey relaxes in the Secret Spot Hot Tubs in Rotorua
The Secret Spot is such a relaxing place!
Bailey at Huka Falls in Taupo New Zealand
Huka Falls is another impressive stop along this route!

The stretch of road between Taupo and Rotorua is one of the coolest drives on the North Island. Well again, I guess I shouldn’t call it cool, it is a geothermal highway after all! The Thermal Explorer Highway is full of natural mud pools, explosive geysers, and bubbling hot springs. There is also heaps of Maori culture along this route, so driving the Thermal Explorer Highway is one for the books!

The entire Thermal Explorer Highway is over 450 km (280 mi), but my favorite section is from Taupo to Rotorua. This route will only take you about one hour if you drive straight through, but you can stretch this experience into a full day if you make a few stops. 

If you don’t mind the smell of sulfur, stop by the Craters of the Moon Geothermal Park. You can wander around on boardwalks and see the steam vents, mud pools, and boiling hot water pools. 

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is even more impressive with the Champagne Pool. It got its name because of the bubbles, not the color or flavor (don’t drink it!). You’ll also find the Lady Knox Geyser here, which erupts every day at 10:15 am – she never takes a day off!

If you fancy a dip, stop by Kerosene Creek or Hot ‘n’ Cold River, both are free and definitely a natural experience, so you might have some dirt on you when you get out. Once you get closer to Rotorua, you can have a more luxurious spa experience at the Secret Spot Hot Tubs. You can book a private hot tub for $39 NZD for a 45-minute soak!

There are even more hot stops along this drive, so check out my full guide to driving from Taupo to Rotorua here.

13. See the volcanic coastline at Piha Beach

Birds eye biew of waves crashing on Piha Beach, NZ
Piha Beach is seriously beautiful!

The North Island is full of volcanic activity, and that extends to the gorgeous beaches on the West Coast. You’ll find black sand beaches and rugged rock-filled coasts, paired with lush greenery from all the volcanic minerals in the soil. It is staggeringly beautiful, and I think Piha Beach is the best example of that!

Located just 40 km (25 miles) from Auckland, it takes about 45 minutes to drive there. For the best views of this intriguing volcanic coastline, head up Piha Beach Lookout! Lion Rock is another iconic feature of Piha Beach and hiking up the rock is one of my favorite things to do. 

And while the waves might look beautiful enough to jump in, I wouldn’t recommend it. The waves are very strong, and even experienced surfers won’t always go for a swim here. It is a good surfing beach though, but again, I’d only recommend it if you’re an advanced surfer!

To get to Piha, you can either catch the public bus, drive yourself with a rental car, or take an organized tour. I’ve personally taken this half-day tour from Auckland, which includes stops at the gorgeous Waitakere Ranges rainforest, Piha Beach, and the bush. It was a great way to learn about the history and geology of the area and get to Piha! I love the convenience of a tour and thought it was worth $185 NZD for the amount of information I learned from the guide.

Important note: Cyclone Gabrielle caused major damage to many of the trails and attractions near Piha. Please follow all the DOC directions to keep visitors safe.

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14. Relax on a Bay of Islands Cruise

A lady on a boat at the famous Hole in Rock in the Bay of Islands
The Hole in the Rock!

I’ve said the North Island has the best beaches in New Zealand, but the best of the best are in Northland! Located at the tip-top of the island, Northland has hundreds of kilometers of stunning coastline. My personal favorite area is the Bay of Islands, and as you might guess from the name, there are a ton of islands to explore. 

The best way to get to all of these islands is by taking this island-hopping cruise – of course! I loved this experience because we cruised on a sailboat, which was fun enough on its own and also stopped a few times to snorkel and swim. The waters and islands were out of this world beautiful, and I was shocked at how remote they seemed. Not a lot of people go out here, so you might even have a whole beach to yourself! 

The most iconic thing we saw though, was the Hole in the Rock. They aren’t very original with names around here, but as you can see in the photo above, this is a stunning rock formation that you can sail through. It was really impressive to see the captain navigate through that little hole, and the natural rock formation is stunning!

You might even be able to see a pod of dolphins as you cruise, they are lots around here. The crew did a fantastic job of pointing out any wildlife that we saw, it made the experience even more memorable. 

This 4.5-hour Bay of Islands Cruise takes off from Russell and includes snorkel gear and the cruise for $149 NZD. I also loved that there were only 10 people on this tour, so it was definitely a relaxed vibe.

15. Discover Ninety Mile Beach

Ninety Mile Beach, New Zealand
Ninety Mile Beach!

While it may look like it’s 90 miles long, Ninety Mile Beach’s name is a bit deceiving. It’s only 89 kilometers (55 miles), but I doubt you’ll walk the entire length to find out for yourself! Situated on the North Island’s East Coast, it’s about a 3-hour drive from Auckland. 

This is perhaps one of my favorite parts of all of New Zealand because it’s so big, it’s easy to feel like you have the entire beach to yourself. If you love the remote outdoors as much as I do, you’ll have to visit Ninety Mile Beach! 

Besides walking for ages on the sand, it’s also ideal for swimming, surfing, boogie boarding, and fishing. This beach is famous for its annual 5-day fishing competition at the end of February/early March. This is a hugely popular competition and sells out a year in advance. If you want your shot at catching the biggest snapper, be sure to sign up in advance here

If you’re traveling in a 4WD vehicle, you can drive on the beach too! I think this is such a fun way to see more of the beach, but be sure only to do this at low tide. I recommend using caution when swimming and surfing as well, the waves can be really big and powerful, so it’s best to be in the water when the lifeguards are on duty.

Because Ninety Mile Beach is more of a remote destination, this is a great spot to visit with your campervan and camp along the beach! I highly recommend using JUCY Campervans, they are my go-to! Before you go, check out my full guide to renting a campervan in Auckland and also the rules about freedom camping so you don’t get fined.

Jucy Discount Code: For a 5% discount on Jucy Campervans use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout!

Book your JUCY Campervan here!

16. Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Bailey looks down at the valley on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand
Look at those mountain views!
Green volcanic lake on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand
The volcanic lakes at Tongariro Alpine Crossing!

I couldn’t make this list without my absolute favorite hike on the North Island, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I’m not the only one who loves this hike, it was rated as the best day hike in New Zealand and as one of the top 10 day hikes in the entire world. So it’s pretty epic, to say the least. Albeit difficult, once you see that incredible blue water contrasted against the volcanic landscapes, I’m sure you’ll agree with me!

This hike is located pretty much right in the middle of the North Island, in Tongariro National Park. Not only is this park New Zealand’s first national park, but it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site and a film location for LOTR. Because of all these accolades, it receives a lot of visitors and is pretty accessible whether you’re coming from Rotorua or Wellington.

Now, I’m not going to lie – this is a challenging hike. Even for a veteran hiker like myself, it can take about 6-9 hours with all the elevation gain. The trail is 19.4 kilometers (12 miles) in total and I highly recommend bringing hiking poles, good boots, plenty of water, and layers.

The trail begins in the Mangatepopo Parking Lot, which has a 4-hour parking limit and the trail is a point to point, so you’ll need a shuttle back to your car. I always use this shuttle service which provides a free parking space and a shuttle back to your car. It is $60 NZD and you can book it ahead of time, so you aren’t scrambling to figure it out on the day of your hike. 

My last tip is to do this hike when the weather is good. You don’t want to attempt this hike if there is bad weather because of the loose rocks on the trail, slippery boardwalks, and stark drop-offs. Be sure to check the Tongariro Crossing website before you go to ensure it’s a nice enough day to tackle it! If it is, you won’t have any problems (as long as you’re using your normal smart hiker senses of course).

17. Canoe the Whanganui Journey 

A lady paddles on the Whanganui Journey in New Zealand
This is certainly one of the most unique hikes in New Zealand!

You might have heard of New Zealand’s Great Walks, but did you know one of them is on water? No, no, you’re not walking on water, this is a canoe journey and it truly deserves a spot on the Great Walk list! The Whanganui Journey runs down the Whanganui River, which is one of the longest rivers in the country and is a protected area. 

The entire Whanganui Journey is 145 kilometers (90 miles) long and takes people 5 days of canoeing or kayaking. It is possible to break the journey up into single-day trips, but you’ll need to organize shuttles at your get-out point. If you have time for the full 5-day journey, I’d highly recommend it – there is nothing better than disconnecting and getting out into nature for a few days!

The route goes from Taumarunui to Pipiriki and you’ll see some of New Zealand’s best scenery along this route. There are a ton of birds here, such as kereru, tui, fantails, or even a brown kiwi at night. You’ll also have opportunities to pause the canoeing and hike onshore to explore a little more. 

You’ll spend the evenings camping, so you’ll pack your gear in dry bags in the canoe (see the buckets in the photo!). I must say, this is not a leisure paddle down a stream. You’ll want to have a decent level of fitness, swimming ability, and a great joy for roughing it!

If you’re not a veteran kayaker, I’d recommend doing a shorter journey. I did the three-day version and my arms were shot by the end! This route begins in Whakahoro and is 88 kilometers (54 miles). 

You can rent canoes through Taumarunui Canoe Hire, including life jackets and other equipment. Prices range from $170 to $240 NZD, depending on your trip length. They can also help you book accommodations, provide a shuttle at the endpoint, or store your belongings. 

There are a handful of campsites and DOC huts along this journey, some are really remote and beautiful. Be sure to book your hut or campsite in advance here

This experience will take some logistical coordination, but from my time on the river, it’s an amazing trip and worth any pre-planning stress!

18. Go on a wine tour in Napier 

Bailey drinks wine in Napier
Don’t miss a wine tour!
Bailey out the front of Mission Estate Winery in Napier
Bailey in front of Mission Estate Winery in Napier

If you love wine as much as I do, you can’t miss a Napier wine tour! There is great wine all over New Zealand, but the coastal city of Napier in the Hawke’s Bay region has some of my favorite wineries. This is also home to some of the oldest vineyards in the country and the rolling hills and bay-views are the cherry on top (or shall I say, the grape on top?).

You can definitely visit the top wineries on your own, but I prefer to take a wine tour so I don’t have to worry about driving! They also include your wine-tasting fees, so I can just sip on wine and enjoy the day.

There are a handful of wine tours you can choose from, depending on whether you want to focus on just wine or throw in some beer, cider, and distillery stops too. Check out my blog on the best wine tours in Napier to see them all. 

But if you only have time for one wine tour, my personal favorite is this half-day Hawke’s Bay Wine Tour! We spent the day going to three wineries, all of which were quite different. I was thankful for the guide, who told me all kinds of information about the wine-making process and the history of the vineyards. But of course, the wine stole the show and I got to try a ton of tasty wines. 

To finish off the day, this tour took a drive up Te Mata Peak for an incredible panoramic view of the wine valley. This was a great way to experience Napier, and I’ll definitely be doing a wine tour here again. 

This tour was 4.5 hours and $155 NZD, including transportation, wine, and a cheeseboard to pair. It also has raving reviews, so I’m not the only one who loves it!

Why I Book Tours on Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book all of my 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

19. Drive to the top of Te Mata Peak 

Bailey enjoys the view at Te Mata Peak in Hastings, New Zealand
Te Mata Peak!
Te Mata peak in Hastings, New Zealand
What a view!

If you didn’t visit Te Mata Peak on a Napier wine tour, you can still visit on your own! It is a stunning mountain peak and you can get some of the best views from the top. It sits 399 meters (1,309 feet) above sea level and the best part is you don’t even have to walk to get up there – you can drive! Of course, walking or cycling makes for an incredible experience too, but I love that it’s accessible to all. 

Te Mata Peak is known as the sleeping giant, which comes from Maori legends. It’s part of Te Mata Park, which is just a 30-minute drive from Napier. The road up to the peak is paved, but there are some really tight turns so I’d only do this in a car, not a motorhome. There is plenty of parking at the top.

From the peak, you can see Cape Kidnappers, Kaweka, Maungaharuru Ranges, and Ruahine. On a clear day, I’ve even spotted Mount Ruapehu out there!

There are plenty of hiking options from the Main Gates Car Park. The Rongokako Trail is harder and the Giant Circuit is moderately difficult. Both can be completed in 2 hours. You can also tackle the Te Mata Peak Hike to the summit, which I would say is moderately difficult and will take 1.5 hours in total.

If you don’t want to drive, and you don’t fancy a walk, you’re not completely out of luck! There is this unique Supertrike tour that will weave up the mountain in style. A Supertrike is a V8 trike that is open-air, giving incredible views the whole way. The tour is 2 hours and you’ll spend it driving around, and also enjoying the top of the mountain, so bring some snacks and drinks!

I love that it’s led by a local guide so you can learn all about the area and Te Mata Peak. This experience is $200 NZD per person and can fit up to a group of 4 people. 

20. Walk below the Putangirua Pinnacles

The Putangirua Pinnacles near Wellington, New Zealand
How LOTR do they look??

You might recognize the Putangirua Pinnacles from the Paths of the Dead scene in the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Or, if you’re like me and not a LOTR super-fan, you can still go visit and gawk at this impressive geological structure. The Putangirua Pinnacles are hoodoos and actually formed over 7 million years ago!

The Putangirua Pinnacles are best visited on a day trip from Wellington, it’s about a 1 hour and 45-minute drive to reach. And the best way to experience the hoodoos is to hike! There are three tracks to reach the Putangirua Pinnacles and the quickest option is the Pinnacles Track. This one is only 1.5 km (0.9 miles) each way and takes around 45 minutes. 

The Ridge Walk Track is another short option at 1.5 km (0.9 miles) but it’s a super steep climb and joins the Pinnacles Track. So this option is good if you’re looking to get a killer workout in!

Once you reach the lookout at the top, you can continue hiking to see the best views of Palliser Bay and Lake Onoke. This route will take about 3-4 hours return, but if you have time to spare, I think it’s totally worth it!

21. Visit the tip of the North Island – Cape Reinga Lighthouse

Cape Regina Lighthouse on the Te Paki Coastal Track, New Zealand
Cape Reinga Lighthouse is the northernmost point of the North Island!

Cape Reinga is another impressively gorgeous part of New Zealand. I feel like I say that all the time – but New Zealand is too pretty not to! This is the northernmost point in the country, and the Cape Reinga Lighthouse stands proud at the tip. This is also where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet!

Even more importantly, this is the most spiritually significant place in all of New Zealand for the Māori people. They believe that after death, the Māori spirits travel to this point to enter the spirit world.

I love spending a few days in Northland to give myself enough time at Cape Reinga. Once you’re here, you can walk out to the lighthouse, enjoy its picturesque views, and even walk to Te Werahi Beach. Just be careful, as the narrow trail runs right along the edge of the cliffs!

It’s about a 3-hour drive from Paihia and a 5-hour drive from Auckland, so be sure to make this a few day’s journey! You can stop by Ninety Mile Beach (mentioned earlier in this blog) as well as the Te Paki Sand Dunes for some sandboarding.

This scenic flight tour is an even more convenient way to see Cape Reinga and the extensive views below! It’s a half-day of sightseeing and takes off from Kerikeri or Paihia, trust me when I say that this is a mind-blowing experience. It really puts into perspective just how big this area is, from Ninety Mile Beach to the staggering cliffs of the cape. After the flight, you’ll hop on a minibus for a tour of Northland. 

Here, you’ll see where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean, the iconic Cape Reinga Lighthouse, and Te Paki quicksand stream and sand dunes! This 4.5-hour tour includes your flight, bus tour, coffee or tea, and hotel pickup at $508 NZD.

22. Wētā Workshop/Wētā Unleashed 

Bailey poses for a photo with the troll out the front of Wētā Workshop and Cave in Wellington
The Wētā Workshop in Wellington!
Gollum at Wētā Workshop Unleashed in Auckland
Gollumn at the Wētā Workshop Unleashed in Auckland Photo credit: Wētā Workshop Unleashed

You already know how famous Lord of the Rings is in New Zealand, but there is even more film fame on the North Island. Wētā Workshop is a world-renowned special effects and prop company and they’ve worked on films such as King Kong, Avatar, Dune, and of course, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

Its main location is the Wētā Workshop and Cave in Wellington, but they also opened a secondary location called Wētā Workshop Unleashed in Auckland.

In Wellington, you can visit the Cave without a tour (for free) and see lots of props, figures, and costumes. But the best part is taking a tour of the Workshop so you can see how the movies come to life! This 1.5-hour guided tour spills all the behind-the-scenes secrets of movie production as you explore creative departments, learn a ton of info from your guide, and even see the artists at work! It’s a memorable experience and well worth $55 NZD, especially if you’re a film fan. 

For our true LOTR fans, this full-day Lord of the Rings Tour takes you to the Hobbiton Woods and the Wētā Workshop. You’ll also check out film locations all over Wellington, so it’s a fun way to explore the city and meet fellow fans.

The Wētā Unleashed movie sets are even more impressive in real life!

However, if you don’t make it as far south as Wellington, you can still experience the magic at the Wētā Workshop Unleashed in Auckland! This one isn’t a functional special effects workshop, but they’ve created three movie sets to give visitors an overview of how these special effects, props, and costumes work on set. While the workshop in Wellington is the original location, I actually think Wētā Unleashed in Auckland is more immersive!

With this Wētā Unleashed tour (which is your admission) I got to explore horror, fantasy, and sci-fi movie sets. This was super interactive and my guide made the experience so much fun! Our 1.5-hour tour flew by, all for $65 NZD.

If you want more information about both of these locations check out my blog on visiting Wētā Workshop in Wellington or my blog all about Wētā Unleashed in Auckland!

Or if you’re ready to secure your admission tickets and tours in advance, you can book them online with flexible cancellation options!

23. Hike the Pinnacles Lookout Track

The Pinnacles Lookout, New Zealand
If you stay at the Pinnacles Hut, you can get this view at sunrise!

One of my favorite hikes on the North Island is the Pinnacles Lookout Track, located on the Coromandel Peninsula. This track leads to the Pinnacles Hut, so you make this an overnight adventure if you plan far enough in advance. 

I love this track because of the views of the Coromandel Peninsula, which are even more spectacular at sunrise! The track is 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) each way and can be completed in a single day. However, even though the track is short, it doesn’t mean it’s a piece of cake! There are some scrambling and ladders along the way, so it usually takes me at least 3 hours each way. 

The Pinnacles Hut is 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) from the summit. If you were able to secure a reservation at the hut, it’s very popular to get up early to summit at sunrise to enjoy the Pinnacles views! You can reserve the Pinnacles Hut on the DOC website for $25 NZD. 

You can also camp at the Billy Goat Campsite on the way back down for $6 NZD per person. Either return on the same track you followed to the summit (the shorter option) or take the slightly longer option to the left past the campsite. Book the Billy Goat Campsite in advance here!

24. Go ziplining in Rotorua 

Bailey ziplining in Rotorua on the The Ultimate Canopy Tour Rotorua
Bailey takes a selfie on the Ziplining Forest Adventure in Rotorua, New Zealand
So much fun!

There is no shortage of adventure activities in Rotorua, and ziplining might just top the list. With lush green forests, powerful rivers, and lots of wildlife, this is the perfect place to explore the treetops. Plus, they have some serious adrenaline-pumping ziplines set up, so if you’re looking for a thrill on your North Island vacation, look no further! 

I went on this Ultimate Canopy Tour, one of Rotorua’s best zipline experiences. It’s made up of 6 ziplines that reach 1.2 kilometers (0.75 miles) in total. The longest one is a 400-meter (1,312-foot) tandem zipline so you and your BFF can experience the thrill together!

I also really enjoyed the cliff walk, which was 50 meters (164 feet) off the ground – it was really fun despite the butterflies in my stomach! There were also swinging bridges through the old-growth forest that took us from zipline to zipline, so it was really beautiful to explore. This Ultimate Canopy Tour gives 2.5 hours of zipline time, plus transportation time from central Rotorua, which is longer than most zipline tours!

The company keeps conservation as a high priority, so we learn a lot as we go and part of the ticket price goes to conservation projects! This 3.5-hour zipline experience includes all of your safety gear and it’s recommended you have a decent level of fitness. It is $249 NZD and has over 2,000 glowing reviews – so it’s definitely a great experience!

Tours are available every day with multiple departure times, but I recommend booking your tour in advance as they only allow 8 people in each group.

25. Mount Eden Volcano Walk

Bailey and her friends hang out at Mt Eden in Auckland, NZ
Mount Eden with friends!

Ready to hike a volcano? I’m happy to tell you that it isn’t as difficult as it sounds! Located right in Auckland, Mount Eden is a dormant volcano that is a fantastic way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. I love climbing to the top to explore the two massive craters and also bringing some drinks and snacks for a picnic at the end.

The Mount Eden volcano hike is a 2-kilometer (1.3-mile) loop trail. It only takes about 40 minutes to complete and is even paved! Most people shouldn’t have a problem completing this track, but there is a slight elevation gain of 68 meters (223 feet). 

But, people (me included) love this hike because you can see all of Auckland below, as well as Manukau and Waitematā harbors – it’s quite beautiful!

It’s a 20-minute bus ride or a 1-hour walk from Auckland CBD. Whether you enjoy an afternoon picnic or make it up for a sunrise hike, Mount Eden is one of my favorite parts of Auckland and isn’t to be missed!

26. Huka Falls

Bailey poses for a photo at Huka Falls in Taupo, NZ
Huka Falls!
Huka Falls near Taupo, North Island, New Zealand
The power is incredible!

Don’t go chasing waterfalls, just head to Huka Falls! This is the largest waterfall on the longest river in NZ – the Waikato River. With a title like that, you won’t be surprised to see how powerful and dramatic this waterfall is. It’s also really convenient to visit as it’s located 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) north of Taupo!

The name Huka means “foam” in Maori because it appears to be foamy as it flows over the 11-meter (36-foot) drop. The river narrows before the falls, so the narrowing rock ravine increases the water pressure. So when it has room to burst out over the falls, it’s insanely powerful! Every second, 220,000 liters go over the falls, which can fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in 10 seconds.

You can hear the power even before you see the falls and the stunning blue color is impressive as well.

Huka Falls is only a 5-minute drive from Taupo and there is a big parking lot. You’ll find multiple lookouts and my favorite part is the bridge at the top of the falls so you can really feel the power. 

There is an even more epic way to experience Huka Falls, by taking this thrilling jet boat ride! Hold on tight because this boat goes fast, whips around corners, and does 360-degree spins right up to the base of the waterfall. It’s only 30 minutes, so it’s easy to fit into a day of adventure and is $142 NZD.

27. Go skydiving 

Bailey in free fall while skydiving in New Zealand
It’s so much fun!

New Zealand is such a beautiful country, I couldn’t say no when the chance to see it from the clouds came up! I wanted to skydive for such a long time, and I truly think New Zealand is THE best place to do so! With all of its natural beauty, incredible mountains, and sprawling coast, it makes for one heck of an experience. 

New Zealand also has some of the highest skydives in the world, up to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters)! This allows for 85 seconds of freefall to take in all the views. But don’t worry, if that sounds a bit too high for you, there are lots of lower jumps available too.

There are a handful of excellent diving locations on the North Island. And because of its milder climate, you can skydive year-round here. 

Auckland is a popular destination for skydiving and one of the most convenient. You can see both the east and west coast, as well as Waiheke Island, during your free fall. Jumps with Skydive Auckland start at $345 NZD for 13,000 feet, and go up from there. 

Skydiving in Taupo is perhaps even more scenic, as you can see Huka Falls, Lake Taupo, and Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom from LOTR). It’s also even cheaper than most skydives on the North Island, only $329 NZD for a 12,000-foot jump. Don’t worry – they aren’t skimping on quality, this is one of the best skydive spots in NZ!

My absolute favorite spot for skydiving on the North Island is the Bay of Plenty! While it’s not far from Taupo, the views of the bay, the beaches, and the contrasting rainforest are out of this world (almost literally, if you skydive high enough!). I recommend this 15,000-foot tandem skydive for $499 NZD. With over 150 5-star reviews, you know it is one of the best skydive experiences out there!

I suggest reading my entire guide to skydiving in New Zealand before you go, just so you’re well prepared!

28. Walk in the Whakarewarewa Forest

Bailey with a red wood at Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua
The Redwood Trees are HUGE!
Bailey walks amoung the red woods at Whakarewarewa Forest near Rotorua, New Zealand
Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua

Just 5 minutes outside of Rotorua is one of the most impressive forests I’ve ever seen – and I’m from Canada so that’s saying a lot! The Whakarewarewa Forest is home to the North Island Redwood Trees, which are giant and absolutely gorgeous. This forest also has Douglas Fir, Eucalyptus, and Larch trees, so there really isn’t a better place to get outside and enjoy nature.

There are 160 kilometers (100 miles) of walking and cycling paths that can take you above the tree lines. Here you’ll find impressive views of all the surrounding lakes and Mount Tarawera. Best of all, these walking paths are free so you can enjoy it no matter what your travel budget is.

For a great short walk, check out the Redwood Memorial Grove Track. This track is 2 km (1.2 mi), takes about 30 minutes to complete, and has lots of Larch trees and a thermal pond! The Tokorangi Pa Track is a longer walking track at 11.5 km (7.1 mi) and will take about 3.5 hours. There is a decent elevation gain that will give you great views of Mt Ngongotaha and Lake Rotorua!

The tree walk at the Whakarewarewa Forest, Rotorua, NZ
The tree walk at the Whakarewarewa Forest, Rotorua, NZ

I also love exploring the Redwoods from the treetops on the Treewalk! This is a 28-suspension bridge course, situated 20 meters (65 feet) above the trees. The coolest part is that it’s designed not to interfere with the natural environment, so enjoy the Redwoods from a totally new perspective. It will take about 40 minutes to complete the Treewalk and you can do it during the day or at night – check out the ticket options here!

Finally, if you’re up for some adventure, there’s a great Mountain Bike tour out of Rotorua. It’s a self-guided tour, fit for all levels (even if you’re a newbie!). The company will provide the bike and helmets, and also help you plan your route. Then you’ll have four hours to explore the gorgeous forest and work up a sweat on the trails! Mountain bikes start at $55 NZD, which is a great price for this sort of adventure – book it in advance here

29. See New Zealand’s Largest Tree

Tāne Mahuta tree located in the Waipoua Forest on the North Island New Zealand
It’s so big! Photo credit: Tane Mahuta

Do you like trees? How about REALLY big trees? The North Island is home to New Zealand’s largest living tree, Tāne Mahuta. Tāne Mahuta is a kauri tree located in the Waipoua Forest in Northland. You can visit the tree for yourself by taking the short and easy Tāne Mahuta Walk, and once you spot the exact tree you’ll certainly know!

Tāne Mahuta is a whopping 51 meters (167 feet) tall and 13 meters (43 feet) in diameter, and it’s still growing! This tree is called “The Lord of the Forest”, rightfully so as it’s roughly 2,000 years old. 

I’d researched this tree before visiting and knew these statistics, but when I saw it with my own eyes I was still amazed by its size! Perhaps it’s the lore and legends from the Maroi, but I can’t deny the power and energy radiating from this tree. 

The epic Tāne Mahuta is right off State Highway 12 between Dargville and Omapere. It’s about a 3.5-hour drive from Auckland or a 1-hour 45-minute drive from Whangarei. If you’re on a Northland road trip, this is an essential addition to your itinerary!

Related Read: Looking for more epic road trip ideas? Here are my three favorite 2-week North Island road trip itineraries!

30. Te Waihou Walkway

Bailey at the Blue Springs (Te Waihou) near Hamilton, New Zealand
The water is so clear!
Blue Springs (Te Waihou) in New Zealand
So cool!

Between Hamilton and Rotorua are some of the clearest and purest springs I’ve ever seen! Te Waihou, also known as Blue Springs, accounts for 60% of New Zealand’s bottled water. Luckily, it’s abundant and has a flow rate that could fill a 25-meter (82-foot) swimming pool in about 12 minutes.

Facts aside, I love exploring the Te Waihou Walkway because of this gorgeous landscape. It’s also a great stop on a road trip to stretch your legs and get some fresh air – that’s when I usually visit! 

There are two entrances for the walkway, depending on how long you want to walk! From Hamilton, the Leslie Road car park is the closest, and it’s only about a 10-minute walk to the springs. 

The Whites Road car park offers a longer walk, and this one is much more scenic in my opinion! This walkway is 4.7 kilometers (2.9 miles) each way and takes about 2.5 to 3 hours to complete. It’s a very easy walking track with a few steeper parts but is doable for most people. 

While I think the entire walk is a lovely experience, it can get a little long – especially if you’re used to more intense hikes like I am. So I’m usually happy to see the springs from the Leslie Road car park because it’s basically the same view and doesn’t take as long. But, if you’ve got time to explore, the scenery won’t disappoint!

Important info: The Te Waihou Walkway is currently closed due to a landslip and rockfall. It’s closed from both the Leslie Road and Whites Road car parks. They anticipate the track being restricted until mid-November 2024. Check here for the most up-to-date information!

31. Go whale watching in Auckland 

A humback whale tail on a whale watching tour in Auckland, NZ
So cool!

Right off the east coast of Auckland is the Hauraki Gulf, so of course you have to go explore it! The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park covers 1.2 million hectares (almost 3 million acres) and is filled with islands, many of which are protected. It is a haven for wildlife, such as whales, dolphins, penguins, and seabirds. What better way to see it all than taking a whale watching tour!?

This area is one of the top spots in the whole world, and you can actually go year-round. There are more than six different species of whales that reside in the marine park. The most famous are the Bryde’s whale and the Humpback whale, and I was lucky enough to see both on my tour!

This is Auckland’s best whale watching tour, with over 1,000 5-star reviews (including mine!). We departed from the Viaduct Harbour and set sail on a catamaran, which is great if you get seasick because these boats are super stable by design. We spent 4.5 hours cruising the marine park and spotting all the animals I listed above! It was also really cool to see the gannets diving to catch some fish – they go so fast!

This tour is $199 NZD and a portion of each ticket goes to the Marine Mammal Conservation – which I love! The tour takes off at 10:30 am and is very popular, so you’ll want to book your spot a few months in advance.

32. Ski an active volcano 

Whakapapa Ski Field on Mt Ruapehu
Whakapapa Ski Field on Mt Ruapehu
Whakapapa Ski Field in Tongariro National Park
At Whakapapa you can ski on an active volcano!

If you’re visiting the North Island during the winter, I have a special treat for you! How does skiing on an active volcano sound? A bit terrifying if you ask me, but rest assured it’s not as intense as it sounds. 

Mount Ruapehu is indeed an active volcano, and it’s also the highest mountain on the North Island. It’s been active for 10,000 years, and while there have been eruptions in the past, it’s extremely unlikely now. So unlikely that they’ve built two ski resorts on this mountain, one of which is the biggest ski resort in the country. 

Whakapapa ski field is located on the northern slopes of Mt Ruapehu, about 1.5 hours from Taupo. It has 550 hectares (1,360 acres) of skiable terrain and an impressive 670 meters (2,198 feet) of vertical drop. People travel to the North Island just to experience this incredible ski scene! 

What I really love about Whakapapa is that it’s suitable for everyone. There are 12 ski lifts, T-bars, magic carpets, and detachable gondolas – it has it all! Of course, if you’ve got all sorts of tricks down, you can show them off at the terrain parks too. Lift tickets are $99 NZD on the weekdays and $149 NZD on the weekends.

Turoa Resort is the other ski field, located on the southern side of Mt Ruapehu. It’s about a 2-hour drive from Taupo, or just a 30-minute drive from Ohakune (the closest town). Turoa isn’t as popular as Whakapapa, but it’s still got some great slopes. It’s famous for having the highest chair lift in New Zealand, so that gives some incredibly long runs! Lift tickets are $99 NZD for a weekday pass and $149 NZD for a weekend pass.

Remember New Zealand’s ski season runs from around June through October. So if you’re a skier from the Northern Hemisphere, this is your chance to ski year-round!

33. Swim with dolphins in Tauranga 

spotted a common dolphin in Tauranga, New Zealand
Photo credit: Dolphin Seafaris NZ

I’ve saved the best for last – there’s really so much to do on New Zealand’s North Island it’s hard to narrow it down! But, swimming with dolphins in Tauranga is easily one of the most epic activities out there. 

I joined this half-day dolphin cruise which took us all around the Bay of Plenty! It was so much fun seeing the gorgeous bay and searching for pods of dolphins. Once we spotted a pod, we geared up with snorkel equipment and jumped in the water to swim right next to them. I was a bit nervous at first, but the dolphins are so playful and just as curious as we are so it was a really fun experience.

The crew was also great, they are dolphin experts and gave us tips and information for interacting with these creatures. They also provided all the snorkel gear and wetsuits, and hot drinks and muffins for when we got out! The water is cold even during the summer months. 

This tour is available from November to May and lasts for 5 hours. It’s $150 NZD, which is well worth the price for this incredible experience!

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

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.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your campervan or motorhome through JUCY or Star RV! 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!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey sits back over an edge on a ziplining tour in Rotorua, New Zealand
Thanks for reading!

There you have it – the top things to do on New Zealand’s North Island. I could have added a hundred more items to this list, but I think you’ll be busy enough with 33! I love traveling around the North Island, whether I’m embarking on an epic hike, relaxing in some natural hot pools, or visiting one of the quaint towns, and I’m sure you’ll love it too.

If you found this guide helpful, be sure to check out my other North Island blogs. Having lived on both islands, I have tons of tips and resources to make your travels seamless, here are a few articles to get you started:

Best Time to Visit the North Island – From a Local!

10 BEST Tours in Auckland, New Zealand +My Personal Top Choice

12 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Tongariro National Park 

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