New Zealand’s North Island is a culturally diverse and versatile destination. Popular for its very active geothermal sights and the various options to experience Maori culture, it’s worth exploring the North Island for atleast 4 or 5 days, in addition to the time spent in Auckland (see my Auckland Travel Guide). If you can drive, I would highly recommend hiring a car to get around. Unfortunately, public transport outside of Auckland is not great (and non-existent to some places) so the only option would be to either take an organised tour (which costs a lot more) or drive.
Here are my top 3 highlights!
Located in the heart of the North Island and within the Pacific Rim of Fire, Rotorua is known for its bubbling mud pools, clouds of steam, shooting geysers and natural hot springs.I was here for a day, on an organised day trip, but I think it’s really worth staying here for a night/two to fully immerse yourself. I used Flexi Tours NZ which I would recommend as you can pick and choose what activities you want to do. The option I chose included a visit to Te Puia which is a national park and home to the Pohutu geyser. A buffet lunch is included where you can try a traditional Maori ‘hangi‘ feast, cooked in the steaming ground. I also opted to see a Maori concert and saw the Hakka performed. Another option is to visit Waiotapu – I regretted not doing this as it looked amazing having seen photos later on.
Rotorua is also a good place to reconnect with nature, with lots of activities such as mountain-biking, walking, horse riding, and swimming or fishing in the lakes on offer. For thrill seekers, you can do lots of fun activities like bungy jumping, zip-lining and water rafting.
I’m not going to lie, I am a massive Lord of the Rings fan so visiting the sights where the movie was filmed was a must for me. If you’re also a fan, you can’t come to the North Island and not visit the Hobbiton movie set (ticket $89 NZ), exploring the lush pastures of the shire!One thing to point out is that you have to go on a fully guided walking tour so you can’t wander around on your own. This means that the visit is timed and takes around 2 hours. What was a little disappointing was the fact that you can’t actually go in to any of the hobbit holes. Despite that, it is still totally worth it in my opinion!WAITOMO
30 million years in the making, the Waitomo Caves are famous for their magical, twinkling glowworms that cover the limestone structures. You can take a 45-minute guided tour through vast underground caverns and learn how stalactites, stalagmites, columns and other limestone features were formed over millions of years. The tour also includes a boat ride in an underground river and through the Glowworm Grotto.As I was time limited, I didn’t get a chance to fully explore the North Island. If you’re here for longer (and have a car), I would recommend checking out Cathedral Cove, Bay of Islands, Taupo and the Tongariro Crossing (home to ‘Mount Doom’ – if you know, you know!) which is great for hikers!
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