New Zealand’s North Island may be small (it’s about half the size of Victoria, Australia, for example), but it’s jam-packed with an incredible array of things to do, places to visit, and people to meet. There’s no better place to be if you want a trip which includes everything from lazing around in bubbling hot springs and touring luxurious wineries to getting your blood pumping with adventure sports like kiteboarding, bungee jumping, and skydiving. The only problem is that the sheer variety of choices on offer can make it tough to plan your itinerary. Here are the top 10 destinations you shouldn’t miss on your visit to the North Island.
Rotorua is THE place to be if you’re interested in hot springs, geysers, and other crazy geothermal activity. Head here to take a jet boat safari to New Zealand’s largest geyser field, swim in thermal pools, or indulge yourself at the luxury Polynesian Spa. Other attractions in Rotorua include an opportunity to roll down a hill inside a giant inflatable ball with OGO Rotorua, self-drive Rail Cars winding through the beautiful countryside, incredible hikes, and scenic flights to White Island (New Zealand’s only permanently active volcano).
As one of New Zealand’s largest cities, Auckland has a lot to offer, so don’t make the mistake of hurrying through as soon as you step off the plane. Name one other city where you can visit a dark sky sanctuary with no lights and phenomenal stargazing, climb a dormant volcano, terrify yourself at a haunted theme park named Spookers, bungee jump off a harbour bridge, AND swim with sharks at the Sea Life Aquarium!
Paihia is best known as the starting point for trips to the world-renowned Bay of Islands. It’s the main tourist town in the region, with plenty of options for activities and accommodation, plus easy access to towns like Russell and Kerikeri for day trips. While you’re in Paihia, make sure you find time to swim at one of the glorious beaches (locals prefer Sullivan’s Beach, but there are plenty to choose from), catch a cruise boat out into the Bay, snorkel in the pristine waters, and visit the historic Waitangi Treaty Grounds. You might also like to swim with dolphins, take a ride on the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway, have a go at sailing a yacht in Opua, or even try parasailing.
Hamilton is New Zealand’s largest inland city, and around half of its residents are under 30 years of age so it’s got a dynamic vibe that’s worth experiencing. The city itself boasts plenty of things to do, including escape rooms, ballooning, cruises along the Waikato River, a classic car museum, quirky sculptures adorning many public spaces, and miles of walking and cycling tracks. Hamilton also makes a great base for visiting surrounding attractions, including the Hobbiton movie set and the famous Waitomo glow worm caves.
New Zealand’s capital city is sometimes overlooked in favour of exciting Auckland, but creative, energetic Wellington has just as much to offer, if not more. Highlights of the capital include Te Papa (New Zealand’s national museum), hipster hangouts along Cuba Street, an opportunity to learn how to paddle a traditional Maori canoe at Te Wharewaka o Poneke, magnificent mountain biking, and delicious craft beer from the Garage Project cellar door.
From its location on the beautiful Bay of Plenty, Tauranga is a gateway to stunning scenery, incredible wildlife, and an unbelievable array of adventures. This is the place to be if you want to swim with seals and dolphins, kayak to hidden beaches, push your limits on 25 different flying foxes at the Adrenalin Forest adventure park, go skydiving, try sailing a ‘land yacht’ with Baystation Blokart Sailing, or try your hand at clay shooting at the Loaded NZ shooting range.
Less well-known than some of the other destinations listed here, Taupo is definitely worth a visit for its incredible scenery. Set on the shores of Lake Taupo, this town is a perfect base for outdoor activities such as hiking, golf, mountain biking, scenic cruises, kayaking, and white water rafting. Other highlights include visiting the remarkable Mine Bay Maori rock carvings, feeding baby prawns at the Huka Prawn Park, taking a Geothermal Segway Safari, and tramping along the boardwalk at the geothermal park known as Craters of the Moon.
A beautiful coastal city, Napier is a great spot to visit when you’re looking for a little relaxation and culture. Popular choices include tours of the gorgeous Art Deco architecture, visits to wineries, the National Aquarium of New Zealand, Napier prison tours, and visits to the Faraday Centre for a hands-on exploration of how technology has changed over time. You can also use Napier as a base to explore natural wonders such as Lake Waikaremoana, the Pekapeka Wetlands, and Shine Falls.
Subtropical Whangarei is the northernmost city in New Zealand. It’s home to a quirky range of attractions, including Claphams National Clock Museum (one of the southern hemisphere’s largest clock collections), the Packard Motor Museum, and a unique public sculpture trail. Like most places in New Zealand, there are also plenty of natural attractions and outdoor pursuits to choose from here, including horse trekking, hiking, limestone caves, the Parihaka Mountain Biking Park, guided sea kayaking, surfing lessons, and world-class diving at the Poor Knights Islands.
10. New Plymouth
On the west coast of the North Island, New Plymouth is a friendly, vibrant place with something for everyone. There’s a year-round self-guided tour of local art studios, challenging hikes, beautiful beaches, craft markets, the Fun Ho! National Toy Museum, horse riding, the Manutahi Taxidermy Museum, and St Mary’s, New Zealand’s oldest stone church – among many other tours, activities, and attractions.
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