25 things to do on New Zealand North Island

Wondering what to see on the North Island?! Here you’ll find a comprehensive list, in fact 25 things to do on New Zealand North Island. It’s no secret that New Zealand is a country known for its natural beauty, fascinating Maori culture and friendly people. It’s towards the top of most people’s bucket list. While most people look to the South Island for their NZ holiday, the North Island is left totally underrated. This comprehensive list of the top 25 things to do on New Zealand North Island has you covered.

Auckland things to do in NZ
View from Mount Victoria over Auckland

1. Auckland

As a city and holiday destination, Auckland left me pleasantly surprised. I hear it’s changed a lot and it’s clear to see that the city, particularly the harbour front is under massive redevelopment and change.

When visiting New Zealand’s North Island, spend some time in Auckland and make sure you check out:

  • Auckland’s harbour – walk around the city’s harbour side or consider taking a ferry ride.
  • Sky tower – iconic to the Auckland skyline, the sky tower is the tallest structure in Auckland. The sky tower features observation deck and cafe/bar.
  • Mt Eden – it’s worth the drive to see Mt Eden, Auckland’s highest volcanic cone. Views of the city are stunning.
  • Devonport village- take a ferry over to the quaint village of Devonport. Climb the volcanic cones, visit Mount Victoria and North Head Maori and navy site. The perfect place to watch sunset!
Waiheke Island

2. Waiheke Island

One of the very best of the 25 things to do on New Zealand North Island would definitely be Waiheke Island. With over 30 wineries, stunning beaches and quaint settlements there is so much to do for girls weekend away, family trip or couples getaway.

Just a 40 minute ferry from the Auckland Harbour, Waiheke Island is the perfect holiday. Or as you’ll see from the photo above, there are helipads at a number of wineries so travelling by chopper is also an option.

An Aussie living on the East Coast, the flight for a long weekend in Auckland is no longer than a flight to Melbourne or Adelaide from the Gold Coast. And depending on exchange rate could be considerably cheaper – do it!

Things to do New Zealand North Island
Lion Rock, Piha

3. West Auckland beaches

Just an hour from the city centre, West Auckland beaches are where Aucklanders spend their weekends. Known best for its volcanic black sandy beaches, cute coastal villages and the Waitakere Ranges.
Make sure you stop and see:

  • Piha – The first glimpses of Piha is the Lion Rock. You can climb it, surf and even catch a glimpse of the colony of penguins that live around the northern end of the beach.
  • Karekare – Known for it’s strong currents, surfing, hiking tracks and the Karekare Falls.
  • Bethels Beach – Super tiny Bethels Beach is known for its’ black sandy beaches and giant sand dunes.
Kauri trees - Waipou Forest
Waipou Forest

4. Waipou Forest

Winding the narrow highway on New Zealand’s west coast, you’ll find the Waipou Forest, home to the one of the world’s most ancient forests and the kauri tree. Waipou Forest contains two trees very significant trees, the Tane Mahuta and Te Matua Ngahere. Tane Manhuta is known as ‘The Lord of the Forest’ standing at 18 metres tall, 4.4 metres in diameter and is about 2,000 years old. Te Matua Ngahere or ‘Father of the Forest’ is thought to be about 2,500 to 3,000 years old.

Waipou Forest is slightly off the main tourist route however for me it’s one of my favourite of the 25 things to do on New Zealand North Island.

Waipou Forest, Kauri night walk
Kauri Forest – night walks

5. Cultural experiences

There are many opportunities to learn about Maori culture while visiting the North Island. These include:

  • Waitangi Treaty Grounds – the country’s most historical site is the place in which the Battle of Waitangi was fought and the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between Maori people and the British.
  • Kauri night walk – Take the Kauri night walk through the ancient Waipou Forest hearing stories of the local Maori people, listening for the calls of the kiwi (native flightless bird) and observing the kauri forest.
  • Tamaki Maori Village – in Rotorua you will find the Tamaki Maori Village where you can have a traditional Maori hangi feast and experience ceremonies and rituals cultural centre.

6. Hobbiton

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies have been huge influences to New Zealand’s tourism. The Hobbiton Movie Set is one of the most popular sites on the North Island and as a viewer of the films (not a hard-core fan by any means) the Hobbiton Movie Set was an amazing experience. Even on a cold and rainy day wandering around the Hobbiton movie set and having a beer at ‘The Green Dragon’ was worth the $75.

Waitomo glow worm caves
by Waitomo glow worm caves

7 . Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

The Waitomo Glow Worm Caves are said to be some of the best glow worm caves in the world. Taking a boat ride through the caves is highly recommended to appreciate this ancient natural wonder created over 30 million years.

8. Hamilton Gardens

The Hamilton Gardens is an incredible display of cultural gardens from local Maori to cultures further afield like Indian, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Modernist and an English Flower Garden amongst other things.

9. Raglan

Raglan is one of New Zealand’s most loved coastal towns by backpackers and travellers alike. In Raglan you can learn to surf, hike or mountain bike in the beautiful surrounding natural parks, kayak but most importantly chill out and enjoy the natural beauty this little town holds.

Waterfall things to do New Zealand North Island
Waipunga Falls

10. Waterfalls

The New Zealand North Island is scattered with waterfalls.

  • Huka Falls – one of the most visited waterfalls natural attractions in New Zealand, Huka Falls is about 10 minutes outside of Taupo. About 220,000 litres pass through these waterfalls per second.
  • Bridal Veil Falls – only 15 minutes from Raglan, Bridal Veil Falls is a stunning 55 metre fall waterfall. You can see Bridal Veil Falls on the Waikato walking track.
  • Kitekite Falls – located just outside of Piha in the Wiatakere Ranges, Kitekite Falls is best known for as a cascading waterfall.
  • Waipunga Falls – on the road between Taupo and Napier, Waipunga Falls is a pleasant distraction from the two hour drive.
Rotorua Redwood Forest
Rotorua Redwood Forest

11. Rotorua Redwood Forest

The 100 year old redwoods of the Rotorua Forest tower above at over 70 metres tall. There are a series of walking trails for you to walk through the forest ranging from half hour to a full day. Access to the forest is free however you’ll need to pay to access the Redwoods Treewalk. The treewalk is a series of suspension bridges through the redwood tree canopy. It’s worth going in the late afternoon so you can walk the treewalk as day turns to night and the fairy lights come on.

Cathedral Cove Walk
Cathedral Cove walk

12. Walking and hiking

There are a range of walking and hiking trails on the North Island varying in difficulty, length and duration. Some of the more popular walks on the North Island include:

  • The Tongariro Alpine Crossing – is one of the most popular hikes on the North Island but definitely not for the unprepared. The hike is about 19km in length and is a full day (8 hour) hike. The trail has become very popular so it can be quite busy.
  • Cathedral Cove – located on the Coromandel Coast this roughly 3 hour walk is relatively easy (even my dad 6 months after double knee replacements managed). The scenery is beautiful and well worth the reward at the end.
  • Mount Maungunai Summit – with stunning views over Tauranga and the northern coastline, the Mount Maungunai Summit is only about an hour to the top.
  • Tane Mahuta walk – The Tane Mahuta walk is an easy walk which takes you through the Waipoua Forest to see some of the oldest trees on the planet at over 2,000 years old.
geothermal sites, New Zealand North Island
Wai-O-Tapu, Rotorua

13. Geothermal sites

New Zealand’s North Island is filled with volcanic and geothermal sites that have shaped the landscape having developed over thousands of years. Geothermal activities that can be seen across the North Island are geysers of exploding boiling water from the earth, pools of bubbling mud and steam from streams, rivers and lakes.

The geothermal sites across the North Island include:

  • Wai-O-Tapu – colourful range of mud pools, geysers and sulphur pools located outside of Rotorua (pictured above)
  • Craters of the moon – steam mud craters located outside of Taupo
  • Hell’s Gate – the largest hot water waterfall located outside of Taupo
  • Whakarewarewa – with over 500 hot springs, terraces, pools and a traditional Maori village, Whakarewarewa is one of Rotorua’s most popular geothermal sites.
things to do New Zealand North Island
Polynesian Spa, Rotorua

14. Experience natural hot springs

On the North Island there are a number of places to experience natural hot springs. These include outdoor spas which allow you to experience natural outdoor hot springs in addition to spa treatments.

I visited the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua. With views over the lake, the Polynesian Spa offers a number of pools in varying temperatures along with massages, facials and other spa treatments. A peaceful and relaxing exercise and necessity for any NZ holiday.

Cathedral Cove, NZ
Cathedral Cove – Coromandel Peninsula

15. The Coromandel Peninsula

As someone who loves the ocean, exploring the Coromandel peninsula was one of my absolute favourite things to see on New Zealand’s North Island. About an hour and half from Auckland, it doesn’t take long to escape to wide open spaces for hiking, kayaking, driving stunning coastline and taking a step back in time to see a heritage gold rush towns.

16. Hot Water Beach

Two hours either side of low tide you will find hot water bubbling through the sand. Outside of Hahei on the eastern Coromandel peninsula, you’ll find the Hot Water Beach where you can rent shovels to help build yourself a little hot water pool to soak in.

things to do New Zealand North Island
Villa Maria, Auckland

17. Visit the wineries

New Zealand is known for its wine, and particularly famous its white wines including Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Niors, Resilings and Chardonnay. There are several wine regions across the North Island which are worth a visit:

  • Auckland and Kumeu region
  • Waiheke Island
  • Gisborne
  • Hawkes Bay
  • Wairarapa (Martinborough)

Coming soon – my guide to New Zealand wineries!

things to do New Zealand north island
Lake Taupo

18. Taupo

At the centre of New Zealand’s North Island, Taupo is blessed with natural beauty. Taupo is the place to come to experience the outdoors from walking and hiking, cycling and mountain biking, fishing, geothermal activities and hot springs. And of course any water activity on the lake #lovetaupo.

things to do in NZ
Napier – art deco buildings

19. Napier

Napier was completely destroyed by a volcano in the 1930s. When the city rebuilt the art deco architectural style was popular at the time making Napier one of the best examples of an art deco city around the world. Take a self guided or paid walking tour to appreciate this beautiful heritage city.

Elephant Hill winery in Hawkes Bay by Urban List

20. Hawke’s Bay

Not far from Napier you’ll find Hawke’s Bay a food and wine lovers paradise. As the birth place of New Zealand wine and second largest wine region, Hawke’s Bay is known for its’ florally reds which happen to be some of my personal favourites. Te Mata Peak is also worth a visit for hiking, mountain biking and scenic views over wineries, ocean and the township.

21. Rugby game

To New Zealanders, rugby is engrained in the culture. The All Blacks are their National team and begin each game with the haka – a Maori war dance, traditionally used on the battlefield to display pride, strength and unity.

When visiting New Zealand strongly consider seeing a rugby game to get a taste of country’s national sport and culture. The All Blacks play across the country in major cities of Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch.

things to do New Zealand North Island
Locally sourced food – The Hunting Room

22. Eat local food

New Zealand is blessed by climate, coastline and culture. These factors have influenced the food scene of New Zealand, evolving over time to become leaders of sustainable food and the gate to plate movement prioritising local produce. While in New Zealand make sure you sample local seafood, cheese, honey, fish and chips. And for the meat eaters, lamb is a local delicacy and one of the country’s top exports.

Things to do in Wellington
Views from Mount Victoria, by New Zealand Tourism

23. Wellington

Wellington, the capital of New Zealand is a small but cosmopolitan city. Make sure your visit includes a trip to Mount Victoria, a walk along the waterfront and on Sunday make sure you hit the Harbourside Market for food trucks and other stalls show casing the local food scene.

Mountain biking things to do New Zealand North Island
Goblin Forest by New Zealand Tourism

24.Biking and mountain biking

While the South Island is more commonly known as the adventure isle, the North Island has plenty of cycling and mountain biking opportunities. The cycling infrastructure around New Zealand is so impressive you can easily cycle from North to South Islands. As for mountain biking there are a range of trails to keep you busy with varying difficulties.

25. Mountains

While the majority of mountains in New Zealand are located on the South Island, there are a number of semi-dormant volcanoes (including Mount Taranaki in the west and centre of the North Island surrounding Taupo) as well as mountains along the Axial Ranges in the east. There’s a range of activities to pursue depending on the mountain from hiking, mountain biking in the summer and skiing and snowboarding in winter.

things to do on New Zealand north island

And lastly…

To me, hiring a camper van is an absolute must to experience New Zealand. It gives you the flexibility to change plans at the last minute depending on the weather and any local tips you pick up along the way.

While there are many companies you can choose to hire your camper van from, I used Motorhome Republic. They source deals from agencies across the country meaning you’ll find a good deal. One thing to note though is if you have any issues with your provider it’s really up to you to sort out.

So now you should be well and truly prepared for your trip to New Zealand. Enjoy 25 things to do on New Zealand North Island soon!

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