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Things to Do in North Island

Home to crystal-clear lakes, volcanic islands, bubbling mud pools, empty beaches, dense forests, and vibrant cities, New Zealand’s beautiful North Island offers something for everyone—and activity-filled, informative tours to maximize your experience. Shop 'til you drop in the chic boutiques of Auckland or Wellington, sample award-winning wines among the vineyards of Martinborough, or experience the rugged coastal beauty of the spectacular Coromandel Peninsula—one of New Zealand’s most isolated regions. Using Auckland as a base, you can take in top attractions such as the otherworldly Waitomo Caves, where bright green glowworms hang in cavernous subterranean tunnels. For an altogether different outdoor experience, Rotorua’s steaming geothermal landscapes and the Bay of Islands’ peaceful coves are all within easy reach. The fertile valleys of Waiheke Island offer relaxing food, wine, and art tours; and you can delve into New Zealand’s open wilderness among the mighty Waitakere Ranges. For fans of Frodo, Bilbo, and their respective adventures, “Lord of the Rings”–themed tours help you fulfill any Tolkien fantasies by visiting the rolling hillsides of Matamata, used as a Middle-earth filming location in the trilogy. Of course, no visit to the North Island is complete without witnessing the haka—a traditional Maori dance proudly demonstrated by native Maori tribespeople across the island.
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Mt. Tarawera
11 Tours and Activities

Near the northeast coast of the North Island is Mount Tarawera, the volcano responsible for a massive eruption that destroyed the famed, naturally occurring Pink and White Terraces and buried three Maori villages, including Te Wairoa, in 1866. The volcano is currently dormant, but visitors can book several different guided tours of the mountain, ranging from helicopter, 4-wheel drive vehicles and mountain bikes.

The area around Mt. Tarawera is breathtaking in its beauty and captivating in its thermal characteristics. Nearby are both the Geothermal Wonderland of Wai-O-Tapu and the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley near Te Puia, the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. At Tarawera's foot is Lake Rotomahana, which offers numerous recreational activities including fishing, water skiing and boating.

In addition to Lake Rotomahana, Mt. Tarawera's eruption formed many others, as the rift and domes formed from the explosion dramatically altered the surrounding landscape.

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Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings
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The unique art and handicrafts produced by New Zealand’s Maori population are among the country’s most vibrant and celebrated art works. There are few better examples of the Maori Rock carvings at Mine Bay. One of the most striking attractions of Lake Taupo, the immense carvings adorn the cliff faces of the bay, towering over 10 meters high.

Although the designs appear like the remains of an ancient Maori settlement, they were in fact carved by artist Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell in the 1970s, taking three summers to complete. The dramatic works are some of the largest rock art of their kind in the world, depicting Ngatoroirangi – the Maori visionary who guided the Tuwharetoa and Te Arawa tribes to Lake Taupo over a thousand years before. Flanking Ngatoroirangi are two smaller carvings depicting the south wind and a mermaid, and utilizing traditional Maori stone-carving techniques.

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Te Mata Peak
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The one notable exception to the vineyards and plains surrounding Hastings, craggy Te Mata Peak rises 1,300 feet (396 meters) above sea level and offers sensational views. Set just south of Napier and Hastings, Te Mata Peak is renowned for its sweeping, 360 degree views, which stretch from the coastline out to the farms that ring the towns of Hawke’s Bay.
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Auckland Harbour Bridge
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60 Tours and Activities

The magnificent Auckland Harbour Bridge is an eight-lane motorway bridge that spans Waitmata harbor between St Mary's Bay in Auckland and Northcote Point on the North Shore.

The bridge is 3,348 feet (1,020 meters) long and 15 stories high. Although it is an imposing sight from land, one of the most exciting tourist attractions for visitors to Auckland is to get up close and personal with a bridge climb or bungy.

The climb involves clamoring up the steel struts to the top of the bridge where you will see spectacular views of Auckland, known as the “City of Sails.” Bungying sees thrill-seekers falling 147 feet (45 meters) to touch the waters of Waitmata Harbor.

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Mission Estate Winery
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New Zealand produces some of the world’s most renowned, award-winning wines, and Mission Estate Winery on the outskirts of Napier is where it all began. Founded in 1851, Mission Estate was started by missionaries who journeyed from France with little more than a dream and a couple of vines. Now, nearly two centuries later, Mission Estate continues to operate as one of New Zealand’s best wineries, and is a staple on any shore excursion or wine tasting tour of Napier.
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Huka Falls
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One of New Zealand’s most visited natural attractions, just over a kilometer north of Taupo city, the mighty Huka Falls are the largest falls on the Waikato River, thundering over a 20-meter cliff edge into the rock pools below. Fed by the vast Lake Taupo (Australasia’s largest freshwater lake), the falls are created by the narrowing of the 100 meter wide river into a slim rock ravine, pushing a colossal 220,000 liters (enough to fill two Olympic sized swimming pools) over the cliff edge each second. Thanks to the build up of pressure behind the rock, an immensely powerful natural waterfall is formed. Named from the Māori word 'huka', meaning 'foam', the falls more than live up to their name as the surging water crashes onto the rocks below.

Those hoping to get a lookout over the falls can walk the footbridge overhead, where you’ll be close enough to feel the spray or else get a view from the Huka Falls Trail, a one-hour walk.

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Tamaki Maori Village
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Built by two brothers in 1989, the Tamaki Maori Village is the destinatition for an authentic Maori experience. If you are looking for a Maori encounter beyond the typical performance found at hotels, this is the place to go.

The village is itself a recreation of an actual Maori settlement, and in this village, guests experience "The Chronicles of Uitara," a story following a single warrior line from 3,000 BC to the present day. Based on true events effected by actual people, the Chronicles of Uitara is reenacted by the most sought-after historical performers in the country. Guests will be enchanted and hooked by the tale, dramatically recreated with action-packed choreography. Following the story, the evening culminates in a traditional hangi feast.

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Tiritiri Matangi Island
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Tiritiri Matangi Island is an open wildlife sanctuary devoted to the protection of local endangered species. The island is tightly controlled to keep out predators such as cats and mice, which hunt fragile bird species, including the tiny kiwi birds you’ll see running around the island.

With about 80 species of birds, Tiritiri Matangi is a must-see for birdwatchers, and the air is rich with varieties of birdsong rarely heard on the mainland. Guided walks can help you spot and identify the various types of birds, and you can find the trailheads of walking tracks at the visitor center. The Kawaura Track winds through coastal forest and 1,000-year-old pohutukawa trees, while the Wattle Track leads to the oldest working lighthouse in New Zealand. Head to Hobbs Beach, just a short walk from the ferry dock, to take a swim and spy on blue penguins in their nesting boxes.

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Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
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Like much of New Zealand's attractions, the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland centers on walking outdoors - but what a walk! The park is New Zealand's most colorful and diverse geothermal attraction; visitors follow demarcated tracks through a stunning variety of volcanic phenomena. You'll see fantastic, naturally colored hot-and-cold pools, the world famous Champagne Pool, the amazing Lady Knox Geyser and the massive craters that are the hallmark of the Rotorua region's volcanic heritage.

You'll want to bring a camera and plenty of film/memory cards - the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland has some truly amazing views and scenery. New Zealand is known for its natural beauty, but this geothermal park accentuates it with its unusual geothermal topography. In particular, the shimmering water flowing over the Sinter Terrace Formations is not to be missed.

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Hauraki Gulf Islands
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The sixteen Hauraki Islands are scattered off the coast of Auckland in Hauraki Bay. Auckland’s summer playground, they contain some lovely places to get away from it all and indulge in walking, horse riding, swimming, eating and drinking. Island highlights include Waiheke Island which is described as a magical island paradise and is home to over 7,000 people. Its beaches are beautiful and safe for swimming, sea kayaking and fishing, making it a popular holiday spot in summer. The rest of the year there are lovely walks and lots of restaurants, cafes and vineyards to visit. On Tiritiri Matangi Island, which is being returned to its original forest, you can explore the unusual fauna and birdlife native to New Zealand. You can also see the gulf’s oldest lighthouse, circa 1864, which is now the brightest lighthouse in the southern hemisphere. The cone shape of the dormant volcano that forms Rangitono Island provides some excellent walking opportunities with great views of Auckland Cit
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More Things to Do in North Island

Mt. Victoria Lookout

Mt. Victoria Lookout

32 Tours and Activities

One of the best places to get your bearings in the city of Wellington is from the Mount Victoria Lookout. The panoramic views stretch from the harbor islands all the way to planes taking off and landing at the airport south-east of the city center. Mount Victoria is 196 meters (642 feet) high. The lookout is topped by a triangular memorial to Antarctic explorer Admiral Byrd.

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Weta Workshop

Weta Workshop

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When it comes to The Lord of The Rings, New Zealand is always famously mentioned for the enchanting beauty of its scenery. From deeply-gouged canyons and ominous volcanoes to lofty, snow-covered peaks, the physical beauty of Middle-earth was arguably the films’ greatest draw. What many moviegoers don’t realize, however, is that the filming locations for The Lord of The Rings were just a fraction of the overall production. Mythical creatures such as orcs and balrogs were needed to prowl those canyons, and professional makeup and creative design were needed to round out the set.

While there are numerous tours to Lord of the Rings filming locations in cities across New Zealand, there’s only one tour where you can visit the place where the magic was all tied together. At Weta Workshop in the suburbs of Wellington, this 65,000 sq. ft. facility is where much of the design, props, makeup, and weaponry were created in the making of the films.

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Whakarewarewa

Whakarewarewa

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For over 200 years, the people of the Maori tribe of Tuhourangi - Ngati Wahiao have lived near the geothermal activity of Whakarewarewa; but in 1998, they established a charitable trust through which they were able to create a unique, independent tourism experience.

Called the Living Thermal Village, Te Whakarewarewa is a visitor experience similar to Amish country in that you get to experience a way of life that has remained relatively unchanged since the early 1800s. Through cultural tours, villagers welcome visitors into their homes and demonstrate Maori heritage and traditions in the best way possible - by living it. You'll walk through the village with a guide and participate in communal activities. Since the residents live and work in the attraction, guests may take part in anything from a wedding to a funeral to ceremonial tribal gatherings. Ceremony and cultural performances occur daily, including the famous hangi feast.

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Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Waimangu Volcanic Valley

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When the North Island of New Zealand’s Mt Tarawera erupted in 1886, it forever changed the Rotorua landscape into a valley of steaming wonder. This is a mystical land where lakes boil and mountains are bathed in steam, and walking past pools of bubbling mud is just another daily occurrence for visitors here. Of all the places in Rotorua to encounter this geothermal wonder, the Waimangu Volcanic Valley area offers one of the largest zones for exploring.

This site has an enormous hot spring, which is believed to be the largest in the world. Take an easy 45-minute stroll past geysers, fumaroles and fissures to learn how this exceptionally “young” landscape is literally changing by the day. Avid hikers can split off on the Mt Hazard trail to get better views of the valley and gaze down on the multi-hued lakes, radiant in turquoise and greens. One such lake provides one of the best activities in the valley—taking a cruise on Lake Rotomohana.

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Lady Knox Geyser

Lady Knox Geyser

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Named for Lady Constance Knox, a daughter of the 15th governor of New Zealand, Lady Knox Geyser is located in the North Island's Taupo Volcanic Zone. While this region is famous for a variety of fascinating geological phenomena, the Lady Knox Geyser is unique. Every day it erupts at precisely 10:15am, when a park guide induces it to do so - with soap.

Indeed, the soap is used to break the surface tension of the cold water in the geyser's upper chamber so that it will mix with the hot water in the lower chamber, which causes an 20 meter (65 feet) eruption that can last an hour. Stones have been placed around the opening in order to enhance the blast, and over the years, silica in the water has given the spout a nozzle-like appearance. You'll find it among the other natural marvels of the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.

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Buried Village of Te Wairoa

Buried Village of Te Wairoa

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The Buried Village of Te Wairoa offers a unique glimpse into 19th century New Zealand life, as it was buried and preserved by volcanic ash in an 1866 eruption. One of New Zealand's most popular attractions, this archeological treasure houses a museum to the village and the interaction of Maori and colonial cultures. You'll see towering, carved Maori artwork in the museum and then tour the excavation points around the site. If you're visiting New Zealand for its outdoor-centric lifestyle, the Buried Village is a good hub for great hiking. Beyond the village is the spectacular Waterfall Trail. It provides two different hiking tracks of breathtaking scenery and the famed rainbow trout that live and spawn in the Te Wairoa stream. The Tarawera area is crossed by several other trails, including one at Lake Okareka.
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Viaduct Harbour

Viaduct Harbour

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There was once a time in the early 1990’s when Viaduct Harbor was a downtrodden port. With an infusion of money from the America’s Cup, however, this aging corner of the Waitemata waterfront was fantastically transformed into one of the city’s most popular districts.

Bars, restaurants, and high-end apartments line the pedestrian mall, and some of the most luxurious yachts in the South Pacific can be docked at the nearby marina. By day, Viaduct Harbor is a great place for people-watching from the patio of a comfortable café, and watch as visitors ogle at sailboats which sit in the Viaduct Basin. By night, the Viaduct turns into a hopping scene of popular bars and restaurants, and Auckland locals and passing tourists mingle with yachties on leave. More than just bars, restaurants, and luxurious sailboats, Viaduct Harbor is also home to the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum.

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North Head Historic Reserve (Maungauika)

North Head Historic Reserve (Maungauika)

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To early Maori this strategic viewpoint was known as Maungauika, and looking out over Auckland’s Harbor and the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, the summit of this ancient volcanic cone was perfect for fending off an attack. In the 1800s, under European rule, the hill was fortified with cannons and guns to deter a Russian invasion, and was again fortified during both World Wars to protect the precious harbor. Though the attacks themselves thankfully never came, the tunnels, guns—and view—still remain. As the fortification of the hill slowly grew, it ultimately became the preeminent coastal defense system in all of New Zealand. The guns here were cutting edge for the time they were built and installed, and included a pair of “disappearing guns” that would actually recoil back into the ground once they had fired a shot. The guns are visible at the South Battery, which along with tunnels dug by prisoners using light from flickering lanterns.

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Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island

10 Tours and Activities

Aucklanders swarm to Waiheke Island in summer to make the most of its stunning beaches, which are some of the safest and cleanest in the world for swimming and water sports like sea kayaking and snorkeling.

Some of the best beaches include Palm Beach, a secluded beach so named for the palms at the east end, which is not to be confused with the clothes-optional Little Palm Beach. Blackpool Beach is popular with windsurfers and the perfectly romantic Cactus Bay, which can only be accessed by boat or kayak, is popular with picnicking couples.

As well as the beaches, the 22 vineyards and numerous olive groves are popular with wine aficionados and gourmets on weekend getaways. Excellent restaurants and cafes dot the island and many offer food that complements the local wines. Settlement on the island goes back 1,000 years to the first Maori settlement. On the island today you will still find scattered remains of Maori sites, including cooking pits and terraced.

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Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto Island

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Auckland is famous for many different things, although volcanoes aren’t usually one of them.

While the sailboats, wine, and iconic waterfront are just a few of the city highlights, there nevertheless sits a volcanic island just minutes from downtown Auckland. Symmetrical, rugged, and only 550 years old, a visit to volcanic Rangitoto Island is one of the best day trips from Auckland. Ferries depart from the city’s north shore and cross the bay in about 25 minutes, and once on shore, an hour-long trek leads to a summit which was active just centuries ago. Though experts expect that Rangitoto Island will eventually erupt again, currently it’s safe to trek on the island without fear of an eruption. While the climb to the summit can be rocky and strenuous, the panoramic view of the Auckland skyline is regarded as one of the best in the city.

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New Zealand Maritime Museum

New Zealand Maritime Museum

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Located at the southern entrance to the Viaduct Harbor, the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum is a window into New Zealand’s maritime past.

As an island nation, the history of New Zealand has been largely reliant on man’s ability to navigate the sea. Polynesian voyagers in sailing canoes were the first to land on the shores of New Zealand, only to be followed later by European explorers mapping the far-reaching corners of the Pacific. Explorers were followed by traders and settlers, all of whom endured long voyages at sea to reach the shores of Aotearoa. Today, New Zealand consistently puts out some of the world’s top shipbuilders and sailors, and America’s Cup racing yachts are a common sight in the waters around the museum. In fact, the enormous racing yacht KZ1 which competed for the 1988 America’s Cup is docked adjacent to the museum entrance, and the 153- ft. mast on the ship can’t make it beneath the Auckland Harbor Bridge.

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Motutapu Island

Motutapu Island

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Located alongside the scenic island of Rangitoto, the emerald landscapes, striking coastline and thick forests of Motutapu Island attract visitors from across the globe. Sandy beaches and easy walking paths offer up plenty of opportunity for rest and relaxation, while the 300 Maori archeological sites that scatter the land showcase a rich history and detail ancient lives of early inhabitants.

Travelers can explore one of the Island’s popular walking tracks, like the Motutapu Walkway, which connects the causeway to Rangitoto and the Matutapu ferry dock. Several World War II military sites in the northern junction offer history buffs with a look at gun pits, shelters and other fortresses. Outdoor adventurers can overnight at one of the island’s popular campsites and those looking to give back can volunteer at the Motutapu Restoration Trust, where locals and out-of-towners work alongside each other to plant trees, clean up beaches and monitor wildlife.

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Lake Rotorua

Lake Rotorua

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Although the Rotorua area is speckled with dozens of lakes, Lake Rotorua is a different entity, detached from its neighboring lakes. Larger, deeper and much, much older, geologists believe it dates back over 200,000 years. Some of Rotorua’s other lakes were created by the Tarawera eruption of 1886, but Lake Rotorua is the original waterway to grace this section of the North Island.

Unlike the ocean, the waters of the green-hued lake are colored by sulfur and minerals, and the 920-foot elevation makes it a little cooler to the touch. It is the second largest lake on the North Island, is surrounded by a geothermal playground and offers a variety of activities for travelers. Take a cruise through the Ohau Channel, which connects with Lake Rotoiti, or go fly fishing where the waters connect and try to reel in a big one. Slide into the seat of a kayak and silently paddle the lakeshore, or strap on a helmet and go hurtling over falls while rafting on a nearby tributary.

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Redwoods Forest Whakarewarewa

Redwoods Forest Whakarewarewa

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Rotorua is a place of geysers, mud pools, Maori villages, and lakes, but it’s also rung by Redwood forests that house some of the world’s best mountain biking. Here in the Redwoods Forest Whakarewarewa, just minutes from the center of town, visitors will find a network of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding that weave through towering Redwoods. Though the area was planted for commercial forestry, it’s also become a favorite spot for outdoor recreation, where mountain bikers fly thousands of miles for the chance to experience the trails.
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