New Zealand’s North Island is a great place to explore all the diverse and incredible landscapes Aotearoa has to offer. Home to the country’s most-populated city, Auckland, the North Island has a range of exciting things to do, including exploring caves, waterfalls and geothermal pools, and learning about the country’s unique Māori cultural identity. Pack a warm jacket, good walking shoes, togs and jandals (swimsuit and sandals) for an adventure in this geothermal wonderland filled with gorges, magnificent mountains and spectacular beaches. Here is a list of things to do in New Zealand’s North Island.
Travel up to the northern tip of the North Island to Cape Reinga, a sacred site for Māori people who believe that this is where spirits leave earth and jump over the ocean to the sacred Hawaiki to rest in the afterlife. Walk along the cliffside path to the lighthouse and gaze at the spot where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. The closest town to Cape Reinga is Kaitaia, and guided tours depart from there and Paihia in the Bay of Islands every day. Stop to enjoy 90 Mile Beach highway for some bodyboarding down the dunes along the way.
Discover Rotorua’s thermal hot pools and Māori culture
Rotorua is the heart of the North Island’s geothermal wonderland with natural hot springs and bubbling mud pools. Stop at the Pohutu Geyser in Te Puia – which erupts 20 times a day – and take in the steamy clouds and strong-smelling sulphur that make this spot famous. The Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is a short drive from Rotorua and is home to the Lady Knox Geyser, which shoots water up to 20m (66ft) high. Marvel at the bright-orange volcanic craters and colourful, green pools steaming at this unique geothermal landscape. Discover the mystery behind New Zealand’s Māori culture and learn about some of the myths and legends of Māori warriors on a tour of the Tamaki Māori Village.
Go on a guided walking or boat tour to see Waitomo Caves in the Waikato Region of New Zealand’s North Island. The network of underground limestone caves and rivers is famous for being home to thousands of glow-worms that sparkle like stars on the cave ceiling among dramatic stalactites and stalagmites. Visit the Waitomo Caves Discovery Centre to book a tour to the caves, or try some of the more adventurous ways to experience the cave, such as abseiling or rafting.
Witness the power of Huka Falls and cycle around Lake Taupō
The North Island’s Huka Falls is a place to witness the life force and energy of more than 220,000 litres of water from the Waikato River rumbling and roaring over an 11-m (36-ft) high waterfall. There is an easy trail to view the build-up to the waterfall from Spa Park. Only 1.6km (1mi) away is Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake. Get in the saddle and cycle the Great Lake Trail around Lake Taupo’s shores, which passes through forests and wetlands, stopping at spectacular lookouts of the lake.
New Zealand’s most perfectly formed dormant volcano, Mount Taranaki is roughly 120,000 years old and last erupted in 1854. Today, its foothills, featuring forests, tall rock columns and a sphagnum moss swamp can be explored on a variety of trails in the Egmont National Park. A popular day trail to experience different environments on the volcano is the Pouakai Crossing, a 19-km (12-mi) one-way track. Remember to check the weather conditions before attempting any walks in the area, as some routes are impassable in bad weather.
Cruise around the marine wonderland at Poor Knights Islands
The Poor Knights Islands in New Zealand’s Northland Region are home to a spectacular marine habitat of kelp forests, caves and sponge fields. This is the perfect location for those who want to scuba dive or snorkel to see hordes of shellfish, anemones, sea urchins and subtropical fish. Book a dive charter or take a cruise around the famous arches of Poor Knights Islands. These depart from Tutukaka Harbour, only 30km (19mi) from the Northland town of Whangarei.
These recommendations were updated on July 28, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.