Being so far away from everything, the country as a whole was one of the last land masses to see human settlement. The old forests of New Zealand were ruled by the birds, and with a lack of indigenous mammals to scoff them up whilst taking some time to relax on the ground, a few of these birds developed flightlessness, including the famed (and much loved) kiwi. Of course, eventually humans came over, obliterated the forest in classic human fashion and introduced various animals to feast on the unsuspecting birds, threatening their future existence.
Fortunately, conservation efforts are proving fairly successful nowadays. With the North Island Brown Kiwi being the most common species, you’re more likely to spot a kiwi here than in the South Island. Interestingly, some scientists speculate that its nocturnal habits are a result of trying to avoid introduced predators, with kiwis frequently being seen during the day in the safety of their sanctuaries, but if you’re hoping to spot one in the wild, head out during the night.
Auckland is the main international airport in the North, and with a third of the country’s population choosing to make it their hometown, there’s plenty on offer. Don’t be worried about this being a crowded city, as a third of the population is just somewhere over the 1.5 million mark, and Auckland is one of the most spread out cities in the world.
Feast on a reasonably-priced dinner in the Orbit 360° restaurant atop the Sky Tower whilst gazing upon incredible views of the city and harbour – just remember that with the revolving floor, your table won’t be where it was if you get up to go to the toilet! If you don’t fancy taking the lifts back to the ground floor, you can always do a (controlled) jump from the top. If jumping off things is your thing, you can also bungy from the harbour bridge, with the added option of being dunked headfirst into the Waitematā.
Auckland is one of the most spread out cities in the world.
A nice day trip from Auckland is to hop on a ferry to the nearby Waiheke Island where you can soak in the island’s sights with an abundance of walks and biking trails. Ziplining and olive tasting are a couple of the activities on offer, although Waiheke is best known for its wine, so pitch up in one of the vineyards and see if you can find something you like (you will).
Driving up from Auckland to the Bay of Islands, many tourists envisage the journey involving a ninety mile stretch along the beach/public highway, seemingly aptly named Ninety Mile Beach. This probably won’t be possible on one count, as rental car companies won’t allow you to drive here for a myriad of reasons, and definitely won’t be possible on the other count as the beach isn’t ninety miles. Not even ninety kilometres. You can still visit the falsely-named beach for the scenery though, but if you really want the experience of beachy road-ness, you can take the bus.
The Bay of Islands is home to a plethora of other beaches, islands, and waterfalls for you to explore by boat, hopping in and out as you please. This is the best place to get your snorkelling or diving in, and is also a particularly popular fishing destination. Once you’ve had your fill of exploring by water, get yourself back onto dry land and utilise Twin Coast Cycle Trail through old rail tunnels and into New Zealand’s rural countryside. Get your colonial history fix in Waitangi by visiting the site where Maori chiefs signed over sovereignty to the Crown.
You can get your kicks from a number of adrenaline highs.
Variants of the phrase ‘best beaches in the world’ are thrown around all too often, but the Coromandel undoubtedly boasts all the hallmarks of being able to shoulder the claim without demur. Even the drive out East from Auckland (and driving is the only option for seeing this country. And by only, I mean best) is a pleasant foreshadowing of the coastal beauty to follow. Go online and book a ‘batch’ (rentable holiday home) near one of the many beaches, and marvel at how you can enjoy the crashing of the rough waves against the shore on these amazing beaches with few others in sight. The busiest area is Hot Water Beach, with hot springs underground that filter up, allowing for, as the names suggests, pools of hot water. It is also, as the name suggests, a beach.
One of the two main stops on everybody’s itinerary is Rotorua, and rightly so. People will tell you this is because of the city’s natural geysers, which spray hot water and steam tens of metres into the air, or perhaps its fame as a spa town with thermal hot pools, as well as mud pools. The truth is, there’s an awesome luge activity not far from the city centre where you can race down a hill on a kart/toboggan through the Redwood Forest with view of Lake Rotorua. Stack your wallet with dollars because you’re going to want to spend them all here. Just note that while walking round and taking in the smells of Rotorua, there’s no need to give your partner those accusatory eyes – it’s the sulphur.
The other ‘must see’ of the island is Lake Taupo. As you will have come to expect now in your travels around the North Island, a certain level of serenity can be found here. Paradoxically, as you may also have come to expect, you can get your kicks from a number of adrenaline highs, the most popular being a flight over the top of the lake, with a little jump out of the plane when you get to the middle. Parachute provided. In November you can take part in the 160km bicycle race around the lake. Nearby Huka Falls does it’s best to drain Lake Taupo with its set of waterfalls, which is worth a visit. And a short walk from here you can sample some of the best artisan New Zealand and Manuka honey around at the Huka Honey Hive. Of course, Taupo also has its own natural hot springs to laze in and geothermal park, Craters of the Moon, to walk around.If you really like walking, you’ll want to visit the nearby Tongariro National Park.
Visit the park for its emerald lakes, steaming moonscape, and giant red crater.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing grew in fame in the aftermath of the Lord of the Rings film, given that you cross over two active volcanoes that feature in the films. But over fifteen years after the release of the final film, coming here just for the gimmick of having seen it on the big screen is on the decline. I guess now you’ll just have to visit the park for its emerald lakes, steaming moonscape, and giant red crater. Volcanoes and hot springs come as standard. Of course, if you have flown all this way to go Lord of the Rings spotting, you’ll want to visit Hobbiton, a two-hour drive from Auckland. The once film set has been preserved and renovated, re-used for the later series of ‘Hobbit’ movies, and is now still a popular enough attraction to warrant booking a tour before arrival.
Each year almost a million people flock to the little village of Waitomo. It’s pretty rural and has a number of nice walks that will take you past a couple of waterfalls and over a natural bridge. Even if you tried to drive around the area to escape the natural beauty, you wouldn’t be able to. But that’s not the reason people come here. The real reason is a combination of caves and the inhabitant worms that illuminate them. There are numerous boat tours on offer to see the extensive cave network, decorated with what seems to be the lights of a distant, intricate galaxy system rather than the backsides of a thousand maggots. In true New Zealand fashion, you can intertwine your peaceful nature holiday with a spot of black water rafting or abseiling. Any of the aforementioned activities is reason enough to visit on its own.
On the west coast, New Plymouth is visited by fewer tourists than the big names of the North Island each year, and therefore effuses even more repose. The coastal walkway offers scenery that you have come to expect, and the conical, volcanic Mount Taranaki offers a pleasant backdrop. Because of all the volcanic activity in the area, the soil has given the city a reputation for its gardens. New Plymouth is also known for hosting numerous events, art festivals, garden shows, music concerts and so on, so check out what’s on before your arrival.
The similarities between New Zealand’s capital city and the southern Spanish seaside town of Tarifa aren’t immediately apparent, but as you walk around Wellington you’ll start to feel something flowing through you that intrinsically links the two. The city’s varied architectural styles from over the 150 years aren’t so similar. For example the engineering feat that is Te Papa. The combined National Museum and Art Gallery has transformed Wellington into a busier tourist destination since its inception in 1998. Then, as you’re outside overlooking the harbour, enjoying your lunch, it suddenly hits you. It’s always windy. Fine for a day or two, annoying after a week, and one can only assume that the deepest circle of hell, amidst the fire and brimstone, has an ever present, slightly-too-strong breeze.
With so much on the list of things to do in the North Island, so many volcanoes to climb, beaches to visit, and lakes to swim in, the truth is that the best part is driving out into the wilderness and getting lost in the countryside. A campervan is a great way to see the place with plenty of sites dotted around. The natural course is to vaguely head south after arriving in Auckland because after all, if you are finishing up in Wellington, it’s just a three-and-a-half-hour ferry ride across the Cook Straight to the wonders of the South Island…