14 Must-See Places On The
North Island Of New Zealand
The North Island of New Zealand is just as beautiful as the South Island but it’s also a lot different. Everyone seems to only get caught up on visiting and exploring the South Island that they don’t tend to spend enough time in the North. But you really don’t want to miss out on all the places to visit in New Zealand’s North Island.
You can read all about our 14 must-see places on the South Island here if you are planning on travelling the entire country.
The North Island of New Zealand is known for its volcanic activity, its cosmopolitan centers, and incredible islands and beaches. Hanging out at some of the beaches on the North Island was definitely a highlight for us but that also isn’t the only thing you should look forward to seeing. Because the North Island is just as full of activities as the South Island and you get wine! Win-win.
While the North Island is a lot smaller (coming from Canada that entire country is really small to us) you are still going to want to take your time while adventuring around. You can either rent a car, rent a campervan or buy a campervan to live in, all of which you can take between islands if you need to via the Ferry that connects the two. Otherwise, you can also book tours that take you all across the country, but these don’t always give you the freedom to see and do everything you want.
No matter how you plan to get around you cannot miss these 14 must-see places on the North Island of New Zealand.
We absolutely fell in love with Wellington. Lonely Planet once named it, ‘the coolest little capital in the world.’ And they certainly weren’t wrong!
Whatever you are looking for you will find it in Wellington. Amazing food and drink, unreal museums, active farmers and night markets, beautiful scenery, and movie magic at WETA. If you really want some in-depth info about Wellington we would recommend checking out our article here.
2) Mount Maunganui
Mount Maunganui is a hidden gem on the North Island of New Zealand. Located in the Bay of Plenty this little ocean side town has white sand beaches and you can either swim in a sheltered peninsula or surf away in the open ocean waves.
Feel like hiking? No worries Mount Maunganui has that too!
Climb up their distinctive peak, Mauao, to get some amazing views of the town or just circle around the base on the beautiful track. After your exhausting day exploring make sure you head to the Mount Hot Pools where you can relax in a hot salt water bath! The hot water salt bath was the best reward we could have given ourselves after a long day of exploring. In fact, can we go right now?!?!?
If you are going to do anything super cool on the North Island of New Zealand it should be visiting Rotorua. Why? There are three main reasons as to why; it’s Maori culture, it’s geothermal activity and our personal favourite zorbing!
There are living Maori villages in Rotorua so you can truly get a sense of what this amazing culture is like. Participate in some traditional activities and some traditional Hāngī, which is food that is cooked in the ground!
If you are looking for something a bit more natural you can go to their famous geothermal fields. The Pohutu Geyser that lives in the fields is one of the most active geysers in the southern hemisphere. Some of the features in the geothermal fields are; volcanic crater lakes, spouting geysers, bubbling mud pools, fumaroles and colourful sinter terraces.
Zorbing was probably one of our most favourite activities on the North Island of New Zealand. And it was invented in Rotorua! It’s basically a human gerbil ball you climb into and it gets pushed down a hill. You can read about our experience here.
4) Red Wood Forest
This Red Wood Forest is just outside of Rotorua but deserves its own spot on our list. The Whakarewarewa Forest has a variety of tree species that were once planted to see which would grow best, the California Redwood which was planted in 1901 seemed to thrive! Walking through this enchanting forest is breathtaking and incredibly humbling.
There are plenty of walks throughout the area so you can truly see and experience these trees!
4) Tongariro Crossing
Tongariro has often been called one of the best one-day hikes in all of New Zealand. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart however as it is nearly 19.4km long and can take anywhere from six to eight hours to complete!
The weather can be unpredictable in the area due to it’s unique landforms which include volcanic peaks of Ngauruhoe, Tongariro and Ruapehu. It is definitely a good idea to come prepared to hike in an alpine environment when hiking Tongariro. This area has the highest number of search and rescues for hikers in all of New Zealand. So if you don’t feel comfortable find some experienced hiking friends or book a hiking tour!
Unfortunately for us we were unable to due this hike during our time in New Zealand due to the weather but it is without a doubt one of the main things we would do upon returning to the country.
5) Cathedral Cove
This is a pretty famous site on the North Island of New Zealand and there are plenty of reasons why! Getting to the pristine water and perfect beaches of Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel is easy and offers some amazing views. It’s a 45-minute walk to reach the final destination and is worth spending the entire day there!
So pack some food and have lunch on the beach after taking a refreshing dip in the ocean!
6) Hot Water Beach
This was another one of those activities we participated in the North Island of New Zealand that quickly became one of our favourites. Also located in the famous Coromandel Hot Water Beach is an extremely unique and one of a kind experience. Once you find the beaches location (we recommend using some sort of GPS for this because it can be a tad confusing) you can rent a shovel on-site.
Once you have your shovel in hand head over to the sandbar behind the parking lot and look for a giant rock reaching into the ocean. You can’t miss the rock trust us!
But if you are confused where this rock is, just look for the masses of people that will probably already be there. Once you locate the rock, start digging! Eventually, your hole will fill with hot water and you can enjoy your beach hot tub!
TIP: dig fairly close to the rock to actually get hot water, but you don’t want to be TOO close because the water is warm due to the rock being hot. If you are too close the water will be too hot to sit in.
7) Whangarei Falls
Located in the Whangarei scenic reserve on the North Island of New Zealand this waterfall is a must see. Its perfect curtain of water drops down into one of the most popular swimming holes in the area. Make sure to take the time to hike down to the bottom and up to the top to get a full view of this powerful waterfall!
There are a few picnic tables at the base of the waterfall so even bring a lunch if you want to sit and enjoy the area for a while. And you can swim here if you’d like!
Do yourself a favour and make sure you don’t skip visiting Hobbiton and its nearby town Matamata. OKAY OKAY, maybe we are being a bit overzealous about this activity on the north island of New Zealand because we are Lord of the Ring lovers. BUT emerge yourself in Peter Jackson and JRR Tolkien world because it’s actually a really cool tourist destination regardless of your nerd levels.
Not only is the site itself unique and absolutely adorable but the tours and staff are so professional, hilarious and genuinely happy to be there. It’s difficult to describe what Hobbiton is actually like because it’s so unique and magical. It’s better described with photos and just plain ‘ol visiting (we did try here).
At the end of your tour they’ll even give you a drink of beer or if you aren’t a drinker you can have some non-alcoholic ginger beer! (It’s really damn good too!) If you love it don’t forget to pick yourself up a bottle in the gift shop to take home because it’s the only place in the world you can get it!
9) Cape Reinga Lighthouse
Cape Reinga is advertised as the most northern part of New Zealand and not just the north island of New Zealand, we mean the whole country. BUT technically it’s not, technically it’s just the most northern spot that is open to the public.
While that may be a bit of a let down the epic combination of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean is not. It’s incredibly interesting to see two major bodies of water combining, and yes you can see the colour difference! Beside the adorable little lighthouse there are directional markers which make for a pretty awesome photo.
10) Te Paki Sand Dunes
Ever wanted to sandboard? Well, this is the place to do it! You can rent boards on site for pretty cheap and you just pick a dune, hike up, and slide down! These things are MASSIVE though so be warned that climbing to the top is no easy task.
The slide down makes it worth every step! Just try and have a closed mouth smile or you might be grinding sand in your teeth for a few days like we were.
11) Waipu Glow Worm Caves
There are quite a few glow worm caves in the country but the majority of them are on the north island of New Zealand. We opted to skip the tourist lines at the more popular ones and find one that we could explore ourselves. Which led us to the Waipu Caves.
These caves were totally free and had hundreds of thousands of glow worms that glowed blue in the pitch-black caves! It was one of the coolest experiences of our lives and one that is 100% pure New Zealand in our eyes. So if you feel like adventuring through a dark cave to find yourself some glow worms we recommend heading to the Waipu Caves.
Don’t forget a headlamp! The bonus of visiting these caves…you’re allowed to take photos! All of the ‘commercial’ ones don’t allow photography. Just make sure you learn how to keep your shutter open for at least 30 seconds to capture these blue specs! We use a DSLR or GoPro for our shots, but in a dark situation, the DSLR would be the best option.
It’s really hard to miss this massive city on the north island of New Zealand as most people’s flights land here upon arrival or for a connection to the south island. A visit to their harbour is a must and don’t forget to take a stroll down the famous (and extremely busy) Queen’s street. This is where all the action seems to happen in Auckland.
You can find great food vendors all along this wonderful street, like the world’s smallest gelato shop! The Sky Tower lines the sky and offers some activities that take you to the top of the building. So if you’re feeling brave you can face your fear of heights!
13) Hamilton Gardens
Walking through these gardens is like walking through some sort of time warp. You could go from a Medieval Garden to a Modern Garden and everything in between within a matter of minutes. Each Garden is so well done and beautiful, making it impossible not to be captivated. You can truly get lost (physically and mentally…in a good way of course) in this sanctuary.
Plus you get a pretty cool look into what different centuries and countries gardens would look like.
14) Hamurana Springs
This unique site on the north island of New Zealand is near Rotorua and easy to miss. In fact, we drove right past it while we were trying to find it the first time! Keep your eyes keen looking for appropriate signs for the area and perhaps GPS it!
The spring water travels over 70 years before emerging from the underground aquifers. It’s over 920 feet above sea level and spits out around 4.5 million liters of water per hour at around 10 degrees Celsius. The bonus to this site is you have to take a mini hike to reach your destination. This trail is lined with tons of trees and vegetation, even some Red Woods!
Every single one of these places made our trip around the North Island worth it and gave us a unique experience. Make sure if you ever get the chance to explore New Zealand you don’t skip over these gems or the North Island!
If you still aren’t convinced you should visit this incredible country we recommend giving our 14 reasons why you need to visit New Zealand a read.
Okay these photos are amazing. I can’t believe how naturally beautiful it is there, and how many fun things you can do. And the redwoods, ugh! I NEED TO GO. Pinning this to put the energy out to the universe.
Alex J Brown
It’s really hard to take a bad photograph in New Zealand that’s for sure! It’s jam-packed with activities. For such a ‘small’ country there’s more to do there than we ever could have imagined. The redwoods were one of those things we didn’t actually know they even had until we googled some things to do in the area! Thanks for the kind words and pinning our article! HURRAY!
Fascinating list. thank you for sharing.
New Zealand is one of my bucket list places to visit. My kids are old enough now- they are 11 and 12- to make a go of it. They won’t like all those hours in the plane, but I think they will love what they see when we get there!
I would have loved it if my parents took me there as a child! There are honestly so many cool things to do their that they will forget about that long plane ride. It goes by way faster than you think too!
Your pics are amazing! I’m planning to visit New Zealand so it was interesting to read your thoughts and enjoy the places you’ve been! Thanks 🙂
Thank you so much! New Zealand is honestly a spectacular country and you’ll have a great time!
The North of NZ is amazing!!! Thanks for all the tips 🙂
No problem! The whole country is mind-blowing!
New Zealand is totally on my bucket list! I love that you guys did more typical touristy things like Auckland, Hobbiton, and Cathedral Cove, but also mixed in some more unique sights like the redwood forest and the DIY beach hot tub. The redwood forest looks really cool, but since I’m from California, I’d probably skip it in favor of spending more time elsewhere. :p
I definitely think there needs to be a happy balance of tourist style things and non-touristy things. You experience more of the country that way! The Californian Redwoods would be AMAZING to visit! You’re very lucky.
Thanks for sharing this kind of blog. I have done the so many work for the river rafting business. I started my business in the past 10 years before. Great experience.
Thanks for this guys, this has been really helpful in planning my trip!
Hey guys! As a fellow New Zealander, I loved reading through this post! However, the Punakaiki pancake rocks are in the South Island and you’ve put it on your North Island list – just wanted to let you know so people don’t get confused! Such a good read though!
That’s what we get for copying a previous article format! Thank you so much for letting us know. We have updated it 🙂
Why Punakaiki, one of the coolest places on your New Zealand’s South Island must-see list, is in this North Island list too?
Hey! It was a mistake on our side. It should be on the south island list! We are going to be updating this. Thanks!