Epic Places to Visit in the North Island: Your Regional Round-Up

Keen to find the best places to visit in the North Island? Join us as we share the best things to do across New Zealand’s most populous island.

A firm favourite amongst travellers, New Zealand frequently tops the must-see list for tourists.  Where though in the North Island should you spend your time?

Maybe you were born in New Zealand and are looking for fresh weekend getaway inspiration?  Maybe you’ve temporarily made it your home (or are planning a visit) and are looking to maximise your weekends to see the country?  Either way, we’re here to help you plan an incredible trip within the North Island.

With so many amazing things to do across this extensive area, it can be hard to know where to begin!

To make life easy for you, we’ve organised these North Island getaways from north to south and have also mentioned the best season(s) to visit.  However, thanks to the mild climate in this part of New Zealand and the massive variety of things to do, there really isn’t a bad time to plan your weekend break.

Each of the North Island destinations that we’ve listed has a number of activity ideas – far too many, in fact, for just one weekend away.  With that in mind, you’ll want to either choose the activities that appeal most to you or cherry-pick your favourites and then get right onto planning your next vacation!

Each and every one of the spots we recommend are fantastic, so it’s really just a matter of choosing what appeals most to you before hitting the road.

So, let’s check out the best places to visit in the North Island…

This post first featured on Exploring Kiwis.

Wellington; New Zealand’s beautiful capital city

Your Guide to the Best Places to Visit in the North Island

Northland

Tropical, chilled and distinctly Kiwi, the northern-most part of the North Island offers so much to visitors – so much so that you’ll probably want to plan a second trip back!

When to Visit Northland

Beautiful at any time of year, Northland is the warmest part of New Zealand.  If you’re planning on getting into the water though, we do recommend visiting from December/January onwards (or being prepared to slip into a wetsuit).

Where to Stay

What to Do in Northland

  • Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds – the birthplace of New Zealand as a bicultural country.
  • Join a boat tour departing from Paihia; a dolphin safari, a visit to the Hole in the Rock, the Cream Trip (which takes it all in)  or dive one of the most famous dive sites in the country; the Rainbow Warrior.
  • Spend a night on board The Rock – an unbeatble adventure cruise!
  • Catch the ferry over to Russell, a cute little township just waiting for you.
  • Spend some time at Cape Reinga – the very top of New Zealand.  Whilst you are able to access this spot by yourself, we recommend joining a tour where you’ll also get to race along Ninety Mile Beach (on the sand, in the bus!) and will get to go sandboarding.  It’s a great day out in the sun which includes a visit to the lighthouse.
  • Drive the Twin Coast Discovery Highway – it’s one of the most beautiful coastal roads in New Zealand and conveniently loops around and back to Auckland.
  • Visit a spectacular beach or two – Doubtless Bay (Matai Bay, Cable Bay, Coopers Beach, Taupo Bay), Matapouri, Ruakaka – take your pick!
  • Visit the stunning Kai Iwi Lakes.
  • Pass through the Waipoua Forest.  There you’ll find Tane Mahuta (the Lord of the Forest). This is the biggest kauri tree in the world – it’s estimated to be over 2,000 years old.
  • Pick up a feed at the infamous Mangonui Fish Shop.
  • Visit the Stone Store and the Mission House in Kerikeri before stopping off to pick up some fresh fruit from the orchards and enjoying a break at the Rainbow Falls.
  • Stop off at the incredibly unique Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa.
  • Explore the Poor Knights Islands, found 23km off the Tutukaka Coast.  There you’ll find world-class diving that is distinctly Kiwi.
  • Soak up incredible coastal views on the very manageable Smugglers Bay Loop Track.

Auckland – The City of Sails

The most populated region in New Zealand, Auckland deserves more attention than it often gets.  With the rare mix of big-city fun and outdoor adventure, the city offers much more than you might at first expect.  

Auckland is packed full of fun; so much so that we’ve dedicated a whole website to it!

When to Visit Tāmaki Makaurau

With relatively temperate weather and lots to do indoors, Auckland really is suited to any season.  Summer and spring are our favourite seasons in the city though.

Where to Stay

What to Do in Auckland

  • Venture up the Sky Tower and enjoy views from the highest building in the Southern Hemisphere.  Even better, jump off of it or complete a walk around the outside!
  • Bungy jump off of the harbour bridge or join a team in climbing it.
  • Head along to SeaLife Kelly Tarlton’s where you can snorkel with sharks in a protective net (or just enjoy the aquarium).
  • Climb Mt Eden for beautiful views of the city.
  • Hire a car and visit the wild and rugged western black-sand beaches (Piha, Bethells, Muriwai and Karekare).  Whilst out west, be sure to enjoy a Waitakere bush walk (the Kitekite Falls, Goldie Bush Walkway and the Mercer Bay Loop are favourites of ours).
  • Back in the CBD, jump on a ferry and head over to Waiheke Island – the perfect spot to kick back, enjoy one of the many vineyards and soak up the island’s unique artsy vibe.
  • Alternatively, head over to Rangitoto to climb Auckland’s most iconic volcano (or better still, kayak there and enjoy a sunset BBQ!)
  • Check out some of the fabulous local farmers’ markets – Clevedon and Matakana are both gorgeous and well worth a visit.
  • Enjoy a delicious meal at one of the top spots in the CBD; Britomart, Elliot Stables and/or the Viaduct are all winning options.


Waikato

A stone’s throw from Auckland, the Waikato offers a number of awesome weekend getaway options.  The region offers a little bit of everything – from world-class tourist attractions (surely you’ve heard of the Waitomo Caves?) to farm stays and surf beaches, there’s plenty to do in the mighty Waikato.

When to Visit the Waikato

The Waikato is another spot that’s great at any time of year.  We especially love it there in the springtime, when the grass is fresh, the lambs are new and the weather is just starting to warm up.

If you’re in the region in mid/late March, be sure to check out the Balloons over Waikato Festival.

Where to Stay

Te Waihou Walkway

What to Do in the Waikato

  • Visit the world-famous Waitomo Caves.  Choose from the more commercial operation (best for people with limited mobility) or the family-owned Glowing Tours (which we personally recommend).  If you’re looking for a real adventure, get into a wetsuit and go blackwater rafting!
  • Enjoy the cafe scene and hit the surf at Raglan.
  • Head along to Matamata where you’ll find Hobbiton; the infamous backdrop to the Lord of the Rings movies.
  • Enjoy the Hamilton Gardens, being sure to spend time at the Indian Char Bagh Garden – it’s stunning!
  • Visit the Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park.  This is one of your best opportunities to see our incredible native birds (most notably kiwis) and tuatara too.
  • Enjoy the beautiful 55m-high Bridal Veil Falls.
  • Visit Tirau, the ‘Corrugated Capital of the World’ and prepare to snap some photos.
  • Be amazed by the incredible waters of the Blue Spring as you wander Te Waihou Walkway.
  • Check out the Hamilton Botanic Gardens.

The Coromandel: One of the Most Gorgeous Places to Visit in the North Island

The Coromandel Peninsula is known for its gorgeous coastlines and native bush.  Being so central in the North Island, it makes for a convenient getaway from many other spots. Plus, there’s so much to do there!

When to Visit the Coromandel

Spring/summer/autumn.  Keep in mind that the Coromandel will be noticeably busier during the summer season so book in advance if that’s when you’re planning this weekend getaway.

Where to Stay

Hot Water Beach

What to Do in the Coromandel

  • Pay a visit to one of our most unique beaches; Hot Water Beach.  Take a shovel, dig yourself a hole and relax in the naturally occurring geothermal waters.
  • Enjoy Cathedral Cove by either hiking in or catching a ride on a boat.
  • Take on the challenge of canyoning in one of the most spectacular spots you can possibly do it!
  • Hike the Pinnacles (officially known as the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail).  If you choose, you can even camp at the base of the trail or at the cabin at the top.
  • Check out ‘the 309 Road’.  There you’ll meet Stu and his pigs, enjoy marvelling at kauri trees and be able to visit a home-grown park, the Waterworks.
  • Relax in absolute bliss at the Lost Springs thermal pools.
  • Hire a kayak and enjoy one of the real highlights of the region; head over to the Whenuakura Wildlife Sanctuary (Donut Island).
  • Snap another photo with a giant thing (it’s a kiwi tradition – don’t ask us why!).  This time it’s the giant L&P Bottle in Paeroa.
  • Enjoy the Gemstone Bay Snorkel Trail.
  • Hike or bike the Karangahake Gorge – it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic lunch.
  • See a working gold mine in action in Waihi – you can even join a guided tour.
  • Hike up and over to New Chums Beach.  This privately accessed beach is one of the most beautiful in the country.

Rotorua – Activities & Culture Galore

If you’re looking for adventure in the North Island of New Zealand, look no further than Rotorua!  Add to that incredible geothermal activity and your best shot at experiencing an authentic Maori evening out, and you’ll find Rotorua ticks all of your tourist-loving boxes.

Be warned though, there is so much to do in Rotorua that the list we’ve included below barely scratches the surface.

When to Visit Rotorua

We love Rotorua any time of year!

Summers are the perfect time to hit the local lakes but the slightly cooler seasons are great too; all of the tourist providers are equipped to welcome you in cooler weather and the hot pools are at their best then.

Where to Stay

What to Do in Rotorua

You’ll have no shortage of amazing things to do in New Zealand North Island whilst visiting Rotorua!

  • Enjoy one of the many geothermal parks in Rotorua; Te Puia, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, Hells Gate,  Whakarewarewa, just to name a few.  If you’d prefer, there are also public mud pools that are accessible free of charge, right in the middle of Rotorua and another incredibly impressive (and free-to-access) pool just outside of the city.
  • Take on a real challenge and raft the tallest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, the Kaituna!
  • Roll yourself down a gigantic hill in a Zorb.
  • Take the family up on the Skyline gondola and zip back down again on the luge.
  • Learn all about local conservation efforts whilst flying from tree to tree with Rotorua Canopy Tours.
  • Visit New Zealand natives in a gorgeous little nature park.
  • Head out to the Redwoods Treewalk Rotorua to see giant redwoods – they’re beautiful both day and night.
  • Enjoy one of the many hot pools in the area.  The perfect way to relax after a busy weekend of adventure.
  • Immerse yourself in Māori culture at Tamaki Village or Te Puia (to name just two options)

Rotorua is one of our favourite places to visit in the North Island.


The Bay of Plenty: Tauranga/Mt Maunganui

Home to one of the most picturesque surf beaches in the country, visitors could be forgiven for thinking they’ve landed on the Gold Coast of Australia whilst soaking up the sun at ‘the Mount’.

Both Mt Maunganui and Tauranga are firm favourites amongst those living and travelling in the North Island.

When to Visit the Bay of Plenty

This is another spot that is suited to all seasons, but in our opinion, you just can’t beat the Mount in the summertime.

Where to Stay

What to Do in the Bay of Plenty

  • Go for a swim at the base of the Mount.  The Mount Hot Pools warm salt water to perfection so it’s a great spot to unwind.
  • Take a swim at Mt Maunganui – one of the most spectacular surf beaches in the country.
  • Climb Mt Maunganui (the Mount), for spectacular views back over the beach (and a good dose of exercise at the same time).
  • Head out on the Bay Explorer for a great chance at seeing dolphins in the wild!
  • Live your US summer camp dreams at Waimarino Adventure Park.
  • When the sun goes down, jump in a kayak and enjoy time in the most densely populated glow-worm canyon in the entire country.  Even better, they provide wine and cheese on the tour!
  • Take in incredible local scenery by horseback.
  • Enjoy the Tauranga Art Gallery – best of all, entry is free.
  • Visit the Hairy Maclary sculpture park.  Any Kiwi kid will be able to tell you all about the colourful characters brought to life by Dame Lynley Dodd.

Taupo: An Unmissable Part of the North Island

Right in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island, the Taupo region offers a great deal to tourists, especially those looking to get outdoors and immersed in snow sports.  Also home to the largest lake in Aotearoa, Taupo makes an excellent stop as you move up and down the country.

When to Visit Taupo

Taupo is perfect in the depths of winter when the snow is on the mountains and the steam from hot pools rises into the air.  If you’re keen to party at the base of the slopes, be sure to head along to Ohakune for Mardi Gras, held in June.  The ski season generally runs from June until October.

Where to Stay

What to Do in and around Taupo – There are so many things to do in New Zealand North Island there!

  • Head over to Mt Ruapehu and ski or snowboard.  This is the main place in the North Island where we have snowsports on offer.  Depending on where you’re staying and the experience that you’re after, you’ll choose to access either Turoa or Whakapapa; both are accessed using the same lift pass, but as they’re a fair distance from one another, you’ll want to choose one side of the mountain for each day you’re up there.  Our personal favourite is Whakapapa.
  • Snap a photo with the giant carrot in Ohakune (it’s the biggest in the world, don’t you know?).
  • Be sure to pick up a chocolate eclair whilst in Ohakune – they’re seriously good!
  • Take on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – it’s the only Great Walk that is undertaken in just a day.
  • Once back in Taupo, try your luck at the ‘hole in one’ challenge on the lake.
  • Check out the geothermal activity at Craters of the Moon.
  • Enjoy the view of the Huka Falls, or should you choose, hit the water on the Hukafalls Jet.
  • Join a tour and kayak over to ancient Maori carvings, tucked away at Mine Bay on Lake Taupo.
  • Eat inside a real aeroplane at McDonald’s!
  • Throw yourself off a bridge with Taupo Bungy.
  • Jump out of a plane with Skydive Taupo.
  • Soak your tired muscles at DeBretts – beautiful natural hot pools that will let you relax (whilst the kids go crazy on the slides).
  • Check out the awesome free activities in the region.

Hawke’s Bay: Napier and Hastings

Bathed in sun and rich in history, the Hawke’s Bay is unlike anywhere else in New Zealand. There you’ll find fantastic vineyards, fresh food and a distinctly relaxed way of life.

Sounds good, doesn’t it!?

When to Visit the Hawke’s Bay

The Hawke’s Bay really is fabulous at any time of year thanks to its mild, sunny weather.

Where to Stay

What to do in the Hawke’s Bay

  • Take yourself on a self-guided art deco tour in Napier.
  • Make the most of Napier’s child-friendly activities.
  • Visit the gannets from Cape Kidnappers.
  • Climb up Te Mata Peak whilst in the Hawke’s Bay.
  • Grab yourself a fresh-fruit ice cream from one of the countless orchards.
  • Relax with a lovely local wine at one of the region’s award-winning wineries.
  • Head over to Gisborne to feed the stingrays – this is an unforgettable ecotour.
  • In the summer season, hit the waterslides at Splash Planet in Hastings.
Cape Kidnappers

Taranaki: New Plymouth

One of the smaller centres on our list, Taranaki still has plenty to offer, especially if you’re a nature-lover.

When to Visit New Plymouth

From mid-December until early February, you’ll be able to experience the Festival of Lights. In March, WOMAD also comes to town.

Where to Stay

What to Do in New Plymouth

  • Visit the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery.  This space is stunning and is recognised as being the “most courageous contemporary art museum” in New Zealand.
  • Hike the Pouakai Crossing to Pouakai Tarns where you’ll be rewarded with the most spectacular views of Mount Taranaki (and a picture-perfect reflection if the weather is still enough).
  • If you’re feeling brave (and fit), climb/hike all the way to the top of Mt Taranaki.
  • Looking for something a little more subdued? Walk to Dawson Falls or enjoy the Wilkies Pools hike in Egmont National Park.
  • From mid-December to early February, check out the Festival of Lights – the only one of its kind in New Zealand.
  • Take your time on the Forgotten World Highway; the only remaining unsealed portion of our state highway network.
  • Check out the architectural Te Rewa Rewa bridge, a part of the coastal walkway.
  • Hit up WOMAD each March. For three days you’ll enjoy the best of music, dance and art!
  • If travelling during winter, you might like to check out the Manganui Ski Area.  It’s a lovely little home-grown ski field.

Wellington (& the Wairarapa): Last but Not Least of our Most Epic Places to Visit in the North Island

The capital of Aotearoa, Wellington is renowned for its vibrant arts scene and fantastic cafe culture.  It’s also the perfect place to catch a ferry and head over to the South Island (if you’ve got a little more time on your hands).

When to Visit Wellington

Like Auckland, Wellington has a range of activities that will keep you busy during any season.  If you are able to, we suggest timing your visit to coincide with either the

  • WOW (World of WearableArt) – late September – mid October, or
  • CubaDupa: New Zealand’s largest street festival – late March.

Where to Stay

What to Do in and around Wellington

  • Check out of national museum; Te Papa.
  • Ride the iconic red cable car – it’s the only working funicular left in New Zealand and boasts beautiful views from the top.
  • Head out to Pauatahanui Inlet to snap photos of the gorgeous little boat sheds and estuary.
  • Enjoy the Wellington Night Markets. Every Friday: 116 Cuba Street (5pm – 11pm) and every Saturday: Lower Cuba Street (5pm – 11pm).
  • Visit one of the many light houses in and around Wellington: Cape Palliser, Pencarrow Head Upper and Lower and, if you’re keen on a little drive, the most famous of all, Castle Point Lighthouse.
  • Hire a bike and ride along Oriental Bay.
  • Head out to Martinborough and treat yourself at one of the many award-winning wineries.
  • Snap a photo on the rainbow crossing (on Cuba Street).
  • Movie buffs won’t want to miss the opportunity to visit Weta Workshops on a guided tour.
Cape Palliser lighthouse

The North Island of New Zealand is diverse, interesting and just waiting to be discovered. 

Where will you head first?


Photo Credits: David Kirkland, Northland NZ, Auckland Council, Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village, Katie Cox, Department of Conservation Tauranga, Johnny Hendrikus, Rebecca Kempton, Jeremy Beckers

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