New Zealand's North Island: Top spots to explore
Most visitors to New Zealand spend their time exploring the South Island's cinematic landscapes, dramatic glaciers, and adrenaline-pumping activities. But the North Island boasts myriad attractions of its own, ranging from superior wine regions and picturesque beaches to geothermal wonderlands and historic towns. Below, five places you should make a pit stop at if you have a few days to spare on New Zealand's North Island.
Bay of Islands
A three-hour drive north of Auckland, the Bay of Islands is an idyllic region encompassing 144 islands and several quaint towns. While cruising the waters, you'll sail past picturesque islands — you may be tempted camp overnight on Urupukapuka Island — get up close to the famous Hole in the Rock on Piercy Island, and watch the frolicking wildlife, which includes penguins, dolphins, and whales. On land, delve into history at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, be charmed by Russell — New Zealand's first European settlement and seaport — or explore the boutique wineries and galleries at Keri Keri.
Peter Jackson brought tourism to the bucolic Kiwi countryside near Matamata when he chose a 1,250-acre sheep farm to create a real live Hobbiton for his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. Amidst this sublime scenery of lush rolling hills and the Kaimai Ranges, you'll wander through the movie set peppered with plenty of hobbit holes, visit Bilbo Baggins at Bag End without being on party business, and partake in festivities by the Party Tree. Round up your visit by dropping into the Green Dragon Inn to catch up on local gossip over thirst-quenching brews. The range of Southfarthing ales is brewed especially for Hobbiton, and we'll raise a glass to that.
Thanks to its location in the Pacific Ring of Fire, Rotorua is famous for its geothermal landscape. However, there's really something for everyone here, ranging from relaxing wellness experiences and forest treks to traditional Maori culture and explosive geysers. Head to Hell's Gate and Wai Ora Spa to soak in the geothermal mud baths that have been used as healing therapies for centuries; experience traditional Maori culture with the Te Po experience at Te Puia, and drop by Whakarewarewa, where you'll see how the area's geothermal attributes have been incorporated into everyday life. Thrill-seekers can get their blood pumping with bungy jumping, zorbing, jet boating, and rafting.
On the northeast coast of the island, The Coromandel exists as the antidote to big-city living. This rustic retreat boasts more than 400km of pristine white sand beaches backed onto a mountainous landscape draped in native rainforest. Here, you'll find opportunities aplenty for sea kayaking, fishing, diving, hiking, and cycling. There's also skydiving in Whitianga and waterfall abseiling on Sleeping God Canyon to look forward to. History buffs can immerse themselves in times of yore at the Thames School of Mines & Mineralogical Museum, Bella Street Pumphouse, and Thames Historical Museum. Love nature? Be sure to visit the Butterfly and Orchid Garden, Rapaura Watergardens, and Karaka Birdhide.
The North Island's leading wine region, Hawke's Bay, produces award-winning reds — most notably, cabernet sauvignon and syrah — and some superior whites. Wander through the more than 30 wineries by bike (a popular choice here) and don't miss a stop at Mission Estate Winery, New Zealand's oldest, or the Wine Museum at Church Road Winery. When you're not sampling the delicious drops produced here, trawl the area's farmers markets for delicious local produce and feast on artisanal gourmet treats such as honey, cheese and chocolate. Work off the gastronomic indulgence by walking the forest trails in the Ruahine and Kaweka Forest Parks or venture further to explore the gorgeous 1930s Art Deco architecture of Napier. Of course, you could just kick back on the glorious beaches that line the coast.
About Gayatri Bhaumik
Always ready for her next adventure, Gayatri took her first flight at 10 days old and hasn't looked back since. After 12 years in Bangkok and seven in Melbourne, she's now based in Hong Kong when she isn't globetrotting. Besides serving as the Travel Columnist for Liv Magazine, she contributes travel and lifestyle stories to a range of publications, including Jetsetter, The Art of Business Travel, and The Loop. Most recently, she was the Deputy Editor at Hong Kong's Artemis Communications, working on titles such as Elite Traveler Asia, Explorer Magazine and Necessity.com. Follow her travels on her blog and Instagram.