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The North Island in New Zealand: 7 must-see places

After writing a comprehensive guide on renting a converted vehicle in New Zealand, we felt it appropriate to provide our personal recommendations for exploring the North Island of the country.

New Zealand is spread over 2 islands; the North Island and the South Island, which can be reached in 3h30 by ferry (more information at the end of this article).

In this article, we are going to share with you our 7 must-sees of the New Zealand North Island.

Our recommendations will be from north to south, as the vast majority of travellers land in Auckland, the country’s most significant international airport.

This top 7 must-see’s of the North Island is as a good starting point to imagine your travel / road trip itinerary in New Zealand.

1) Northland (peninsula north of Auckland)

Northland is the northernmost part of New Zealand. It extends from Auckland to Cape Reinga, including its well-known and picturesque lighthouse.

Once in Auckland, many travellers head straight south, but the Northern Peninsula has some truly worthwhile scenery, to name a few:

  • The Bay of Islands
  • The KariKari Peninsula
  • The giant dunes of Te Paki
  • The famous 90 miles beach: which allows you to drive on the beach even with a
    van (be sure to find out about the tides beforehand, and have a minimum
    experience driving on sand is highly recommended
    (deflating/ re-inflating tires, driving techniques,…)
  • The famous Cape Reinga

Allow 4 to 6 days to fully enjoy Northland.

2) The Coromandel Peninsula

Located in the southeast of Northland (after passing through Auckland), the Coromandel Peninsula is an ideal second stop.

Much smaller than Northland, the peninsula stretches for 150-160 kilometers if you make the loop from Thames to Pukepoto.

The natural wonders of Coromandel make it an absolute must-see place, to name just two:

  • Cathedral Cove (which fans of the world of Narnia will recognise): we
    recommend going here as soon as possible because during the peak season this place
    attracts a lot of people.
  • Hot water beach: a beach on which you just have to dig a little bit
    a beach on which you just have to dig a little bit in the sand to create a natural pool of hot water thanks to the magic of
    the geothermal energy present on the spot.

It’s worth noting that the unassuming hilly landscapes of Coromandel are more than enough to make it a charming and unique destination.

Allow 1 to 3 days to discover the peninsula.

3) Hobbiton

A popular attraction, especially among fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, that has become a must-see.

The famous Hobbit village can be visited in different ways, ranging from a basic guided tour of the film set, to an evening banquet, to special events during the summer.

If you plan ahead, it is possible to visit Hobbiton in the morning and then head to the renowned Waitomo Caves, only an hour away, which offer a unique natural display of glow worms.

4) Rotorua – Wai-O-Tapu

Another unique destination on the North Island is the Rotorua region, known for its one-of-a-kind geothermal activity

Wai-O-Tapu Park, located about 30 kilometers from Rotorua, is the main draw for travellers and tourists in the are

If you have never visited a geothermal park, this is definitely one of the things to do and see while in New Zealand.

The Wai-O-Tapu park consists of three main areas: the geothermal park which follows a designated path, the Lady Knox Geyser, and the well-known mud baths, which are optional and visitors can choose to skip. We reassure you, these are totally optional!

One thing is certain, if you have the chance to visit the Rotorua area, be sure not to miss the iconic and colourful Champagne Pool.

5) Mount Taranaki – New Plymouth

For the next stop, we’ll have to travel to the far west of the North Island, to the town of New Plymouth.

It’s the starting point for the Egmont National Park, home to the majestic and elusive Mount Taranaki.

Mount Taranaki is as impressive as it is mysterious. Mount Taranaki is both impressive and mysterious. The sky is regularly overcast in this area, which creates a unique mystical atmosphere.
Many days can go by without the summit of the mountain being visible, even though it is right there in front of us.

When the weather permits, the view of Mount Taranaki is breathtaking and reminiscent of Japan’s famous Mount Fuji. Visitors can put on their hiking boots and take on one of the many trails in Egmont Park.

There are day hikes and multi-day hikes available. For the latter, you’ll need to obtain a permit from the tourist office to stay overnight in one of the designated huts. It’s a unique experience that guarantees a magical awakening in the heart of the mountains.

6) Tongariro National Park

It would be impossible to discuss the North Island without mentioning the Tongariro National Park.

Tongariro National Park has gained worldwide fame as a result of Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings, using Mount Ngauruhoe as the filming location for the iconic “Mount Doom” of Mordor.

While Mount Ngauruhoe may be well-known, it is not the highest peak on the North Island. That distinction belongs to Mount Ruapehu which stands at 2,797 meters and is also found in the Tongariro National Park.

If you plan to visit this area, we highly recommend taking on the iconic Tongariro Alpine Crossing, considered one of the best hikes in the world and suitable for all skill levels. Shuttle services are available to take you to the starting point. Shuttles can take you to the starting point.

Please note: Do not venture out if the weather conditions are not favourable.

Tip: plan for a full day if you want to fully enjoy this experience!

7) Wellington

Wellington, the capital of New Zealand (and yes, it’s not Auckland), is known for being the windiest city in the world.

Wellington is still a very charming city. Despite its reputation for wind, Wellington is a charming city with many attractions to offer. Some of its highlights include its museums and the stunning views of the bay that separates the two islands.

Wellington is a very lively city, with many bars, cafes and nice restaurants. We generally recommend staying there for 1 or 2 days (before boarding the ferry, for example).

Wellington is a must-stop for those planning to travel to the South Island by ferry. It’s worth noting that the two companies offering the crossing (Interislander and Bluebridge) allow you to take your own vehicle, making it an ideal option for a complete road trip in New Zealand.

As mentioned earlier in this article, the ferry ride takes around 3 and a half hours, and offers stunning views of the bays, it’s a great way to kick back and enjoy the views.

How long will it take to discover the North Island?

As always, it depends on how you travel (understand “type of travellers” and “means of transportation”).

Most travellers opt to rent a vehicle on the spot, so we suggest taking around 10 to 15 days to tour the North island, and that way you’ll have enough time to explore the South island’s wonders as well.
South (which will be the subject of a future blog post).

Keep in mind that this is an estimate, you can always adjust it to your liking, whether it’s shortening the time or extending the itinerary by visiting places like the surfer’s paradise of Raglan, the picturesque Hawke’s Bay region or Gisborne.

Organise your trip to New Zealand

New Zealand has become one of the most popular countries for road trip enthusiasts. Its uniqueness, culture and unique landscapes attract travellers worldwide.

We recommend that you plan your trip at least 4-5 months in advance (especially if you are travelling between December and February, New Zealand’s peak tourist season) to get better prices and book popular activities with more flexibility.

Rental vehicles are in high demand, so make sure to book early to avoid disappointment.

If this article has sparked your interest in exploring this unique country, Vanz Travel is here to assist and guide you in planning your trip.

From vehicle rental to activity booking, all with personalised advice on your itinerary; our mission is to make your trip unforgettable, so that you can plan and enjoy it with peace of mind.

We offer you a free personalised quote with no obligation.

To do this, simply contact us via our form and share some information such as the dates planned, your desires, your needs in terms of a converted vehicle, and we will respond as soon as possible.

See you soon, friends!