Auckland is New Zealand's largest urban
and suburban area with a population of over 1.5 million people.
Even so, it is surrounded by varied and wonderful scenery
with attractive harbours and beaches to the east, whilst the rugged
Waitakere Ranges, escalating vineyards and the thundering, undeveloped
surf beaches lie to the west.
Known as the ‘City of Sails’, with more boats
per capita than any other city in the world, these days
Auckland’s reputation as a sailor’s Mecca is lined by
repeated triumphant defences of the America’s Cup. Auckland
offers brilliant galleries, shopping and museums, it has a university
and provides a multicultural environment characterised by a blend
of Asian, European and Polynesian cultures, particularly on the
hectic and atmospheric Karangahape Road.
There is also the unique Sky Tower, a casino with a glorious circular,
glass viewing gallery at its spherical summit. The views
of Auckland are stunning due to
the beaches, the mountains, the coast and the sea. It is also possible
for the predominantly brave tourist to abseil down the side of the
building to the street, a drop of over 100 metres (328 feet).
An exploration of at least 1 of the stunning golden sand islands
of the Hauraki Gulf, reachable by ferries from Waitamata
Harbour and also visible from the Sky Tower, is highly
Most of the city centre is walkable but the remote suburbs of Herne
Bay, Devonport, Parnell and Ponsonby (with
their striking eateries and well-reputed fashion industry) are brought
within easy reach by a reliable public bus network and taxi system.
The narrow, primarily Maori stronghold of Northland, the ‘Winterless
North’ pushes out 350 kilometres (217 miles) from
Auckland and separates the Pacific Ocean from the Tasman Sea. It
provides the sub tropical element in the New Zealand
equation and is famous for its citrus fruit, palms, avocados, bananas
and a myriad gorgeous, sandy unspoiled beaches. Winterless North
also provides tourists the opportunity to begin to understand Maori
culture, art and history.
On the east coast, the beaches exist between headlands and straggling
peninsulas, offering calm bays that are safe for swimming. The
Bay of Islands is perhaps the most famous area, intricately
sculpted and renowned for brilliant diving, boating, sailing and
The west coast offers vast dune backed black sand beaches that are
lashed almost continually by Tasman breakers, rip tides and biting
winds (swimming is not safe here). The views are beautiful and,
just inland, the forests of the Northland Forest Park,
contain some of the world’s oldest trees, including the famous
kauri, many of which date back centuries.
Karikari, which over looks Doubtless Bay, was one of the
locations for films such as "From Here to Eternity" and
"The Piano", and offers access to rugged, wide, moody
beaches surrounded by steep hills and cliffs, while Cape
Reinga overlooks the spectacular meeting of the Pacific
Ocean and Tasman Sea and the narrow extension of 90 mile Beach down
the west coast back toward Auckland.
A magnificent coastal road runs parallel with the complex filigree
of small inlets and beaches around the Coromandel Peninsula
and the long sweeping bays of the east coast.
The journey begins with the ferry from Auckland to Coromandel,
where the road weaves along the side of the peninsula’s minute,
sun trap inlets before opening out on the long run down from Hot
Water Beach towards Tauranga. The warm water bubbles
from beneath the sands overlooking the surf providing a wonderful
spot from which to watch the tide come in at sunset from your own
personally dug hot pool.
The volcanic hills of the Coromandel Peninsula preserve much of
their original rainforest and the Coromandel Forest Park
Reserve contains large numbers of giant kauri trees which
are famous for their tall straight trunks.
A popular holiday destination in the Bay of Plenty
is Tauranga, with all the facilities of a major
tourist city including all levels of accommodation and some wonderful
restaurants. The climate here is essentially benign and the sandy
beaches attract many visitors, whilst inland there is plenty of
orchards, particularly citrus and kiwi fruit.
In Poverty Bay lies the city of Gisborne, which
sits adjacent to Hawke’s Bay, a wine growing
region of international prominence. Around 70 wineries (ranging
from small boutiques to large commercial estates) are open for free
wine tasting. This area is best known for its red wines, predominantly
The reason for the wonderful wine is the high annual sunshine hours
which benefit the grapes and visiting tourists to both Napier
and Hastings. Napier was destroyed by an earthquake
in 1931 and subsequently rebuilt in the art deco style of the time.
Today it boasts one of the world’s finest collections of adoringly
preserved art deco buildings.
Inland, between the Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay, is the
UNESCO listed Te Urewera National Park, the largest
native forest on the North Island and home of the lovely Lake Waikaremoana,
585 metres (1919 feet) above sea level, with its strenuous but rewarding
(3 to 4 day) circular trail.
Central North Island
The centre of the North Island is dominated by the geothermal city
of Rotorua, the extremely picturesque Lake Taupo
and the UNESCO listed Tongariro National Park.
The park is a spectacular mountain area dominated by three peaks,
Ngauruhoe, Tongariro and the tallest, Mount
Ruapehu 2797 metres (9177 feet), still an active volcano,
and a major ski resort. When Ruapehu erupted in 1996 many people
took the once in a lifetime opportunity to ski the slopes of a live
Lake Taupo presents the less
adventurous with a prospect to enjoy supreme brown trout fishing
and a serene expanse of water fed by glacial streams and rivers.
Rotorua is a great base for discovering
the geysers and the large thermal zone of the North Island. It is
a lively city full of all the usual tourist basics and has the distinctive
sulphurous smell of the surrounding boiling mud pools.
Rotorua is also a major centre for available Maori
culture, there is an arts centre where young Maori learn the skills
of traditional bone, wood and greenstone carving. There is also
the opportunity to visit a Marae (a Maori meeting
house usually forbidden to pakeha, foreigners) and enjoy a concert
of traditional songs, the haka (a Maori challenge
usually witnessed before All Black rugby matches) and a hangi
(an appetizing feast cooked in an earth oven).
Western North Island
Another area conquered by Maori culture and history which along
with Northland provides the best opportunity to pick up authentic
souvenirs. This is an atmospheric area with rich farm land, black
sand beaches, natural kaarst limestone architecture, national parks
and a spectacular extinct volcano, Taranaki.
Perhaps 1 of the most magical areas is the renowned water sculptured
limestone caves of Waitamo with their glow worm
grottoes. The caves can be explored by punt or by donning a wet
suit and heading underground with an inflated car tyre. This exceptional
New Zealand activity is called ‘cave rafting’ and provides
an opportunity to float through the caverns staring at bizarre rock
formations and ceilings packed with glow worms, that resemble a
star sprinkled night sky.
the west coast of the North Island, lies near the mouth of the Whanganui
River, New Zealand’s longest crossable waterway. Visitors
can travel upriver by jetboat or paddle steamer and down river by
kayak or canoe.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site Whanganui National
Park is a green vision of pure native bush where there
remains the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’, a relic of the failed
attempt at settlement in the magnificent wilderness.
The Egmont National Park is also a UNESCO listed World
Heritage area, and provides a brilliant though strenuous opportunity,
even for the less adventurous, to climb a mountain (Taranaki) in
a little over 8 hours (return). Mount Taranaki,
at the centre of the national park, is an extinct volcano standing
majestically amidst flat areas of lush green dairy farmland.
The city of New Plymouth (population 50,000 people)
is well known for its parks, gardens and, in particular, its colourful
display of rhododendrons and azaleas in the spring.
In the south of the North Island, Wellington, New
Zealand’s capital, inhabits the flat area surrounding the
harbour basin and climbs the surrounding steep hillsides overlooking
the water. This makes it a compact metropolis with a flourishing
and vigorous heart. Wellington is a centre of arts, culture, theatre,
restaurants, fashion and nightlife.
Shopping facilities are brilliant and hotels offer
splendid views of the bay. Every 2 years, Wellington hosts the New
Zealand International Festival of the Arts, New Zealand's main cultural
event including comedy, street theatre, music and film festivals
all going under the same umbrella.
The stunning Te Papa Museum of New Zealand, on
the city’s pretty waterfront, combines historical and cultural
exhibitions with education, entertainment and leisure activities,
including a virtual bungy jump.
Wellington is also the departure point for ferries across Cook Strait
to the South Island.
Admired destinations for excursions from Wellington include the
Wairarapa wine region, Cape Palliser (whose wild
coastline provides a environment for a large colony of seals) and
Kapiti Island, home to a bird sanctuary free of
introduced predators where weka, bellbird and tui, to name but a
few, show little or no fear and provide photo opportunities of fantastic