homeNew Zealand travel guide > North Island
New Zealand guide
Regions
Traveler café 
Travel directory
 
Last updated : Nov 2009
North Island
North Island - Travelpuppy.com
Auckland

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 suggested.

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.

Northland

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 game fishing.

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.

Cape 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.

Pacific Coast Highway

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 Pinot Noir.

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 volcano.

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).

The 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.

Wanganui, on 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.

Wellington

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.

Excursions

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 quality.