Places to visit in New Zealand - North Island

Not many countries we travelled as closely as New Zealand, and therefore we have decided to describe our favourite places and help other travellers when planning a trip to this wonderful land of the Lord of the Rings. In this first part of the article we will focus on the North Island.

1. Compulsory visit of Auckland
The journey usually starts on the North Island since the most of people have their flights to the largest city of New Zealand - Auckland. We don't enjoy visiting big cities too much and so the only place we can recommend in Auckland is viewpoint Mount Eden which is actually an extinct volcano from which you can enjoy 360° view of the city. We can also recommend a bistro called Handmade Burgers with very good burgers. Surely you don't want to spend all your time just in the city, and so you will probably rent or buy a car and head out of town.

2. Riding on 90 Mile Beach, Cape Reinga and "Czech" pub
Have you always thought that Auckland is the furthest you can get in the North Island? The truth is that the road to the northern tip of Cape Reinga seems to be endless because you have to drive on zigzag roads for over 400 kilometres! However almost at the northernmost part of New Zealand there is 90 Mile Beach which we definitely recommend to visit! You leave the main road and turn onto the beach and continue driving on the sand. 90 Mile Beach is in fact 88 km long and so you will have truly amazing ride! The beach is considered as official road and therefore you can get a fine for speeding while driving there. We blew one tire right at the entrance to the beach on a gravel road and we also underestimated the level of fuel. It was decreasing very quickly due to our playful driving on the sand. Make sure you are not on the beach at the time of high tide since it can be quite dangerous. When we entered the beach it was raining a little bit, the sand was wet and great to drive on. It was tempting to try how fast our car can go and to play with the handbrake constantly. However always be careful not to get stuck in the sand because ocean can take your car very easily.

About halfway through the journey there were couple of sections where you had to cross the water because of several streams that were coming to the ocean. The girls' part of the crew shouted: “We won’t pay car if the car gets lost in the waves.“ After a short discussion we agreed to go back but suddenly I stepped on it and we passed all the rivers. We got to the end of the beach where we searched in vain for a way out. After further consideration we continued through a shallow river! The end of our journey already resembled almost to rafting, but fortunately we arrived safe and sound. If we came to the beach from the opposite side, we wouldn’t probably have enough courage to go through the water of Te Paki Stream. At the end of 90 Mile Beach there are huge sand dunes where we tried sand boarding. We hired the boards from a lady in a van and it was a great fun!

From 90 Mile Beach we easily reached the lighthouse on Cape Reinga with beautiful views of the cliffs. On the way back to the south you can also spend your time wandering around the giant Kauri trees in the Waipoua Kauri Forest, or very nice beaches in the Bay of Islands. Don't forget to stop in Czech village called Puhoi, about 50 km from Auckland. No one speaks Czech there anymore. We were looking forward to eat some traditional Czech dishes for example "Svickova" and we were very disappointed to be offered only burger or nachos. "Ah wait but they have Pilsen!" And so we finally drank Czech draught beer in New Zealand.

3. Coromandel Peninsula
A great attraction of the Coromandel Peninsula is Hot Water Beach where the thermal springs get to the surface directly from the sand. If there is a low tide you meet a lot of people with small shovels digging holes with hot water. Because of its accessibility from Auckland this part of the beach is usually packed with people. It is still a great unusual experience though. The other attraction of Coromandel Peninsula is a limestone cave Cathedral Cove. The cave is located directly on the beach and creates a tunnel which leads through one part of the beach to another. Swimming close to this cave is simply amazing!

4. Hobbiton

To visit Hobbiton where famous trilogy The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were filmed is pretty expensive, but definitely worth to go. The Hobbit houses nestled among green hills are magical. You will walk around the famous Party Tree and at the end of the tour you will be rewarded by Hobbiton beer only served in the tavern of Green Dragon. Another interesting part is to hear about the history of site selection for the film scenes. The director of the film picked a suitable place with a tree and a pond from private plane and then landed to knock on the door of a local farmer. At that point the farmer became a millionaire because the popularity of this movie is incredible. It even influenced the whole tourism in New Zealand. Thus loads of tourists are coming to admire Hobbiton every day. We were told that a significant percentage of visitors have never even seen the movie.

5. Kiwifruit in Te Puke, Mount Maunganui and Glow Worms
The town of Te Puke has the title "The Kiwifruit Capital of the World" as there are the most kiwifruit plantations. It is good to visit the information centre of Kiwi 360 where you can take a photo of giant kiwifruit or purchase a bottle of kiwifruit wine. In the centre you will get to know that there is also gold kind of kiwifruit and you can join free tasting. Then you can have a look to the orchards and see how this fruit is grown and picked. In the town of Te Puke you will meet all sorts of nationalities including the inhabitants of exotic islands of Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga etc., who are coming to New Zealand to work in orchards.

If you are in Te Puke it is definitely a good idea to continue to the Bay of Plenty and in particular to the beach town of Mount Manganui. From a volcano with the same name you get a great view of the town and ocean. About 30 km from Maunganui you can find McLaren Falls Park. Main specialty of this park are the worms that glow in the dark called "Glow Worms". If you go with your flashlight after dark on a trek to the waterfall you will be rewarded by amazing light show. There are really heaps of them. Sometimes we felt like in movie Avatar surrounded by shining insects from all sides. Clearly we prefer to visit this small park free of charge than more famous and expensive tours to Waitomo Caves.

6. Rotorua, natural hot springs and Lake Taupo
Rotorua is one of our favourite places i New Zealand as it is the centre of Maori culture and many thermal areas. You can take a bath in very nice spa house or go for a swim in hot river, natural hot pools or even under hot waterfall!

These places is good to know in advance and therefore I will describe them more specifically:

one thermal pool is located near the entrance to the geothermal park, Wai-O-Tapu. In the area there are more parks like that where you can admire geysers and colourful pools. Another nice natural swimming is located near the Huka Falls and you will discover a great thermal waterfall on the Kerosene Creek. If you drive a little bit southwards to equally pleasant town of Taupo you will see the tops of volcanoes of New Zealand's oldest National Park called Tongariro. Don't miss the affordable boat ride on Lake Taupo which is New Zealand’s largest lake. You will be taken to a rock with an engraving created by Maori people. On the southern shore of the lake there is a small geothermal area with spa with very hot water. For us it was ideal choice to relax after 2-day hike in Tongariro National Park.

7. Tongariro National Park
In the heart of the North Island you can find popular Tongariro National Park. In the park there are active volcanoes Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. Volcano Ngaruruhoe represented Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings and Mt. Ruapehu is the largest ski resort of the North Island. The most popular hike in New Zealand  is called Tongariro Crossing. This hike is one of the Great Walks. It is 20 km long and you can do it in one day. The hike can be extended by two hours by climbing to the top of Mt. Tongariro from which you can even see volcano Mount Taranaki on the west of the island. The main attraction of the tracks are incredibly emerald-coloured lakes Emerald Pools. We have opted for 2-day and 40 km long circuit Tongariro Northern Circuit with sleeping at Oturere Hut. Originally we wanted to sleep in a tent but the temperature at night dropped below zeno and so we were happy for a free bed in the hut. The next day we had to pass 20 km in inhospitable volcanic landscape but the overnight stay at the hut under the volcanoes was definitely worth the effort.

8. Cape Kidnappers and the longest place name

Cape Kidnapers at Hawkes Bay is mainly known for the biggest bird colony of gannets. Make sure to check the correct time of year where the birds are there. We missed them and we only took a shorter trip to the beach, and we continued to look for the sign with the longest place name. Today it is perhaps the second longest place name in the world but still it consists of incredible 85 letters. About 55 km from the town of Waipukurau you will find a hill which Mauri people called:


In English it means "the place where Tametea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as landeater, played his fute to his loved one." What a cool name for a hill!

9. Volcano Mount Taranaki

From our point of view Mount Taranaki is the most beautiful mountain of New Zealand. It is located in Egmont National Park in the western part of the North Island. Its snowy peak creates great contrasts with green meadows where cows and sheep graze. We arrived to the volcano in the beginning of winter and the mountain was already under the snow. We did not have necessary equipment to go to the top and moreover all members of our team were still suffering from severe diarrhoea from the tropical island of Samoa. Despite these bad conditions we managed to do shorter hike to the nearest hut. Mount Taranaki, 2 518 m high mountain, is incredibly photogenic and beautiful! It is also nice to visit nearby town of New Plymouth which is situated by the ocean.

10. Wellington - Ideal place to live
A lot of people told us that the capital city of New Zealand is an ideal place for living. It has the ideal size, there is a lot of job opportunities and a great night life. The truth is that Wellington is quite nice and lively. You can see a lot of people running along the water and ferries that go to the South Island. However the weather in this city is often rainy and windy. We only stopped for a short visit before we continued to explore the beauty of less populated South Island.

Follow the numbers in the map below to find all described places:

Read also about Places to visit in New Zealand - South Island

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