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With its impressive mountain ranges, glaciers and stunningly picturesque lakes, South Island's charms are hard to escape on your New Zealand holiday. North Island is not too far behind in its appeal, so don't forget to spend some time here for some truly unforgettable experiences.
North Island offers warmer weather, warmer water for swimming, some of the best geothermal activity in the world, the longest river and a number of activities and must-see attractions you don't want to miss!
Here are some highlights of the North Island to add to your New Zealand plans.
Northland/Bay of Islands
Make sure a visit to the laidback Northland region is on your itinerary. Take a day trip to Cape Reinga, the very top of New Zealand, or hang out in the Bay of Islands where you can cruise, swim, fish or frolic with the local dolphins. The Bay of Islands is also known as the birthplace of New Zealand, as it was here that the country's founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed in 1840. Where else can you get a side dish of local history and culture alongside your fish and chips?
It's the starting point of many a New Zealand itinerary – but Auckland is so much more than just a city with an airport. Spend some time exploring this sprawling city and the wider Auckland region and you'll find hidden treasures: sleeping volcanoes with spectacular views, inner-city parks with intriguing art, black sand beaches on one coast and golden ones on the other, beautiful islands and every kind of culinary experience you could wish for.
Unique beaches (including Hot Water Beach and the world famous Cathedral Cove, as seen in the Narnia movies), lush native rainforest and fascinating history await on this little peninsula just southeast of Auckland.
Hobbiton & Waitomo
The Central North Island is a rural heartland, but also boasts two highly rated attractions: the Hobbiton Movie Set just outside Matamata, where a hobbit village was created for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, and the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. These stunning limestone caves are full of twinkling glowworms and yawning chasms – take a short guided tour or choose to venture deeper with a blackwater rafting or canyoning adventure.
Rotorua & Taupo
Rotorua is a huge drawcard for visitors to New Zealand, as here you can experience many unique aspects of the country all in once place. See geothermal activity like geysers, bubbling mud and colourful mineral pools, experience traditional Māori culture, see native New Zealand wildlife or enjoy adventure activities like bungy jumping, mountain biking and zorbing. Taupo is New Zealand's largest lake, and is also close to the mountains Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngaruahoe. We recommend hiking the popular Tongariro Alpine Crossing if you're in the area.
Gisborne & Hawke's Bay
The sunny East Coast of the North Island offers a huge range of things to do. Napier has a quaint feel thanks to its Art Deco buildings, while remote Gisborne is one of the first places in the world to see the sun rise every day. The entire region is famed for its wine production, so a wine tasting is definitely on your ‘must-do' list. While in Gisborne, soak up some more authentic Māori culture – almost half the population is Māori and te reo is a big part of everyday life.
Take a road less travelled and visit the Taranaki region. The main city of New Plymouth is a charming place with interesting art galleries and museums. Nearby Mount Taranaki is a popular destination for hiking and skiing, while the coast offers impressive surf conditions for the hardy. Back on land, the botanic gardens at Pukekura Park play host to the annual Festival of Light event – worth a visit if you're in New Zealand between December and February.
Sitting at the bottom of the North Island is New Zealand's capital city, Wellington. Fiercely beloved by its inhabitants, Wellington is known for its excellent culture, dining and nightlife. The city nestles into hills, with a wild and rocky coastline surrounding it. Wander the city and discover its many delights before you head across Cook Strait on the ferry to the South Island.
Ways to travel around the North Island
InterCity TravelPasses give you a pre-planned itinerary that you can travel along at your own pace. TravelPass gives you the security of travelling on New Zealand's largest long distance bus network, and the freedom to travel when you want. Passes are valid for 12 months so you have plenty of time to stop along the way and really get to know the towns and cities you're visiting.
North Island TravelPass itineraries include:
Big Fish: Take in Auckland, Matamata (including a tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set), Rotorua, Taupo and Wellington.
From the Top: Travel from Auckland to Paihia and take a Hole in the Rock dolphin watching cruise, back to Auckland and down to Matamata for a Hobbiton Movie Set Tour. Then continue south through Rotorua and Taupo to Wellington. You can also add on a visit to Napier.
North Island Adventure: Similar to From the Top, but includes a trip to Waitomo Caves instead of Hobbiton.
Bay Escape: A short and sweet TravelPass that takes you from Auckland to Paihia and back, with a dolphin watching cruise to the Hole in the Rock included in your pass.
Caves and Caverns: This popular TravelPass takes you from Auckland to Rotorua and back, including tours of the Hobbiton Movie Set and Waitomo Caves.
Coromandel Ramble: Get to know the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula and the Bay of Plenty with this pass, travelling from Auckland to Rotorua via Thames, Whitianga and Mount Maunganui before returning to Auckland via the Hobbiton Movie Set.
Find out more about InterCity TravelPass and start planning your North Island travels today!