New Zealand elicits images of majestic mountain peaks, lush greenery, and rolling waves of the mighty Pacific. Consisting of two main islands, North and South, you’ll find endless amounts of activities to keep you busy while exploring this alluring country. But if you only have time for one island, we are here to guide you through nine unique things to do in New Zealand’s North Island. Let’s go!
About New Zealand’s North Island
Each island has its own unique qualities. But if you’re looking for that white-sand beaches and warmer weather, North Island was made for you. Along with its gorgeous coastline, North Island also has many geothermal hotspots, including bubbling mud pools and hot springs.
North Island has around 76 percent of the country’s population. This gives you a greater variety when exploring its culture and landscape. Want to enjoy the beautiful countryside and get to know the local Māori culture? There are plenty of opportunities for that as well as many other things to do in New Zealand’s North Island.
➡ Think you’d enjoy visiting South Island more? Use our guide to help you pick the best island to visit based on your interests: New Zealand’s North Island vs. South Island: Top Reasons to Visit
Things to Do in New Zealand’s North Island
1. Cathedral Cove
Location: Located in the upper northwest corner of the island on the Coromandel Peninsula, this gorgeous spot is often overlooked due to its remote location.
Why It’s Unique: Because of that remoteness, it’s worth the work it takes to get there. Cathedral Cove’s white-sand beaches are made even more enticing by the natural rock formations from two coves coming together. The natural rock arch combined with other rock formations makes for a perfect backdrop while relaxing in the blue waters of the Pacific.
Things to Do: Enjoy a hike along the cliff top or take your adventures underwater with a diving or snorkeling excursion. Rent a kayak or simply relax on the beach while cooling off in the water. The best thing about Cathedral Cove —it’s free!
2. Waiheke Island
Location: Catch the ferry to this stunning island. Only 40 minutes from downtown Auckland, your time will be well spent.
Why It’s Unique: Waiheke Island is known for its vibrant vineyards, olive groves, and white sand beaches. Despite seeming like a world away, there’s easy access to and from the island on the ferry.
Things to Do: Sip on New Zealand’s flavorful wines while experiencing its bountiful vineyards. Head on over to Hauraki Gulf for a few beach days, or explore the underwater mysteries while snorkeling or scuba diving.
You may need more than a day here. Stay overnight at one of the island’s many beach house rentals or check out a backpacker hostel. This is only one of many things to do on New Zealand’s North Island.
3. Cape Reinga Lighthouse
Location: Located at the end of the road at one of the northernmost points in New Zealand, Cape Reinga is still worth the trek. It takes about 1.5 hours to get there from the Bay of Islands. But you’re traveling the cultural 90 Mile Beach along the way, making it worth your while.
Why It’s Unique: The Cape Reinga lighthouse was built in 1941 and is still in working order today. Its solar-powered beacon can be seen 35 km out to sea. The lighthouse is only part of the draw to this region. It’s also a spiritual location believed to be the last place where the Māori spirits end their journey and return to their ancestral homeland.
Things to Do: Explore the stunning area from the Cape Reinga Coastal Walkway. Leading you across dunes, beaches, and swamps, you’ll enjoy the full beauty of this coastal region from above.
This is also where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean come together in a unique clash of swirling currents. What a spectacular view! At the northernmost tip of the Cape is an 800-year-old pohutukawa tree. This is the point from which the spirits of the deceased Māori leap to return to their ancestral lands.
4. Rainbow Springs Nature Park
Location: Rainbow Springs Nature Park is located south of Auckland in the historical town of Rotorua.
Why It’s Unique: In 1929, Ted Bruce purchased an old dairy farm. Over the next three years, Ted turned this run-down farm into the beginnings of a nature park. This was nothing short of a miracle, considering this park now includes several pools, beautiful buildings, and a kiwi hatchery.
Things to Do: Visit the kiwi hatchery for a behind-the-scenes tour. Take a guided park tour to learn all about New Zealand’s unique wildlife. Wander the native bush and natural springs areas, and view the rainbow trout in the underwater viewing area. With so many interesting activities, visiting Rainbow Springs Nature Park is one thing you’ll do on New Zealand’s North Island you won’t soon forget.
5. Waitomo Caves
Location: The Waitomo Caves are located near the western coast of central North Island New Zealand in Waitomo.
Why It’s Unique: Caving in itself is quite unique, but when you also get to see glowworms, it’s even better! The glowworm (Arachnocampa luminosa) is unique to New Zealand, making the Waitomo Glowworm Caves a must-do when finding things to do in New Zealand’s North Island.
Things to Do: Take a boat ride through 130 years of natural and cultural history when visiting Waitomo Caves. With many tours led by direct descendants of the Māori chief, you’ll hear exciting stories that will bring the cave to life.
Explore both levels of the cave to see delicate cave formations along with the glowworms and the Cathedral Room. You’ll leave here knowing you experienced something special in New Zealand.
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Location: Hobbiton may seem like another world, yet this magical movie set is only two hours south of Auckland in the Waikato region of New Zealand’s North Island.
Why It’s Unique: Where else can you find the quaint villages and homes of the Hobbits straight out of the movie set from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies? That in itself is enough to be unique.
Things to Do: Welcome to storyland! Transport yourself to Middle-earth on a movie set tour around the Shire. Want more? Add on a banquet feast at the Green Dragon Inn or a Second Breakfast Tour to keep you fully satisfied.
Plan your travels around the Summer Harvest Festival or International Harvest Day, or embark upon your very own private tour. Whatever you choose, you’ll be transported to the magical world of the Hobbits and whisked away to fantasy land. It’s not cheap, but magic never is.
7. Tamaki Māori Village
Location: This cultural village is located south of Auckland in the historical town of Rotorua on Highlands Loop Road.
Why It’s Unique: Voted as one of the top 10 experiences in the world, visiting the Tamaki Māori Village is definitely a thing to do in New Zealand’s North Island. The village consists of three pillars: The Land, The People, and The Spirit. From these three pillars, culture is celebrated via a unique combination of storytelling, experiences, and tours.
Things to Do: Journey back in time through a variety of experiences. Evening experiences involve gathering together to make a meal and then sharing that meal while enjoying a sunset dessert. Daytime experiences consist of an arrival ceremony, a lunch experience with traditional foods and drinks, along with storytelling.
Want more time? Try an overnight experience where you’ll immerse yourself and become enlightened through the Māori way of life. Your visit to this village will be the experience of a lifetime.
8. Waimangu Volcanic Valley
Location: Take a shuttle or drive your own car, but be sure to check out this New Zealand North Island experience. It’s located south of Auckland in the historical town of Rotorua.
Why It’s Unique: Learn how the world began in this interactive experience with the Mt. Tarawera volcanic eruption and the impact it had on the people and the surrounding region. It’s not every day you get to immerse yourself in volcanic activity.
Things to Do: Choose from the full Waimangu experience where you’ll explore on your own and enjoy a guided cruise. You can also enjoy a self-guided tour where you can explore the Inferno Crater and more on your own.
Or choose a kayak or boat cruise to learn more about the bodies of water that play an important role in this young geothermal region. With so many choices, you can’t go wrong!
9. Pouakai Crossing
Location: The Pouakai Crossing starts at North Egmont near Egmont National Park in southwest New Zealand’s North Island. It ends at the National Park boundary at Mangorei Road. Because of this, you’ll either need to use a shuttle service or two vehicles to complete this day hike.
Why It’s Unique: This is Mt. Taranaki’s most exceptional hike. If you’ve only got time for one trek, this is the one to embark upon. You’ll have expansive views of Mt. Taranaki itself, along with countryside vistas, towering lava columns, and red waters caused by manganese oxide oozing from the ground. Where else could you possibly see all of this and more?
Things to Do: Pouakai Crossing is not a hike to miss on your list of things to do when visiting New Zealand’s North Island. This 18.4 km hike (about 11 miles) requires you to be fit, so be prepared.
Pro Tip: Make sure you bring trekking poles for your hike through Pouakai Crossing. Here are your best options: 7 Best Walking Sticks for Hiking and Why You Want Some
You’ll hike through the famous Ahukawakawa Swamp. Then, you’ll continue across the Pouakai Plateau, finishing your trek in pristine and peaceful forests. If you need a little more adventure in your life, add on an optional section to get you to Stony River’s Bells Falls. Hike on!
New Zealand’s North Island: A Unique Adventure
It’s all here. In one place. New Zealand’s North Island. From wine to lighthouses to cultural and wildlife activities to swimming and hiking—you can experience it all! There are so many unique things to do in New Zealand’s North Island. Where will your adventurous spirit take you?
Want to try boondocking in New Zealand? On the islands it’s called “freedom camping,” and there are some rules you’ll need to follow. Check out our guide on How to Enjoy Freedom Camping in New Zealand for a safe and happy experience.
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