The South Island may have the grander scenery, but the North Island’s charms lies in its wide range of destinations and attractions.
If you arrive in Auckland and only have a few days in the North Island, then you have enough time to visit some of the attractions of Auckland, Waikato and Rotorua (see below). You could then fly from either Rotorua or Auckland to Christchurch for the South Island leg of your New Zealand tour.
If you have more time in the North Island, then we can visit the attractions of Auckland, Waikato and Rotorua before travelling south to Wellington via one of several routes. We then catch the ferry to Picton for the South Island leg of your New Zealand tour.
NORTH ISLAND DESTINATIONS
New Zealand’s largest city is beautifully situated on an isthmus, bounded by the waters of the Hauraki Gulf and Waitemata and Manukau Harbours. The urban area is dotted with grassy and tree-covered hills – the remains of former volcanic cones.
Its 1.5 million inhabitants make up one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. They contribute to an expanding range of cultural attractions and dining choices.
The city’s major attractions include the 328-metre Sky Tower, Auckland Museum, Auckland Art Gallery and Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium.
Outdoors, the many natural attractions include the many hills and open spaces, a coastline lined with headlands and sandy swimming beaches, lush subtropical forests and the islands of the Hauraki Gulf.
Bay of Islands
With its long coastline and many islands, this is the most popular destination in the Northland region, north of Auckland.
The Bay of Islands is also the cradle of the modern New Zealand nation. You can visit the sites of the earliest European settlement in New Zealand, and the Treaty House where the founding document, The Treaty of Waitangi, was first signed between the British Crown and Maori chiefs.
A cruise across the bay to the Hole in the Rock is a must-do, as is a visit to the historic little town of Russell
When you arrive in Rotorua, the smell of sulphur reminds you that you are in one of the world’s most active volcanic regions. Steam vents and boiling mudpools can be found in the city, while thermal areas in the vicinity have active geysers, boiling pools, tinted lakes, steaming cliffs, silica terraces and blast craters.
Even the pretty forest-girt lakes in the area are flooded volcanic caldera.
Rotorua is also home to a strong Maori community, and this is the best place in New Zealand to take in Maori culture and performance.
The area south of Auckland is rich and verdant farmland, but there are several very popular attractions here.
The limestone country at Waitomo has a number of cave systems decorated with stalactites, stalagmites and the tiny lights of thousands of glow worms.
Near Matamata, you can take a delightful walking tour through the movie set of Hobbiton, the village at the heart of The Shire in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies.
Hamilton is the largest city in the region, and Hamilton Gardens includes a magnificent collection of themed gardens such as Italian Renaissance, Indian Char Bagh and Japanese.
The centre of Napier was destroyed by an earthquake and subsequent fire in 1931. It was rebuilt in art deco, the popular architectural style of the time, giving rise to New Zealand’s most striking townscape.
You can visit the National Aquarium, and watch the world go by on Napier’s Marine Parade. Or lose yourself exploring the narrow winding streets of Bluff Hill, with its views across the coastline.
Hawkes Bay is New Zealand’s second largest wine region and produces some of the country’s best wines including Chardonnay and Bordeaux blends such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Numerous wineries are open for tastings and lunches.
New Zealand’s capital city is at the southern end of the North Island, and is the terminus for ferries to the South Island.
Wellington has a spectacular setting. It is largely ringed by ocean water and is nestled into valleys and draped over hillsides.
The major attractions include the Museum of New Zealand, cable car, Old St Pauls, Zealandia nature sanctuary and New Zealand’s parliament buildings.
The city has a lively heart, with Cuba Street and Courtenay Place particularly busy with cafes, restaurants and bars.