exploring New Zealand's north island
With the snow-capped Southern Alps, the magnificent Fiordlands and the grand glaciers of the west coast, New Zealand’s South Island steals much of the spotlight when it comes to spectacular scenery.
But smaller North Island has its fair share of photogenic landscapes, too (brooding volcanoes, rippling sand dunes), plus much more besides – think history, Maori culture and the vibrant, fast-paced cities of Auckland and Wellington. Read on for our pick of where to go in New Zealand’s North Island.
New Zealand’s capital is a fantastic city, and features on both of our New Zealand tours. There’s a great cultural scene, with plenty of galleries and museums to explore. Our pick goes to Te Papa Tongarewa, the national museum, which tells the fascinating story of New Zealand’s cultural and natural heritage.
Coffee and craft beer are big business, so you’ll always be able to find a great little spot for a pint or a flat white. And if you’re an outdoorsy type, you can hike up Mount Victoria, hire a bike to pedal along the waterfront or take to the water and kayak around the harbour. Just remember your jacket – Wellington is one of the windiest cities in the world, so even when the sun’s shining it’s likely there’ll be a fresh breeze blowing.
Rotorua is one of the best places to learn more about Maori culture. Our New Zealand tours visit cultural villages where you can find out about Maori customs and protocols, learn the heritage and meaning behind facial tattooing, and tuck into a feast cooked using the traditional ‘hangi’ method.
“The sentiments and kindness of the Maori people stay with you forever. The sound of their heart-warming welcome, the smiles on their faces. The singing and dancing. The indulgent ‘Hangi Feast’ of Maori roast meats and sweet potato. New Zealand is gorgeous, but the people make it a truly special place.” John Allen, Tour Manager
As well as its Maori heritage, Rotorua has another string to its bow – it’s a (literal) hotbed of geothermal activity. At Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley, you can marvel at erupting geysers, hot springs and bubbling mud pools.
The little village of Waitomo is surrounded by glorious countryside and rolling hills. But the real attraction here lies underground, where you’ll find a series of caves and subterranean rivers (the name ‘Waitomo’ comes from the Maori words for water - wai - and tomo - hole).
While you can crawl, abseil and paddle through the caves, we explore the relaxed way on our ‘The Best of New Zealand’ holidays: by boat. Floating through the darkness, our path will be illuminated by the blue-green lights of thousands of glow worms, who stud the ceilings like tiny stars.
The ‘City of Sails’ is the biggest city in New Zealand. It’s built around two harbours and over a series of volcanic hills, so there are lovely views to be found all over the city. We spend time here on both ‘Great New Zealand Discovery’ and ‘The Best of New Zealand’, and end our combined Australia and New Zealand tours here too.
There’s plenty to do while you're in Auckland. Browse the boutiques and Victorian-styled shops in Parnell Village, check out the restaurant scene in the waterside Wynyard Quarter, or perhaps ascend the Sky Tower for 360-degree views.
Or catch a ferry over to one of the nearby islands. Rangitoto Island is 25 minutes away and offers incredible walks, black lava caves and the world’s largest pohutukawa forest. A little further away (40 minutes) is Waiheke Island, famous for its sandy beaches and world-class wineries.
Northland & the Bay of Islands
This subtropical region is a beauty, with flour-soft beaches, forests of giant kauri trees, picturesque bays and huge sand dunes.
It’s rich in Maori history and heritage, and is also where the Treaty of Waitangi (the document which agreed the terms by which New Zealand would become a British colony) was signed by more than 500 Maori chiefs.
Both of our New Zealand escorted tours include a boat trip to the Cape Brett Peninsula, where we’ll visit the famous Hole in the Rock on Motukokako Island. According to Maori legend, local warriors used to paddle through the hole in their canoes before departing for battle – drops of water from the cave roof above were a good omen. While we’re cruising, we’ll also keep our eyes peeled for whales and bottlenose dolphins.
If a New Zealand trip is on your travel wish list, browse our tours online or give our travel advisors a call – they’re more than happy to talk through different options to find the best itinerary and departure for you. And if you’re wondering when to go to New Zealand, our blog post on the best time of year to visit might be one to bookmark.
Article published on: 18th May, 2021
Although she loves a lie-in at home, Laura is often up and about before dawn on holiday. She’s watched the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, Uluru and Angkor Wat, but her favourite was seeing the first light of the New Year sweeping across the yacht-dotted waters of Sydney Harbour.