What to do in New Zealand - North Island
This country possesses a richness beyond belief and can easily satisfy even the most demanding travel expectations. Guidebooks and websites are full of itineraries inviting you to visit the 20 or 30 natural wonders of the two islands. We're happy to offer you a unique way to discover them.
New Zealand is made up of two very different islands. Relatively narrow (500 km at its widest on North Island and 230 km at its widest on South Island), it's 1,600 km long.
Air Tahiti Nui lands in Auckland which, by the way, is not the capital; Wellington, further south, is. It can serve as a starting point for many trips.
Heading for Northland
The region running along the northern part of North Island to Cape Reinga is a bit like New Zealand's version of Provence. Approximately one hour from Auckland, on the east coast, the Whangaparāoa Peninsula, Mahurangi and its famous Snells Beach, along with the Tāwharanui Peninsula and the Omaha Beach vacation area, are ideal stops for discovering the region.
A major historical milestone
Bay of Islands, the second part of this trip to North Island, is a deep dive into history that you can explore by motor home. Bay of Islands is a magnificent place, where experts say that one of the two most beautiful blue skies in the world can be found. It was also here that the fate of Aotearoa and the Maori people was decided, when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6, 1840. It recognized the sovereignty of the British Kingdom. In the bay, be sure to visit to the small town of Russell, New Zealand's first capital city.
The spirits' flight
In the far north, Cape Reinga is a place of rare intensity. It's where the souls of Maori warriors fly to the Pō, the afterlife. It's here that, in a bluish light, the Tasman Sea joins the Pacific Ocean. Experiencing a night and a dawn in this place of strong mana is a must-do.
I recommend a return to the south, which is just as exceptional in terms of intensity. First, follow along one of the world's longest beaches, Te-Oneroa-a-Tōhē, renamed Ninety Mile Beach by the British. It's 88 km long and is one of New Zealand's most famous surfing spots.
God of the forest
Beyond Mangamuka Fjord lies the sacred kauri forest, known as Waipoua forest, where remnants of these giants felled by settlers for construction purposes can be found. The emotion is palpable upon encountering Tāne Mahuta, which means "Lord of the Forest" in Maori. It's 51.2 meters high, 13.8 meters in circumference and some 2,000 years old.
The natural route back to Auckland is along the west coast to Kumeu, whose white wines (especially Chardonnay) have earned worldwide acclaim.
Take time to process your visit to Northland before exploring the rest of the North Island.
To the east, the Coromandel Peninsula and its pristine hiking trails, between the seaside (most notably Cathedral Cove) and primary forests, is an attractive destination. Coromandel is a paradise for sports enthusiasts, hikers and walkers alike. Here, people take time to live and recharge their batteries as they go about their days. Cities the size of villages, such as Thames at the entrance to the peninsula or Coromandel Town further north, are as small as they are dynamic. A road trip with open windows and multiple stops provides an opportunity to grasp how brilliantly the region cultivates pleasure and beauty and takes time to live.
Further east, the art deco-style town of Napier can serve as a base for your discovery of Hawkes Bay, whose pinot noirs are among the most famous.
Why not take the train?
Forget the car or motor home for the remainder of the trip. For the western, central and southern parts of North Island and for a portion of South Island, there's a unique way to discover natural beauty and cities of slow tourism with a very low carbon footprint: the train. Long known as the Overlander, it's now called the Northern Explorer and links Auckland to Wellington through the center of North Island. A dozen or so stops (Hamilton, National Park, Ohakune, Palmerston North, etc.) punctuate the ten-hour journey. It's slow and perfect for admiring the countryside. The most spectacular will no doubt be the desert of Tongariro National Park and its volcanoes, with Ruhapehu in the lead. It was the setting for Sauron's Mordor.
Further south, Mount Taranaki greets you from the right of the train in rare splendor.
The North Island is anything but flat, and its rugged terrain of hills and mountains makes this line even more epic with its dizzyingly high viaducts, tunnels and sometimes winding tracks for traversing the land, as in Raurimu.
If you're looking to go down to Hamilton and visit the surrounding area, I recommend Hobbiton, the Hobbit village from The Lord of the Rings (which you'll have the pleasure of accessing if you've booked well enough in advance).
Further east, Lake Taupo and Huka Falls are the perfect place for a family outing. Lake Taupo is a popular summer vacation area for Kiwis. With Rotorua and its 17 lakes, this region offers a wide range of activities, especially water sports, for various types of family vacations.
Close by, the hot volcanic waters of Rotorua, the geysers of Wai-o-Tapu and, above all, visits to the numerous Maori villages in the center of the island will make your stay even more meaningful. Rotorua is known for its geothermal activity. Ancient volcanoes have left a legacy of hot springs, geysers and the smell of sulfur that's...shall we say, quite peculiar.
The call of the south
To me, Wellington has always seemed far too humble in relation to its assets, not as an administrative capital, but as a charming and easy-going city. If you had to choose just two activities, make sure to visit the Te Papa Museum, one of the largest museums for understanding the Maori culture. Then hop on the cable car that takes you to the top of the town. The view is amazing.
If you have time, the train will take you at a leisurely pace back to your destination. Alternatively, Wellington airport is a stone's throw away, and Auckland is two hours away.
If you'd like to continue your trip and discover South Island, click here.