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Things to Do in North Island

Home to crystal-clear lakes, volcanic islands, bubbling mud pools, empty beaches, dense forests, and vibrant cities, New Zealand’s beautiful North Island offers something for everyone—and activity-filled, informative tours to maximize your experience. Shop 'til you drop in the chic boutiques of Auckland or Wellington, sample award-winning wines among the vineyards of Martinborough, or experience the rugged coastal beauty of the spectacular Coromandel Peninsula—one of New Zealand’s most isolated regions. Using Auckland as a base, you can take in top attractions such as the otherworldly Waitomo Caves, where bright green glowworms hang in cavernous subterranean tunnels. For an altogether different outdoor experience, Rotorua’s steaming geothermal landscapes and the Bay of Islands’ peaceful coves are all within easy reach. The fertile valleys of Waiheke Island offer relaxing food, wine, and art tours; and you can delve into New Zealand’s open wilderness among the mighty Waitakere Ranges. For fans of Frodo, Bilbo, and their respective adventures, “Lord of the Rings”–themed tours help you fulfill any Tolkien fantasies by visiting the rolling hillsides of Matamata, used as a Middle-earth filming location in the trilogy. Of course, no visit to the North Island is complete without witnessing the haka—a traditional Maori dance proudly demonstrated by native Maori tribespeople across the island.
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Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings
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The unique art and handicrafts produced by New Zealand’s Maori population are among the country’s most vibrant and celebrated art works. There are few better examples of the Maori Rock carvings at Mine Bay. One of the most striking attractions of Lake Taupo, the immense carvings adorn the cliff faces of the bay, towering over 10 meters high.

Although the designs appear like the remains of an ancient Maori settlement, they were in fact carved by artist Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell in the 1970s, taking three summers to complete. The dramatic works are some of the largest rock art of their kind in the world, depicting Ngatoroirangi – the Maori visionary who guided the Tuwharetoa and Te Arawa tribes to Lake Taupo over a thousand years before. Flanking Ngatoroirangi are two smaller carvings depicting the south wind and a mermaid, and utilizing traditional Maori stone-carving techniques.

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Huka Falls
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One of New Zealand’s most visited natural attractions, just over a kilometer north of Taupo city, the mighty Huka Falls are the largest falls on the Waikato River, thundering over a 20-meter cliff edge into the rock pools below. Fed by the vast Lake Taupo (Australasia’s largest freshwater lake), the falls are created by the narrowing of the 100 meter wide river into a slim rock ravine, pushing a colossal 220,000 liters (enough to fill two Olympic sized swimming pools) over the cliff edge each second. Thanks to the build up of pressure behind the rock, an immensely powerful natural waterfall is formed. Named from the Māori word 'huka', meaning 'foam', the falls more than live up to their name as the surging water crashes onto the rocks below.

Those hoping to get a lookout over the falls can walk the footbridge overhead, where you’ll be close enough to feel the spray or else get a view from the Huka Falls Trail, a one-hour walk.

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Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)
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New Zealand’s premier museum is Te Papa Tongarewa.

Known as Te Papa (‘our place’), the museum takes an inspiring and interactive excursion through New Zealand’s history, art and culture. The museum’s prized collections focus on the areas of art, history, the Pacific, Maori culture and the natural environment.

There’s a freshness and vibrancy to this museum’s curatorship, with a huge collection of Maori artifacts, hands-on activity centers for children, re-creations of Maori meeting houses and colonial settlements, contemporary art and high-tech displays.

Take a tour of the highlights or target your favorite area of interest. Touring exhibitions are also displayed here.

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Kelly Tarlton's SEA LIFE® Aquarium
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The brainchild of the renowned marine archaeologist and diver, Kelly Tarlton's SEA LIFE Aquarium is an aquarium designed to thrill the whole family. It was the first aquarium to use curved-glass viewing containers and a conveyor belt to move people along. There is an exciting array of specimens from tropical marine fish to Antarctic penguins.

Highlights include the gigantic stingrays, turtles and octopus that you will see in the deep water exhibit and the pufferfish and stonefish in the venomous-fish tank.

Jump aboard an Antarctic Snowcat, a vehicle usually only used in Antarctica, and travel through the penguin enclosure where you will see king and gentoo penguins.

If you’re up for some added excitement you can snorkel with the fish or for a real adrenaline rush you can swim with the sharks or stingrays.

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Tiritiri Matangi Island
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Tiritiri Matangi Island is an open wildlife sanctuary devoted to the protection of local endangered species. The island is tightly controlled to keep out predators such as cats and mice, which hunt fragile bird species, including the tiny kiwi birds you’ll see running around the island.

With about 80 species of birds, Tiritiri Matangi is a must-see for birdwatchers, and the air is rich with varieties of birdsong rarely heard on the mainland. Guided walks can help you spot and identify the various types of birds, and you can find the trailheads of walking tracks at the visitor center. The Kawaura Track winds through coastal forest and 1,000-year-old pohutukawa trees, while the Wattle Track leads to the oldest working lighthouse in New Zealand. Head to Hobbs Beach, just a short walk from the ferry dock, to take a swim and spy on blue penguins in their nesting boxes.

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Parnell
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The most charismatic of Auckland's neighborhoods, charming Parnell Village is Auckland's oldest suburb and is renowned for its restaurants, cafes, galleries and boutique shopping.

Spend a day exploring the fashionable village shopping area along Parnell Road which is renowned for quality crafts and good jewelers. In the evening there is an international flavor to the 40-odd restaurants and cafes in the area and a dinner option to suit every budget. Every second Thursday of the month there is music in the streets and Parnell’s galleries stay open until 7:30pm for late night art; afterwards you can bunker down in one of Parnell’s many lovely bars. Leave behind the main shopping area and you'll find beautiful, quiet parks including the Parnell Rose Gardens and some interesting historic buildings, including the Anglican Cathedral which stands at the top of the hill and exemplifies ‘Modern-Gothic’ style, as well as the impressive 1930s brick Auckland Railway Station.

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Cornwall Park
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Set adjacent to the park at One Tree Hill, Cornwall Park is a 296-acre green space that rises above the suburbs of Auckland. Strategically located between Waitemata and Manukau harbors, the area was once the site of a Maori settlement which once housed thousands of residents.

Today, visitors enjoy Cornwall Park for its archeological remains, views of the city, and ornately-landscaped gardens. Although the Maori settlement had been completely abandoned by the time of European arrival, remnants of the ancient fortress, or pa, lay scattered about the hillside. One notable relic within the park is the Rongo Stone, a large, carved stone which was part of a Maori shrine. While a few remains are evident on self-guided walks through the park, guided tours also take place which dig deeper into the Maori history.

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Auckland War Memorial Museum
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Perched on top of a dormant volcano, the Auckland War Memorial Museum is one of New Zealand’s finest museums. The Museum is the place to explore Maori and Pacific Island history with the largest collection of artifacts in the world, including buildings, canoes, carvings and around 1.2 million images.

An extensive permanent exhibition covers the wars in which New Zealand has been involved both at home and abroad. Exhibits include Spitfire and Mitsubishi Zero airplanes and models of Maori pas (earth fortifications).

Children will have fun exploring in the Stevenson Centre where they can get up close with bugs and birds and even touch a real elephant tooth. The Walk on the Wild Side self-guided tour explores the evolutionary history of New Zealand’s plants and animals giving kids the chance to see dinosaur bones and fossils.

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More Things to Do in North Island

Viaduct Harbour

Viaduct Harbour

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There was once a time in the early 1990’s when Viaduct Harbor was a downtrodden port. With an infusion of money from the America’s Cup, however, this aging corner of the Waitemata waterfront was fantastically transformed into one of the city’s most popular districts.

Bars, restaurants, and high-end apartments line the pedestrian mall, and some of the most luxurious yachts in the South Pacific can be docked at the nearby marina. By day, Viaduct Harbor is a great place for people-watching from the patio of a comfortable café, and watch as visitors ogle at sailboats which sit in the Viaduct Basin. By night, the Viaduct turns into a hopping scene of popular bars and restaurants, and Auckland locals and passing tourists mingle with yachties on leave. More than just bars, restaurants, and luxurious sailboats, Viaduct Harbor is also home to the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum.

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Tamaki Maori Village

Tamaki Maori Village

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Built by two brothers in 1989, the Tamaki Maori Village is the destinatition for an authentic Maori experience. If you are looking for a Maori encounter beyond the typical performance found at hotels, this is the place to go.

The village is itself a recreation of an actual Maori settlement, and in this village, guests experience "The Chronicles of Uitara," a story following a single warrior line from 3,000 BC to the present day. Based on true events effected by actual people, the Chronicles of Uitara is reenacted by the most sought-after historical performers in the country. Guests will be enchanted and hooked by the tale, dramatically recreated with action-packed choreography. Following the story, the evening culminates in a traditional hangi feast.

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Mt. Victoria Lookout

Mt. Victoria Lookout

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One of the best places to get your bearings in the city of Wellington is from the Mount Victoria Lookout. The panoramic views stretch from the harbor islands all the way to planes taking off and landing at the airport south-east of the city center. Mount Victoria is 196 meters (642 feet) high. The lookout is topped by a triangular memorial to Antarctic explorer Admiral Byrd.

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Hauraki Gulf Islands

Hauraki Gulf Islands

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The sixteen Hauraki Islands are scattered off the coast of Auckland in Hauraki Bay. Auckland’s summer playground, they contain some lovely places to get away from it all and indulge in walking, horse riding, swimming, eating and drinking. Island highlights include Waiheke Island which is described as a magical island paradise and is home to over 7,000 people. Its beaches are beautiful and safe for swimming, sea kayaking and fishing, making it a popular holiday spot in summer. The rest of the year there are lovely walks and lots of restaurants, cafes and vineyards to visit. On Tiritiri Matangi Island, which is being returned to its original forest, you can explore the unusual fauna and birdlife native to New Zealand. You can also see the gulf’s oldest lighthouse, circa 1864, which is now the brightest lighthouse in the southern hemisphere. The cone shape of the dormant volcano that forms Rangitono Island provides some excellent walking opportunities with great views of Auckland Cit
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Lake Rotorua

Lake Rotorua

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Although the Rotorua area is speckled with dozens of lakes, Lake Rotorua is a different entity, detached from its neighboring lakes. Larger, deeper and much, much older, geologists believe it dates back over 200,000 years. Some of Rotorua’s other lakes were created by the Tarawera eruption of 1886, but Lake Rotorua is the original waterway to grace this section of the North Island.

Unlike the ocean, the waters of the green-hued lake are colored by sulfur and minerals, and the 920-foot elevation makes it a little cooler to the touch. It is the second largest lake on the North Island, is surrounded by a geothermal playground and offers a variety of activities for travelers. Take a cruise through the Ohau Channel, which connects with Lake Rotoiti, or go fly fishing where the waters connect and try to reel in a big one. Slide into the seat of a kayak and silently paddle the lakeshore, or strap on a helmet and go hurtling over falls while rafting on a nearby tributary.

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Wellington Cable Car

Wellington Cable Car

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Auckland Harbour Bridge

Auckland Harbour Bridge

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The magnificent Auckland Harbour Bridge is an eight-lane motorway bridge that spans Waitmata harbor between St Mary's Bay in Auckland and Northcote Point on the North Shore.

The bridge is 3,348 feet (1,020 meters) long and 15 stories high. Although it is an imposing sight from land, one of the most exciting tourist attractions for visitors to Auckland is to get up close and personal with a bridge climb or bungy.

The climb involves clamoring up the steel struts to the top of the bridge where you will see spectacular views of Auckland, known as the “City of Sails.” Bungying sees thrill-seekers falling 147 feet (45 meters) to touch the waters of Waitmata Harbor.

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Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Waimangu Volcanic Valley

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When the North Island of New Zealand’s Mt Tarawera erupted in 1886, it forever changed the Rotorua landscape into a valley of steaming wonder. This is a mystical land where lakes boil and mountains are bathed in steam, and walking past pools of bubbling mud is just another daily occurrence for visitors here. Of all the places in Rotorua to encounter this geothermal wonder, the Waimangu Volcanic Valley area offers one of the largest zones for exploring.

This site has an enormous hot spring, which is believed to be the largest in the world. Take an easy 45-minute stroll past geysers, fumaroles and fissures to learn how this exceptionally “young” landscape is literally changing by the day. Avid hikers can split off on the Mt Hazard trail to get better views of the valley and gaze down on the multi-hued lakes, radiant in turquoise and greens. One such lake provides one of the best activities in the valley—taking a cruise on Lake Rotomohana.

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Mt. Tarawera

Mt. Tarawera

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Near the northeast coast of the North Island is Mount Tarawera, the volcano responsible for a massive eruption that destroyed the famed, naturally occurring Pink and White Terraces and buried three Maori villages, including Te Wairoa, in 1866. The volcano is currently dormant, but visitors can book several different guided tours of the mountain, ranging from helicopter, 4-wheel drive vehicles and mountain bikes.

The area around Mt. Tarawera is breathtaking in its beauty and captivating in its thermal characteristics. Nearby are both the Geothermal Wonderland of Wai-O-Tapu and the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley near Te Puia, the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. At Tarawera's foot is Lake Rotomahana, which offers numerous recreational activities including fishing, water skiing and boating.

In addition to Lake Rotomahana, Mt. Tarawera's eruption formed many others, as the rift and domes formed from the explosion dramatically altered the surrounding landscape.

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Mt. Eden

Mt. Eden

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Set only three miles south of the Auckland city center, Mount Eden offers a view of the Auckland skyline unlike any other you’ll find in the city.

This 650 ft. extinct volcano is the city’s highest natural vantage point, and it’s a few miles closer to downtown Auckland than neighboring One Tree Hill. Heavily populated during ancient Maori times, the slopes of the mountain were largely abandoned at the time of European arrival. Today the area surrounding Mount Eden is one of Auckland’s most popular suburbs, and the village surrounding the base of the hill houses a burgeoning community of artists. For those flying into the Auckland airport and providing their own transportation, Mount Eden is a popular stop while driving en route to the city. The 360-degree views from the summit allow visitors to get their bearings, and one of the best free activities you’ll find in Auckland is enjoying a Mount Eden sunset.

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Old St. Paul's

Old St. Paul's

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Wellington’s first Anglican cathedral, the classic Gothic Revival Old St. Paul Cathedral’s is a picture-book wooden church built in 1845. The building was designed by the parish vicar, the Reverend Frederick Thatcher. The simple white-painted exterior leads to a dramatic interior featuring bold use of native timbers. The piers of wood form trusses that curve upwards to meet in the roof’s center, a bit like the hull of an upturned boat. Another highlight of this popular building is the lovely stained glass, particularly the windows surrounding the apse and south alcove. While the church no longer hosts regular Sunday services, it’s a popular venue for weddings and funerals.
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Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

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Like much of New Zealand's attractions, the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland centers on walking outdoors - but what a walk! The park is New Zealand's most colorful and diverse geothermal attraction; visitors follow demarcated tracks through a stunning variety of volcanic phenomena. You'll see fantastic, naturally colored hot-and-cold pools, the world famous Champagne Pool, the amazing Lady Knox Geyser and the massive craters that are the hallmark of the Rotorua region's volcanic heritage.

You'll want to bring a camera and plenty of film/memory cards - the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland has some truly amazing views and scenery. New Zealand is known for its natural beauty, but this geothermal park accentuates it with its unusual geothermal topography. In particular, the shimmering water flowing over the Sinter Terrace Formations is not to be missed.

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Whakarewarewa

Whakarewarewa

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For over 200 years, the people of the Maori tribe of Tuhourangi - Ngati Wahiao have lived near the geothermal activity of Whakarewarewa; but in 1998, they established a charitable trust through which they were able to create a unique, independent tourism experience.

Called the Living Thermal Village, Te Whakarewarewa is a visitor experience similar to Amish country in that you get to experience a way of life that has remained relatively unchanged since the early 1800s. Through cultural tours, villagers welcome visitors into their homes and demonstrate Maori heritage and traditions in the best way possible - by living it. You'll walk through the village with a guide and participate in communal activities. Since the residents live and work in the attraction, guests may take part in anything from a wedding to a funeral to ceremonial tribal gatherings. Ceremony and cultural performances occur daily, including the famous hangi feast.

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Lady Knox Geyser

Lady Knox Geyser

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Named for Lady Constance Knox, a daughter of the 15th governor of New Zealand, Lady Knox Geyser is located in the North Island's Taupo Volcanic Zone. While this region is famous for a variety of fascinating geological phenomena, the Lady Knox Geyser is unique. Every day it erupts at precisely 10:15am, when a park guide induces it to do so - with soap.

Indeed, the soap is used to break the surface tension of the cold water in the geyser's upper chamber so that it will mix with the hot water in the lower chamber, which causes an 20 meter (65 feet) eruption that can last an hour. Stones have been placed around the opening in order to enhance the blast, and over the years, silica in the water has given the spout a nozzle-like appearance. You'll find it among the other natural marvels of the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.

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