Things to Do in North Island
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.
Aucklanders swarm to Waiheke Island in summer to make the most of its stunning beaches, which are some of the safest and cleanest in the world for swimming and water sports like sea kayaking and snorkeling.
Some of the best beaches include Palm Beach, a secluded beach so named for the palms at the east end, which is not to be confused with the clothes-optional Little Palm Beach. Blackpool Beach is popular with windsurfers and the perfectly romantic Cactus Bay, which can only be accessed by boat or kayak, is popular with picnicking couples.
As well as the beaches, the 22 vineyards and numerous olive groves are popular with wine aficionados and gourmets on weekend getaways. Excellent restaurants and cafes dot the island and many offer food that complements the local wines. Settlement on the island goes back 1,000 years to the first Maori settlement. On the island today you will still find scattered remains of Maori sites, including cooking pits and terraced.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More Things to Do in North Island
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.
To early Maori this strategic viewpoint was known as Maungauika, and looking out over Auckland’s Harbor and the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, the summit of this ancient volcanic cone was perfect for fending off an attack. In the 1800s, under European rule, the hill was fortified with cannons and guns to deter a Russian invasion, and was again fortified during both World Wars to protect the precious harbor. Though the attacks themselves thankfully never came, the tunnels, guns—and view—still remain. As the fortification of the hill slowly grew, it ultimately became the preeminent coastal defense system in all of New Zealand. The guns here were cutting edge for the time they were built and installed, and included a pair of “disappearing guns” that would actually recoil back into the ground once they had fired a shot. The guns are visible at the South Battery, which along with tunnels dug by prisoners using light from flickering lanterns.
Auckland is famous for many different things, although volcanoes aren’t usually one of them.
While the sailboats, wine, and iconic waterfront are just a few of the city highlights, there nevertheless sits a volcanic island just minutes from downtown Auckland. Symmetrical, rugged, and only 550 years old, a visit to volcanic Rangitoto Island is one of the best day trips from Auckland. Ferries depart from the city’s north shore and cross the bay in about 25 minutes, and once on shore, an hour-long trek leads to a summit which was active just centuries ago. Though experts expect that Rangitoto Island will eventually erupt again, currently it’s safe to trek on the island without fear of an eruption. While the climb to the summit can be rocky and strenuous, the panoramic view of the Auckland skyline is regarded as one of the best in the city.
Located at the southern entrance to the Viaduct Harbor, the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum is a window into New Zealand’s maritime past.
As an island nation, the history of New Zealand has been largely reliant on man’s ability to navigate the sea. Polynesian voyagers in sailing canoes were the first to land on the shores of New Zealand, only to be followed later by European explorers mapping the far-reaching corners of the Pacific. Explorers were followed by traders and settlers, all of whom endured long voyages at sea to reach the shores of Aotearoa. Today, New Zealand consistently puts out some of the world’s top shipbuilders and sailors, and America’s Cup racing yachts are a common sight in the waters around the museum. In fact, the enormous racing yacht KZ1 which competed for the 1988 America’s Cup is docked adjacent to the museum entrance, and the 153- ft. mast on the ship can’t make it beneath the Auckland Harbor Bridge.
Located alongside the scenic island of Rangitoto, the emerald landscapes, striking coastline and thick forests of Motutapu Island attract visitors from across the globe. Sandy beaches and easy walking paths offer up plenty of opportunity for rest and relaxation, while the 300 Maori archeological sites that scatter the land showcase a rich history and detail ancient lives of early inhabitants.
Travelers can explore one of the Island’s popular walking tracks, like the Motutapu Walkway, which connects the causeway to Rangitoto and the Matutapu ferry dock. Several World War II military sites in the northern junction offer history buffs with a look at gun pits, shelters and other fortresses. Outdoor adventurers can overnight at one of the island’s popular campsites and those looking to give back can volunteer at the Motutapu Restoration Trust, where locals and out-of-towners work alongside each other to plant trees, clean up beaches and monitor wildlife.
Just 10 minutes from central Wellington, the unique Zealandia wildlife sanctuary and conservation park is one of New Zealand’s premier eco attractions, restoring the flora and fauna that once surrounded the city.
The Karori Wildlife Sanctuary’s restored forest and wetlands provide a habitat for more than 30 native bird species, as well as frogs, lizards and cute green geckos.
View the exhibition tracing the development of New Zealand’s natural history, take a guided walking tour through the predator-proof, 225-hectare (550-acre) sanctuary, then refuel at the park’s cafe overlooking the lake.
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.
The Government Gardens in central Rotorua are so bountiful that they could easily be mistaken for a piece of the old English countryside. If it weren’t for the telltale scent of sulfur that wafts through the air from the nearby hot springs, many visitors would forget where they’re standing, due to the Edwardian architecture and dignified landscape.
As it happens, this 50-acre compound on the shore of Lake Rotorua was gifted to the Crown by Maori tribes. Taking what was once a patch of scrubland peppered with therapeutic hot pools, the area was transformed into a public park complete with manicured lawns and the famous baths. To add to the impeccable nature of the gardens, an ornate bath house was constructed on the property and now serves as a piece of architectural history. Standing stoically above the flower gardens that burst with color each spring, the building houses the Rotorua Museum of Art and History, which is also well worth a look.
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.
It’s tough to decide which is more beautiful: the cobalt hue of the aptly-named “Blue Lake” as it sparkles in the midday sun, or the deep green of the Whakarewarewa Forest that hugs the shore of the lake. Either way, the natural beauty is what makes this lake a Rotorua favorite, and it’s the best place in town for swimming, water skiing, and reconnecting with nature. Thanks to a pumice and rhyolite bottom that’s reflected by the sun, the blue color of this small lake is just too inviting for a swim. Despite its small size and shallow depth the water is still relatively cool, and the north end beach is the place to be on the hottest days of summer. If you’d prefer to work up a sweat instead before cooling off with a swim, a 3.5-mile walking trail encircles the entire lake. Walk beneath the shaded groves of the Whakarewarewa forest, and leave footprints in the lakeshore sand before jumping in for a swim.
Funky, chic and full of life, Wellington’s Cuba Street District is the de facto hot spot for curbside entertainment and people-watching. This pedestrian mall boasts an artsy flare that permeates the boutiques and cafés, and it’s the best place in Wellington to find buskers and street performers sure to draw smiles.
Named for a 19th-century ship that carried settlers to the capital city, Cuba Street is full of enjoyable spots, from impossibly cool coffee shops where visitors linger and watch the rain roll in to the mall where shoppers stomp their feet to impromptu performances as they stroll by enjoying the sunshine.
If visiting in March or April, there’s a chance you could attend the Cuba Street Carnival, which only happens every other year. This trendy district becomes a procession of floats that pulses with live music and turns into the hottest place in the city.
Things to do near North Island
- Things to do in Auckland
- Things to do in Rotorua
- Things to do in Taupo
- Things to do in Wellington
- Things to do in Waiheke Island
- Things to do in Tauranga
- Things to do in Tongariro National Park
- Things to do in Hastings
- Things to do in Napier
- Things to do in South Island
- Things to do in Coral Coast
- Things to do in New South Wales
- Things to do in Picton
- Things to do in Tasmania
- Things to do in Victoria