There are many great places to visit in New Zealand, and the North Island is no exception.
Home to around 75% of New Zealand’s population, the North Island has some of the country’s largest cities, including Auckland and Wellington.
However, the North Island also has plenty of natural beauty, including gorgeous beaches, mountains, hikes, and geothermal attractions. In addition, it’s the best place to experience Māori culture in New Zealand.
With all of this in mind, there are countless options for destinations on the North Island, and it can be overwhelming to know where to go. That’s where this guide will help!
In this guide, you’ll find tips from a local on the best places to visit on North Island, New Zealand, including the best cities to explore and where to experience the great outdoors.
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Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and the point of entry for most international visitors.
While most travelers to New Zealand are interested in the country’s outdoor scenery, Auckland is an excellent place to spend a day or two before visiting more North Island destinations.
The city of Auckland is based around two beautiful harbors and is sometimes referred to as the “City of Sails” for its abundance of sailboats and fancy yachts.
One of the best things to do in Auckland is hopping on a scenic cruise or ferry to neighboring islands like Waiheke Island, Rangitoto, or Tiritiri Matangi.
In addition to its gorgeous seaside setting, Auckland is a multicultural, cosmopolitan city, and you’ll find no shortage of excellent places to eat, drink, and shop. Britomart and Commerical Bay are two of the most popular areas for shops and eateries in the Auckland city center. Consider an Auckland food tour or a city tour for the full experience!
While in Auckland, it’ll be impossible to miss spotting the Sky Tower, the most iconic building in the city. The Sky Tower dominates the city’s skyline and stands at an impressive 328 meters (1,076 feet) tall. You can book a ticket to go up to the top of the Sky Tower, where you’ll get some of the best views over the city.
For another must-see viewpoint in Auckland, visit the volcanic cone of Mount Eden. The hike up to the summit of Mount Eden is one of the best hiking trails in Auckland, offering panoramic views over the city and surrounding landscape.
Bay of Islands
A 3-hour drive north of Auckland leads you to the Bay of Islands, a subtropical district in the Northland region filled with beaches, history, and beautiful coastal scenery.
The main towns in the Bay of Islands are Paihia, Russell, and Kerikeri, which make a great home base for exploring the area. In addition to numerous accommodation options, you’ll also find some of Northland’s best campsites in the Bay of Islands.
While in the Bay of Islands, book a scenic cruise to spot marine life and experience some of the 144 islands that give this district its name. You can also charter a boat to go ocean fishing, which the area is well-known for.
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are an important historic and cultural site in New Zealand and a must-visit in the Bay of Islands.
Active travelers will also love the hiking, diving, and snorkeling opportunities around the Bay of Islands.
Some excellent day trips from the Bay of Islands include visiting Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island and viewing ancient kauri trees in the Waipoua Forest.
The Coromandel Peninsula
New Zealand’s North Island has many incredible beaches, many of which can be found on the Coromandel Peninsula.
Two of the best beaches in the Coromandel are Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach, both major attractions.
At Hot Water Beach, you can dig your own hot tub in the sand at low tide! Geothermal waters bubble up from beneath the beach, and you only need a shovel and some energy to carve out your own hot pool. You can rent shovels from a shop right next to Hot Water Beach. This is undoubtedly one of the most unique things to do on the North Island!
The Coromandel has some great accommodation options, but one of the best ways to experience the area is to go camping at one of the many awesome beachfront campgrounds in the Coromandel.
Mount Maunganui is a picturesque coastal town known for its long stretch of golden sandy beach and its namesake volcanic cone: Mount Maunganui, or “the Mount,” as locals often refer to it.
One of the best things to do here is to hike up Mount Maunganui, where you’ll get incredible panoramic views from the summit. If that sounds like too much work, there’s also an easy, relatively flat hiking track that circles the base of Mount Maunganui.
After hiking the Mount, you can soak in the Mount Maunganui heated saltwater pools at the mountain’s base. There’s no better way to relax after hiking!
When you’re not busy hiking or relaxing in the hot pools, you can hang out at the beautiful beach or peruse the many local shops and restaurants along Mount Maunganui’s Main Street.
One of the top destinations on New Zealand’s North Island is Rotorua, famous for its geothermal attractions and Māori culture.
Rotorua is a place like no other, with a town built around bubbling mud pits, steaming geothermal vents, and boiling lakes.
In Rotorua, you can visit geothermal sites like the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and Te Puia or soak in a relaxing natural hot spring.
One of the best things to do in Rotorua is to learn about Māori culture at a Māori cultural experience, which involves a haka performance and traditional hāngī meal.
The town of Taupō sits along the shores of beautiful Lake Taupō, the largest lake in New Zealand.
Like Rotorua, Taupō is known for its geothermal activity. This means that you can soak in many hot springs after a day of exploring Taupō! The hot pools at Wairekei Terraces are a great option for adults, and families will love the amenities at the Taupō DeBretts hot springs.
Other popular activities in Taupō include visiting Huka Falls, taking a boat cruise to the Māori rock carvings at Mine Bay, and fishing for trout in nearby rivers.
Tongariro National Park
Avid hikers won’t want to miss a visit to Tongariro National Park, which is home to the North Island’s best day hike: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
This epic day hike traverses an otherwordly landscape, with technicolor lakes and volcanic peaks being significant highlights.
Overall, the Tongariro Crossing takes most people between 7-8 hours to complete. It’s a 12-mile (19.4 km) strenuous hike, so it’s a challenging trail—but it’s a highlight for many visitors to the North Island.
While the Tongariro Crossing is free, hikers need to arrange and pay for a shuttle to transport them to the trailhead and pick them up at the end of the hike. Many shuttle companies in Tongariro National Park offer this service, so you won’t have trouble organizing your hike.
If the Tongariro Crossing sounds too intimidating, there are plenty of shorter hikes in the area, including Taranaki Falls and Tama Lakes.
While smaller than Auckland, Wellington is New Zealand’s capital city.
Located at the bottom of the North Island, Wellington is a gorgeous city perched along a sparkling harbor and surrounded by green hills.
Wellington is known as “windy Welly” for its notoriously gusty weather, but on a clear, calm day, it’s hard to imagine a prettier city.
Top things to do in Wellington include taking the cable car to the botanic gardens, hiking to the top of Mount Victoria for panoramic views over the city, and visiting the excellent (and free) Te Papa Museum. Consider a sightseeing tour from a local!
While in Wellington, it would also be remiss not to sample some of the city’s delicious craft beer, which it’s well-known for. Head to Little Beer Quarter for a great selection of local craft beers.
Off the beaten tourist path lies a North Island city: New Plymouth.
New Plymouth is a small city on the North Island’s west coast. It’s known for its black sand surf beaches and its hiking trails in Mount Egmont National Park, which is home to the volcanic mountain of Mount Taranaki.
While in New Plymouth, a top thing to do is to walk or cycle along the gorgeous New Plymouth Coastal Walkway, where you’ll also find the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, shaped like a whale skeleton and a breaking wave.
A must-visit place in New Plymouth is Mount Egmont National Park, where you can hike to Dawson Falls and the Wilkies Pools through a moss-laden forest. Another great hike is the trail to Pouakai Tarns, a small alpine lake that reflects Mount Taranaki on a calm day.
After a day of activities around New Plymouth, relax with a delicious meal and craft beer at Shining Peak Brewery, one of the best craft breweries on North Island, New Zealand.
Napier is located on the east coast of the North Island in the sunny Hawkes Bay region. This coastal city is an excellent place to visit on the North Island if you love wine, good food, and Art Deco architecture.
After experiencing a devastating earthquake in 1931, the city of Napier was rebuilt in the Art Deco fashion of the time. This means that Napier is now one of the best places in the world to experience Art Deco architecture. There are options for Art Deco walking tours, or you can pick up a pamphlet at the Napier Visitor Center to do a self-guided tour.
Napier is also surrounded by one of the best wine regions in New Zealand. The Hawkes Bay wine region is New Zealand’s second-largest wine region, with over 200 vineyards. The region is known for its Chardonnay, Syrah, and Merlot Cabernet blends.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
One of the most unique attractions on New Zealand’s North Island is the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, where you’ll find a network of underground caves filled with thousands of glittering glow worms.
You’ll need to book a guided tour to visit the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. All travelers have tour options, from a boat cruise through an impressive glow worm grotto to an adventurous black water rafting experience.
Seeing glowworms is a unique New Zealand experience that shouldn’t be missed on your visit to the North Island!
While in the Waitomo area, there are some other noteworthy attractions to check out: the Ōtorohanga Kiwi House, Mangapohue Natural Bridge, and Marokopa Falls are all well worth a visit.
When many people think of New Zealand, the first thing that comes to mind is the Lord of the Rings film series.
While much of the Lord of the Rings filming took place on the South Island, there are a few North Island filming locations, too! The most famous of these is Hobbiton, which is located near the town of Matamata on the North Island.
At the Hobbiton movie set, you can tour the exact fictional village that starred as the Shire in the Lord of the Rings films. Hobbiton is nestled amongst rolling green hills and looks just as idyllic as in the movies.
After touring Hobbiton, visitors enjoy a complimentary beverage in the Green Dragon Inn, a replica of the cozy inn from the films.
For an extra-special experience, an evening banquet tour option features a delicious feast for hobbits (and humans).
Best Places to Visit on North Island, New Zealand
As you can see, there are many wonderful places to visit on North Island, New Zealand!
While it can be tempting to try and see it all in a short trip, you really need to allocate around 14 days to visit all of the North Island places mentioned in this guide.
If you’re short on time, you can easily visit Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula, Hobbiton, Rotorua, Taupo, and the Waitomo Glowworm Caves within a 7-day road trip itinerary.
When faced with such great options, it might be hard to choose where to go. Still, one thing is sure: your visit to the North Island will be an unforgettable trip filled with cultural experiences, stunning scenery, and unique attractions you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
This article originally appeared on Wander With Alex.
Jacquelyn Michael is the Queenstown-based blogger behind Weekend Path, a New Zealand travel blog focusing on outdoor activities and itineraries. She loves to help people discover and plan road trips, camping adventures, and hikes around New Zealand.