You’ve heard of Auckland and Wellington, Hobbiton, and maybe Rotorua, but what else is there to see in the North Island of New Zealand? Is it worth it to visit the North Island or should you just stick to the south where most of the famous places are?
Well, I’m here to tell you the North Island of New Zealand is also amazing in its own right. It is so much more than just a bunch of small towns and two cities. In my view, the North Island has so many hidden gems and most places are completely off the tourist radar, which is awesome if you want to experience New Zealand like a local.
The North Island is broken up into nine regions. Setting Auckland and Wellington aside, that leaves seven less known places to explore. Let’s break down each region and see what makes it awesome and what there is to do.
As the name suggests, this is the northernmost part of the North Island (and consequently New Zealand). I feel that this is often skipped just because of its inconvenient location for those wanting to make their way down the country and leave from a more southern city. However, it can be done in a round trip (meaning you don’t have to cover the same ground twice), and if you are staying in Auckland it is doable in a long weekend. Check out my Northland road trip guide for details of how you can do it.
Northland is awesome because:
- It is the warmest part of New Zealand with the highest average temperature all year round
- It contains a lot of New Zealand’s history from early settler days and the Maori culture there is still strong
- Some of the best beaches in New Zealand are here – with the bonus you can actually swim there because it’s warm enough!
Points of interest in Northland:
- Whangarei – surf beaches
- Ninety mile beach: It’s not actually ninety miles long, it’s around ninety kilometres (still pretty long!). This is a yellow sand beach that you can drive on and ride the sand dunes.
- Cape Reinga
- Matapouri Mermaid pools: It involves a bit of a trek but this place has some beautiful views and is an amazing place to swim – just be wary of the tides.
- Paihia/Russel: This is where the first capital city of New Zealand was, and the place is full of historic information, as well as lovely sea views and walks.
- Waitangi Treaty grounds: This is the best place to find out information about Maori culture and history and experience it first hand.
Taranaki holds a special place in my heart as a place where I spent a lot of time growing up. It’s another one that seems in an awkward position for those wanting to just make a quick dash through the country, but it is worth a longer stay in my opinion.
Taranaki is awesome because:
- The iconic mountain can be seen from most places around the region and has snow for most of the year
- New Plymouth (the main city) is well structured and has a lot of culture
- There are awesome surf beaches
Points of interest in Taranaki:
- Puke Ariki: The best museum and library I have been to! It’s a really creative and interesting place – check it out.
- Fitzroy Beach
- Mount Taranaki
- Pukekura Park: If you can, visit around Christmas and new year’s time. There is a festival of lights which is a lot of fun!
More on Taranaki’s tourism website
Bay of Plenty
The Bay of Plenty is a generally sunny place which mixes beautiful beaches with suburban lifestyle.
Bay of Plenty is awesome because:
- The surf culture is top
- Beautiful beaches and landscapes
Points of interest in Bay of Plenty:
- Tauranga: Tauranga is one of the coolest places to be in New Zealand. It’s a common getaway place for young Aucklanders to hang out, being just a short drive from the major city.
- Mount Maunganui
- Te Puke Kiwifruit: This is basically a giant kiwifruit in the middle of a small town. It has become an icon and a magnet for tourists with selfie sticks.
More at Bay of Plenty’s website
Waikato is known for being a farming region, but there is really more to it than that. It has the largest area in the North Island of all the provinces, after all! Waikato is the central region which borders most of the regions in the North Island, so it is a really good place to go if you want somewhere within easy access of most of the island (like I’ve suggested in my post about day trips from Taupo).
Waikato is awesome because:
- It is geographically and culturally diverse
- There are a lot of different things to see and do
- Central location, close to many awesome spots in the North Island
Points of interest in Waikato:
- Waitomo caves
- Putaruru springs: This is one of the most beautiful natural wonders of New Zealand in my opinion. A beautiful scenic spot in rural Waikato.
- Giant L&P bottle (Paeroa): The national favourite drink, L&P originates in a small town in the Waikato. Just because it seems to be New Zealand tradition to inflate random food items, Paeroa has erected a giant L&P bottle in honour of its proud creation.
- Matamata (Hobbiton)
- Coromandel Peninsula: The coromandel is a whole area in itself to be explored – you can check out hot water beach, Thames and Cathedral Cove, just to name a few. This is a special area of the island with lots of beaches and interesting geographical formations.
More on the Hamilton Waikato website
If you’re going to visit the North Island, Manawatu and Wanganui is a must. This region is known for having some of the most stunning and out-of-this-world landscapes in the world.
Manawatu/Wanganui is awesome because:
- It is the only region in the North Island where you can ski and snowboard
- It is home to the best day hike in the world (Tongariro crossing) and the north island’s only Great Walk (Tongariro circuit)
Points of interest in Manawatu/Wanganui:
- Mount Ruapehu: The main mountain in the north island for snow sports, Mount Ruapehu is a popular destination in winter.
- Ohakune Carrot: I’m not sure what the significance of the carrot is, but there is a giant carrot in the town nearest to Mount Ruapehu (Ohakune). Just go with it.
- Tongariro national park
- Mount Ngauruhoe: In the same proximity as Tongariro, this mountain can be climbed within an hour or so and the views from the top are truly spectacular.
- Manawatu Gorge
More on the Manawatu website
>>Check out this four week New Zealand road trip itinerary.
Gisborne and Hawkes Bay
Hawke’s Bay is known as New Zealand’s primary wine region and as far as I know is popular for backpackers to do grape picking jobs. This region is the first in the world to see the sunrise in summer.
Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay is awesome because:
- You get access to lots of great wine!
- It is an art and culture hub
Points of interest in Gisborne/Hawkes Bay:
- Te Urewera National park
- Art Deco buildings
Should you visit the North Island?
In all honesty, if I had limited time to visit New Zealand (say, less than two weeks) I might skip the north island altogether and spend my time in the south island. That’s not to say the north island is not spectacular – it is – it’s just that the south island has more varied nature and landscapes. However, if you have the time, do visit the north island of New Zealand! And if you can, try to visit every region in the North Island because each one has something unique to offer.
-> Which region in the North Island is your favourite or would you most like to visit? Why?
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