23 Unmissable Things To Do On New Zealand’s North Island

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New Zealand’s North Island, also known as Te Ika-a-Māui and Te Waipounamu, is where you’ll find the country’s capital city, Wellington, as well as some of the country’s most beautiful nature sites.

It’s the largest of the two islands, and so you can expect to find an incredible of amount of things to do on New Zealand’s North Island.

We have visited the North Island of New Zealand several times, both on a short family getaways and on a longer road trip experience.

The North Island is full of adventure, stunning coastal beauty, rich Māori culture, and smelly geothermal wonders.

But if you’re not sure what to do in North Island New Zealand, then below are some of the top attractions you cannot miss!

Things to Do on New Zealand’s North Island

Whether you’re planning a road trip, a quick getaway from Wellington, or a month long backpacking expedition – don’t miss these top attractions in North Island New Zealand!

1. Go Sailing in the Bay of Islands

schooner sailing bay of islands
Sailing in the Bay of Islands

For a very scenic and relaxing experience, go sailing in the Bay of Islands. Located in the Northland Region, the Bay of Islands is close to the northern tip of the country.

This area is a world class region for sailing and a collection of over 140 islands with a coastline sporting four villages, including the charming town of Russell.

For day sails or a late afternoon cruise visit Tucker.co.nz.

2. Enjoy the Hot Thermal Springs in Rotorua

caroline and kaylyra swimming in hot thermal springs Rotorua

“In Rotorua all you can do here is eat, sleep, and spa,” our waiter told us one evening.

Indeed, when you visit Rotorua, the thermal experience is everywhere. It steams up from the pavements; there are geysers fields,  mud pools, fumaroles and hot springs.

This thermal activity makes itself known in every corner of the city, and is the reason for the area’s famed sulphur scent.

And one of the best thermal experiences you can have is at the world renowned Polynesian Spa, voted as a world top 10 spa.

Nearby is also the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland with erupting geysers and the Te Puia Maroi village has the Pohutu Geyser, jumping mud pools, and live kiwi birds.

3. Go White Water Raft the Tongariro River

people whitewater rafting on the tongariro river
White water rafting in New Zealand

If you’re after a real wilderness experience, then go White Water Rafting on The Tongariro River. It’s one of New Zealand’s most famous rivers.

In between conquering each rapid, you will witness ancient beech forests, rainbow trout swimming upstream, breathtaking gorges, limestone and volcanic cliffs, and water so clean and fresh you could drink it.

This river is known as the perfect river for your first rafting experience.

4. Go Beer Tasting at Hallertau Brewery in Auckland

flight of beers on table
Hallertau Brewery

Did you know that New Zealand has some pretty good local beer? We didn’t either.

The Hallertau Brewbar and Restaurant, a New Zealand first, is nestled in the greenery of Riverhead, only a twenty minute drive from the city.

Hallertau, with it’s combination of brewing and epicurean lifestyle, will allow you to sit back and enjoy for a couple of hours. And the food is damn good too. Order the pumpkin risotto.

5. Sky Dive

craig in sky diving gear standing beside small plane in field

When I went Sky diving in New Zealand it was the first time that I have ever jumped. I faced my fears in the Northland’s region, near Whangarei, and it was awesome.

I jumped with Dave, one of the regions most experienced tandem jumpers, and the scenery was spectacular.

6. Visit The Buried Village of Te Wairoa in Rotorua

a small hut covered in leaves

The explosion of Mt Terewaka over a century ago burried the whole village, including what was considered a natural wonder of the world, the pink and white terraces.

And before the recent earthquake in Christchurch earlier this year, it was New Zealand’s biggest natural disaster.

A visit to the buried village of Te Wairoa is fascinating and the story is told to you by a knowledgeable and passionate guide as she walks you through the village sharing with you stories from that time.

7. Go Sea Kayaking

woman paddling a kayak
Sea kayaking

The Northland region offers diverse sea kayaking opportunities to explore coves, white sand beaches, and spectacular coastal formations in clear subtropical waters in what is the countries warmest region.

Experiencing the scenery first hand is what New Zealand is all about, and sea kayaking is a great way to get out on the water and close to nature.

See the different sea kayaking tours available to suit every level of ability and age.

8. See The Picturesque Whangarei Falls

Whangarei Falls cascading over cliff surounded by lush greenery
Whangarei Falls

The 24 metre high Whangarei Falls is known as the most photogenic waterfall in all of New Zealand. 

Because of its ease of access, picturesque bush setting, and guaranteed 365 days per year flow, it is a must see if you are in the Whangarei area of the North Island in New Zealand.

The falls is a pleasant place to enjoy a picnic or a day hike amidst the native bush.

9. Bungy Jump in Taupo

person Bungy jumping in taupo new zealand
Would you?

The bungy jump is a New Zealand invention.

Well, not entirely, for centuries the people of Vanuatu have been leaping from tall towers with vine ropes attached to their ankles, but in the 1980′s commercial bungy jumping was developed by a group of Kiwi’s and the rest is history.

At 47 meters high and the inviting waters of the Waikato River below, Taupo Bungy is the highest water touch bungy in New Zealand.

10. Cycling Winery Tour Around Hawke’s Bay

craig on bike in middle of vineyards

Located on the idyllic Te Awanga coast, the Hawke’s Bay area is one of New Zealand’s premier wine regions.

And one of the best ways to visit the vineyards and wineries in the Hawke’s Bay area is by bicycle as the land is flat and most of the wineries are within easy cycling distance.

The bike path is via the coastal cycleway which is a dedicated cycle path that’s flat and easy to navigate.

11. Discover Maori Culture at the Tamaki Maori Village

people standing in front of a cabin
Tamakai Cultural Experience

“We are a proud culture who has had dramatic changes over the past 150 years.”  ~ Maori elder as he spoke in farewell to us about his culture.

There are some cultural experiences around the world that are too touristy in the fact that they are done for the tourists and to make money.

But what I loved about the Tamaki village experience is that it was more about sharing. Sharing a culture, knowing that they had something of value to offer the world.

The Tamaki Village experience is the BEST ”touristy” cultural experience I have had.

12. Freak Yourself Out on Auckland’s Sky Walk

craig standing on edge of narrow platform with arms outstretched and auckland views behind him
Look, no hands

Consider this; using only a safety harness while walking on a one meter wide platform with no handrails, walk 360 degrees around the external circumference of the tower suspended 192 meters above the ground, with nothing but air on either side of you!

That’s what awaits you on Auckland’s Sky Walk.

Whilst on the platform you’ll stop at various points to have your photo taken, learn some Auckland history, and have a go at leaning over the edge. Just do it…

Get your entrance ticket to Auckland Sky Tower here.

13. Check Out Cuba Street in Wellington

bats in harbour
Lambton Harbour

One of the more bohemian areas of Wellington is Cuba Street, the home to an eclectic collection of cafes, op-shops, boutique, small fashion stores, art galleries, and music shops.

It is the centre of one of the four ‘quarters’ of downtown Wellington, the Cuba Quarter. And it’s one of the best locations to grab a coffee. Check out Fidel’s Cafe for a delicious cup of coffee!

Wondering around Cuba Street is one of the top attractions in Wellington and is a great place to see New Zealand’s diverse cultures.

14. Visit The Town of Russell

scenic view of Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Bay of Islands

This tranquil seaside town is well worth a visit.

The elegant township was once known as “the hell hole of the Pacific” when it was the shore leave destination for sailors, whalers and traders during the 19th century.

Russell is the first permanent European settlement and sea port in New Zealand. But today Russell is a popular holiday destination with historic buildings and a great starting off point to go sailing in the Bay of Islands.

15. Experience a Rugby Game at Eden Park

rugby players lined up next to australian flag

New Zealand is rugby mad and they have an obsession with the game and their beloved All Blacks to rival any other countries love of their national team.

Their players are treated like god, and they appear constantly in all forms of media and advertising. The mood of the entire country rides on the back of the results of their national team.

And there is no better place to watch an All Blacks rugby game than at their home ground, Eden Park in Auckland.

16. Pay a Visit to Hobbiton

little house with blue door hobbiton

Lord of the Rings fans should not miss a chance to walk around the Hobbiton movie set of the movie franchise.

The real-life Hobbiton, located in Matamata, allows visitors to walk around the hobit houses, sit on the bench outside Bilbo Baggin’s house, and pretend to be a hobbit in the movies.

If you love Lord of the Rings, don’t miss a complete LOTR guided tour, which combines a visit to the Waitomo Caves to see the glowworms.

17. Trek the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in Tongariro National Park

brown rolling hills with smoke coming out of them

Hiking fans will want to lace up their boots and hit Tongariro National Park for an unforgetable adventure.

The park is most famous for its Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the Great Walks of New Zealand, treversing across volcanic terrain, past Mt Tongariro.

The hike is possible to complete in 6-10 hours, depending on your fitness level, and offers incredible views of the park’s landscapes, including the Red Crater and Emerald Lakes.

Don’t want to hike alone? Check out this guided hiking tour here.

18. Visit Cathedral Cove on Coromandel Peninsula & Hot Water Beach

person walking on hot water beach new zealand

Want a spa experience without paying for it? Head to Hot Water Beach, where you’ll find the naturally heated mineral water emerges from the sand in streams of bubbles.

The water has formed a pool in the rocks at the southern end of the beach, or you can dig your own little thermal pool in the sand at low tide.

Just a 5-minute drive from Hot Water Beach is Cathedral Cove, a gorgeous beach known for its rock formations and natural beauty.

19. Get Cultured at Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Another cultural landmark not to be missed is Waitangi Treaty Grounds, which is the famous spot where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed back in 1840. It was here that 43 Northland Chiefs came together and signed the treaty.

After that, more than 500 Māori Chiefs signed within 8 months.

Today, the grounds is a museum to Maori culture and hosts cultural performances and guided tours.

20. Admire the Landscapes of the Outlying Islands

small coastal trail on Waiheke island
Waiheke island

New Zeland isn’t just made up of North Island and South Island, there are several smaller, outlying islands that are worth a visit too.

Take a ferry to Waiheke Island, the second largest in the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand and can be reached from the central-city terminal in Auckland. It’s famous for its wine and natural beauty.

Nature lovers should not miss Poor Knights Islands, a collection of islands to the north of North Island. The islands are a marine reserve and a great place to go scuba diving, snorkeling or kayaking.

21. Look for Whales

Whale tail breaching in Kaikoura

Whale watching is one of the top things to do in North Island New Zealand, since the island hosts several migrating species on their way from the Pacific Ocean to Antartica throughout the year.

From May to October, you can see humpback, southern right whales and pilot whales on their annual migration. Whereas from November to March, it’s a great time to see migrating orca and blue whales.

As well as whales, you can also see pods of dolphins, seals, and sometimes even penguins.

22. Admire Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo rock carvings

Another geological phenomenon worth seeing is Lake Taupō, a large crater lake known for its vibrant shades of turquoise and jade green.

Although natural, it’s home to a trout fishery, as well as native crayfish. It’s also a great place to look out for native water bird species.

What brings people to Lake Taupo though is the ancient Maori Rock Carvings, which is seen only by boat from the lake.

23. Drive Along Ninety Mile Beach

view of 90 mile beach with sand dunes

If you need more adventure on your New Zealand trip, then grab yourself a 4WD vehicle and drive along 90-mile beach, also known as Te-Oneroa-a-Tōhē, on the western coast the North Island, overlooking the Tasman Sea.

While it’s actually only 88 kilometres (55 miles) long, the beach is famous for being a public highway, and an alternative to State Highway 1.

The beach leads directly to Te Paki dunes, which are great for sand boarding on.

Some of the top attractions on the drive are Tauroa Point, the Aupōuri Peninsula and Cape Reinga, known as the most northern point of New Zealand. You will need to pull over to walk up the headland to the lighthouse.

Final Thoughts

New Zealand’s North Island is packed full of exciting attractions and unforgettable experiences, and by now you’ve probably got a selection of things to do to add to your itinerary.

We hope this guide helped you plan your trip and gave you inspiration for what to see! Check here for car rental availability and prices. And click here for our favorite travel booking sites thatt will save you time and money for any kind of trip.

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15 Things to do on New Zealand's North Island

Can you recommend any things to do in the North Island of New Zealand? Share in the comments.

44 thoughts on “23 Unmissable Things To Do On New Zealand’s North Island”

  1. Kevin aka EyeTravelSolo

    Okay guy’s. it’s 1:30am and now I have to choose between “15” killer activities? Didn’t it use to always be “10”? ha..ha..
    I’ve experienced many of these, but non in NZ, so this is hard. but it cimes down too Skydiving (never done it), Whitewater (never did more than class 2) and the Skywalk. I have a fear of heights, so to overcome it, have to go with the Skydive. The Skywalk has safety ropes, got to go for the Gusto! But after, I have to make my way to the beer tasting, man, that looks like putting candy in front of a kid!! 🙂

      1. Kevin aka EyeTravelSolo

        I figure with Skydiving, at least you know it’s a done deal if the chute doesn’t open 🙂 Who knows if the ropes will hold 🙁

        One tip, I have Bungeed from about 300ft. The best way to do it is standing backwards and going over head 1st!. Oh yea, and hope for the best!

  2. Hey Caz and Craig! Great post, I am checking out a ton of these right now while staying in the North Island. I thought Cape Rainga was a stunning sight to see and one of my favorites so far, if you want you can check out my photo on Travel Dudes: http://www.traveldudes.org/images/lighthouse-cape-rainga/15014

    Also, I agree with Whangarei Falls, it’s was an awesome place to walk around. I just arrived in NZ a few weeks ago and I’ll be here for a year so I’m sure I’ll end up checking out most of those places! Did you hike around the falls at all? If you want to see my face plant near the falls in the water, my embarrassing video is here: http://justchuckinit.com/videos/

    Cheers and happy travels!

  3. Woohoo! Makes me EVEN more excited that New Zealand is on my list and in my plans for a couple of years time. I’m definitely bookmarking this post – thanks for another greatly informative post 🙂

  4. Great list! I walked down Cuba Street in Wellington the other day (I’m in Wellington now) and I’ll be in Rotorua in a couple weeks! I’d love to see that waterfall, going to look it up now.

  5. Great list, but of course so much could be added! There’s so much to do in NZ.

    I’d also suggest driving on 90 Mile Beach, zorbing in Rotorua, and digging your own hot tub at Hot Water Beach (or doing anything else on the Coromandel Peninsula, for that matter).

  6. Great list, you hear so much about the South Island it’s nice to see what the highlights of the North Island are. We are heading to New Zealand in February and can’t wait to check out these things! Thanks for the tips!

  7. Hi Craig and visitors to New Zealand
    I live in Rotorua and am currently building a website about my city with tips for visitors and.. mountain biking.. we’re up there with the best tracks in the world.

    The tracks cater to everyone from the leisure riders right on through to the hard out downhillers (is that even a word). You can hire bikes or there are guided tours with a number of different operators. Mountain Bike Rotorua is a new one actually based on site at Waipa which is the main mountain bike access to the forest.

    It’s so much fun and in fact, my daughter just face planted into the mud the other day after a lot of heavy rain. The funny thing is she wasn’t even on a track, she was on one of the forestry roads, what a hoot. Whether it’s walking or biking we’re out there a lot. I would thoroughly recommend having a go and hope this helps out. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the share Karen. We heard how great the mountain biking was when we were there. Would love to give it a go next time we come visit your beautiful city

      1. Yes it was “hilarious” face planting in the mud! (I’m Karen’s daughter).

        I live in Auckland and recommend a few other extra things to do when you visit NZ..

        – Swim at Piha beach
        – Do a winery trail on Waiheke Island
        – Visit Auckland Museum
        – Get ice cream from Movenpick at Mission Bay
        – Go rural shopping at the Matakana market
        – Spend a hot summers afternoon at Takapuna beach
        – Visit Devonport for some spectacular views of Auckland City

        Hope that helps 😀

        Elise x

  8. Hi guys,
    We did New Zealand last year and loved every minute of it. Sadly I was too scared to do a sky dive or bungy jump but I will have built enough courage to do it when we go back next year (I think).
    One thing I did love to do whilst I was over there was spot all the Lord of the Rings locations – not everyones cup of tea but I love the films so it was great to see where my favourite scenes were actually shot, and none disappointed!
    You can get some great tour books that tell you exactly where to go, and if this is your thing a trip to Weta Cave museum in Wellington is a must 🙂

  9. Tiny Girl with Big Bag

    Great list, most likely that you tried them all! I have also heard of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ tour where you can visit the village of the Hobbits 🙂

  10. Sheila Fitzgerald

    My friend and I arrive in the North Island on 26/12/15 until 9/1/16 and wondered if we could comfortably drive around the entire perimeter in that time and would it be advisable (ie time-wise etc)

  11. I’m heading to Auckland this year but I have no definite plans yet – exact date, how many days, what to do, etc. I’m reading through blogs that can help me plan my trip well and enjoy my time there. I’m glad I found your blog post.

  12. My new favourite is the Hamurana Springs Track. It is a few minutes North of Rotorua and a nice easy path along the stream. The water is so clear and the colours are absolutely stunning.

  13. Hi,

    We are travelling to Auckland on March 1st for 12 days. We are a family of 3 with our son who will be 18 months old. Any suggestions for must see places or activities for us that are toddler friendly. We are likely renting a car or camper and are pretty comfortable with minimal comforts and rustic accommodations. Thanks!

  14. This is an interesting list, mainly because when I went to the North Island I did hardly any of these things!

    The thermal springs in Rotorua are great and I really enjoyed my time there. I agree with the rugby game at Eden Park as well, unfortunately, there wasn’t any games on when I visited Auckland. So, I had to make do with walking around the stadium one evening!

    I do feel like you’ve missed a few things out, but then everyone has different tastes. I would have included Hobbiton for sure as this was one of the best places I visited in the whole of New Zealand. I also would have included Te Papa museum in Wellington, as it was a fantastic and interesting place to visit!

    Anyway, it was great reading this list, as it brought some great memories of travelling in the North Island! Thanks!

  15. Fun list! Might I add, Hot Water beach and Catherdral Cove in the Coromandel area, mountain biking in Rotorua, the tree walk in Rotorua, The Squeeze river jet boat experience in Rotorua, America’s Cup and Maritime Museum in Auckland,, and the Church History Museum of the Pacific Islands in Hamilton! All well worth the time!!

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