20 top things to do in the North Island

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There’s an abundance of things to do and places to see when you’ve got time to tour the North Island of New Zealand.

Here’s a list of 20 suggestions made by travel site newzealandholidaytravel.com.

20 top things to do in the North Island

1. Explore the Bay of Islands

Consisting of more than 140 beautiful islands the area is famous for both its natural beauty and historic significance. Always popular for fishing and sailing the area is increasingly being recognised as a great place to see whales, dolphins and seals. The founding document of New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed by Maori chiefs and the representatives of the British Crown in 1840 in Waitangi and is celebrated in the national public holiday of Waitangi Day on 6th February. The historic town of Russell was the first permanent European settlement and port in New Zealand.

2. Feel the sand between your toes at Ninety Mile Beach

New Zealand’s most famous beach, which contrary to what its name suggests, stretches for a mere 55 miles. A popular destination for tourists to admire the huge sand dunes and ride down them on sand toboggans. Other activities such as sand yachting, surf-casting and quad bike racing are popular. In March every year the beach hosts a series of running events, including an Ultra-Marathon along its entire length, to celebrate a Maori legend. Runners from all over the world travel to compete.

3. Take a day trip to Waiheke Island

It takes about 45 minutes to reach Waiheke Island by ferry from downtown Auckland, which is why about 8,000 people choose to live permanently on New Zealand’s third most populated island (behind the North and South Islands). Population increases during the summer when about 4,000 holiday homes are rented out and visitors take to Waiheke’s many beaches, including the most popular which are Oneroa and Onetangi. The island attracts many day-trippers who can enjoy its wineries, restaurants and craft shops.

4. Get up early for the Gisborne sunrise

Gisborne is famous for its sun, surf and scenery. It boasts that it is the first city in the world to greet the sun each day because of its position relative to the International Date Line. Technically, this is only true for part of the year and there is a friendly rivalry between Gisborne and Suva, Fiji, and Nuku’alofa, Tonga, as to who can truly make the claim. Either way, Gisborne gets plenty of sun!

5. Let off steam in a Rotorua mud bath

The city is renowned for its ‘pong’ – actually the smell of sulphur – that is likened to bad eggs. This is caused by the geothermal activity releasing hydrogen sulphide into the air. The same geothermal activity is also responsible for many of Rotorua’s best-known attractions such as its geysers and bubbling mud pools. Rotorua promotes itself as the spa capital of the South Pacific with many motels and other facilities offering the chance to soak in naturally hot waters reputedly with the power to heal the body.

6. Walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Often rated as the best one-day walk in New Zealand, this 19km trek passes through a dramatic volcanic landscape of striking geological formations around the active volcano that is Mt. Tongariro. The trek takes 7-9 hours and requires walkers to be well prepared and to have a moderate degree of fitness. The area is a designated World Heritage Site.

7. Learn about New Zealand at Te Papa Museum, Wellington

New Zealand is rightly proud of its innovative and high-tech national museum. Featuring extensive collections documenting the lives of the Maori and early settlers whilst also celebrating the beauty of the natural world. A virtual bungy jump and an earthquake simulator are the pick of the interactive activities. And if that’s not enough then the museum also houses one of the country’s finest restaurants.

8. Catch a wave on the Taranaki Coast

The North Island’s Taranaki Coast offers the most consistent and some say best surf conditions in New Zealand, with good, even breaks on many beaches. The so-called Surf Highway is a section of State Highway 45 that runs from New Plymouth to Hawera with access to all the best bays. The Taranaki Coast has played host to World Series surf competitions drawing big crowds to see the world’s finest surf heroes in action. Opunake beach (64km from New Plymouth) and Stent Road (37km from New Plymouth) are among the more famous.

9. Soak in nature’s bath at Hot Water Beach

Dig your own spa on this famous and unique beach where hot water from an underground volcanic reservoir reaches the surface through the sands. At low tide locals and visitors dig their own thermal pools in the sand, adding seawater to cool the hot volcanic waters. Near Mercury Bay, just off State Highway 25 to Whenuakite on the gorgeous Coromandel Peninsula.

10. Stand in the shadow of giant kauri trees

New Zealand’s most famous species of tree, the Kauri, is estimated to reach up to 4,000 years of age. Two individual trees in Northland’s Waipoua Kauri Forest have become famous in their own right. Te Matua Ngahere (‘Father of the Forest’) has the widest girth of any kiwi tree at 16m and is thought to be 2,000-3,000 years old, whilst Tane Mahuta (‘Lord of the Forest’) is the tallest kauri at 51m.

11. Sail Auckland Harbour

To not take to the water is to miss the point of the City of Sails. Whether it’s a harbour tour, a ride in an America’s Cup yacht, a boat trip to a suburban beach, a spot of whale-watching or just the ferry to Devonport, to see Auckland from the water is to see it at its most natural.

12. Re-live the 1930s in the Art Deco city of Napier

Napier city centre was almost levelled by an earthquake in 1931 which led to it being rebuilt in the art deco style that was popular then. This has made the city a large Art Deco gallery, stuffed full of buildings, designs and artefacts of the period. The best way to see if is on a self-guided tour, starting at the Art Deco shop where you can pick up a map showing all the key works. Also, the Hawke’s Bay museum has excellent material on designs from Art Nouveau, Art Deco and beyond.

13. Sip wine at Martinborough in the Wairarapa

Small wine region, big reputation – that’s Wairarapa. It’s small, family-owned vineyards produce less than 2% of New Zealand’s wine but scoop all the awards year after year, especially for their outstanding Pinot Noirs. Rolling hills of vineyards along the Ruamahanga River, a wild coast and quaint towns provide the backdrop, with the town of Martinborough at the heart. The town founder, John Martin, was a British patriot who laid out its streets in the shape of a Union Jack and named them after cities he had visited. A visit to the Martinborough Wine Centre is a must for all wine lovers.

14. Go caving at Waitomo

The cave system at Waitomo is believed to be over two million years old and is a popular destination for visitors of all ages and abilities. Thrill-seekers will not be disappointed at the underground rafting and caving adventure activities on offer including a 100m abseil into the ‘Lost World’. Or if that sounds too much like hard work then visitors can take a leisurely underground boat trip through the famous glow worm caves and extraordinary limestone caverns.

15. Listen to the roar of the Huka Falls

Just outside Taupo, the Huka falls are a popular attraction for those fascinated by the power of water as the Waikato river sluices through a narrow gap. Walk over the falls on the observation bridge or take a trip on the Huka Falls jet boat which will take you close in as part of an exciting ride along the Waikato river.

16. Catch a trout in Lake Taupo

The lakes and rivers of New Zealand offer some of the very best trout fishing in the world and nowhere more so than the North Island lakes Taupo and Turangi, together with the rivers that feed them. They are well stocked with brown and rainbow trout above the magic 10lb mark. And then having caught your catch the local restaurants in Taupo will often cook your trout for you and serve it to you at one of their tables.

17. See amazing views from Auckland’s Sky Tower

Take a trip up the Sky Tower, the largest tower in the Southern Hemisphere. Marvel at the view over the harbour and the seven volcanoes of Auckland. Walk on the glass floor panels if you are feeling brave. For the braver still try the sky walk on an outside platform. And for the very, very brave then how about the skyjump off the side in an 80m wire-assisted freefall!

18. Sample Wellington’s food and drink

Wellington is undoubtedly the best place to go for food and drink in New Zealand, with more restaurants per capita than New York, it is claimed. There is a vibrant café culture, and weekend ‘brunches’ are a local speciality. The daytime food courts of Jervois Quay offer all manner of specialities from around the world, with an especially strong Asian influence.

19. Watch birds on the Seabird Coast

One hour from Auckland, the coast around Miranda enjoys an international reputation for migratory shorebirds. Flocks of 30,000 birds are not unknown and 25% of all known seabird species visit every year, many from Alaska, Mongolia and Siberia. Turnstones, curlews, sandpipers, godwits, wry bill plovers and lesser knots are among the visitors. The Miranda Shorebird Centre is a good place to start.

20. Let the corrugated steel street art of Tirau put a smile on your face

When faced with declining population and a worsening local economy in the 1980s, the locals came up with the idea of transforming Tirau into a centre for corrugated art. Today, it’s a must-stop tourist destination for those travelling between Hamilton and Taupo as the town is full of fascinating sculptures, big and small, including giant sheep and dogs.

Source: New Zealand Holiday Travel

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