15 Totally Awesome Things to do in New Zealand North Island
The top New Zealand North Island Attractions
Top Things to do in New Zealand North Island – If you ask me what I love most about New Zealand’s North Island I’d have to say its diversity. From coast to coast, north to south, and from the beach to the mountains New Zealand’s North Island is a paradise just waiting to be explored!
I mean, how many places around the world can you go skiing one day and surfing the next? You can go on one epic road trip in New Zealand.
There are of course, hundreds of amazing things to do on New Zealand’s North Island. But after living in NZ for more than a year I can easily narrow my favorite things down to 15 – the most amazing experiences you just have to do!
Here’s my Ultimate North Island bucket list filled with all the best things to see and do on the North Island of NZ! You can also check out this guide to camping in New Zealand.
You can also check out my New Zealand North Island Itinerary which hits many of these spots!
*Map of North Island with markers.
New Zealand North Island Attractions – New Zealand North Island must see list
If you want to know what to do in North Island New zealand I have put together this list of places to visit in New Zealand north island. These are the best New Zealand North Island Attractions you cannot miss! These are the best places to visit north island new Zealand. Find out what New Zealand is known for!
1. Hike to the Pouaki Hut
Let’s start this list with arguably the best thing I did on the North Island – hike to the Pouaki Hut near Mt Taranaki. This hut is famous for one reason and that’s the views of Mt Taranaki. Only a 10-minute walk from the hut is the famous Pouaki Tarn (a small alpine lake). On a calm day the lake reflects Mt Taranaki flawlessly and has now become one of the most famous things to do on the North Island!
The hut itself is located only a two-hour hike from the Mangorie Rd car park just outside the town of New Plymouth. The trail to the top is relatively easy and once there you can either stay in the hut (a serviced hut pass is required) or camp (for free) just past the hut towards the Pouaki Tarn. Bookings cannot be made in advance and are on a first come first serve basis.
You can also visit the Pouaki Tarn and hut in a day, however, be sure the leave early as the winds tend to rise during the day making the reflection very hard to see!
2. Visit the magical town of Hobbiton
New Zealand is the home of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. Around the country there are countless film locations to visit, however, the most famous and arguably the most impressive is the Hobbiton movie set.
This small village is home to over 40 Hobbit holes, a bar, real gardens, a lake, and more! Every detail of this place is impressive and it’s truly a unique sight to see!
To see the movie set you’ll need to join a tour. The most common tour is the traditional Hobbiton Movie Set Tour. This tour lasts for around two hours and is great for those interested in visiting. That being said, if you’re a massive fan you can also join Hobbiton banquet dinners and other events throughout the year. Regardless though, a trip to Hobbiton is one of the best things to do in New Zealand!
3. Explore Bridal Veil Falls
Around New Zealand you can find many stunning waterfalls. There is one that stands out to me above the rest though, Bridal Veil Falls near the small surf town of Raglan. This stunning waterfall is surrounded by beautiful greenery in one of the most breathtaking locations.
The walk to the falls is very easy and the well-constructed boardwalk means it’s accessible to almost anyone. Although only a quick stop on your trip around New Zealand, it’s one waterfall you just have to see!
Aside from the waterfall, you should also visit the town of Raglan. Here you can enjoy stunning beaches, amazing local cafés and nightlife, as well as learn to surf. The beach breaks here are perfect for beginners and if you’re a little more experienced there’s a very popular point break that’ll keep you busy!
4. Visit a Glow Worm Cave
Glow Worms are almost completely unique to New Zealand and definitely a bucket list thing to see during your visit! There are a few around the country with the most popular being the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. This cave is easily one of the most densely populated in New Zealand, however it does attract very large crowds.
If you’re after a more off-the-beaten-path experience then you can’t miss the Waipu Caves. Waipu Caves is one of the best free glow worm caves in New Zealand and is actually completely self-guided! The Waipu Caves is located around 3 hours north of Auckland and is commonly visited on a road trip around Northland.
5. Go on a cruise in the Bay of Islands, Northland
The Bay of Island in Northland is one of the most beautiful bays in New Zealand. Cruising the Bay of Islands is the North Island’s answer to a Milford Sound cruise and aside from the stunning views, there’s also plenty of wildlife to see.
The most common cruise in the Bay of Islands is the dolphin watching cruise. On these you can spot pods of hundreds of dolphins as you cruise around the small islands that call the bay home.
Another cruise that’s well worth doing is Bay of Islands Hole in Rock Cruise. Its takes you right out into the bay to the famous rock formation known as Hole in Rock. You’ll spot lots of marine and wildlife as well as take a daring cruise through the giant hole in this impressive rock!
The Coromandel Peninsula is one of my favorite areas in New Zealand and at the heart of it is Cathedral Cove. Cathedral Cove is a stunning rock formation and also a film location in the Narnia films. At Cathedral Cove you can relax on the beach, take amazing photos of the landscape, or just enjoy this beautiful walk with stunning views.
The walk to Cathedral Cove takes around 45 minutes to complete one way from the carpark. The funny thing is that the carpark is actually closed in summer. Instead you’ll either need to park at one of the houses near the carpark for $10 (be sure to look for a sign as some people don’t allow parking) or take the shuttle from Hahei for $5 a person.
Hot Water Beach is a truly a gorgeous beach on the North Island that you simply cannot miss. The concept is simple, come to the beach two hours either side of low tide, dig a hole, and enjoy your own private hot spa in the middle of the beach!
Its sounds crazy, but thanks to a few cracks in the earth’s crust, lava heats up underground water as it rises to the surface. There are only a few places on the beach to enjoy the hot water but it’s not hard to find – especially with all the people that visit.
In order to dig a large enough hole you’ll also need a shovel. You can rent these at all the hotels around the beach and also at the small shop at the beach. My recommendation is to try visit at sunrise (when the tide times allow it). Not only are there far less people, but on a cool morning the hot water is even more enjoyable!
8. Drive the Thermal Explorer Highway between Rotorua and Taupo
The thermal zone between Rotorua and Taupo is a reminder of New Zealand’s volcanic past. Along the thermal zone you can stop at many amazing attractions including the famous Craters on the Moon.
The Craters on the Moon has visual similarities to the moon’s surface and walking along the board walk really takes you to another world. You’ll be able to spot hundreds of geysers bubbling up to the surface and steam as far as the eye can see!
Other major attractions in the area include Kerosene Creek, Hells Gate, and Wai-O-Tapu all of which can be visited on the Thermal Explorer Highway.
To drive this route (as well as many other remote roads in NZ) you’ll need a vehicle. Renting a campervan in NZ is a great way to have complete freedom to explore!
9. Join a Maori Village tour
The Maori people are New Zealand’s first people and no trip to NZ would be complete without learning about their history and culture. Easily one of the best ways to learn about the Maori culture is one a Maori Village tour.
Around the city of Rotorua in New Zealand you can visit a few different Maori Villages that have been built to help preserve and teach others about the Maori people. On the tours you’ll learn lots about the Maori people and how they lived in New Zealand. Most evening tours end with a traditional dinner cooked in a Hangi (underground oven) and a dance performance.
10. Relax in Taupo
Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake and in the summer it’s the perfect place to relax and have a swim! During warm weather, the lake’s edge fills with people and this quiet town becomes a vibrant and enjoyable place to spend a day!
Not only is the lake beautifully cool and refreshing but from Taupo you can enjoy views of Tongariro National Park and the mountains that call the park home. Around the town you can go skydiving, white water rafting, or enjoy a relaxing afternoon in a natural spa. A trip to Taupo is a must on any North Island road trip!
One thing that makes New Zealand so amazing is its wildlife. From the ocean to the sky there’s plenty to see. However, one experience that’s stuck with me and has become one of my favorites was visiting the Gannet Colony at Muriwai Beach just west of Auckland.
The Gannets gather on the cliffs along the coast every year to breed and give birth to their young. Between the months of August and March you can find thousands of Gannets along the cliffs. If you visit between December and February, you’ll even be able to see the very cute baby Gannets.
My recommendation is to visit at sunset. Not only will you avoid the crowds, but as the sun sets over the water the views are even more breathtaking!
The Tongariro Crossing is the North Island’s most popular hiking trail. It’s so popular over a 130,000 people are expected to hike the trail in 2019. Considering the trail is only safe to hike in the summer season, that’s a lot of hikers!
But it’s busy for a reason and despite the extremely hard hike over the mountain pass, people keep lining up to explore this unworldly area. The trail is actually the filming location of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings and as you walk among Mt Doom (Mount Ngauruhoe) you can easily picture Frodo climbing to the top to destroy the ring!
Even if you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan the views along the trail are worth the grueling hike and in my opinion, it’s worthy of being rated as one of the best hikes in New Zealand!
13. Go Kayaking on the Whanganui Journey
One of the craziest adventures I ever went on in New Zealand was the Whanganui Journey. It’s one of New Zealand’s “10 Great Walks” but unlike the other 9 you don’t actually walk it at all! Instead, you jump in a kayak with all of your supplies and head of on a 1 to 5 day journey through the stunning landscapes along the Whanganui River!
Before embarking on this journey I’d never kayaked more than an hour at a time. But on my three-day journey we battled rapids, hours of kayaking each day, and all of the elements. To say the least, it was an adventure of a lifetime and one I can’t recommend enough to those wanting a challenge!
14. Visit the Te Papa Museum (Museum of New Zealand)
Not everyone wants to kayak down a river for days or hike over a mountain pass so, I simply had to include a visit to the Te Papa Museum. This awesome museum is the best in New Zealand and it’s also completely free!
It regularly updates its exhibits and also hosts some from around the world. It’s really a world class museum and the best free museum I’ve ever been too! The museum is located in the heart of Wellington on the very south of the North Island.
15. Get tipsy on a wine tour
Last but certainly not least of the best things to do on New Zealand’s North Island is arguably one of my favorite activities – a wine tour! It’s no secret that Bailey and I love wine, and if you too share our passion, then New Zealand’s North Island is the perfect place to indulge.
One of the most famous wine regions on the North Island is Hawkes Bay. In fact, if you visit any bottle shop (liquor store) around the country you’ll likely find a large selection of Hawkes Bay wines. If you want to explore some small regions on the north island then there are also a few wineries on the Coromandel Peninsula, Northland, and Waikato.
Regardless, a wine tour in New Zealand should be on everyone’s North Island bucket list!
Conclusion – Things to do North Island NZ
New Zealand’s North Island is the ultimate playground for the everyday adventurer. This list covers some of the best experience from all around the island and is a great start to planning your amazing holiday through New Zealand!
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Daniel is a full-time travel blogger and professional photographer from Australia. Along with his partner Bailey, they have traveled to over 50 countries and are always on the lookout for their next adventure. Bailey and Daniel met travelling, and after discovering they both dreamed of turning their passion into a profession started their travel blog. You can read all about their adventures and tons of blogs about New Zealand on their website Destinationless Travel.