Top 50 things to do in the North Island

Redwoods Treewalk

Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Image: Graeme Murray

Lake Taupō. Image: Ernest Kemp

Hobbiton. Image: Matt Crawford

Cape Reinga. Image: David Kirkland

Piha Beach

Mauao Summit Track, Mount Maunganui

Top 50 things to do in the North Island

Gold and black beaches, pristine diving and snorkelling, mind-blowing views, world-class museums and some of the best craft breweries on the planet. That’s right, you’re in Te Ika-a-Māui – the North Island – and this is your shopping list of must-do activities and sights.

Visit where it all began at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds

This activity and history hub is the place where the Crown and Iwi signed the document that made Aotearoa New Zealand a country. A must-visit for any Kiwi, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a beautiful spot for a history lesson, with a couple of excellent museums, Māori Carving Studio complete with carving demonstrations, and cultural performances in a historic meeting house. Allow time to explore the extensive gardens and bush tracks, and stop to appreciate the views.

See the world from mountain tops in Tongariro National Park

The breathtaking natural beauty and cultural significance of this park mean it’s got not one, but two World Heritage Site listings. Your question: “Does it deserve this double status?” The answer: “Hell yes.” It’s packing three volcanoes (including Mount Ngāuruhoe AKA Mount Doom), Emerald Lakes, and arguably Aotearoa’s best one-day hike: the Tongariro Crossing.

Walk on the beach and grab a new profile pic at Cathedral Cove

It’s in The Chronicles of Narnia movies, it’s an official Windows startup background, and soon it’s going to be in your personal photo reel. Kayak or boat from Hahei on the Coromandel Peninsula or stretch your legs on a scenic 1.5-hour return walk. Once you’re there, snorkel in the clear, warm waters or just relax on the sand and enjoy your surroundings.

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Te Papa is six storeys of cutting-edge contemporary and interactive exhibitions. It’s widely considered one of the best museums in the world, and it’s in the heart of Wellington. Te Papa Tongarewa means ‘container of treasures’, and the treasures you’ll find include nature, Māori culture, art, war and human invention.

Hit the water at Lake Taupō

Taupō Moana is the central North Island destination for fishing, parasailing, skydiving, jet boating and hot water soaking. Taupō is a small town with plenty to do, luxury and budget accommodation, awesome food and stunning mountainous scenery. Hit the other lakeside towns of Tūrangi and Kinloch for summer and winter holiday destinations.

Go on an adventure at Hobbiton

Time for second breakfast! The Hobbiton film set is just outside the town of Matamata and it’s open for visitors of all sizes. The guided tour shows off the best of the Shire, Hobbit holes, and heads into the Green Dragon Inn for a drink, or perhaps one of your six daily meals.

Walk the Auckland Harbour Bridge

This massive piece of civil infrastructure is one of the best places in Auckland to get mind-blowing 360-degree views of the city, Rangitoto Island and the Hauraki Gulf. Harness up and prepare for an adrenaline hit walking along the top arch, and if you want to take things up (or down) a notch, you can combine your bridge walk with a bungy jump.

Spelunk the Waitomo Caves

These deep caves are lit up like the night sky thanks to thousands of glow-worms. Explore the caves on foot with a Waitomo Glowworm Caves tour, descend into the dark with the Lost World Abseil, or get your adventure on with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co., an exhilarating ride on an underground river you’ll never forget.

Get your Taranaki views on the Pouakai Crossing

An eight-hour walking track in Egmont National Park, taking you past some of the most breathtaking scenery of the region, from native forest to lava cliffs and a stunning mountain lake showing off a picture-perfect reflection of Mount Taranaki.

Sip and sail at Waiheke Island

Go on, treat yourself. Hop a ferry from Auckland and spend a day or several exploring the beaches, walks and wineries of Waiheke Island, a destination that feels like a whole world away. Waiheke is well-known for its wine, and spending a day tasting the best Syrahs, Merlots, Malbecs and Cabernet Sauvignons on the island could be just the ticket.

Touch the tippity-top at Cape Reinga

The last stop on New Zealand’s northern road is a stunning outlook, what with the picturesque lighthouse, seemingly endless ocean, and an 800-year old pōhutukawa tree. This spot, and the tree in particular, is sacred to Māori, said to be the place from which deceased Māori spirits leap into the sea to return to their ancestral homeland.

Dive the Poor Knights Island Marine Reserve

Described by renowned marine conservationist and explorer Jacques Cousteau as one of the top ten dive sites in the world, the crystal-clear waters and unique geological features of this gorgeous marine reserve make for some truly superb marine observation. Don your snorkel and check out the plethora of marine life here, or scuba dive to explore way down into the depths.

Golf around the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers

The golf course at Cape Kidnappers is not only one of the best in the country, but one of the modern marvels of golf. Designed by legendary golf architect Tom Doak, it’s an opportunity not to be missed for golfers of any level. The towering Cape Kidnappers clifftop is also home to one of the largest gannet colonies in the world.

Tap into the Wellington craft beer scene

Wellington’s craft beer culture is absolutely hopping (we’re sorry), so if you’re a fan of the golden stuff, treat yourself to a tour of some of the capital’s best breweries, bars and pubs. The Craft Beer Capital Trail gives you an excellent place to start, offering a downloadable map of 29 bars and 15 breweries around Wellington.

Hike the pristine Lake Waikaremoana Track

Lose yourself (preferably not literally) in nature on this backcountry hike, a Great Walk that takes you through the largest native forest in the North Island. The ancestral home of Ngai Tūhoe, this special place has been protected from farming and deforestation, offering spectacular views, ethereal valleys of mist, and a chorus of birdsong.

Explore Auckland’s black sand beaches

You’ll definitely want to keep your jandals on for this. You can feel like you’re in the heart of the wilderness at any of Auckland’s famously wild, rugged west coast beaches. Careful of the iron-rich black sand on a hot summer’s day – it’s a guaranteed scorcher. Explore some of the excellent walking trails, check out the Muriwai gannet colony between August and March, go surfing at Piha, or stand on the same beach where The Piano was shot at Karekare.

See the world’s first sunrise on the East Cape

Part of Aotearoa’s privilege is being the first to see the sun rise on a new day, and of the whole of New Zealand, Gisborne is the spot that gets to glimpse it first, which is a pretty cool thing to experience. Pro tip: a magical place to watch the sunrise is Maunga Hikurangi, a sacred mountain to Ngāti Porou and the highest non-volcanic peak in the North Island.

Check out the Art Deco capital of the world

Time warp back to the days of flapper dresses, cloche hats, and dancing the Charleston in Napier, one of the most complete Art Deco cities in the world. Take a guided walking tour to see and learn about all the beautiful and historic architecture, built after a devastating 1931 earthquake, and if you time your visit for around late February, you can grab tickets to the annual Art Deco Festival.

Take a wine tour in Hawke’s Bay

If you’re not joining a wine tour, or making one of your own, you’re doing Hawke’s Bay wrong. It is the oldest wine region in the country and especially famous for its reds, with the vast majority of our Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah produced right here.

Go surfing

Regions famous for waves that draw surfers from all over the country and the world include Raglan, Gisborne, Auckland’s Piha Beach, and the Bay of Islands. Surf Highway 45 from New Plymouth to Hawera is a surfer’s dream, hitting all the best surf beaches along this line of coast.

Paddle the Whanganui Journey

A journey so epic that it somehow made its way onto the list of New Zealand’s Great Walks despite being, well, not a walk, this kayaking or canoeing adventure takes between three to five days and will see you paddling through a glorious wilderness of lush green valleys, remote hills and past maraes on the mighty Whanganui River.

Go digging at Hot Water Beach

This is an absolute classic – at any given low tide, grab a spade and make your way down to Hot Water Beach. Get digging until you hit hot water, keep digging until you’ve got a big enough hole, then sit down and enjoy your totally natural hot spring. Mmm, bliss.

Go see a game at Eden Park

This is New Zealand’s national stadium, so jump at the chance to see a game of rugby or cricket here while you’re in Auckland. The All Blacks haven’t lost here since 1994, and the atmosphere of an international test match is absolutely unbeatable. The park has also seen some incredible games of international cricket, and is the home of cricket in Auckland.

Ski or snowboard an active volcano

Mount Ruapehu boasts some of the North Island’s best ski fields, including New Zealand’s largest, Whakapapa. You’ll find Tukino, a smaller club field, on the mountain’s eastern slopes, offering great off-piste action away from the crowds, while Whakapapa and its sister field Tūroa are great for both beginners and experts, providing ski schools and easy beginner slopes plus black runs aplenty for the seasoned rippers.

Relax at Doubtless Bay

A magnificent beach of caramel sand and sparkling water surrounded by Northland’s subtropical greenery. It’s practically begging you to get out in the water for a swim, snorkel, sail or fish, and it’s a great point for exploring the nearby attractions such as Ninety Mile Beach and Cape Reinga.

Connect with nature on Kapiti Island

A beautiful island nature reserve within striking distance of Wellington. Be surrounded by nature and immersed in history, with access only available through approved operators. Explore to your heart’s content on the walking tracks, and keep your eyes out for the many native birds that live in this predator-free sanctuary.

Admire the views from Cape Palliser

Forget step class – get that heart pumping on the 250-step climb to the top of the lighthouse at Cape Palliser. The views along the dramatically scenic coast are well worth it! Palliser Bay, the southernmost point of the North Island, was a site for more than 20 shipwrecks in the 19th Century, and the lighthouse offers a great vantage point of these treacherous waters. On the more adorable side of things, the cape is also home to New Zealand’s largest fur seal colony.

Get up in the branches on the Redwoods Treewalk

Sitting 20 metres above the forest floor, this experience is a soul-feeding mix of exhilarating and peaceful. Traverse a series of 28 suspension bridges to get the birds’ eye view of the ancient Whakarewarewa Forest on the outskirts of Rotorua.

Walk or drive along Ninety Mile Beach

Ah yes, the 54 miles of Ninety Mile Beach… Misnomer aside, this beautiful stretch of sand is known for awesome surf and some incredible sunsets. You’ll also want to grab a video boogie boarding down some massive sand dunes. It’s officially a highway, an alternative to State Highway 1, although only four wheel drive vehicles can drive on it, and only at low tide.

Visit the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and Len Lye Centre

With its mirrored columns and changeable reflections, you’ll be having fun before you even get inside the Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth. The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery is renowned for its collection of contemporary works, and the Len Lye Centre is the only gallery in New Zealand dedicated to a single artist.

Feel the heat at Hell’s Gate

With a name like Hell’s Gate, you just know the sulphuric action is going to be popping off at this Rotorua attraction. Check out the steaming, bubbling pools on a geothermal walk, then rejuvenate your skin with a mineral mud bath followed by a sulphur soak.

Feel the power at Huka Falls

One of the most impressive waterfalls in the North Island is just off the side of the road at Taupō. Huka Falls send more than 220,000 litres of water per second thundering over the 11-metre waterfall. Get right up to the base of the falls with Huka Falls Jet, which will take you on a sightseeing tour of the nearby attractions with 360-degree spins thrown in to keep you on your toes.

Ascend the SkyTower

An icon of Auckland’s city skyline, the spacey looking SkyTower is the number one spot in the central city for the best views from all sides. Pick your adventure once you’ve made it to the top: hold your breath as you stand on the glass floor panel looking all the way down to the street, treat yourself to dinner and the best view in town at the Orbit 360˚restaurant, or venture outside for a nail-biting SkyWalk or stomach-swooping SkyJump.

See nature thrive at ZEALANDIA Te Māra a Tāne

Imagine yourself in a land before time at this huge ecosanctuary in the middle of Wellington. ZEALANDIA provides an immersive encounter with New Zealand’s native wildlife and plants. Over 40 species of birds live wild in the 225 hectares of regenerating native bush. Keen eyes will also spot the rare tuatara. Jump on a night tour for your best chance at spotting a kiwi.

Tell all your friends about the Hamilton Gardens

The Hamilton Gardens come out of seemingly nowhere to blow you away, and before you know it, you’re insisting that absolutely everyone you know go and check it out. With more than 20 themed gardens designed to tell the story of gardens around the world and throughout history, it’s certainly easy to lose an entire day here, exploring everything from the Japanese Garden of Contemplation to the mind-bending Surrealist Garden.

Take a tour at special effects studio Weta Workshop

Your inner movie nerd will think they’ve died and gone to heaven at Wellington’s Weta Workshop. This is where the magic happens, like The Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit, Avatar, District 9 and Thunderbirds Are Go kind of magic. You can see the artists at work, as well as some of the costumes and creatures used in various films on a Weta Cave Workshop Tour.

See the taonga at Auckland Museum

Brush up on your history and discover some seriously cool Māori and Pacific treasures at this museum, which holds a happy reputation as one of the best museums in the Southern Hemisphere. The historic, columned building is a pretty cool sight in itself, and it sits squarely within Auckland Domain, which is definitely worth taking a bit of extra time to explore (pro tip: don’t miss the Winter Gardens).

Drive the Desert Road and visit the National Army Museum

The Desert Road is a plateau of burnished gold, with incredible views of Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe in the distance, a sort of desolate beauty unlike anything else. Along this stretch of road is a stop well worth your time: the National Army Museum, home to unique collections of army memorabilia, military exhibits and stories of New Zealand soldiers.

Kick back in Mount Maunganui

The Mount is a laidback holiday destination, home to the Best Beach in New Zealand by popular vote, as well as beautiful orchards, relaxing hot pools and excellent surf. Take your pick of the awesome activities on offer here, from blokarting (think windsurfing, but on wheels) to big game fishing and the somewhat infamous hike up Mauao Mount Maunganui itself.

Sample Martinborough’s wine

The Pinot Noir produced here is exceptional, and with boutique accommodation and small-town charm, this is a great little spot for a truly relaxing escape. Put this one on your list of New Zealand wine regions to visit – Martinborough is home to more than 20 cellar doors, among them some of the country’s most highly regarded wineries.

Catch some kai moana

You’ll find excellent salt water fishing action in the North Island; in fact, according to Māori folklore, the island itself was fished up after an epic struggle by Maui. Snapper are in good supply in shallow water, and heading deeper will find sport fish such as tuna and marlin. In places like The Coromandel, Hauraki Gulf, Bay of Islands and Raglan you’ll come across friendly locals happy to share some favourite fishing spots.

Speed down the tracks on the Rotorua Luge

Enjoy the views on your Gondola ride up, then shoot down the hillside on a contraption that’s part go-kart, part toboggan. The famous Skyline Rotorua Luge is one of the foremost reasons why this unassuming town became an adventure capital of Aotearoa.

Visit ‘the hell hole of the Pacific’

You have to admire any place that fully embraces a bad review, and the (actually super charming) little town of Russell has claimed this one from the 1800s as an ironic part of its identity. Nowadays, it’s the ideal base for exploring the Bay of Islands, home to the country’s first licensed hotel, its oldest surviving Roman Catholic building, and a plethora of beautiful walks and water-based activities.

Drive the Forgotten World Highway

Mysterious, historic and remote, this themed highway is a chance to explore off the beaten trail – you’re going to want to make sure your tank is full before you set off. With supplies in the back and breadcrumb trail left, set out to discover abandoned settlements, tiny historic towns, four mountain saddles and curious single-lane tunnels. You’ll even have to apply for a passport to enter the Republic of Whangamōmona – it declared its independence from New Zealand in 1988!

Experience the Caluzzi Drag Cabaret on K Road

Life is a cabaret, old chum, especially at this institution of Auckland’s LGBTQ hub, Karangahape Road. The original Drag Queen dinner theatre, an evening at Caluzzi will have you clutching your aching ribs and wiping tears of laughter from your eyes as the fabulous Queens entertain you through dinner and into dessert.

Go golfing

Many world-class golf courses in the North Island were designed by total legends of the game, and they’re all set in breathtaking natural surrounds. You’ve no doubt already made note of Cape Kidnappers from higher on this list, and now you can add a few more: Kauri Cliffs in the Bay of Islands and Kinloch Golf Club in Taupō are both international attractions. For a unique golfing experience, the Wairakei Golf + Sanctuary is a haven for golfers and animals alike as a genuine predator-free wildlife sanctuary.

Drive the East Cape

Crack your knuckles and wrap them around the steering wheel for a classic Kiwi road trip adventure. This beautiful scenic route around New Zealand’s easternmost point has natural beauty, historic sights, and beaches galore. Worthwhile stops on the way include the ornate Māori church in Tikitiki, Te Puia Springs hot pools, the 660-metre wharf in Tolaga Bay, and the iconic East Cape Lighthouse.

See the sails and sip the cocktails on the Auckland Viaduct

You are in the City of Sails, so it only makes sense to check out the humming waterfront that gave Auckland its nickname. Viaduct Harbour is a nightlife and foodie destination, and taking a wander around the water’s edge doubles as a chance to admire boats and superyachts as you try to decide where to stop for a bite. Wynyard Quarter is home to some sweet food markets and events in Silo Park, and you can even help crew an authentic America’s Cup yacht out in the harbour with Explore Group.

Tell a fishy freshwater tale

Impress your friends and neighbours with an incredible catch they’ll be talking about for years – the North Island lakes and rivers offer world-class fishing and big, plentiful trout. Lake Taupō, the Tongariro River and Kaimanawa Forest Park are some of the world’s premier freshwater fishing destinations, and Tūrangi is known as the trout fishing capital of the world, with more than 30 rivers in the area providing plenty of chances to catch the fish of a lifetime.

Go bush

With screeds of subtropical rainforests full or natural beauty around every corner, any nature lover should take the opportunity to get into the bush, whether it be the geographical entity that is Te Urewera, the mountainous terrain of Kaimanawa Forest Park, the enormous Whanganui National Park, or something a little closer to the cities like Tararua Forest Park and Coromandel Forest Park.

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