In the last few months we have driven up and down and round and round and zig zagged our way across the entire North Island and I think we can say that we have well and truly seen it.
As we embark on our tour of the South I figured I’d look back and make a little (or very long) list of the best of the North.
1) The Northlands. People tend to miss this as they head south out of Auckland but it really is a stunning part of the country.
(Think that proves my point!)
Paihia makes for a great base in the Bay of Islands. From here you can take the ferry over to pretty Russell, New Zealand’s first capital, and lounge on the beautiful beaches, go for a morning parasail, visit Waitangi, the site of the signing of the Waitangi Treaty, take a walk up the Opua forest lookout track or take a drive to Keri Keri where you can find New Zealand’s oldest building and then wander along the river to Rainbow Falls. Paihia is full of countless fun activities and at the weekend a couple of fun bars as well. It was here I made one of my best friends for the season when we bonded over heavy drinking in the backpackers Pipi Patch bar!
The northern most point of New Zealand is Cape Reinga. A lighthouse stands at the tip, from which you can view the place where two seas merge, and also see quite how far you are from home!
Although it’s a long journey all the way up north it’s also a fun one. The designated state highway from Cape Reinga along the top part of the west coast is Ninety mile beach, though you will need a four wheel drive for it, as my friends found out when they tried to drive down it in a dodgy Honda Odyssey and ended up getting towed off the beach by a tractor! There are also some impressive sand dunes to stop at on the way which armed with a boogie board I sandboarded down at a slightly alarming speed! Super hard work to climb up but super fun to come down.
Heading back towards Auckland we made a kind of accidental stop near Matakana for a few days, and despite it being an off plan stay I would definitely recommend a visit. This area is home to a fair amount of wineries, which we of course sampled but most importantly here you can find the best cinnamon bun I have ever tasted, at The Farmer’s Daughter!
(Seriously I still dream about this tasty bit of deliciousness)
2) Auckland is my least favourite of places, every time I wound up there I ended up getting drunk and getting sick. But if you do end up spending time there Waiheke Island is the place to be. This is the island of beaches and wineries. If you get yourself a hop on hop off bus pass you can crawl your way from one winery to the next, tasting some awesome New Zealand wines in the sunshine and then go and drunkenly flop onto a beach. My idea of a perfect day.
3) Coromandel. Everyone says to go there, and there is good reason! My god it is Pretty! And of course full of tourists. Hot Water Beach which at low tide is packed with people as everyone tries to find the best spot to dig a hole and relax in the warm water, and Cathedral Cove, a gorgeous tucked away beach, that was used for filming one of the Narnia films, are as touristy as it gets but still need to be paid a visit. My favourite part of the Coromandel though, is the drive along the coast from Thames up to the Coromandel Peninsula, it is the most beautiful drive I have so far done in New Zealand, and trust me I’ve done a lot of beautiful drives. In the afternoon sunshine with the windows down and a little bit of Oasis on the stereo, it is a dream road trip. And just make sure you arrive up there in time for sunset!
(I do love a good sunset me)
4) Coming down the east coast you reach the port city of Tauranga where the main attraction is a quick yet painful climb up Mount Maunganui. It’s worth the pain though for the stunning views and once down there’s a beauty of a beach to go for a cooling off swim!
Driving down the coast is pretty spectacular as you follow the seafront along. There’s a fair few camping spots here practically on the beach, which in good weather, would make for a pretty sweet stop off, we however just spent our night on the coast sheltering from non-stop rain under a makeshift tarpaulin shelter cooking soup and cheese toasties on our trusty camp stove!
Further down is Gisborne, which proudly proclaims itself the first place in the world to see the sun rise. Again in good weather it is a sight to be seen, we unfortunately missed out with rain, rain and more rain! In the shitty weather, Sunshine Brewery is a great place to spend the arvo, and ‘In There Like Swimwear’ is to date the best beer I’ve drunk in New Zealand. Gisborne’s other claim to fame is as the landing place of Captain Cook and there’s plenty of landmarks and statues to show you where to walk in their footsteps.
Another few hours south and you hit Napier. Perhaps my favourite spot of the North Island trip, it is the Art Deco city and I could quite happily spend hours wandering around looking at all the pretty buildings and playing Art Deco dress up in the free museum.
(Anyone else thinking Gatsby?!)
We spent a while near Napier as we were working on a farm for a few weeks and as one of the sunniest parts of New Zealand it offers up plenty of nearby beaches, harbour side bars and cycle routes along the sea front.
5) Heading in land and Rotorua is top of the list. Full of geothermal activity, the town smells like rotten eggs from all the sulphur and every so often you get a very potent whiff. I have returned to Rotorua a few times and still couldn’t get bored. The main draw of course are the thermal parks with their bubbling mud, multi coloured hot springs and dramatic geysers.
(And eeery mesmerising rivers)
The geothermal activity in the area was a draw for many Maori tribes, as they use the hot springs for bathing, heating and cooking, and there are several Maori villages here that have become tourist attractions. We went to Whakarewarewa (try saying that five times fast, in fact try saying it at all) and although not the most popular, definitely the most authentic as a village still very much in use.
(No she’s not fishing just cooking some corn)
Rotorua is also home to a whole host of other attractions. There’s the Thursday night street market and Eat Street for food and drink and we also occupied ourselves paying a visit to the cat cafe for coffee and cuddles. There’s Rotorua lake and the green lake and the blue lake and the Redwoods is a great place to undertake our favourite of all activities and go for a wander.
If you were made of money there’s a whole heap to do here and as long as you don’t mind the smell you could quite happily fill your days in this interesting city.
6) I’m a little biased but Tongariro National Park is amazing. This is where I lived and worked for five months on the ski field and although occasionally cabin fever would set in I just couldn’t tire of it. In the winter Whakapapa Ski Field is where it’s at and I could wax lyrical about how to fill a winter in the area, but I think I’ve already done that (A Ski Season in New Zealand’s North Island…) In summertime though it’s just as good, and the best way to see the beauty is to undertake the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Not short at 19.4km long with a devil of a climb but the pretty pretty view more than makes up for the pain.
It may be a little middle of nowhere but I love this place, and the fact I was basically living in Mordor (many scenes were filmed on Mount Ruapehu) and driving past Mount Doom every day (Mount Ngaruhoe was used as Mount Doom) was my thirteen year old self’s dream come true! I unashamedly have and always will be a huge Lord of the Rings fan!
(See still loving the sunset)
7) Speaking of Lord of the Rings, any fan cannot go to New Zealand without a visit to Hobbiton! Yes it is touristy and a little expensive but it is magical, I may have even gotten a little misty eyed as the bus drove us across to the set with music from the film playing us in. It’s cute and whimsy and the whole damn reason I ever wanted to come to New Zealand!
8) On the west coast of the island sits Raglan, the Byron Bay of New Zealand. I have a soft spot for this surf town, it was the first stop of our road trip after we left the ski field and the place where I celebrated my 28th birthday with a bloody good bunch of friends. (Yes I’m that old now.) Raglan is the place to surf, if that’s what takes your fancy. Or you can, if you’re me, accept that your surfing skills have peaked at standing up once, and instead just go along, watch all the more accomplished surfers, laugh as your friend falls fully clothed into the sea and horrendously sunburn your face and arms. There are other water sports on offer as well, we took to the estuary with our kayaks and despite a little rain had a jolly good time of it so we did! On land we hired bikes and cycled our way down to the wharf where Raglan Fish does some really excellent freshly caught “fush ‘n chips”! And then ditched the bikes and drove our lazy asses to Bridal Veil Falls. Where you can dick around and take photos like this.
I don’t know if I’m looking at Raglan through rose tinted glasses because of the great company and the many laughs and the fact this is the place I lost my skinny dipping virginity. But I really do love this hippy surf town and it’s black sand beaches and it’s grungy bar where bad drunken decisions are made in dark corners!
(And another sunset)
9) Last but not least is Wellington!
I love this little city a whole lot and if I could stay and work I probably would. It’s a quirky capital with plenty of vintage shops, dreamy houses and fun bars. It was here we let our drunkenness loose, celebrated Christmas with several shots and a horrific hangover and bar crawled our way into 2019. When we did let our livers rest we wandered around leisurely exploring the city. For a capital it’s quite compact and you can easily walk your way around it. The waterfront is the obvious place to start, heading from the city centre down to Oriental Parade is a great stroll in the sunshine and the little beaches along the front are always popular. There’s also a jumping platform where the crazy people can jump into the docks and the not so crazy just chill and watch. This is the home of Te Papa and if you go to one museum in New Zealand, make it this one, completely free and full of interesting exhibitions, for me it was the first place to hit. The cable car is iconic in Wellington and a mere $5 we took a ride up to Kelburn, from here we browsed around the cable car museum (it really is an icon of the city) and then made our way back down to the city through the botanical gardens.
As well as wandering our way around we also took the car a little further afield, and let me tell you fellow Lord of the Rings fans, you will love this place! All around Wellington are places used for filming, just North in Upper Hutt is Rivendell, we practically camped on the site of the Battle of Helms Deep and of course there is the Weta Workshop where most of the props were made and where you can make friends with some lovely trolls at the entrance.
This friendly city makes a great home for a couple of weeks and an ideal last stop in the North Island. And really, watching the sun set over the city from Mount Victoria could not have been a more perfect last evening in the North.
(I told you I really do love a sunset)
And there you have it in a (very big) nutshell, New Zealand’s North Island. There are of course countless other places and sights that I could ramble on about, and of course plenty of places I haven’t had the fortune to see but then we could be here all year and I’ve got a whole other island to be seeing! So I’ll be seeing ya on the other side folks xxx