New Zealand’s North Island: A Picture Book Itinerary

New Zealand’s North Island is often overlooked by visitors. The South Island gets all the attention with it’s plethora of mountains and glaciers. Yet, the North Island has so much beauty too, I spent the first 6 months of my working holiday on New Zealand’s North Island. After travelling around nearly every corner of this island, here’s my favourites. A picture book itinerary of stories and adventures to showcase the true beauty of New Zealand’s North Island.

Auckland

Auckland is the first city that many people will visit on New Zealand’s North Island if arriving through Auckland’s international airport. This is New Zealand’s biggest city and has many of the amenities and shopping districts you would expect from any large city. However, a short hop on one of the ferry’s by the harbour can take you far away from city life. I stayed in Auckland for nearly a week and explored a few of the surrounding areas. These are some of the highlights from my stay.

Mudbrick Winery, Waiheke Island
Mudbrick Winery, Waiheke Island

Bay of Islands

This was the second area of New Zealand which I explored. I had heard lots about the beautiful beaches and blue seas of the Bay of Islands. Ready to leave the city life of Auckland behind and start exploring the beautiful landscapes of New Zealand. I boarded an intercity bus and stayed in Paihia for a few days. I wandered around the beaches, skydived, saw the dolphins and hopped on the ferry over to Russel for an afternoon. Also, make sure to take a day trip up to Cape Reinga; the northern most part of New Zealand! Drive along the famous ninety mile beach, there’s plenty to do in the Bay of Islands to keep you busy.

Dolphins in Bay of Islands
Dolphins in Bay of Islands

The Coromandel Peninsula

I visited the Coromandel Peninsular twice during my time on the North Island. Each time I discovered new beaches, saw more of this scenic peninsular and had a great time. My favourite from the Coromandel Peninsular is the Pinnacles hike. It wasn’t an easy hike, with constant uphill and lots of steps. It’s challenging and gets slightly technical towards the end as you climb ladders and scramble up the side of the Pinnacles. However, the view at the top was amazing and I would highly recommend if you like hiking.

Pinnacles hike summit views
Views from the Pinnacles Summit

The East Coast

Like a lot of the North Island, the east coast in particular is often overlooked. Not on the tourist bus routes many people don’t explore this part of the country. However, parts of this coast are still some of my favourite places I have visited during my time here. The East Cape Lighthouse is especially beautiful if you visit at sunrise. As New Zealand is the first place in the world to see the sunrise, to see it from the top of this lighthouse is spectacular. So good I’ve done it twice now. However, it is a little hard to access and a car is a necessity. You will drive on a gravel road for 20-30 minutes and then it’s a short walk up to the top of the lighthouse. Driving down the east coast of the North Island is simply beautiful. There is so much scenery and an abundance of rolling hills.

East Cape Lighthouse Sunrise
East Cape Lighthouse Sunrise

Lake Waikaremoana

Lake Waikaremoana is situated just off the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. It is also one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. I walked just a short section of the track with a friend up to Panekire Bluff. This is however nearly the steepest section of the entire great walk track and said to have the best views. 

If you are interested in doing one of New Zealand’s Great Walks then I can recommend the Abel Tasman Coastal Track on the South Island. It is one of the easiest and most popular great walks of New Zealand. Read more about it by following the link below.

Read Next: Abel Tasman Great Walk: Coastal Track

Lake Waikaremoana Panekire Bluff
Views from Panekire Bluff, overlooking Lake Waikaremoana

Napier

If you are visiting Napier during February, try and coincide your visit with the Annual Art Deco Festival. It is fantastic! I had the best few days here with my friend, watching some shows and enjoying the live music and entertainment. In 2020 the festival is from the 19th-23rd February and I can’t recommend it enough!

The Hawke’s Bay region also has several great wineries. I visited Mission Estate and Church Road thanks to recommendations from a friend and they are both well worthy of a visit.

Video of one of the many performances during the Napier Art Deco Festival:

Wellington

Wellington is packed with plenty of things to do. It is by far my favourite big city on the North Island – maybe even the whole of New Zealand! My Wellington favourites include:

  • The Botanical Gardens and the Space Place Museum at Carter Observatory
  • The Cable Car
  • Te Papa Museum
  • Mount Victoria Lookout
  • The Beehive 
  • New Zealand fur seals at the Red Rocks Reserve

Read Next: Finding Fur Seals in Wellington, New Zealand

The Beehive; New Zealand's parliament buildinguidling
The Beehive; New Zealand's parliament building

New Plymouth

Mount Taranaki dominates the New Plymouth region. It can be seen from many points, but perhaps my favourite view of the mountain is from the Te Rewa Rewa bridge. The New Plymouth Coastal Walkway is a promenade 13 km long. Walking along here you will reach the Te Rewa Rewa bridge and some of New Plymouth’s other attractions.

There are many walks you can also do in the Egmont National Park. I followed the Holly Hut track up towards the Tahurangi Lodge and then returned back down. This is a good day hike option if you don’t want to go all the way to the summit. The summit can be a challenging climb and I did the hike in winter so there was already a lot of snow on the track. If I went back to Mount Taranaki I would love to do the Pouakai Crossing. Another difficult and long day track, offering the mirror lake view which is often seen on Instagram.

The DOC website has plenty of information about all of the walks in the Egmonth National Park. 

Views of Mount Taranaki from Te Rewa Rewa bridge
Views of Mount Taranaki from Te Rewa Rewa bridge

Raglan

Raglan is a cool little hipster surf town on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. A good spot for surfers of all abilities, with some nice shops and eateries to wander around. Raglan is a nice town to spend a few days relaxing around and doing a little surfing if you wish.

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls

Hamilton

The Hamilton Gardens are the biggest and by far the best attraction in this town. The Hamilton Gardens encompasses 58 hectares across five garden collections. The Paradise collection was my personal favourite. Within this collection my highlights were: the Indian Char Bagh Garden, Italian Renaissance Garden and the Chinese Scholars’ Garden.

Hamilton Gardens
Italian Renaissance Garden

Tauranga

I didn’t find the city of Tauranga itself that amazing. Although, the day trips from Tauranga are certainly worthwhile. In particular, Mount Maunganui was a favourite of mine. The mount rises 232 meters above sea level and takes about an hour to hike to the top. Once at the top, it offers 360 degree views of the Bay of Plenty. A fantastic day walk and the views at sunset are great too.

Other good side trips from Tauranga include; Mclaren Falls and Omanawa Falls. Although the walking track to Omanawa Falls is closed, you can easily hop the fence like we did and see the falls from the top. Unfortunately the walking track to the bottom of the waterfall is inaccessible.

Omanawa Falls
Omanawa Falls

Rotorua

Rotorua is the geothermal capital of New Zealand. The Kuirau Park in the middle of town is free to visit and offers the geothermal bubbling pools and attractions. It’s quite a large park and really good for a free activity. If you have more time then I would recommend the Wai-O-Tapo Thermal Wonderland. Similar to the offerings in Kuirau Park, but much bigger and more vibrant colours and creations. This one does charge an entry fee into the attraction though, but it is certainly worth it! 

Other attractions I recommend include; the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, and the Rotorua gondola and luge. If you are interested in what else there is to do in Rotorua, you can read my blog post linked below.

Read Next: 10 Exciting Things To Do in Rotorua

Geothermal activity in Kuirua Park, Rotorua
Geothermal activity in Kuirua Park

Taupo

It’s difficult to put into just a few sentences everything that Taupo means to me. I originally booked to stay in Taupo for one night, but came back a week later and stayed for 3 more months. The lake, mountains, free hot pools and river floats made Taupo the perfect place to settle down for a while and find some work. There’s so much to do in Taupo, whether you want to fill your day with activities or relax by the lake. If you want some more ideas on what to do in this town, read my handy blog post about the best things to do.

Read Next: 8 Fun Things To Do in Taupo, New Zealand

Maori Rock Carvings
Maori Rock Carvings on Lake Taupo

Tongariro National Park

The Tongariro National Park is home to one of New Zealand’s best day hikes. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing can be completed all year round. In the summer months you can choose to complete the hike guided or self-guided. However, during the winter due to the alpine conditions completing the hike with a guide is compulsory. The hike can often be cancelled during winter for several days at a time if the conditions are considered unsafe.

I completed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing during the summer, yet still chose to do it guided. This hike is 19.4 km long and was going to be the biggest and most challenging day hike I had ever done at the time. I decided I didn’t want to do this on my own and was more comfortable doing it in a group with a guide. This obviously costs more money, but whichever way you choose to do it the views will no doubt be incredible.

Read Next: Tongariro Alpine Crossing: My Guided Hike Experience

Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
New Zealand's North Island Pin Image

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