New Zealand North Island: The Ultimate Bucket List

Researching a destination before I visit is one of my favourite things to do and never fails to get me excited about my upcoming trip. I will be arriving in New Zealand at the end of January 2019 and starting my trip on the North Island. Therefore, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you what’s on my New Zealand North Island Bucket List. 

As I tick off some of the activities on this list, I’ll be sure to update the post with my own pictures and more detailed information. Until that point the images in this post are provided by New Zealand Tourism.

1) Brave Auckland's Sky Walk:

The Sky Walk takes place at the top of New Zealand’s highest building, 192 metres in the air with 360 degree views of the city of Auckland. With no handrail support to separate you from the drop, you will complete challenges designed to get the heart pumping.

2) Skydive at the Bay of Islands:

The Bay of Islands is made up of 144 islands on the North Island. Skydiving was always going to be on my New Zealand bucket list. The chance to do it above golden beaches and turquoise blue waters sounded perfect and I was keen to tick this one off my list. I booked an early skydive for about 9am. I knew once I woke up in the morning I wouldn’t want to wait around all day. I wasn’t nervous at all for the skydive, only excited. The journey to the skydive location took about 30 minutes and the girl that picked me up was lovely. We talked the whole way and she even convinced me to upgrade my booking and jump from 16,000 ft instead of 12,000 ft. 

I signed my life away, watched the safety video and got kitted up with a jumpsuit, hat and goggles. I opted for both a picture and video package for my skydive. A couple people who went up in the same plane as me also paid extra to have an additional photography skydiver jump at the same time as them. I thought this expense was too much and would rather pay a little extra and jump higher. I actually had to have oxygen in the plane on the way up since the altitude I would be reaching was so high.

Volnei was my skydive tandem pilot person and he made my experience really great. If I wasn’t screaming during the freefall I can guarantee I was laughing. Picture below for proof. I had 70 seconds of freefall with my jump which was over in a whirlwind. I really loved my skydive with the exception of the twists and turns we did in the air. That in fact just made me feel sick. Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed skydiving in the Bay of Islands, the views were unreal and I’m so happy I did it.

Skydive Bay of Islands selfie

3) Find the Glowworms at the Waitomo Caves:

Waitomo is about 2.5 to 3 hours south of Auckland and is most famous for its glowworm caves. Unique to New Zealand, glowworms emit a luminescent light on the underground caves of Waitomo. There are three different ways to experience the glowworms, but whichever you choose make sure to add this activity to your North Island bucket list!

4) Hike up a Volcano:

Walking through lava fields and the world’s largest pohutukawa forest will lead you to the top of the island at 259 meters above sea level. From this point you can see panoramic views of Auckland and the surrounding Hauraki Gulf Islands. This hike is approximately a 2-hour round trip plus the ferry to and from the island.

Good to know:

  • Regular ferries leave from Auckland and take just under 30 minutes to arrive at Rangitoto Island.
  • There is no food or water available on the island so remember to bring it with you.

5) Explore Waiheke Island:

The day I spent exploring Waiheke Island is one of my favourites so far in New Zealand. Whenever anyone asks me about Waiheke I always respond the same way. It was paradise. Beautiful beaches, wineries and views across the island and back to Auckland. I opted for the hop on, hop off bus tour. I visited 3 wineries (Wild on Waiheke, Mudbrick Restaurant and Vineyard and Cable Bay Vineyards), Onetangi beach and also ate lunch at Cable Bay for the wood-fired pizza.

I’m already looking forward to my next visit to Waiheke Island. I’d love to stay on the island for a couple days minimum to really relax and enjoy everything the island has to offer. Next on my Waiheke bucket list is: horse riding, zip lining, many more wineries including Casita Miro, Batch Winery and a return visit to Mudbrick Restaurant and Vineyard – my absolute favourite!

Mudbrick Winery, Waiheke Island

6) Do Go Chasing Waterfalls

Huka Falls is one of the most famous waterfalls in New Zealand and it’s easy to see why. There are a number of look out points to view the turquoise blue waterfall and enjoy the stunning scenery. I went on the Huka Falls Jet and experienced many 360 degree spins on the way to the base of the Huka Falls. This experience made me feel sick from too many spins. You can also walk to the top of the Huka Falls which are impressive. From Taupo’s town centre it’s about a 2 hour return walk. We enjoyed the walk at sunset and it was so pretty with the sky glowing pink. 

Good to know:

The North Island of New Zealand has many more bucket list worthy waterfalls. A few of my favourites include:

  • Bridal Veil Falls in Raglan.
  • Maraetotara Falls, South of Napier.
  • Wairere Falls, North of Matamata.
Huka Falls Sunset

7) Soak in the Thermal Hot Springs of Rotorua:

Rotorua is filled with lots of natural thermal hot springs, many of which are free. Hot springs do however contain sulphur which can be quite smelly. I have experienced the smelly sulphur hot springs which are present in the Yellowstone National Park, USA and can promise that it’s worth it!

There are many places in Rotorua to soak in natural hot springs. After a quick instagram search to see what they all looked like and a comparison of prices online I chose to visit Waikite Valley Thermal Pools Springs and Spa. It was reasonanly priced at $18 for access to 6 outdoor pools. It was also really quiet when I visited and had this pool pictured below to myself for a little while.

Geothermal Pools in Rotorua

8) See the First Sunrise of the Day:

New Zealand is the first country in the world to see the sunrise every day. Pretty cool right?! I hiked up to the top of the East Cape Lighthouse at 5am to watch the first sunrise of the day. This was such a spectacular sunrise and I am so glad I did this hike in the morning to catch the sunrise. I have since been back and watched the sunrise again. The second time was just as beautiful as the sky was filled with pink clouds above the lighthouse.

East Cape Lighthouse Sunrise

9) Drive Ninety Mile Beach

Located at the North point of the North Island this is an official highway in New Zealand. Yet despite being named ninety mile beach, it is actually only 55 miles long. I drove along this beach as part of a daytrip to Cape Reinga, the northern most tip of New Zealand.

Ninety Mile Beach

10) Explore the Wineries at Hawke's Bay

Hawke’s Bay is one of New Zealand’s largest wine producing regions. Guided tours of Hawke’s Bay will lead you through some of the best wineries and vineyards in the region. Alternatively, if you prefer to explore more independently, cycling between wineries and towns on the specially designed trails is another popular option.

11) Pretend to be a Hobbit at Hobbiton

A New Zealand North Island Bucket List would not be complete without mentioning a visit to Hobbiton. Despite never having watched the Lord of the Rings films a visit to the movie set is a must-do activity on the North Island. Set within the New Zealand countryside, guided tours depart daily.

12) Visit Cathedral Cove

A stunning beach with an iconic cathedral shaped arc (hence the name). This sandy beach is a great spot to visit for a swim. It is however very touristy, it took at least 20 minutes for me to get the picture below. I had to be very patient waiting for other people walking around and a couple groups of girls having lengthy photo shoots. I would still recommend a visit to Cathedral Cove though, it really is quite special. The only way to access it is either by boat or a 45 minute walk.

The Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve is also popular for snorkellers and divers for the array of marine wildlife, reefs and sponge gardens which can be seen underwater. I would have loved to snorkel here but I didn’t have time unfortunately.

If you have more time in the Coromandels, it is one of my favourite areas of the North Island. The Pinnacles hike is challenging but the views at the top are spectacular. Alternatively, if you prefer to visit more beaches I recommend, Opito Bay and New Chums Beach.

Cathedral Cove

13) Ride the Wellington Cable Car

The iconic cable car of Wellington is one of the most popular attractions in the city and has been in operation since 1902. The historic cable car runs from downtown Wellington to the suburb of Kelburn and offers wonderful views of the city from lookout points. The cable car museum at the top of the track when you get off is also worth a visit. It provides lots of information about the history of the cable car in Wellington. After riding the cable car to the top, I recommend walking around the botanical gardens and back down to Wellington. 

In the evening, walk back up to the Space Place, Carter Observatory at the top of the botanical gardens. A fascinating museum, they also put on short documentaries in the evening and do a presentation about the stars you can see. After the documentary viewing, have a look out of the massive telescope that is housed in the observatory. We saw a few star constellations and Jupiter during our visit. Use your return ticket for the cable car on your way back down to Wellington.

Wellington Cable Car

14) Surf in Raglan

Raglan is one of the best places in New Zealand to catch a break and go surfing. I’ve never done it myself before but I would love to give it a try. The beaches in Raglan offer a range of different waves to suit beginners like me and more advanced surfers too. If you enjoy surfing then add Raglan to your New Zealand North Island Bucket List.

15) Travel the Scenic Train Route from Auckland to Wellington

The Northern Explorer train service features open air viewing carriages allowing you to get the most from the scenic train journey. The scenery changes from the farmlands of Waikato to the volcanic peaks of the central plateau. However the journey through the Tongariro National Park with views of three volcanic mountains is said to be the most spectacular.

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