Five Gems of New Zealand’s North Island

New Zealand Map

Last month we decided you were coming to New Zealand, so I showed you around the South Island a bit.  That was fun, wasn’t it?  But I don’t want to leave you hanging without showing you around the North Island.  There are some real gems there, too.

I wish I could point you to every secluded beach on this island nation, but if you explore, I have great confidence I’ll be the one reading your irresistible recommendations.  But you don’t have unlimited time or money quite yet, so I’ll highlight your must-see list for you, giving you a good spread of delightful destinations.

Matamata

Bag End

With the new release of The Hobbit’s second film installment, the Shire is as happening as ever.  This once quiet town turned international tourist hotspot is arguably the single most Middle Earthiest patch of ground you’ll find in the whole country.  Film buffs and fans of beauty alike will want to pay this permanent farmland set a visit.  You won’t believe this is where some people get to work every day.

As they do, the powers that be have made the Shire available only by tour, but one well worth the money.  The behind the scenes secrets, a peek inside Hobbit holes, a free drink at the fully-functioning pub, and a few hours wandering through your nerd-daydreams-turned-reality make Hobbiton a truly priceless experience.

While your friends back home watch Saturday night movies, why not take a Saturday to watch the world from the other side of the screen?

Mount Maunganui

Mount Maunganui with beach
Not far from Matamata is Mount Maunganui (pronounced Maunganui).  This dormant volcano tossed in the Bay of Plenty is the epitome of vibrant consumer culture.  Cafes, high rise condos, bookstores, high end fashion, and happy hour combine to make the Mount the place you wish you were when you’re not.

If you’re in for a stroll, there’s a walking path around the circumference of Maunganui, allowing a shaded viewing of waves crashing along rocks, occasional seals, endless ocean, and beaches spooling out along some farther coast.  If you’re in for a hike, climb to the top in 30 minutes and see how it feels to be king of the world.  Bring a picnic and a sweater to watch the sunset with the one you love and rack up the bonus points.

Maybe it’s your sea legs you would rather flex?  Starting at the base of the Mount, the sandy beach plays before you, miles of spectacular swells for whatever water adventures you want to get up to.  Once your day in the sun has reached its peak, top it off with a dip in the hot pools for a contentedness you won’t soon forget.

Coromandel

Coromandel

Highway 25 winds along and up a coastal road surrounding the Coromandel peninsula, providing the most remarkable views you’ve encountered in your journey so far.  But keep your eyes on the road because you don’t want to miss where New Zealanders themselves go to get away.

As you round the Eastern face of the subtropical peninsula, you come across the region’s most famous attraction: the Hot Water Beaches.  At low tide, take your spade and dig a you-sized hole in the sand.  When it fills up, you’ve got yourself an instant spa bath.  As you relax and contemplate life, you’ll send a quiet “thank you” to that handsome writer who suggested this moment of brilliance.

Cathedral Cove, accessible only by water or foot, will also be a name you hear thrown out as a must do during your visit to the Coromandel.  May I recommend the kayaks as your means of transport through the caves and reefs of this unspoiled marine reserve?  Please, give my regards to the dolphins.

Perhaps you are the “peace, love, save the earth” sort who will join the thriving retreat centers and environmentally minded communities nestled among the Coromandel and never want to leave.  I have a feeling the small towns, quirky local businesses, and rugged coastline tracks will be to your liking.

Along with the non-stop yoga classes.

Bay of Islands

Russell Wharf
Islands.  Lots of islands.  A whole bay of them, if you will.

And an ideal location to combine your love of history, mythology, nature, and adventure.  We’ll start with history.  When the first Europeans settled in New Zealand, this is where they arrived and forged relationships with the indigenous Maori.  Here is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, the founding and most important document in New Zealand’s comparatively young existence.  The Waitangi Treaty Grounds celebrates this momentous occasion on the date every year, if you time it right.

Maori mythology of the Northland region is extensive.  The Bay of Islands offers a perfect base to explore one such fascinating place – the end of the northern road at Cape Reinga.  As you watch the Pacific Ocean meet the Tasman Sea in marked collisions, you can almost hear the ancient stories the Maori tell of the dead taking their last leap off the cape to enter the underworld.

Snorkel, scuba, cruise, camp, hike, beach, eat, shop, swim, and find some time to sleep because the Bay of Awesome, I mean Islands, is going to wear you out with unadulterated fun.

Tongariro National Park

Sunrise at Tongariro National Park

At the southern end of Lake Taupo, this active volcanic region with its vast horizons and rocky landscape is a stark difference from the lush green hills just a few hours away.  The national park village keeps to itself, with plenty of accommodation for those spending the day amidst the mountains, but little by way of restaurant options or nightlife.  Nevertheless, you’ll want to see Tongariro with your own eyes.

Snow, bike, hike, fish, jet boat, skydive, climb – this is nature’s playground beckoning you to hop on the monkeybars.  The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, considered by many to be one of the best day hikes in the world, offers views of emerald lakes and volcanic landscape you may only witness once in a lifetime.  But don’t take this volcano stuff lightly – as we were driving into the National Park to hike the Crossing the following day, one of the three volcanic mountains decided to cause trouble, closing the path and forcing us to an alternative, but no less stunning walk.

As the smoke rose and the village went quiet with cancelled reservations, our feet affirmed the truth our eyes were telling us.  There is something special about this place.  And it’s now part of our lives, our story.

So it is with New Zealand.  Tongariro National Park along with these other gems of the North Island, are the real deal.  The Land of the Long White Cloud at her finest.

Or “Sweet As” in Kiwi speak.

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1 Comment
  1. Whatever you do, don’t forget to do a cruise when you’re in the Bay of Islands.

    Paihia is a lovely location and some of the best activities to be had in the Bay of Islands are especially to be had on the water.

    So check out the many cruises, water sports and other activities to be had in the area and make sure you book ahead if you are arriving in the busy season (Dec – Mar).

    You’ll love it! 🙂

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