Letters from C: The Ten Best Experiences On New Zealand’s North Island
I am lucky to have many friends who are also inflicted with the travel bug! It is so great to be able to swap stories and advice with fellow travellers and to learn from their experiences. Of course it means that my Facebook feed is constantly full of enviable photos! When my friend Cath told me she was travelling to New Zealand (again!) to discover the best the North Island has to offer I asked her to put together a list of the Ten Best Experiences on New Zealand’s North Island. Have you been to the North Island? What are your favourite experiences? Now if you will excuse me I am going to start planning a trip to New Zealand!
- Take a ride through the Waitomo glow-worm cave
Waitomo is a small town around 150km South of Auckland. Its main attraction is the large system of underground limestone caves, which are home to glow-worms. You can take a tour on a boat into the caves and see the walls and roof of the caves lit up by glow-worms that sparkle like little stars.
- Take a dip in a Geothermal Hot Pool
New Zealand is known for its intense geothermal activity, and what better way to relax after a big day than by taking a dip in a naturally heated thermal pool? There are a number of geothermal springs in the North Island, but I would recommend visiting Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, 15km South of Rotorua. The water is all natural geothermal water, varying in temperature from around 35-39 degrees Celsius.
- Climb the Tongariro Crossing
Hailed as one of the best treks in not only in New Zealand, but in the world, the Tongariro Crossing is no easy feat. Approximately 20km of ragged terrain over active volcanoes with uncertain weather conditions definitely makes for a challenging hike, but the amazing views and un-Earthly terrain make for an out-of-this world experience.
- Explore the Geothermal Parks
There are many different places to see the wonders of New Zealand’s geology in a small area. My top two recommendations are Wai-O-Tapu and Waimangu Valley. Both offer hot springs, bubbling mud pools and colourful bioactivity. Wai-O-Tapu is slightly more tourity, but there is a geyser which goes off at the same time every day.
- Experience Maori Culture in Rotorua
Maori Culture is strong in New Zealand’s North Island. There are many ways that you can learn and appreciate this proud indigenous heritage. In Rotorua there is a Maori village near the lake, where you can see traditional wooden sculptures and visit a Maori church.
If you are not afraid of being a tourist, I’d highly recommend visiting one of the recreated Maori villages, such as Mitai or Tamaki. If you visit at night, you can partake in a traditional meal, cooked in a ground oven and see tradition houses, dances and clothing.
- Go hiking at the Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest near Rotorua
If your Maori knowledge isn’t up to scratch, you might find yourself referring to this place simply as the Redwood Forest. In any case this is a must-do if you’re near Rotorua. With enormous Redwoods towering above the forest floor, and sparkling clear views, a walk through this forest is a calming experience.
- Check out Hobbiton in Matamata
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, no visit to the North Island would be complete without visiting Hobbiton. Although much of the set has been recreated simply for the tourist site, it’s hard not to enjoy its fantastical charm. Take a stroll through Gandalf’s cutting, check out the (real) vegetable garden and have a cider at the Green Dragon.
- Go Ziplining at the Mamaku Plateau near Rotorua
If the Redwood Forest was too much of a calming way to experience nature, then ziplining may just be the activity for you! Why walk through the rainforest when you can zipline high above the forest floor from tree to tree? You can even try flying through the trees upside-down if you’re feeling game.
- Go Black-Water Rafting in Waitomo
If you really want to get your heart pumping, then the Black Water Rafting Company based in Waitomo will be the activity for you. The water is frigidly cold and the caves are dark and deep, but this is truly an experience of a lifetime. Grab a tube and head down into the spidery waterfall depths!
- Take a Boat Ride to White Island
If you can only do one thing while in New Zealand, this should be it. Take a boat ride from the Whakatane to the volcanic White Island, where you can disembark and explore the active volcanic action. Sulphuric fumaroles, florescent acidic rivers, and plumes of ejected gas await you. Remember to wear your gas mask, because the air can burn your lungs. If you’re lucky, you might even see dolphins on the ride over.
‘Cath is a law/science student from Melbourne, who punctuates long library-filled hours trawling inspiring travel sites planning her next big adventure. She loves all kinds of travels: from trekking through China’s Himalayas to strolling the Champs- Élysées in Paris.’