New Zealand is on many travellers’ wish lists, often because they have seen photos of the spectacular scenery on the South Island. The New Zealand North Island is also full of adventure and beautiful sights, so it definitely shouldn’t be overlooked when planning a trip to one of the best countries in the world.
The North Island is home to the majority of New Zealanders and offers just as much adventure and beauty as the larger, but less populated, South Island. Whether you are interested in Maori cultural experiences, city exploration, nature or adventure, you can find it all on the North Island.
Here are some of the best places to visit in the North Island of New Zealand to help inspire your travel plans.
Most visitors to New Zealand will arrive in Auckland. It’s New Zealand’s biggest city, although not the capital and most international flights arrive and depart from Auckland.
Auckland is sometimes nicknamed the City of Sails and is a perfect place to spend your first few days in New Zealand. It has one of the highest per capita rates of recreational boat ownership in the world and several significant islands nearby that are popular with both locals and visitors.
You can take a ferry from Auckland to Rangitoto Island, a dormant volcano which is popular for hiking trails. The Summit Trail takes you to the top of the island, through the country’s largest Pohutakawa Forest.
There are also lots of things to do in Auckland itself. The skyline is dominated by the SkyTower, which boasts a 360° viewing deck, a revolving restaurant, and even a controlled jump from the top of the tower.
Eden Park, a short distance south of the city centre, is the national stadium and hosts concerts and sports matches, including many of the rugby matches played by the world-famous All Blacks.
Auckland War Memorial Museum is a great rainy-day choice. Despite the impression the name gives, it’s not just a military museum. The museum also provides a detailed history of the Maori and Pacific Island people, including cultural performances.
Waiheke Island is a beautiful place to visit in the wider Auckland area. The island can be accessed by a ferry from Auckland and is home to several wineries as well as nature walks and ziplining.
Waiheke Island is often referred to as the Island of Wine and for good reason. With over 30 wineries scattered throughout the island, it’s a haven for wine enthusiasts. If you are a wine fan then it’s a great day trip as, like many other New Zealand wine regions, you won’t find these wines outside of the country.
One of the highlights of visiting Waiheke Island is undoubtedly its stunning beaches. From secluded coves such as Sandy Bay to family-friendly spots like Onetangi Beach, there is a beach for every mood and preference.
Another aspect that sets Waiheke apart is its thriving arts community. Take a leisurely stroll through Oneroa village and you’ll find numerous boutique shops selling unique handcrafted items made by local artists. Whether you’re looking for paintings, sculptures or jewellery, Waiheke Island has something to suit every taste.
Given that you will most likely fly into Auckland when arriving in New Zealand, it’s a perfect place to spend some time while you recover from any jetlag before continuing on your adventure.
90 Mile Beach
90 Mile Beach is actually only 55 miles long!
Although the reason for the inaccurate name is not certain, a common explanation is that European settlers calculated the distance using horses – not the most scientific option.
They could typically travel a distance of 30 miles by horse in a day. It took 3 days to travel the length of the beach, however, they didn’t account for slower speeds on the sand.
Located on the West Coast of the northern end of the North Island, the beach is technically a public highway. Although it is an official road, car hire companies generally prohibit their vehicles from being driven on the beach.
As the beach has no towns nearby it is a fairly unspoilt stretch of sand, far more peaceful than beaches you would find near populated areas.
The main way to visit the beach is by joining a coach tour, which uses privately owned vehicles that are not restricted. Most tours also include a visit to the sand dunes, and sandboarding for those who feel like climbing the dunes.
✅ Book your tour of 90 Mile Beach here!
Cape Reinga is the most northern pubicly-accessible part of New Zealand. North Cape is slightly further north but in a scientific reserve that is not open to the public.
Cape Reinga marks the point where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Oceans meet and is also a location of spiritual significance to the Maori people.
A pohutukawa tree, believed to be around 800 years old, marks the place where, according to legend, the spirits of Maori people travel to the underworld after death. The Maori name for Cape Reinga is Te Rerenga Wairua – the ‘leaping place of the spirits’.
Most tours of 90 Mile Beach also visit Cape Reinga.
Waitangi is a significant place in the history of New Zealand. It’s the location of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the British Government and Maori Chiefs on 6th February 1840. The 6th of February is now a public holiday in New Zealand.
The Treaty marked the development of New Zealand as a British colony, and established principles regarding land ownership and the rights of the Maori people in New Zealand.
The Treaty isn’t without controversy, especially due to differences between the English and Maori language versions of the Treaty, and breaches by the British government.
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds now have a museum dedicated to the history of New Zealand and the signing of the Treaty. A flagstaff marks the spot where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.
A traditional Maori meeting house and cultural performances further showcase the importance of Maori culture in New Zealand.
Many visitors to New Zealand miss out on Waitangi as it is located north of Auckland. Many of the North Island’s most popular places are south of Auckland and people tend to head south from Auckland towards Rotorua, Taupo and Wellington.
For any travellers with an interest in the history of the country and the relationship between the Maori people and the British settlers, Waitangi is a great place to visit and is worth a detour to the Northland region of New Zealand.
The Coromandel Peninsula lies to the west of Auckland. Famous for its beaches and coastline, it’s one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand.
Cathedral Cove is one of the most recognisable images of New Zealand, with a large white rock visible through the Cathedral Arch as you head down to the beach. Unfortunately, the cove itself isn’t accessible to some visitors with mobility difficulties and it can be closed at short notice depending on weather conditions.
Another popular location in Coromandel is Hot Water Beach, where you can dig yourself a pool and relax in warm water as you watch the waves rolling in from the Pacific Ocean.
There are also many hiking trails throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, including the overnight Pinnacles Track.
It’s one of the best places in New Zealand to enjoy natural beauty, kayaking and hiking, and definitely worth the detour between Auckland and Rotorua.
Rotorua is another significant location for Maori culture, as well as being known for geothermal activity.
Don’t be put off by the occasional waft of rotten egg smell – it’s part of what makes Rotorua important.
The smell comes from various points of geothermal activity, the most famous of which is Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Visit the park to see the bubbling mud pools, multicoloured thermal pools, and Lady Knox geyser.
Rotorua is another great place to experience some Maori culture. There are several places where you can go to an evening event for cultural performances, including the famous haka war dance, as well as a hangi.
A hangi is a traditional Maori feast, cooked using heated rocks in an underground oven. Foods cooked as part of a hangi often include pork, chicken, lamb, potatoes, squash and sweet potato (known as kumara in New Zealand).
The cooking method produces a feast with a smoky, earthy taste. Trust me, it’s delicious and should definitely be experienced when you are in New Zealand.
Rotorua is a key part of any visit to New Zealand, such as this Christchurch to Auckland road trip.
✅ Book your Maori cultural experience here.
If you want to learn more about Maori culture, you might find one of the books below interesting.
The town of Taupo sits on Lake Taupo, formed in the caldera of a volcano that has produced some of the most powerful eruptions in Earth’s history.
Today, Taupo is a popular place for skydiving, kayaking and boat cruises. The lake sits in the middle of the North Island so is pretty hard to miss! It’s also near Rotorua so most trips in New Zealand will include a visit to both.
New Zealand’s longest river, the Waikato River, flows through Lake Taupo and down Huka Falls, a great location for jet boating due to the volume of water crashing over the falls.
If you only have time for a brief stop, perhaps try out your golfing skills at the Hole in One Challenge, where you can attempt to hit a golf ball from the shore of the lake onto a hole in a platform 100 metres away.
Overall, Taupo is a perfect place for anyone interested in water sports and thermal activity, and if you want the best views of the lake, maybe it’s time for your first skydive!
Anyone who is a fan of the Lord Of The Rings or Hobbit movies should stop by the Hobbiton set near the town of Matamata.
This is where the original movie set was built, and then re-created for the Hobbit movies. Now it is maintained as a tourist attraction, where you can walk around Hobbiton, take photos outside a Hobbit hole, and even visit the Green Dragon pub.
✅ Book your day tour from Auckland to Hobbiton here.
For an extra special experience, you can even book an Evening Banquet experience at the Green Dragon Pub!
Waitomo is a small village on the North Island, which probably wouldn’t have found its place on the tourist map if not for the famous glow worm caves. If you want to see glow worms, this is the place to do it.
The cave system near Waitomo is one of the most popular attractions in New Zealand and for good reason. Entering the Waitomo caves is almost like entering an underground galaxy, with the glow worm threads forming constellations above you.
There are a few options for viewing the glow worm caves, from a relatively sedate boat ride to the more extreme black water rafting experience.
Black water rafting, also known as cave tubing, involves floating around in a tube (sort of like sitting in the middle of a large tyre) through the caves. Different options include small waterfalls and even a short abseil and take between 3-5 hours depending on which version you choose.
Having done the cave tubing myself, I can tell you it is an amazing experience to be floating down the water looking up at the glow worms above you. Book your ticket in advance for this must-do New Zealand experience.
✅ Book your Waitomo black water rafting experience here!
Paeroa is a small town on the North Island with a population of around 4,000. It might not be an obvious tourist stop, but for anyone who has ever enjoyed visiting a ‘World’s Largest’ something, this is a stop for you.
Paeroa is the birthplace of the iconic Kiwi soft drink, L&P (Lemon & Paeroa), which is a popular drink made with lemon and mineral water. To mark the location, the town has built a 7-metre-high Giant L&P bottle
The brand has had some great marketing campaigns in the past, with the self-deprecating tagline ‘World Famous in New Zealand’. You can’t really find it anywhere else in the world, but it’s very popular with New Zealanders.
I won’t pretend that it’s worth spending long in Paeroa, but if you are passing by and want to stop for a photo opportunity, go and check out the Giant L&P bottle, and try the drink while you’re there!
Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand, sitting at the southern end of the North Island. It’s one of my favourite places in New Zealand and a great place to explore for a couple of days.
It’s a fantastic place to spend a couple of days, with lots to do in the small city. Take the gondola up to the Botanic Gardens and walk back down past native plants and through the rose garden. Visit Te Papa museum on the waterfront – well worth a visit and as a bonus it’s also free!
Explore the shops and cafes on Cuba Street. Grab a coffee from Squirrel NZ, Raglan Roast or Prefab-ACME. Meander down the walkways by the harbour. Check out some of the excellent restaurants. It really is a good place to relax for a couple of days.
If you are heading down to the South Island as part of a New Zealand road trip, you will catch the Interislander ferry to Picton from Wellington.
Although Miramar is a suburb of Wellington, it deserves a separate mention for movie fans.
Miramar is home to the Weta Cave, the public museum of the Weta Workshop which provided special effects for the Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit films, as well as several other Hollywood movies.
The film industry is an important part of the New Zealand economy, and it all starts with Miramar. Join a day tour that will take you to the Weta Cave, and also to several locations used for filming in the Lord Of The Rings.
✅ Book your movie tour here.
Tongariro National Park
New Zealand is a dream location for avid hikers. There are several stunning single and multi-day hikes around the country, including the Routeburn Track and Abel Tasman National Park on the South Island.
The most famous of the hikes, however, is probably the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on the North Island. This 6-8 hour hike crosses an area of geothermal activity and provides spectacular views of volcanoes and lakes.
It’s not one for inexperienced hikers as the route takes you through a volcanic area which means several ascents and descents. Make sure you plan in advance and check the weather forecast.
The route also takes you through areas considered sacred to the Māori people and so you should ensure you are aware of what you can and can’t do in those parts of the route.
For the non-hikers, if you are road-tripping down the North Island you may well find yourself on State Highway 1 which passes by the park and, on clear days, can provide some great views of the park’s peaks.
Napier is known for its Art Deco architecture. Devastated by a powerful earthquake in 1931, Napier was rebuilt with a distinctive Art Deco style that now defines its character. The city’s rich history and resilient spirit are clear as you stroll through its streets adorned with elegant facades and intricate detailing.
Beyond its architectural allure, Napier boasts stunning vistas of the Pacific Ocean and a thriving cultural scene. Outdoor enthusiasts can relish in activities like hiking, cycling, and relaxing on the pristine beaches.
One of the best places to visit in the area is Cape Kidnappers, an iconic stretch of coastline known for its rugged cliffs and abundant wildlife.
Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is a beautiful part of the North Island that many visitors miss. It’s particularly known for wildlife watching, diving and sailing. There are more than 140 islands in the area, so boat tours are a very popular activity, often departing from Paihia.
For those seeking a unique and unforgettable experience, a visit to Cape Brett is an absolute must. This iconic landmark offers stunning coastal views and is home to the historic Cape Brett Lighthouse, which has been guiding ships since 1906. Embarking on a hike along the Cape Brett Track rewards adventurers with panoramic vistas that stretch as far as the eye can see.
When it comes to making memories, diving enthusiasts are spoiled for choice. The Bay of Islands boasts an abundance of marine life and vibrant underwater ecosystems. Dive into deep water caverns or swim among colourful reefs teeming with fish species found nowhere else on Earth.
✅ For a unique view of the area, book a parasailing tour here.
Hawke’s Bay is a region that offers an incredible blend of natural beauty and cultural richness.
One of the most alluring aspects of Hawke’s Bay is its thriving wine industry. Renowned for its award-winning wines, this region boasts over 100 vineyards and wineries that produce a diverse range of varietals.
From Chardonnays to Merlots, Hawke’s Bay is one of the best New Zealand wine regions to explore. Indulge in delightful wine tastings and explore the beautiful vineyards.
But Hawke’s Bay isn’t just about wine; it also offers a fascinating mix of art, history, and architecture. Whether you’re seeking serene natural landscapes or eager to immerse yourself in culture and history, Hawke’s Bay has something for everyone.
✅ Book a wine tour of Hawke’s Bay here!
The Waipoura Forest in New Zealand’s Northland region is the largest native forest in the country. It is also home to the country’s largest Kauri tree, Tāne Mahuta, which is believed to be around 2,000 years old.
Walking among these giants offers a humbling experience, connecting visitors to the land’s deep history and inspiring a sense of awe for the natural world.
If you are visiting Northland it’s worth stopping by and enjoying the boardwalk through the forest. Just make sure you follow any posted rules as the Kauri trees are vulnerable to kauri dieback disease.
You can also join a Twilight tour with a Māori guide to hear more about the flora and fauna, as well as the significance of the forest in Māori culture.
✅ Book your twilight tour of Waipoua Forest here
Hamilton is a vibrant and welcoming city an hour and a half south of Auckland that offers a diverse array of experiences for visitors.
One of the city’s highlights is the stunning Hamilton Gardens, a collection of themed gardens that transport visitors across various cultures and eras. From the tranquil Japanese Garden to the elaborate Italian Renaissance Garden, these meticulously designed spaces provide a serene escape and a journey through horticultural history.
Art enthusiasts will appreciate the Waikato Museum, which showcases both local and international art exhibitions, as well as the rich history of the region. The city’s riverbank area is a popular spot for outdoor activities, including walking, cycling, and picnicking.
Getting Around New Zealand
Although you can get to a lot of places using domestic flights, coaches and day tours, to get the best out of New Zealand I would recommend hiring a car.
Check out DiscoverCars for some of the best deals around.
What Time Of Year Is Best To Visit?
The New Zealand summer (December to February) is peak tourist season, so it may be best to visit in late Spring to avoid some of the crowds. Winter can restrict access to some locations so stick to warmer seasons to avoid road and park closures, especially in mountain areas.
Can You Drive From The North Island To The South Island?
There isn’t a road between the islands, but if you are driving around the country you can take your vehicle on the Interislander Ferry. The journey takes about 3 ½ hours across the Cook Strait and through Queen Charlotte Sound.
Do I Need A Visa To Enter New Zealand?
If you are from a Visa Waiver country you will need to apply for a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) which takes around 72 hours to be processed and costs NZD17. From other countries, you will need to apply for a Visitor Visa which typically takes around 36 days and costs NZD211.
Both of these options are for visitors only and do not allow you to work in New Zealand. You should only apply via the official government website, and in plenty of time before you travel.
Fitting in all of these sites would require a lot of time in New Zealand, but I have a New Zealand itinerary to help you plan.
For a route that takes you through both the North Island and South Island, check out this 14-day New Zealand itinerary. If you are looking for a trip that focuses primarily (but not exclusively) on the North Island, this Christchurch-Auckland road trip might be the one for you.
For other New Zealand travel posts, check out my New Zealand destination page.