We loved our trip to New Zealand and would go back in a heartbeat so please enjoy this guest post from David Wright about one of our favourite places in the world. Particularly check out his section on the Tongariro Northern Circuit, the volcano has recently hit the news with an ash spewing eruption. Must be quite a sight there now.
When planning a trip to New Zealand, it makes sense to create an itinerary that is focused on the geography of the country. You don’t want to spend your valuable vacation time doubling back over ground you’ve already covered! Conveniently though, New Zealand is split into two islands – so when making your list of places to see and things to do in New Zealand, you should divide it into two categories: those on the North Island, and those on the South Island.
Both islands are longer than they are wide, so the next thing you want to do is let your itinerary follow a north-south line. So with that in mind, and to give you a bit of inspiration, here are our top picks for three must-visit destinations on New Zealand’s North Island.
Auckland consistently ranks in the top ten of the world’s most livable cities, and with good reason. There are few other cities that literally have something for everyone.
First, let’s start at the top – that is, the top of the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere, the Sky Tower. Head to its observation deck to see a panoramic view of the City of Sails. And while you’re up there, you’ll probably see the many other high-altitude activities that make Auckland such an attractive destination. So, choose your adrenaline rush – sky jumping, bungee jumping, flight tours, or the SkyWalk around Sky Tower.
Closer down to earth, Auckland’s waterways are the center of cultural and entertainment life. The Westhaven Marina is where boating fans can check out the scene. Waitemata Harbour (also known simply as Auckland Harbour) features sailing tours. The Viaduct Basin is a favorite for outdoor restaurants and nightlife.
And as you’d expect from a world capital, there’s plenty of cultural activities – from the Auckland Museum and the Maritime Museum to art galleries and shopping to family fare like dolphin safaris, the peaceful Glenfern Sanctuary, the Auckland Zoo, and the Rainforest Express tour.
You want to also make sure to leave enough time to get out of Auckland as well. The lava caves and stunning views of Rangitoto Island should be at the top of your day trip list. Beach bums will love to spend a day in the sun at Piha Beach or Bethells Beach. Oenophiles should take wine tasting tours of nearby vineyards. Take a bike ride to Mission Bay. Take a weekend break along the Pohutukawa coast.
Outdoor culture is a staple of New Zealand life, and the Tongariro Northern Circuit is a prime example of the best the country has to offer. Part of the New Zealand Great Walks hiking network, the 50km Tongariro Northern Circuit takes about four days and takes hikers across the lunar landscape of the Tongariro National Park, and for expert climbers, up to the top of Mt Ngauruhoe, one of New Zealand’s youngest volcanoes. (You may better know Mt Ngauruhoe as Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings series!)
Of course, if your time is limited, then the one-day Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike gives you a fantastic overview of this World Heritage Site. The brightly colored lakes provide a thrilling contrast to the sometimes-barren landscape, and dedicated hikers like to traverse the terrain in both winter and summer. And the Department of Conservation can also offer passes for overnight stays in the park’s Mangatepopo or Ketetahi huts, so you have options to extend a stay.
After the waterside living of Auckland and the other-worldly vibe of Tongariro, the lush rolling hills of Hawke’s Bay is yet another completely different environment for visitors to enjoy.
Its vineyards produce some of the country’s best wines, and welcome visitors for tastings and tours. Or, you can pair these wines with the delectable dishes of the Hastings District, a foodie paradise. And don’t miss the many fine examples of Art Deco architecture in Napiers – especially during its yearly Art Deco weekend, where the whole city goes back in time.
Of course, it’s wouldn’t be New Zealand without outdoor adventure. The Lake Waikaremoana Track in Northern Hawke’s Bay is yet another one of New Zealand Great Walks, and its 43km length, which spans about half the lake’s coastline, features camping for those who want to do the four-day hike. Fans of sailing and windsurfing should head to Bay View, not far from Napier. And there’s cycling, golf and fishing throughout the region as well.