Skirt the coast to find paradise beaches, make your way inland to get to the heart of Maori culture, surrounded by volcanicity and vibrant colours. Search for Pippin and Merry in Hobbiton and sample the fruits of the land in Wellington. No matter how you travel from top to tail, no New Zealand North Island tour is the same.
The question is, how do you start? New Zealand’s North Island is jam-packed with astonishing scenery and sprinkled with fun-filled activities that make it a hot spot for travellers of all kinds.
While Lord of Rings fans won’t want to go past Hamilton, science lovers will find themselves running between Rotorua and the glow worm caves that dot the island; foodies will find a home in Wellington while nature lovers will be lost among the endless rolling hills, mountains and coastlines that welcome you with open arms.
An essential part of your New Zealand (NZ) experience in the North Island is learning more about traditional owners of this land, dipping into the culture by meeting Maori people and learning that there is much more to this culture than the Hakka. To branch out on your foodie experiences, treating yourself to a Hangi meal is an absolute essential. After all, what better way to get into a culture than through food?
Last up – wine. Need we say more? New Zealand wines are known across the world, and while the most famous are in the South Island, New Zealand’s North Island has some surprises in store with vineyards in Hawke’s Bay, Waikato and Auckland.
Come winter or summer, no matter what your style of travel is, you’ll be guaranteed to find it here in the North Island. This guide will unveil the best of New Zealand to get you planning your next trip, so let’s get started.
- North Island Travel: When to Go
- Things to Do in the North Island NZ
- How to Get Around the North Island
- Where to Stay on Your North Island Trip
- Places to Eat & Drink on Your North Island Travels
- Cost of a New Zealand North Island Tour
- Festivals Not to Miss On Your North Island Tour
- Regional Tours in the North Island
- Ready to Design your Own North Island New Zealand Tour?
North Island Travel: When to Go
New Zealand is known to have four seasons in one day, sitting farthest south in the world, you can expect the typical weather of Europe, just flipped upside down. No matter where you travel on your New Zealand tour of the North Island, this is a year-round destination with endless life and activities to keep you going.
The North Island has a hotter climate than the South Island, with summer reaching high into the twenties, giving you long sunny days. Your ideal summer North Island tour in New Zealand is from December to February. While the North Island may be busy with tourists at this time, the hustle and bustle is worth it for some prime beach time.
Autumn, from March to May, and spring, from September to November, are the perfect times for long walks through the countryside or hiking in Auckland as nature’s vibrant colours come to life.
The North Island comes to life once again in winter, from June to August, when walking trails are swapped for ski slopes welcoming skiers and snowboarders from all across the world to the picturesque snow-clad landscapes.
Things to Do in the North Island NZ
A diverse and creative city that embraces food, wine, art and music, Auckland creates a warm and welcoming start to your New Zealand North Island tour itinerary.
Spread over volcanic mountains, Auckland acts as a gateway to the North Island. However, with endless activities including picturesque walking trails, great access to beaches and open-air markets introducing you to Auckland’s produce, the city warrants a little exploration while being a base for your North Island trip.
Auckland day tours can take you to Hobbiton, the Bay of Islands and on an unforgettable road trip driving from Auckland to Wellington. The city is a great introduction to New Zealand as the first of your North Island destinations just like on this 6-day New Zealand beaches and boating tour.
In Wellington, you’ll feel instantly welcomed into a community with its small-town feel. Sitting on the cusp of the North Island’s natural wonderland, Wellington embraces the sea it looks out to as well as its mountainous backdrop, the perfect combination for any city! You can tap into Wellington’s natural vista on this 2-day Wellington seal colony experience.
Of all the places to go in the North Island to delve into New Zealand’s food scene, Wellington has to be it. With many award-winning restaurants, you have to sample all that this city has to offer. In between your tastings, the city is also known for its many museums and galleries, which warrant your attention to learn about the culture and history of the North Island.
If you are looking to learn more about Maori culture, look no further than Rotorua. Filled with volcanicity, the Maori people care for the land of Rotorua and embrace all of its fruits. The city sits on the edge of a haven of natural landscapes waiting to be explored, the city encourages a more down to earth and outdoor-orientated approach to life with fun-filled activities great for the family, like fly fishing in Rotorua.
Hiking and biking trails, bubbling hot springs and geysers run in tandem with Maori culture here, and you’ll find yourself learning about both at the same time. The best example of this is the geothermal mud pools that are a must-do in the North Island, just like on this Rotorua North Island trip. The hot pools are characterised by vibrant colours that seem impossibly natural as they steam, bubble and spit from below the surface.
Glow Worm Caves
A magical North Island New Zealand highlight, the glow worm caves are a spectacle that can only be compared to a starlit sky in the middle of nowhere. The most famous glow worm caves are in Waitomo where you find an easy-access cave and well-facilitated tours that welcome thousands of visitors every year.
However, there are numerous other glow worm caves that offer a similar experience without the crowds so you don’t miss out on this amazing experience just like in this tour with glow worm caves in the Northlands. Among them are Lake Mclaren, Kawiti Glow Worm Caves and Okupata Caves.
A coastal paradise, the Coromandel Peninsula is the full package when it comes to places to visit in the North Island, NZ. White sand beaches are met with rainforests and verdant hideaways create a dream escape; from The Pinnacles to Cathedral Cove, the Coromandel Peninsula is a nature lover’s paradise!
The Coromandel is your chance to exchange the big city for a calm and fresh escape on the east coast. The peninsula has a rustic, easy-going atmosphere that, no matter where you stay, you’ll feel inclined to fall in line with.
Whether you want to lie in a hammock all day or get stuck into the adventurous activities in the forest, with the best hiking in New Zealand’s North Island, and on the beach like on this 7-day North Island active nature tour, the Coromandel Peninsula has a charm that you cannot avoid.
Whale Watching in the North Island
Offering an unmissable performance for all that wish to see it, whale watching in the North Island of New Zealand will show you that the beauty of this magical destination is not just on land, it’s offshore too.
A safari tour from Auckland takes you offshore where you’ll meet dolphins, seals and whales, with different species migrating past the east coast throughout the year. Led by marine biologists, you’ll also have the chance of seeing manta rays and little blue penguins.
Set in the heart of the Waikato region is every Lord of the Rings fan’s dream: Hobbiton is arguably the most famous attraction in the North Island.
Stepping into Middle Earth, you feel worlds away as you walk through the movie set of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings films. Following a guide, a tour of Hobbiton will walk you through how the set was made and give you the chance to become part of The Shire as you are shown the tiniest details that complete the experience!
Hobbiton is only the beginning of the Lord of the Rings filming locations on the North Island, this North Island tour that takes you to The Shire, Rivendell and Mordor in search of the Ring on your very own Lord of the Rings adventure.
How to Get Around the North Island
New Zealand is a country where the destination often comes second to the journey so considering how you travel is essential.
Self-drive in the North Island
Whether you choose to rent a car or buy one, your self-drive North Island trip will be one to remember. Green rolling hills turn into endless coastlines, hidden beaches and coves. Bubbling geysers turn into glaciers and caves; a self-drive tour in the North Island will be a trip to remember, and is an absolute must-do!
While organising private transportation in the North Island will be the most expensive option, it is also the most efficient as you can relax in the knowledge that a driver will get you to your next destination, and show you all the essential stops along the way.
If neither of the above are options for you, there are a range of budget-friendly options available. New Zealand’s coach tours in the North Island are known for taking travellers to all the must-see places. There is also the InterCity Bus link to take you from Auckland to Rotoroa for a day trip, and even from Auckland to Wellington on a tour.
When in the cities, the hop-on-hop-off buses are perfect to go on your very own tour.
Flying around the North Island is less time-consuming, yet you are still getting the spectacular views that New Zealand is known for.
With a little forward planning, it’s possible to get cheap flights from Wellington to Auckland and the surrounding area. While you are not quite getting the stunning views that are available on the road, if you are planning a short North Island tour, flying may be your best option to see all it has to offer.
Where to Stay on Your North Island Trip
While Auckland is not a big city, where you stay is going to affect your time here. For first-timers, it’s advised that you stay central to make sure that you soak up all of that Auckland goodness. From the boutique shops to the endless restaurants, the centre of Auckland has all that you need to make the most of the city hustle.
If you want a little luxury, you may consider staying in Auckland Viaduct, while beach lovers and surfers will enjoy Mission Bay or Piha.
Sitting close to Te Mata Peak, Havelock is known as Hawke’s Bay’s “love village”, a romantic little spot with beautiful shops, restaurants and an artistic vibe.
Accommodation in Havelock in the North Island of NZ is limited, but what you do find is small locally-run cottages and exclusive retreats that act as a gateway to some of New Zealand’s best wineries.
Home to rich Maori culture, bubbling pools and hissing geysers, Rotorua is an absolute must-visit place in the North Island, and with that comes a range of accommodation to suit all kinds of travellers.
From caravan sites to hotels, luxury retreats and lodges, Rotorua has accommodation spread throughout the town and sitting on its scenic outskirts, so you’ll never feel like you are missing out.
Known for its beautiful lake, there is one thing that is for certain while staying in Taupo, you’ll have a stunning view to gaze out to. There are several areas to choose from in Taupo, as the lake is huge, however, first-timers in the North Island will find they don’t need to look much further than the town.
With everything from backpacker hostels to private lodges with staggering views, Taupo is a dreamily relaxing place to stay. Campers will also revel in the host of locations to park and pitch up.
Places to Eat & Drink on Your North Island Travels
The food scene in Wellington has its own identity. So much so, there are a number of foodie tours dedicated to it. Surrounded by a wealth of fresh produce, Wellington acts as a centre to bring it all together.
Covering everything from chocolate to beers and wine, it would be rude not to come to Wellington hungry. With restaurants ranging from the unique to the cheap and cheerful, you’ll finish your time in the city full and happy.
Food and wine in Hawke’s Bay are at the centre of everything. There is even a continuous event series to keep up with what is happening on the food scene and to make sure locals stay in the know.
The perfect getaway, spending a quiet moment in Hawke’s Bay and becoming acquainted with its culinary scene is essential. Tours like this 3-day luxury Hawke’s Bay wine tour demonstrate that food and wine here are not just for special occasions, it’s a lifestyle.
Hangi in Rotorua
Following the belief that the earth is the giver of all life, hangi cuisine is cooked underground, and in ‘Whakarewarewa’, this means with geothermal activity.
In true Maori hospitality, you’ll dine on a feast of meat and vegetables cooked either in a mineral pool or in a geothermal pit. The Hangi pie comes highly recommended, which is all of the ingredients wrapped in pastry. The flavour is unlike anything you have had before!
You cannot visit the North Island on a food tour without visiting Waiheke Island. This wine island is the culinary capital of the north, known for its endless vineyards and captivatingly delicious restaurants everywhere you turn.
With a great variety of food and wine tours on offer, Waiheke Island demands that you come hungry as the award-winning local produce found here is something you cannot miss out on!
Cost of a New Zealand North Island Tour
To break down your North Island trip, you look at the following;
- Length of your trip
- Season or month you choose to travel in
- Accommodation class and type
- How many places you visit during your trip
- Number of activities or tours you take part in
- Expenditure on shopping and dining out
When looking at this list, planning your New Zealand North Island tour can seem daunting. Not to mention, making sure your North Island travel is within budget can seem like a lot of planning. However, there is a way the stress can be taken out of this.
With Designer Journeys, all you need to do is list your budget, trip duration, activity preferences and how you like to travel. With this information, you’ll be connected directly with a Local Designer in New Zealand who will plan your trip based on your requirements. From airport transfers to hotel and restaurant reservations and guided tours, your Local Designer will make planning your trip to New Zealand’s North Island seem easy.
Alternatively, you could design your own North Island trip with Designer Journeys and feel at ease knowing that every detail has been taken care of. By taking a few simple steps, your New Zealand tour can be tailor-made to what is achievable for you.
As an example, take a look at a North Island tour, like this 5-day luxury North Island escape trip that costs $1,759 per person, it includes;
- 5-star accommodation
- Four guided activities
- Airport transfers and transport by private car
- Four breakfasts, two lunches and one dinner
By adjusting small things you can cut the cost of the trip significantly, making a more budget-friendly trip. Where you choose to stay, how often you decide to move and how you choose to travel will all affect the price of your New Zealand trip.
When it comes to planning a trip to New Zealand, everyone has different requests, making custom travel the best way to make your ideas a reality. With Designer Journeys, you can browse a range of fully-customisable New Zealand tours and tailor any one of them to your preferences with one of our Local Designers. Or better yet, select what you want out of a trip using the ‘Design your Own Trip’ function and let one of our Local Designers design the trip of your dreams!
Festivals Not to Miss On Your North Island Tour
Held in the creative town of Wellington, Homegrown does just as it says; hosts local artists and vendors that make up the North Island community. From internationally-renowned names to local well-known faces, the festival embraces all that the North Island and New Zealand have to give.
One of many Pasifika Festivals around Polynesia, Pasifika is a celebration of cultures in the Pacific region with Polynesian culture, of which Maori culture is a huge part of, at the centre. Communities from in and around Wellington and Auckland, where the festivals are held, come to the two cities to celebrate Polynesian culture through music, food and art.
Regarded as the boutique festival of the North Island, Splore takes over a beach one hour from Auckland once a year.
Capturing the perfect New Zealand summer in just one weekend, people from across New Zealand come to camp, enjoy good company and good music alongside beautiful art for a magical creative experience. Of all the camping experiences, many people bring their boats which adds a little something to the festival that you might not have experienced before.
Auckland Beer Week
Celebrating local breweries around the North Island, Auckland Beer Week is held across many bars in the city celebrating not just beer, but the food that comes with it too.
Focusing on local produce, beer week has many tastings and events that are navigated by free tuk-tuks and buses to ensure everyone travels safely.
Regional Tours in the North Island
We’ve broken down our favourite tours in the North Island to save you the search;
Self-drive tours in the North Island will take you on your very own adventure on the road, covering all of the essentials!
Perfect for honeymoons, or just a little treat, this luxury tour from Auckland to Rotorua for the weekend oozes elegance with stunning accommodation and fine dining experiences.
Likewise, this 3-day luxury escape to the Waikato region covers essential experiences like North Island’s glow worm caves and Hobbiton while staying in a 5-star hotel – dreamy!
While North Island tours may seem out of the question for budget travel, you’ll be surprised by what New Zealand has to offer just like this North Island itinerary.
Ready to Design your Own North Island New Zealand Tour?
Armed with this guide, you are one step closer to embracing the North Island in all its glory. Whether you are looking for a coastal escape or want to explore the mountains and volcanoes in the centre of the North Island, our Local Designers in New Zealand have the knowledge and experience to make it happen.