Known for its beautiful untouched landscapes, cosmopolitan cities, adventure activities, and wide open roads, New Zealand easily finds a way into every travellers’ heart.
And it didn’t take long to find its’ way into mine.
I’ve first visited New Zealand six years ago for a snowboarding trip to Queenstown in July, travelled to the famous fiord called Milford Sound and spent three rainy days in Auckland.
While I loved the South Island, I didn’t really see much of the North Island except for endless rain streaks from under my umbrella and the cinema screen as I went to see two movies in three days. Way to be a really bad traveller.
I’ve been longing to give Auckland a second chance. And then I finally had it. Once again, I would be travelling to the City of Sails in winter. Bundle up! Unpack the boots and umbrellas!
And of course, I didn’t just visit Auckland but took a whole lot of trips around the city and road tripped more of the North Island too, which was way fun. Here are my recommendations of things you have to do on New Zealand’s North Island!
Sip Wine On Waiheke Island
Auckland, not only home to three-quarters of New Zealand’s population and therefore the country’s largest city, but also surrounded by a variety of stunning bays and islands.
Approximately 18km from Auckland, you will find the wine-lovers nirvana Waiheke Island. This blissful little island can easily be reached by ferry in 40 minutes departing from the Viaduct Harbour.
Pay a visit to Cable Bay Vinyard and Mudbrick Vinyard on your to-do list. The second one is absolutely stunning with its old charming ambience and views across the bay all the way to Auckland. Perfect for a wine tasting and a relaxing afternoon with the smell of fresh lavender in your nose.
And once you had enough wine, there are still some fantastic art galleries, sailing turns to take, zip lining adventures and glorious white beaches.
Pro tip: Rent a car, or get a driver so you can try out all the amazing Waiheke vineyards! There is a public bus route too, however Mudbrick is not directly served by the bus, you can walk there from the center of the biggest town Oneroa, though.
Gallop Along The Beach With Muriwai Beach Horse Treks
Muriwai Beach is truly a place for the locals getting outside of Auckland on a hot day. And yes, even in winter, they head out for a surf too!
If you love horses just half as much as I do, you will enjoy this amazing horse trek through the enchanting forest, dunes and along the beautiful black sandy beach of Muriwai, which lies on the West Coast about 40 minutes drive from Auckland City.
Rated one of the Top Five best horse treks in New Zealand, joining one of Muriwai Beach Horse Treks is truly something special to experience on the North Island.
From beginners to experienced riders, groups or small intimate treks, the choice is yours. I joined for an afternoon trek with my local friend Annie and we loved every minute we spent with those kindly natured laid-back horses.
Afterwards, visit the Gannet Colony and see hundreds of bird up close. Definitely stay around to see the sunset. On the day I visited, there were heaps of surfers catching the last waves before darkness which made for some awesome shots.
There are a couple of natural blow holes shooting up water too.
Feel Like A Hobbit In Hobbiton
Yes, Hobbiton exists! It’s a real place in New Zealand even though the town it’s close to is called Matamata. It’s approximately 2 hours by car from Auckland.
Hobbiton actually sits on Alexanders Farm and was first spotted by Peter Jackson during an aerial search for possible film locations for The Lord of the Rings, but he immediately thought it was the perfect set for Hobbiton.
Today, it’s a permanent tourist attraction featuring hobbit holes, gardens, bridge, Mill and The Green Dragon Inn.
You can only experience the real Middle Earth on a guided Hobbiton tour which run daily starting every half an hour. There are also tours departing from Auckland and Rotorua.
I loved Hobbiton for its beautiful atmosphere and the truly exceptional shots I got to take as the sun was setting over the lush green hills. Perfect choice to join the last tour of the day at 3:15pm.
Climb The Amazing Mount Maunganui
Located on the peninsula on the north-east of Tauranga, Mount Maunganui is a small coastal town in the Bay of Plenty almost 3 hours drive from Auckland.
The large lava dome which was formed by the upwelling of rhyolite lava about 3 million years ago is also referred to as Mount Maunganui.
The town is especially well-known for its high-quality surfable waves, hot salt water pools and of course the hiking treks leading to the distinctive peak of ‘The Mount’, rising 230 meters above sea level. Once you reach the top, the views of the harbour, endless beach and Pacific Ocean below will leave you stunned and suddenly make it all worth-while.
Visit the Gourmet Night Market in town during the summer months, join a dolphin watching tour or go on a kayak or dive trip around the Bay of Plenty.
Known for its volcanic activity, no visit to the North Island would be complete without seeing (yes, and smelling) the geothermal activities in Waiotapo, 20 minutes outside of Rotorua.
Thousands of years in the making, the thermal wonderland of Waiotapu, also known as ‘sacred waters’, is one of the most colourful ones in New Zealand and well worth a visit.
You can walk around the dramatic volcanic area on the tracks by yourself or join one of the guided tours. The famous Lady Knox Geyser is only presented once a day in the morning.
Marvel at the mud pools, Champagne Pools and Devils Bath. Great to spend the morning before exploring the rest of Rotorua and watching an ancient Maori war dance, the Haka.
Cruise The Huka Falls
Visit this set of thundering waterfalls in Taupo. With 11 meters in height, Huka Falls are one of the most visited natural attractions in New Zealand. There are many walking tracks following down the river and different platforms to views the falls from all sides and angles.
In Maori, Huka actually means ‘foam’ and you will know why when you arrive at the falls. You can actually walk there in 2hrs return from Taupo too.
Fingers crossed, you’ll catch a sunny day, as this is when the falls are showing off their amazing crystal clear blue colour.
Get adventurous and jump on of the fast Huka Falls jet boats spinning you down the white water. It’s hell fun!
Fly Over Lake Rotorua
As the second largest lake on New Zealand’s North Island, Lake Rotorua was formed from a volcanic crater. If Queenstown is the adventure capital of the South Island, Rotorua would probably hold the line of New Zealand’s North Island.
No matter if you like kayaking, mountain biking, fishing, golf, wellness, parasailing, hiking, you can surely do it all here!
Lake Rotorua counts to the Bay of Plenty area and is best viewed from high up. I recommend you visit Skyline Rotorua, take a gondola to the top, have a coffee enjoying the view up there and then race down the hill with the Luge. It’s like a go-cart!
You surely won’t miss the ‘Welcome to fabulous RotoVegas’ sign which is very closely modelled to the sign in Las Vegas and brings aims to bring a bit of Vegas vibe into town.
It’s definitely fun for a few snaps.
Come summer, you certainly have to take a wet Ogo ride, a huge ball rolling down the hill – with you inside! And they capture your screams on GoPros installed inside the ball too.
Bucket list item #4,819,910 for the next time I return to New Zealand (hopefully in summer!).
Discover The Secrets Of Waitomo Caves
What looks solely like lush green hills actually keeps a secret underneath. In Waitomo, a labyrinth of caves, sinkholes and underground rivers are waiting to be explored.
The real highlight here are the galaxies of native glow worms that illuminate the caves.
Join a walking to boat-tour and marvel at the stalactites growing down from the ceiling and the stalagmites growing up from the bottom of the cave.
Or satisfy your adventurous heart by experience blackwater rafting where you crawl, swim and float through the caves on a rubber tube. Zipline or climb through the caves.