The North Island of New Zealand has scenery so diverse that you can find sand dunes, snow, volcanoes and waterfalls all within hours of each other. The following are some of my favourite places to explore and adventure.
This region is full of stunning natural landscapes and beautiful environment.
My favourite sights here:
• Lake Tikitapu and Lake Rotokakai (The Blue and Green Lakes, respectively) are two beautiful lakes nestled on the forested hillsides of the town. Only a few minutes drive from the centre, these lakes are right next to each other. There is a little viewpoint in between the two lakes and only a short hike to get to it. The Green Lake is not accessible to the public as it is privately owned by the local iwi (Maori tribe) and is sacred to them. However the Blue Lake is open to swimming, kayaking, jet skiing and even fishing. I highly recommend checking this place out for sunrise - it’s magical.
• The Redwoods is a beautiful forest just five minutes from Rotorua. Prepare to be enchanted by these magnificent giants as you wander through. At night, watch the forest come alive with the Redwoods Treewalk Nightlights. This is an enchanting experience, walking on suspension bridges up high through trees adorned with lanterns and feature lights. Both the day and night walk are beautiful, try and experience it if you can!
- Where to stay: Accomodation is abundant in Rotorua. There are hotels and motels lining the main road, Fenton Street, as this is popular destination for tourists visiting New Zealand. However, ensure you book early in advance for any events/public holidays you might happen to chance upon as it can book out or get really pricey! We found ourselves in this situation on a long weekend holiday but fortunately there was a last minute cancellation for one of the motels we visited and they were able to get us in. For those not of the housed in type, there are also a lot of camping spots nearby. The Top 10 Holiday Park right across the Blue Lake is a popular spot and there are some great cheap Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites dotted all over. I recommend downloading CamperMate, a free New Zealand app that shows you campsites (paid, unpaid and self-contained) as well as facilities, points interest and petrol stations nearby!
Head to the southeast coast of the island and you will find yourself in one of the most beautiful beaches in New Zealand. With a lighthouse first lit in 1913, limestone reefs and dolphins and fur seals, Castlepoint is a natural playground. Enjoy the beach, hike up Castle Rock or wait until sunset and watch the magic of the lighthouse through the night. Get up early and catch a jaw dropping sunrise as the beach faces east side. Oh and if you do hike up Castle Rock, keep an eye out for the Castlepoint daisies, not found anywhere else in the world.
- Where to stay: The closest accomodation to the reef and the lighthouse is the Castlepoint Holiday Park & Motels. It’s affordably priced with good reasonable basic facilities. However if you are not fussed with staying at a place, the Castlepoint carpark is a free camping ground (for self-contained vehicles). We did this and fell asleep watching the beams circling off of the lighthouse..
If you’re looking for some outdoor adventures, Taranaki is high on the list. These are my favourite places to explore in the area:
• The Poukai Tarns is a 2 and a half hour walk encompassing twisted’ kamahi’ trees (also called goblins trees), steep staircases and a few bridge crossings. You’ll be rewarded with unbelievable views and the famous tarns, reflecting Mount Taranaki on a good still day. However be careful with doing the track in less than great weather as the landscape views may be obstructed with clouds and you might not be able to see the mountaintop. Luck, perseverance and high spirits are needed for this popular walk. As this track is really well-maintained due to it’s popularity, I suggest a sunrise visit to this very dreamy place. Leave well before the sun rises, pack some food and water and don’t forget the torches!
• Head to the coast and visit The Three Sisters, whose brother, the Elephant Rock, has now sadly gone. This area changes naturally and on the last occasion we visited, the arches pictured below, which we had taken the year before, were gone. Another wild west coast beach to experience sunset on!
• Another coast, another lighthouse. This is the Cape Egmont Lighthouse, another New Zealand classic lighthouse. Although built in London in the mid 1880s, the cast-iron parts were shipped to NZ and first assembled in Mana Island, north of Wellington. This proved to be a mistake however and was moved to Cape Egmont instead. After a lot of dismantling, shipping parts and also much resistance from the settlement of Parihaka nearby, the light finally shone on Aug 1 1881. This is one of the most scenic lighthouses I’ve ever seen, as it is complimented by Mount Taranaki looming in the background.
Where to stay: The last time we were in the Taranaki region we stayed at this AirBnb. I cannot recommend them enough. Beautiful warm cozy little shelter, complete with a hammock, fireplace and bathtub - pretty fancy for a “Shed”. There are also a lot of motels and accomodation by the coast, but again ensure this doesn’t fall on an event or public holiday, otherwise you will need to book fast!
4. Hawkes Bay
This sunny region of New Zealand is known for it’s vineyards, orchards and art deco town. However nothing beats the mighty Te Mata Peak. I have visited this place five times now and every time I stand at the summit I am in awe of the beauty surrounding me. Te Mata has numerous little trails good for walks around with your dog or camera, a small redwoods forest at it’s base and a heap of good high views! The city of Napier is also highly recommended for those wanting less of the outdoor adventures. Wander along the streets and take in the beautiful art deco shapes and buildings or hire a bike and bike the marine parade, stopping occasionally to view the public art. On weekends, there is also a farmers market on the main square. Take a weekend or a few days exploring this beautiful region, as there is a bit to see!
Where to stay: I was sent to Napier for a campaign for Choice Hotels and we were able to stay at the Quality Inn Napier. The hotel was great, staff were friendly and our room had a view to the ocean as well, which was right across the road. The outdoor pool was amazing too! If you aren’t too keen on staying at a hotel, I’d suggest AirBnb for a cheaper alternative. There are a lot of options and as you will need a car anyway to get to see the spots around, staying at a place away from the centre offers you a quiet secluded getaway.
5. Tongariro National Park
Last but best on the list is New Zealand’s oldest National Park and a dual World Heritage area!
• Arguably the most popular destination in the North Island, Tongariro National Park is home to the famous Tongariro Crossing. With three volcanic peaks, emerald lakes and Martian-like landscapes, it’s no wonder it’s been heralded as the best one-day trek in New Zealand. This is a must-do if you are visiting New Zealand! Check the link out if you’re planning to do it as proper preparation/information is required.
• An alternative but easier walk is the Taranaki Falls Track. Follow a beautiful pathway through tussock and alpine shrubs with views of the volcanic peaks. You will get to the forest, following the Wairere Stream as you go along. You will emerge up high with scenes to a narrow gorge below and further along are the falls! Explore and enjoy - this is also a great place to have lunch (remember to take everything you brought back with you!).
• An extension of the Taranaki Falls Track, the Tama Lakes are another sight worth walking for. The overall track, including the falls, is 2.5 hours and you will need a moderate fitness level. Make sure you bring a warm jacket, gloves and a hat in case the weather turns - the winds can also be very severe!
• En route to the park, you have the option of driving through it’s east side where you will find the Desert Road. This is a beautiful scenic drive across barren landscape and again views to the volcanic peaks. If you can make the drive, do it!
Where to stay: Accommodation is plenty in Tongariro National Park, with most of them located on the west side of the park. Ohakune and Whakapapa are popular spots for AirBnbs and baches. If you are feeling luxurious, book a room in the Chateau Tongariro, located close to the Whakapapa ski field.
I hope you enjoyed this guide! Remember to check with iSites and research well beforehand to ensure you get the best possible experience with every place! Keep exploring — M.