Destinations,  New Zealand

New Zealand: Highlights of the North Island

I arrived in New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa, meaning I could legally stay and work in the country for a year. I spent my first three months at Fat Cat Travellers Community, working in exchange for food and accommodation. Then I had a few weeks of travel before settling in Wellington for 4 months to work! Because of this, I didn’t travel full-time around the North Island, but I still got to see a lot of incredible places. Here are some of my favorites:

Piha Beach

New Zealand North Island

I have never been a beach person. To be honest, I can think of nothing more boring than sunbathing on a beach in the middle of summer (this could be why I am so pale). But winter? On a black sand beach? Count me in!

Although Piha Beach is only 45 minutes west of Auckland city, there were almost no tourists. It’s a beautiful, moody stretch of beach that shouldn’t be missed! It’s especially spectacular at sunset. There’s a path that winds to the top of one of the cliffs and has one of the best sunset views I’ve ever experienced.

Tawharanui Regional Park

New Zealand North Island

Tawharanui Regional Park, located on a remote peninsula near Matakana (north of Auckland) is an incredible, pristine park without tourists. When driving to the park, don’t be alarmed if you have to drive through a flock of sheep. Once there, there are plenty of walks around the area and the grass is an unbelievable shade of green. So much of the landscape looked like I was right on the set of Lord of the Rings!

Waiheke Island

New Zealand North Island

Waiheke Island is a quick ferry trip from Auckland and is known for its pristine beaches and vineyards. It’s a popular tourist attraction for older, wealthier travelers, but that didn’t stop me and three of my friends from jumping in a van and traveling the island. We ended up setting up camp there for about two weeks, and it truly does live up to its reputation.

Matapouri Mermaid Pools

New Zealand North Island

A short (but steep!) hike from Matapouri Beach near Tutukaka in Northland brings you to the Matapouri Mermaid Pools. Since I did this hike in winter it was much too cold to actually swim, but in the summer this is the perfect place to cool off. Be aware of the tide when you go, as it’s possible to swim during low tide but dangerous to swim during high tide.

Tongariro National Park

New Zealand North Island

Although Tongariro National Park is most well-known for the 19km Tongariro Crossing, the surrounding area is just as incredible. There are plenty of other day hikes that give you that other-wordly vibe if you’re not feeling up to the challenge of the full crossing.

Waiariki Hot Springs

New Zealand North Island

My favorite aspect of these hot springs is the local, no-frills feel. The springs were packed when I went, but no tourists were in sight. The color of the pools vary from a pale yellow-green to black, and are all of varying temperatures. The best part? Entry is a mere $4 and you can stay as long as you wish.

The Hot Creek!

New Zealand North Island

Without any doubt, this is my all-time favorite place in the entire North Island of New Zealand. I’ve gone back countless times, and have introduced so many new friends to its healing waters. The hot creek is not-so-hidden near a popular tourist thermal attraction, yet the creek itself is used mainly by locals. There’s no gate and no entrance fee, you just need to climb down under the bridge and enjoy! The temperature of the creek varies, and there is a part where cold water meets hot water – pure bliss.

Coromandel Peninsula

New Zealand North Island

The Coromandel Peninsula is steep, hilly, and covered in temperate rainforest. Although it is geographically close to Auckland, you don’t see many tourists past the main town. It’s most well-known for Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach, but the winding roads themselves are worth the drive.

The Redwood Forest (Whakarewarewa Forest)

New Zealand North Island

Right near Rotorua in the middle of the North Island is over 5600 hectares of beautiful forest. The trees are California Redwoods and the sheer immensity of them is truly astounding. The air is incredibly fresh, and there are six sign posted walking tracks within the forest, ranging from 2km to 34km.

Wellington

New Zealand North Island

There’s a reason why Wellington is known as the “coolest little capital in the world”. It has incredible coffee, great vintage shopping, some of the best craft beers I’ve ever tasted and a small-town vibe all wrapped up in a coastal city. Although hilly, the city is surprisingly small and easily walkable, and there’s always a music gig or art show to attend. This is one city that I could see myself living in for a long time.

Red Rocks Reserve

New Zealand North Island

A short half hour drive from the city of Wellington, Red Rocks Reserve is one of the best places to view fur seals. The walk along the beautiful, rugged coastline is short, but this is the perfect place to spend an afternoon! Bring along a picnic and find a nice spot on the rocks to watch the seals relax in the sun.

 

Have you been to any of these spots? Do you have any other favorite parts of the North Island? Let me know in the comments!

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