New Zealand offers virtually everything you could ask for in a vacation destination. Golf courses designed by nature, world-class wine and cuisine, authentic cultural experiences, stunning beaches and iconic landscapes. So when putting together the perfect vacation, where do you start?
Auckland is the international gateway when arriving from the US. Surrounded by three harbours, Auckland offers endless adventures on the water: Help sail an America’s Cup yacht, kayak to a nearby island or find the perfect catch on a fishing charter. Visit the vineyards, explore the rainforest or discover Maori culture. Base yourself in Auckland and take a day trip to Waiheke Island for a day wine-tasting. Get up close to marine life at Kelly Tarlton’s SEA LIFE Aquarium – with 30 live animal exhibits including the world’s largest Antarctic penguin colony exhibit or perhaps climb one of the city’s 48 volcanic cones that not only provide for a unique landscape, but also some truly spectacular views.
From Auckland, you can head north to the Bay of Islands, renowned for its ecology, sub-tropical climate and wonderful variety of flora and fauna, not to mention the stunning scenery. The region is a popular vacation spot for locals, so it does tend to get very busy during the local school holidays. For those who love beaches and water activities, there is a myriad of activates available. Hire a sea kayak, cruise the famous “Hole in the Rock”, swim with dolphins or take a drive to Cape Reinga, the very top of the North Island. A visit to the Waitangi Historic Reserve is a must, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the British Crown and Maori. There is a large Maori meeting house, the colonial mission house, an historic flagstaff, as well as a very long waka taua (Maori war canoe).
The Coromandel is located approximately 90 minutes from Auckland and offers vacationers pristine beaches, misty forests and lost springs. Enjoy numerous biking, walking and tramping opportunities on offer on the Hauraki Rail Trail, Kauaeranga Valley, Thames coastal walkway and Rocky’s Goldmine Walk. Dig in the sand for hot spring water at Hot Water Beach and make your own spa pool. See the massive natural rock arch at Cathedral Cove, go surfing at Whangamata or explore one of the many walking tracks in the Coromadel Forest Park and Tairua Forest.
Rotorua is the geothermal center of the North Island, rich in Maori culture and character. As you enter Rotorua, the faint scent of sulphur in the air and escaping curls of stream are the first hints of the region’s dramatic geothermal history. Watch the famed Pohutu Geyser, the undisputed star of the Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley, erupt up to 20 times a day to heights of 30 meters at Te Puia. See the brilliant colors at Wai-O-Tapu or visit Hell’s Gate and the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere and the only geothermal mud baths in New Zealand. Take a journey back in time at a Maori village and gain a clear picture of Maori lifestyle and traditions – with singing, dancing and a traditional hangi feast is a must do.
Further down the coast is the historic art deco city of Napier and New Zealand’s oldest wine-making region, Hawkes Bay. Hawke’s Bay’s destiny was shaped by a devastating 1931 earthquake and the remarkable result was the birth of the dazzling Art Deco and Spanish Mission architectural styles of Napier and Hastings. Take a walking tour around Napier to see some the city’s best Art Deco buildings and architecture. Join a wine tour or visit a café to enjoy one of the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah wines the region is famous for. There is also 82 miles of dedicated off road cycle pathways that take you through stunning scenery including coastlines, vineyards and orchards.
At the south of the North Island is the nation’s capital, Wellington. Recently names “the coolest little capital in the world” by Lonely Planet, the city is renowned for its arts, heritage, culture and native beauty. A visit to New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa is a must. This innovative and interactive museum offers six floors of engaging displays including Maori and Pacific cultural treasures, an ‘Earthquake House’ where you can get shaken up as well as a 3D colossal squid. Ride the cable car up the hill to Kelburn for amazing views over the city and enjoy an ice cream at the top. For movie buffs, a visit to Weta showcases some of the characters, props and displays from the blockbuster ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Hobbit’ trilogies.
There are plenty of experiences available to suit all ages, budgets in North Island. The hardest part of planning will be how long to spend in each place.
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Bryan has visited exactly one more country than his wife, and she won’t let him forget it! Also an avid photographer, he enjoys entrenching himself within the local culture in order to learn more about the people of a place. He is the co-founder of Budget Your Trip and loves a good adventure, an exotic meal, or a passionate conversation about global events.