New Zealand: North Island

New Zealand is classed as the adventure capital of the world.   Hiking, skydiving, caving, bungy jumping, skiing.  Everything in New Zealand is geared towards getting you outside.   

As a popular destination for backpackers and budget travellers, New Zealand is really affordable and offers many ways to save money.  I have been to this Maori land twice and relish my time here — the people were friendly, the country was beautiful and you meet a lot of great travellers there.

It is one of the best countries in the world and a place not to be missed.  I have never heard anyone not love their time in the country.  Most people are reluctant to leave!  You really cannot go wrong with this majestic country. 

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Hobbiton North Island




Some Useful Information

ℹ️   Travel:   Any airport in New Zealand can be a marathon of a flight to reach unless you are arriving via Australia.   New Zealand is located around 2.5 hours flight from Australia in the South Pacific Ocean, and, is the furthest place you an travel East (coming from Europe).  Most travellers arrive either through Auckland, on the North Island or Christchurch, on the South Island.  ​

ℹ️   Currency:   The New Zealand Dollar NZ$.  The currency in New Zealand is lively and the notes made of plastic.  

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NOTE:  there are no 1c coins.  Everything is rounded up/down to the nearest 5c, as in Australia.​

ℹ️   Credit Cards and Banks:  ATMs are common place in almost every shopping street, with several ‘bureau de change’  around the main city centre’s, with almost every retailer accepting Mastercard and Visa.  There is no fear of an establishment declining card payments.  ​

ℹ️   Weather:    Remember, like Australia, New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere so the seasons are the opposite to the Northern Hemisphere. ​

Summertime is between December – February,  with average temperatures range from 18-25°C (65 – 78°F).   Wintertime is between June –August,  with average temperatures between 8-17°C (47- 62°F).    On South Island, however, during Winter season the Alpine regions can drop as cold as -10°C  (14°F)

Auckland International Airport

ℹ️   Accommodation:   Budget hotels begin around NZ$70 (GB£38) per night for a double room. Free WiFi is common, though very few hotels include free breakfast. Air bnb is widely available with shared accommodation starting around NZ$27 (GB£15) per night and entire homes starting at NZ$70 (GB£38) per night. There are also a ton of camping sites throughout the country with rates around NZ$15 (GB£8) per night. ​

ℹ️   Food:    Eating out is generally expensive in New Zealand. A restaurant meal with a drink with table service can cost about NZ$35-40 (GB£20-£23) per person.  Of course, you can find cheaper meals if you stick to Chinese, Korean, and Japanese restaurants.   A beer at a bar will cost around NZ$ 8 (GB£4.50). ​

ℹ️   Getting About:    Getting around the country is fairly cheap. Local bus fares vary for each city, but prices are generally around NZ$3 (GB£1.60).  The intercity bus system is quite inexpensive and the Naked Bus has promotional fares for NZ$1 (GB60p) if you book far in advance. Otherwise, most fares are about NZ$20 (GB£11), though slightly more if you are going long distances. Bike rentals are available in most cities, with daily rentals costing around NZ$15 (GB£8.50) per person.  Flying can be expensive since there isn’t a lot of competition among airlines here.  There are also backpacker hop on/hop off busses. They are expensive and cost between NZ$200 – 800 NZD  (GB£112-£450) but include a lot of activities and are a fun way to meet other people..

Auckland Sky Tower



What Can North Island Offer?

There is far too much to mention here in order to do this country justice.  The two trips I made, along with  friend, involved renting a car and travelling Ad-hoc  criss-crossing the country visiting various towns along our route.  We had a rough plan of the direction of the trip and we just ‘went with the flow’.​

I have highlighted some of my favourite spots and possibly the ‘must-do’s’.  I have separated this blog into two pages – NORTH ISLAND, and, SOUTH ISLAND.

Auckland

is the largest and most populous city in the country (it is not the capital, though!).  As a tourist destination, it’s not one of New Zealand’s best places.   I found the city to be a bit urbanised, sprawling, and sort of bland. There’s some fun activities, food, and nightlife in Auckland so I would not write the city off at all, but I also would not spend a lot of time here as there are more exciting and more beautiful places in the country.   Sadly despite my visit coinciding with the New Zealand Summer, the weather has been very unwelcoming with high winds and drizzling rain.​


Auckland Harbour

If you do not object to a few lavish drinks visit Stafford Road Wine Bar on 141 Queen Street.  With a wine list that consists of labels from vineyards all over New Zealand, you’ll be able to find some of the finest wines in the country. Sumptuous wine is not the only thing on the menu in this classy wine bar, whose decor is both stylish and rustic. Their dining options range from delicious and delicate light meals to densely flavoured larger plates, which can be matched to one of the brilliant local wines.





Auckland Sky Tower and Bungy

The Sky Tower is over 1000 feet high and is the tallest in the Southern hemisphere. It gives you panoramic views of the city and has a revolving restaurant at the top. It’s also connected to the city casino.  Adult admission is NZ$29 (GB£16)

Auckland Sky Tower and sign, looking up

​One of the worlds first bungee jumps is operated by AJ Hackett, the man who created bungy jumping.  Here you jump off the Auckland harbour bridge.  A single jump at AJ Hackett’s will cost around NZ$375 (GB£210).

Inside the Sky Tower looking down



Day Trip to Waiheke

Waiheke Island is the home of scenic beaches, tons of wineries, and fun outdoor activities. Located 40 minutes from downtown Auckland by ferry, the island is the perfect place to spend a relaxing day. You can explore by bike, bus, cruise, or rental car to get a feel for the entire island or you can take a stroll along its beaches, kayak or zip-line, or partake in wine tastings.  The ferry will cost around NZ$36 (GB£20)

View of Auckland from Waiheke


The Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is one of the most popular destinations in all of New Zealand. Miles of beach and rocky coastline surround this bay dotted with 144 islands. Countless activities in the Bay of Islands are geared towards backpackers, from affordable cruises and fishing trips to sea kayaking, and excursions that allow you to swim with dolphins. I loved my time here. It’s one of the few great beach destinations in the country.



Ferries operate between Paihia and Russell.  The 15 minute trip costs NZ$12 (GB£7) for a return trip ticket. To get to the Bay of Islands, buses run frequently from Auckland, although  fares are typically around NZ$30 (GB£16)  for a one-way ticket.  If you do get the opportunity to visit the Bay of Islands then you must visit  Rainbow Falls. From Kerikeri, you can walk to Rainbow Falls that is about a 3 mile hike. Normally you can see a rainbow forming at the pool at the base of the falls.





Rotorua

Rotorua is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the North Island.  It’s the launching ground for nature walks, Maori cultural experiences, trips to smelly geysers, and getaways to luxury spas. Everything is centrally located around a few streets as it is a small town. There is really not much to do in town other than a few bars and a handful of restaurants and shops. The real fun is all the activities you can do from the city.​

Rotorua sits right on a lake. Walking around is good way to spend an afternoon. You can’t really go swimming in the lake but there are a number of trails and green spaces around it.

Maori Temple, Rotorua  by My Passport to Shangrila

If you like geysers, then visit Whaka Thermal Reserve is a good place to see some as well as to learn about the natural history and geology of the area. The reserve is split into two parts, with the more touristy one, Te Puia, closest to town.  Prices start at NZ$47  (GB£27) Guided tours are included in the price.



Once you have had your fill on the geysers why not experience a sulphur hot bath?  All the sulphurous springs in the area means that there are lots of hot springs in which to relax. There is the big Polynesian Spa where you pay for all-day access and drinks. The Blue Baths also have a heated pool. If you just want a lazy day relaxing, a heated pool/spa day is the way to go.  Prices begin at NZ$19 (GB£11) per person.

Our House Rotorua
If you have the opportunity visit ‘Our House Rotorua’ located at 111 Tutanekai Street. Its a great gastropub offering food and drink in a very relaxed Kiwi atmosphere.  Of course, I have a very biased opinion over it as my friend from High School owns and runs it.

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Our House Rotorua Gastropub

For more details, check out their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ourhouserotorua

Taupo

Taupo is situated on the shores of Lake Taupo.  It is a quieter version of Queenstown (the south island’s adventure and party capital) and one of my favourite spots in the entire country.   Taupo has a lot of incredible nearby hikes, lake activities, and markets. The impressive Huka Falls are nearby. I love the close proximity to nature, the good food, and warm locals. I came for two days and ended up staying five!



The lake is the main attraction in town with a boardwalk full of great restaurants and some great lake shore hikes. During the summer, the lake is a popular place to go sailing, jet-skiing, swimming, and boating.  



If you do intend to spend some time in Taupo then visit Haka Falls.  This is one of the fastest moving waterfalls in NZ. The water flows so quickly that it stays pure blue like an iceberg because of the lack of oxygen in the water.  It’s close to the city and the best way to get there is to walk.

Napier

Roughly a four hour drive from Wellington on the East coast in Hawke’s Bay is a quirky town named Napier.  My visit to Napier was meant to last two days on my way from Gisborne through to Palmerston North and into Wellington – four days later I was still there!



A massive earthquake in February 1931 ended Napier’s status from becoming one of the purest Art Deco cities in the world.  The vast majority of buildings in the commercial centre of Napier were destroyed.  Rebuilding began were the new buildings reflected the architectural styles of the times – Stripped Classical, Spanish Mission and Art Deco.  The most attractive is the Daily Telegraph building.



Napier’s city centre has the feeling of a time capsule, the seamless line of 1930’s architecture is quite extraordinary.  Napier offers self guided street tours were you can truly appreciate the architecture – a map can be obtained from the Trust centre.





Taumata

Taumatawhakatangi­hangakoauauotamatea­turipukakapikimaunga­horonukupokaiwhen­uakitanatahu is a hill near Porangahau, south of Napier in Southern Hawke’s Bay.   The height of the hill is 1000 ft (305 metres).  The hill is famous primarily for its unusually long name, which is of Maori origin;  it is often shortened to Taumata.

​Broken down by syllable, the full place name is pronounced:  Tau-ma-ta-wha-ka-ta-ngi-ha-nga-ko-au-au-o-ta-ma-te-a-tu-ri-pu-ka-ka-pi-ki-mau-nga-ho-ro-nu-ku-po-kai-whe-nu-a-ki-ta-na-ta-hu.



The name Taumatawhakatangi­hangakoauauotamatea­turipukakapikimaunga­horonukupokaiwhen­uakitanatahu translates roughly as “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the slider, climber of mountains, the land swallowed who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one”.

Gisborne

My visit to Gisborne came from a 4 hour drive from Rotorua.  Gisborne is the first city in the world to greet the sun each morning, and it has a reputation for great food, wine and surf beaches.  



Gisborne has a comprehensive wine trail leading to vine yards and wineries. Several operators offer custom tours tailored for individuals or groups, to spare you the problem of driving.  If you are interested in Maori culture then Gisborne is the perfect town to sample old traditions that are still evident in many parts of the city.  

Nearby Kaiti Beach is the site of Captain Cook’s first landing in New Zealand (October 1769); nearby is picturesque Te Poho O Rawiri Marae.

Captain Cooks Landing Point



Waitomo

You simply cannot visit North Island without visiting Waitomo.  More than 30 million years after Waitomo first rose from the ocean floor, its unique underground limestone formations stand out as one of New Zealand’s most inspiring and popular natural wonders. Visitors come here to explore the underground caves and see the famous glowworms as they float through underground rivers. I really liked the town — it was quiet, simple, and relaxing- but it’s small and the real draw here are the caves. You won’t need more than two days here unless you are going to use the town as a base to explore the region.



The BIGGEST attraction here is the Waitomo glow worm cave.  It is aimed directly at tourists but lives up to that hype.  It’s amazing as you walk around, abseil down into darkness, or float down the river and stare up at caverns covered in the glow of the worms hanging from above. The three hour rafting trip is long enough to enable you enjoy the caves but if you like to abseil, consider the five hour trip. There are a number of companies offering tours. Prices will vary depending on what you do, but expect to pay between NZ$55-250 (GB£30-£140) per person.

Hobbiton

Located near the town of Hinuera  (1 hour drive from Hamilton/Rotorua.  1 hour 30 from Waitomo) is your very own Middle-Earth adventure, daily tours are available to visit the original Hobbiton Movie Set from The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and The Hobbit films.



Your guided tour starts with a drive through our picturesque 1,250 acre sheep farm with spectacular views across to the Kaimai Ranges.  Take a look at Bag End, where Frodo and Bilbo’s adventures began.   Get lost among the hobbit holes and visit the Green Dragon Inn, the mill and the Party Tree.   For tour information click here.





The Capital:  Wellington

Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and the third most populous urban area in the country.  While everyone talks about Auckland, the real magic takes place in Wellington.  Wellington in on the Southern tip of North Island and has ferry trips that sail into Nelson on South Island, daily.  

The architecture and eclectic vibe give this city a great personality that should not be missed.  This is a city with character.  There is incredible nightlife, restaurants, art exhibits, museums, activities, and a beautiful harbour ( that I thoroughly enjoyed jogging around of a morning). 




Wellington Cable Car

This icon runs from Lambton Quay to Kelburn. At the top in Kelburn, there’s a lookout, the Cable Car Museum, and Carter Observatory. Journey back down through the lush Botanic Garden.  The return fare for the cable car is NZ$7.50 (GB£4.20)

View of Wellington



Parliament Buildings

The Beehive (a government building) and the adjoining Parliament House are a short walk from the train station.  Although parts of these buildings are usually closed to the public, it is possible to take a free, guided tour. It’s a very beautiful building and you can even look down at parliament.

The Beehive Government Building




Wellington Waterfront

The waterfront is a walk able public space with cafes, parks, sculpture, bars and ice cream vendors. Lots of people enjoy walking, jogging ( I certainly did!), skating, cycling, or crocodile biking.  There are a few markets open on the weekend, then relax and swim at Oriental Bay.  This is a great, free way to spend a day in Wellington.

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Wellington Waterfront by night


There really is so much more I could say about New Zealand and its North Island.  I would , however, be writing for months.  You fully appreciate the country you really do need to spend some considerable time touring.