New Zealand North Island or South Island is always a question difficult to answer.
So when we decided on New Zealand for our short holiday last year we had to make the tough choice between North Island and South Island. Even though just a small island nation, the absurd amount of choices that it offers makes it hard to decide.
My husband and I are somewhat like these islands. He and I like to experience different things, yet we both love traveling. Crossing the decision making hurdle when it came to which island of New Zealand was critical for us.
To add to this we just had enough leave for a short holiday. So we called a truce. Let us explore the closer end of the adventure and soak in the culture and geothermal regions of New Zealand North Island.
If the Maori culture, big (as big as it gets in Oceania) urban cities, active volcanoes, bubbling mud pools, geysers that shoot up columns of hot water, hot beaches are what interests you, then look no further book your tickets to Auckland and explore New Zealand’s North Island.
New Zealand North Island Trip
The first hurdle crossed: Decision made. We flew to Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island.
We decide to explore the regions of Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty on our first trip to the Kiwi nation. Our initial plan was to drive from Auckland to Hamilton on towards Taupo and Rotorua, the geothermal areas of New Zealand and then head north towards the Coromandel peninsula to check out the national parks and Hot water beach and return to Auckland.
However to our bad luck when we landed in Auckland in mid-April, only to find most of the north island inundated with the flood.
Tip: Never travel without travel insurance. It is a must, especially if flights are canceled due to weather or mechanical emergencies. The airlines never reimburse and you could be stuck without accommodation or shell out extra on alternate booking.
Hurricane Cook had just battered the region and was continuing to be plentiful along the Bay of Plenty. Adapting to the situation in hand we decided to skip the East coast and just do Auckland and the Geothermal regions of New Zealand.
Read More – New Zealand South Islands Must See Must Do
Tip: Book free cancellation accommodations for added flexibility. In this case, we canceled our bookings for the Coromandel Coast and did not incur any loss.
Auckland-Hamilton-Matamata-Rotorua – A round trip
The round trip is around 500 kilometers and can easily be covered over 3-4 days. Driving through rolling hills and meadows we made our way to Hamilton. Our first evening was at Hamilton, a quaint town 140 kilometers south of Auckland. It is the perfect place to keep a base and explore the geothermal region of New Zealand’s North Island.
A lovely waterfront, surrounded by a huge botanical garden, this small city is a beautiful blend of urban life with rural charm. The gardens of Hamilton are a treat for kids and adults alike. Showcasing the different styles of gardens that existed in the bygone days to a modern day greenhouse, this was an eye-opener to the world of botany.
Hobbiton @ Matamata
The next day was all about exploring the world of the Hobbits. Driving to Matamata around 70 kilometers from Hamilton we entered the town of Hobbiton. Surprise! Surprise! We are at a sheep farm that unexpectedly fits the description of the fantasy world created by Tolkien. It was the perfect place for Peter Jackson to shoot the film trilogy. Stepping into Hobbiton was a magical experience.
Hobbiton – The Shire homes
From the home facades to gardens, elf clothing to all the professional tools of the hobbits in the movies has been beautifully recreated. Be it Bilbo or Frodo the Shire is a treat to walk around and of course, do spot the fake oak tree atop the hill. Yes, you read right. The oak is not native to the region and the farm did not have one. So they designed and created a metal one with thousands of green metal leaves. We walked past the water mill to the Green Dragon and had some hobbit brewed ginger beer.
Fake Oaktree created to suit the story
The sheer detailing and hard work that has gone in to creating the Shire and maintaining it in top condition for the 3 movies and the offshoot series is indeed commendable. I loved the experience as I had read the books and my husband loved it because he hadn’t! A definite must do for both fantasy lovers and non-believers.
New Zealand’s Geo Thermal region: Rotorua
Moving on to Rotorua a 2-hour drive from Hamilton we trod into the GeoThermal section of the North Island. Enroute we saw a glimpse of the great Mount Tarawera, which exploded at the end of the 19th Century causing great devastation in the area. One of New Zealand’s worst earthquake and volcanic eruptions, the event resulted in several villages and towns destroyed.
The pyroclastic flow wiped out the village of Te Wairoa some 6 kilometers away, which today is a Maori/Victorian village preserved for eternity under ash.
The Champagne pool – Wai-O-Tapu
A fault line that extends over 17 kilometers has permanently altered the lakes in the region. This catastrophic event also submerged the 7000-year-old pink and white terrace springs, a natural development of water and silica taking form owing to the warm volcanic water. It is a short steep trek to the top of Mount Tarawera, however, the view apparently is worth the effort. We weren’t very lucky (again) as the rains had made the slopes inaccessible and trekking was adjourned.
A strong smell of sulfur hangs in the air and you can feel the heat and vapors rising from the bowels of the earth a long way before actually arriving at the Wai-o-Tapu. A spectacular display of the earth’s powers, an entire area showcasing active geothermal activity. The first stop is Lady Knox geyser, which apparently runs to a timetable and whooshes out each morning around 10, throwing a column of hot sulfur-infused water. No points for guessing, it is induced to whoosh out by adding soap to the hot bubbling water.
Read More – Roadtrip through Scottish Highlands
The rain followed us and it was extremely windy and chilly as we moved deeper into the Thermal Wonderland. A testament to geothermal activity for over thousand years the pools and waterfalls come in different shapes, sizes, colors, hues, strong smells, depths and now I have run out of adjectives to describe them.
Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Park
In short, an absolutely stunning display of a uniquely different natural landscape that gives you a chance to look at what goes below the surface. One of the world’s extensive geothermal systems, Wai-o-Tapu is a treat for all those who want to experience the charm of natural beauty in New Zealand North Island. Keep a minimum of 3 hours on hand if you plan to explore the park. If the rate at which we stopped to admire and click pictures, it would definitely take more than that.
The steady drizzling turned in to a complete downpour and we were chilled to our bones. Driving back towards Hamilton, it finally eased up and what lovely rainbows greeted us.
Enroute to Auckland – Check our Raglan on the west coast
The next day dawned bright and sunny. We hit the road early and decided to get to Auckland by mid-afternoon. As it was the last day of the long weekend we were sure of getting stuck in traffic and decided to take a different route than what we had taken on our way to Hamilton.
We took a detour via Raglan and made a pit stop at the Bridal Veil Falls. Raglan is famous for its black sand Ngarunui Beach and a favorite spot with surfers. The Bridal Veil Falls is across the now extinct volcano of Karioi and is a stunning waterfall gushing downs the rock face. Nestled in the ancient rainforests of the region, you can hear the gurgling Pakoka River and the falls from a distance.
A short walk from the car park and what a sight to behold. Rainbows sparking of the fine mist that the waterfall created were the highlight of our detour drive
Heading towards Auckland, we did get stuck in a 7-kilometer traffic jam and crawled our way to our accommodation. A drink and a warm meal had us hitting the bed.
Tip: Driving in in this region is a challenge. For most parts, it is a 2 lane highway. So always keep extra time in hand.
Exploring Auckland – New Zealand’s largest city
Auckland is like any other urban city with a healthy mix of Victorian architecture and new 21st century amenities sprinkled all over it. New Zealanders are very warm-hearted and charming people and always ready to help.
Auckland War Memorial Museum
Driving first to the Auckland War Memorial Museum we were blessed with great views of the open parklands, city, and the port beyond. There are a ton of touristy things to do in Auckland, the usual museums, buildings, viewpoints and ferry rides to the different islands/ suburbs of the city.
The memorial gave us some interesting insights into the Maori culture. Be it their customs, the ingenuity of creating things from naturally available stuff, beautiful homes and artifacts, it was an enriching experience for us.
Exploring the city by foot is the best way to see and imbibe the culture of the place. So parking our car we did just that. As the weather cooled towards the evening, we headed to the ferry terminal to board a vessel and go across the harbor to Devonport. A short boat ride and you enter one of the older suburbs of the city with fascinating views of the harbor city. The Devonport Hill/Jetty offers some stunning views of the harbor and Auckland from across the water.
Navigating our way back in peak hour traffic we got back to our hotel. Next day was our last day in Auckland and we wanted to get in as much as we could.
Museum of Transport and Technology
It is but natural that a couple likes to do different things, so do we. I headed to the MOTAT (Museum of Transport and Technology) while my husband headed to the Cricket Ground. A big fan of the game he wasn’t very keen on the tram rides and old airplanes. I on the other hand thoroughly enjoyed the old tram ride and the beautiful recreation of Auckland in the 1850s, to the first pump house that provided water and energy to the city. New Zealand’s early settlement history is beautifully captured here. A place both kids and adults can enjoy.
We generally drove around the leafy suburbs of the city and concluded the day by watching the sun go down from atop an extinct volcano – Mount Eden Lookout.
Our short holiday to North Island was coming to an end and I knew, there was so much more left unexplored. I had still not had enough of the rolling hills that bordered the highway. Bidding adieu was tough and by the time the plane took off I was already making a list of places we need to visit next time.
Things you could see or do only in New Zealand North Island
- Drive on 2 lane highways between rolling meadows- a la sound of music style
- Visit active Volcanoes and indulge in some serious mud spa sessions in the area
- Witness the gorgeous colors, shapes, patterns and of course sulphuric fumes from the bowels of the earth – Geothermal at its best
- Maori villages giving you a glimpse of their lives and culture
- Explore hobbit holes and drink mead like one
- Warmer waters to go swimming on the beaches and also world class scuba adventures
Best time: All year round, the region offers a lot of different things to do. Late summer and autumn (Mid-March–April) is usually cyclone season and can be tricky.
Travel Fashion: Pack layers as the weather can change and get windy and wear comfortable all weather shoes. A nice all-weather jacket/coat would be handy in all seasons.
This is a Guest Post by Ambika Subramanian
I am a travel enthusiast with a keen sense of planning and adventure. I have traveled extensively since I was a child with each experience being memorable and truly unique. For me, writing is an avenue to share the thoughts I have within me. Combining my love for travel and writing is something I cherish the most, hence travel blogs. Text, visuals and people get the creative me charged up. Currently based in Sydney, I am planning future explorations.