Packing in cosmopolitan cities, authentic opportunities to experience Māori culture, and the country’s bubbling volcanic heart, the North Island is an exceedingly versatile destination.
Why I Love the North Island
By Peter Dragicevich, Writer
New Zealand tourist images are dominated by the dramatic scenery of the South Island, but for me, the north is just as beautiful and even more interesting. Many places have majestic mountains, but the North Island is loaded with attractions that are particularly 'New Zealandy' – most notably the bubblings and boilings of geothermal activity, and a highly visible Māori culture. In the big cities of Auckland and Wellington you'll see modern Kiwi life in all its diversity. And as for the beaches – come in summer and your own uncrowded slice of sandy paradise awaits.
Food, Wine & Beer
Kiwi food was once a bland echo of a British Sunday dinner, but these days NZ chefs dip into New World culinary oceans for inspiration, especially the Pacific with its abundant seafood and encircling cuisines. Don’t go home without trying some Māori faves: paua (abalone), kina (sea urchin) and kumara (sweet potato). Thirsty? NZ’s cool-climate wineries have been collecting trophies for decades now, and the vineyard restaurants of Hawke’s Bay are seriously good. The North Island’s booming craft-beer scene also deserves serious scrutiny. And with a firmly entrenched coffee culture, you're never far from an artfully prepared brew.
Welcome to one of the planet’s youngest countries, at least in geological terms. Ascend the volcanic cones surrounding Auckland for super city views, before heading south to Rotorua for hot mud spa treatments and helicopter journeys to the jagged volcanic summit of Mt Tarawera. Journey due south to Lake Taupo, the legacy of one of the planet’s biggest-ever volcanic eruptions, and now gateway to Tongariro National Park. Ski or snowboard on Mt Ruapehu’s still-active slopes, or negotiate a steady path past Mt Ngauruhoe’s brooding volcanic cone on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
New Zealand’s South Island usually steals the attention, but the oft-overlooked North Island also features a sublime combination of forests, mountains and beaches. In the latter, the North has a clear lead – particularly in subtropical Northland, the Coromandel Peninsula and the west coast, with its wild surf beaches. Tackle one of the North Island’s Great Walks – one even offers a river journey by canoe or kayak – or spend a few hours wandering through the accessible wilderness of the Coromandel. Day trips from vibrant Auckland can include kayaking to dormant volcanoes or canyoning and abseiling down forested waterfalls.
The influence of New Zealand's indigenous culture is more keenly felt in the North Island, where Māori make up a much higher percentage of the population. Across Te Ika-a-Māui (the island's Māori name) you're more likely to hear the Māori language being spoken, see main street marae (meeting houses), join in a hangi (Māori feast), or catch a cultural performance with traditional Māori songs, dancing and a blood-curdling haka (war dance). Venture to the North Island’s East Cape for the most authentic Māori experiences. Northland and Rotorua are also cultural hotspots.