Packing in cosmopolitan cities, authentic opportunities to experience NZ’s indigenous Māori culture, and the country’s bubbling and boiling volcanic heart, the North Island is an exceedingly versatile destination.
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. Head 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.
If you’re even remotely interested in rugby, you’ll have heard of the all-conquering All Blacks, New Zealand’s national team, who would never have become world-beaters without their awesome Māori players. This is just one example of how Māori culture impresses itself on contemporary Kiwi life: across the North Island you can hear Māori language, watch Māori TV, see main street marae (meeting houses), join in a hangi (Māori feast), or catch a cultural performance with traditional Māori song, dance and usually a blood-curdling haka (war dance). Venture to the North Island’s East Cape for the most authentic Māori experiences.
Why I Love the North Island
By Brett Atkinson, Author
Born in the shadow of Mt Ngongotaha in Rotorua, and now resident in Auckland, I've been exploring the North Island with family and friends for most of my life. Favourite places include the bush and beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula, the wine and food scenes of Hawke's Bay, and the rough and tumble volcanic landscapes of Tongariro National Park. For craft beer, culture and coffee, the national capital of Wellington is always appealing, and Auckland's growing ethnic diversity and cosmopolitan vibe makes it New Zealand's most exciting and international city.
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 award trophies for decades now, and the vineyard restaurants of the Hawke’s Bay region are seriously good. The North Island’s booming craft-beer scene also deserves serious scrutiny – keep an eye out for brews from Hallertau, Liberty and Crouchers. And with a firmly entrenched coffee culture, you can always slake your craving for a decent double-shot.
New Zealand’s South Island usually gets the kudos, but the oft-overlooked North Island also features a sublime combination of forests, mountains and 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 Peninsula. Day trips from vibrant Auckland can include kayaking to dormant volcanoes or canyoning and abseiling down forested waterfalls.