Must see attractions in North Island

  • Top ChoiceSights in Auckland

    One Tree Hill

    Maungakiekie was the largest and most spiritually significant Māori pā (fortified village) prior to British arrival. At the top of this volcanic cone (at 182m high) there is an obelisk and epic 360-degree views of Auckland and its harbours. It is also the site of the grave of John Logan Campbell (the ‘father of Auckland’) who gifted the 230-hectare area to the city in 1901. He also requested that a memorial be built to the dispossessed Māori people at the summit. The 'one tree' cut down Today there is only a stump of the last ‘one tree’. The original tōtara tree was cut down in 1852 by a Pākehā (white) settler, either because it was significant to the Māori people or because he needed firewood – depending on which account you believe. In response, John Logan Campbell planted a stand of Monterey pines of which only one lone tree survived. That tree was felled in a chainsaw attack in 2000 by a Māori activist who wanted to raise awareness of the government's fiscal envelope policy – a target to settle all historic Treaty claims for NZ$1 billion – on the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In 2015 new native trees were planted on the site, with a view to one day having a single pohutukawa or tōtara. Walk As well as visiting the summit, allow time to explore the surrounding Cornwall Park with its mature trees and historic Acacia Cottage (1841). The Cornwall Park Information Centre has fascinating interactive displays illustrating what the pā would have looked like when 5000 people lived here. Near the excellent children’s playground, the Stardome offers regular stargazing and planetarium shows (usually 7pm and 8pm Wednesday to Sunday, with extra shows on weekends) that aren’t dependent on Auckland’s fickle weather. History The Māori name Maungakiekie means the mountain where kiekie (a native vine) grows abundantly. The mountain and its surrounds were home to the Te Wai ō Hua iwi (tribe) although other iwi also trace their ancestry to the mountain. One Tree Hill and U2 Yes, that U2 song from the 1987 album Joshua Tree is about this place too. It was dedicated to the memory of a New Zealander, Greg Carroll, who Bono became friends with after they met in Auckland in 1984. Carroll joined the group as a roadie, moving to Dublin with the band after touring with them in New Zealand, Australia and the US. He was killed in a motorcycle accident in Dublin. The song is referring to the first night in Auckland when he took Bono to One Tree Hill. Planning your visit To get to One Tree Hill from the city, take a train to Greenlane and walk 1km along Green Lane West. By car, take the Greenlane exit off the Southern Motorway and turn right into Green Lane West.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Cape Reinga & Ninety Mile Beach

    Cape Reinga

    This dramatic headland is where the waters of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet, swirling and breaking together into waves up to 10m high in stormy weather. Cape Reinga is the end of the road both literally and figuratively: in Māori tradition the spirits of the dead depart the world from here, making it the most sacred site in all of Aotearoa. It's also the northern most stop on State Hwy 1. The actual departure point is believed to be the 800-year-old pohutukawa tree clinging to the rocks on the small promontory of Te Rerenga Wairua (Leaping Place of the Spirits) far below; to those in corporeal form, access is forbidden. Contrary to expectation, Cape Reinga isn’t actually the northernmost point of the country; that honour belongs to the inaccessible Surville Cliffs, which can be spotted to the right in the distance. In fact, it's much closer to the westernmost point, Cape Maria van Diemen, immediately to the left. Cape Reinga walk From the car park it's a rolling 1km walk to the lookout, passing the Cape Reinga Lighthouse along the way. Information boards detail the area's ecology, history and cultural significance. Out of respect, you're requested to refrain from eating or drinking in the vicinity. Accommodation and camping There are few good accommodation options on the peninsula itself. The DOC has basic but spectacularly positioned camping sites at Tapotupotu Bay. Water, flush toilets and cold showers are provided. Bring a cooker, as fires are not allowed. Pack plenty of insect repellent to ward off mosquitoes and sandflies. ‘Freedom/Leave No Trace’ camping is also allowed along the Te Paki Coastal Track. Weather Check weather forecasts ahead and be aware there is no shelter after you leave the carpark area. Little tufts of cloud sometimes cling to the ridges, giving sudden spooky chills even on hot days.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Taupo

    Huka Falls

    The Waikato, New Zealand’s longest river, squeezes through a narrow chasm at Huka Falls, making the dramatic 11m drop into a surging crystal-blue whirlpool at a rate of 220,000L per second. You can experience the full force of this torrent, which the Māori called Hukanui (Great Body of Spray), from the footbridge straddling the falls. Walking tracks run along both banks. Walk The Huka Falls Walkway heads back towards town and the Spa Thermal Park, while the Huka Falls to Aratiatia Rapids track goes 7km downstream to the rapids. On sunny days the water is crystal clear and you can take great photographs from the lookout on the other side of the footbridge. Jet boats There are multiple ways to see the falls on a tour. An adenaline-pumping jet-boat tour will take you to the base of Huka Falls where you’ll feel the spray on your face. For a more relaxed experience, book a Huka Falls river cruise for a cup of tea with your views. Alternatively, take a helicopter tour of the Taupo region and get a birds-eye view of this spectacular natural phenomenon instead. Huka Falls deaths This is a treacherous body of water with a very high-pressure and extremely dangerous waterfall. There have unfortunately been a number of drownings here over the years, so locals stress that it is a tourist attraction for viewing only. Do enter the falls. We repeat: do not enter the falls.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Paihia

    Waitangi Treaty Grounds

    Occupying a headland draped in lawns and bush, this is NZ's most significant historic site. Here, on 6 February 1840, after much discussion, the first 43 Māori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the British Crown; eventually, over 500 chiefs would sign it. Admission incorporates a guided tour and a spirited cultural performance, and entry to the Museum of Waitangi, the Whare Rūnanga (Carved Meeting House) and the historic Treaty House.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Waipoua Forest

    Te Matua Ngahere

    From the Kauri Walks car park, a 20-minute walk leads past the Four Sisters, a graceful stand of four tall trees fused together at the base, to Te Matua Ngahere (The Father of the Forest). At 30m, he has a significant presence. Reinforced by a substantial girth – he’s the fattest living kauri (16.4m) – the tree presides over a clearing surrounded by mature trees resembling mere matchsticks in comparison. It's estimated that he could be up to 3000 years old.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Waipoua Forest

    Tāne Mahuta

    Near the north end of the park, not far from the road, stands mighty Tāne Mahuta, named for the Māori forest god. At 51.5m, with a 13.8m girth and wood mass of 244.5 cu metres, he’s the largest kauri alive, and has been holding court here for somewhere between 1200 and 2000 years. He's easy to find and access, with a well-labelled car park (complete with coffee cart) on the highway.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Rotorua

    Te Puia

    Te Puia dials up the heat on Māoritanga (things Māori) with explosive performances from both its cultural troupe and Pōhutu (Big Splash), its famous geyser that erupts around 20 times a day, spurting hot water up to 30m skyward. It erupts in tandem with the adjoining Prince of Wales’ Feathers geyser. Also here is a kiwi conservation centre and the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, where you can watch students at work.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kingsland & Mt Eden

    Mt Eden

    From the top of Auckland’s highest volcanic cone (196m), the entire isthmus and both harbours are laid bare. The symmetrical crater (50m deep) is known as Te Ipu Kai a Mataaho (the Food Bowl of Mataaho, the god of things hidden in the ground) and is considered tapu (sacred). Do not enter it, but feel free to explore the remainder of the mountain. The remains of pā terraces and food-storage pits are clearly visible.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Taupo

    Orakei Korako

    Tucked away from other more popular thermal fields, Orakei Korako is (since the destruction of the Pink and White Terraces, at least) arguably NZ's most spectacular thermal area, with active geysers, stunning terraces, bubbling rainbow lands and one of only two geothermal caves in the world. A 2.5km walking track (allow 1½ hours) follows stairs and boardwalks around the colourful silica terraces for which the park is famous. Entry includes the boat ride across the lake.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Rotorua Lakes

    Waimangu Volcanic Valley

    The most visible wound from Mt Tarawera's 1886 eruption, the Waimangu geothermal area spreads down a valley to Lake Rotomahana (Warm Lake). The experience is quite different from the other ticketed thermal areas as it involves a stroll down the lush, bush-lined valley, with a return by shuttle bus from either the 1.5km, 2.8km or 3.6km point. The 4km trail ends by the lake, where it's possible to take a 45-minute boat cruise past steaming cliffs.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Parnell & Newmarket

    Auckland Museum

    This imposing neoclassical temple (1929), capped with an impressive copper-and-glass dome (2007), dominates the Auckland Domain and is a prominent part of the Auckland skyline, especially when viewed from the harbour. Admission packages can be purchased, which incorporate a highlights tour and a Māori cultural performance ($40 to $55).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Leigh

    Goat Island Marine Reserve

    Only 3km from Leigh, this 547-hectare aquatic area was established in 1975 as the country’s first marine reserve. In less than 40 years the sea has reverted to a giant aquarium, giving an impression of what the NZ coast must have been like before humans arrived. You only need step knee-deep into the water to see snapper (the big fish with blue dots and fins), blue maomao and stripy parore swimming around.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Rotorua Lakes

    Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

    The most colourful of the region's geothermal attractions, Wai-O-Tapu (Sacred Waters) has a variety of features packed into a relatively compact, heavily cratered area, with the highlights being the orange-rimmed, fizzing Champagne Pool and the unearthly lemon-lime-hued Roto Kārikitea. Just down the road (but included in the entry fee) is the Lady Knox Geyser, which erupts (with prompting from an organic soap) punctually at 10.15am and gushes up to 20m – follow the park exodus just before 10am to witness it.

  • Sights in Rotorua

    Whakarewarewa

    Wander the streets of this living village, where the local Tūhourangi/Ngāti Wāhiao people have resided for centuries, with its homes, stores, cafes and lookouts over the Pōhutu geyser in neighbouring Te Puia. Villagers lead the tours (departing hourly from 9am to 4pm) and tell stories of their way of life amid the steamy bubbling pools, silica terraces and geysers.

  • Sights in Auckland

    Auckland Zoo

    At this modern, spacious zoo, the big foreigners tend to steal the attention from the timid natives, but if you can wrestle the kids away from the tigers and orangutans, there's a well-presented NZ section. Called Te Wao Nui, it's divided into six ecological zones: Coast (seals, penguins), Islands (mainly lizards, including NZ's pint-sized dinosaur, the tuatara), Wetlands (ducks, herons, eels), Night (kiwi, naturally, along with frogs, native owls and weta), Forest (birds) and High Country (cheekier birds and lizards).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kerikeri

    Kerikeri Mission Station

    Two of the nation's most significant buildings nestle side by side on the banks of Kerikeri Basin. Start at the Stone Store, NZ's oldest stone building (1836). Upstairs there's an interesting little museum, while downstairs the shop sells Kiwiana gifts as well as the type of wood and leather goods that used to be stocked here in the 19th century. Tours of neighbouring Kemp House depart from here. Built by the missionaries in 1822, this humble yet pretty wooden Georgian-style house is NZ's oldest building.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Wellington

    Wellington Museum

    For an imaginative, interactive experience of Wellington’s social and maritime history, head to this bewitching little museum, inside an 1892 bond store on the wharf. Highlights include a moving documentary on the Wahine, the interisland ferry that sank in the harbour in 1968 with the loss of 51 lives, and the curio-packed Attic. Māori legends are dramatically told using tiny holographic actors and special effects.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Wellington

    Zealandia

    This groundbreaking ecosanctuary is nooked into a valley in the hills about 2km west of downtown Wellington. Living wild within the fenced, predator-free habitat are more than 30 native bird species, including rare little spotted kiwi, takahe, saddleback, hihi and kaka, as well as NZ's little dinosaur, the tuatara. An excellent exhibition relays NZ’s natural history and world-renowned conservation story. Buses 2 and 21 stop nearby, or see the Zealandia website for info on the free shuttle.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Wellington

    Wellington Botanic Gardens

    These hilly, 25-hectare botanic gardens can be effortlessly visited via the Wellington Cable Car (nice bit of planning, eh?), although there are several other entrances hidden in the hillsides. The gardens boast a tract of original native forest, the beaut Lady Norwood Rose Garden, 25,000 spring tulips and various international plant collections. Add in fountains, a playground, sculptures, a duck pond, cafe, the Space Place observatory and the small-but-nifty Cable Car Museum and you’ve a busy day out.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Waitomo Caves

    Glowworm Cave

    The guided tour of the Glowworm Cave, which is behind the visitor centre, leads past impressive stalactites and stalagmites into a large cavern known as the Cathedral. The highlight comes at the tour’s end when you board a boat and swing off onto the river. As your eyes grow accustomed to the dark you’ll see a Milky Way of little lights surrounding you – these are the glowworms. Book your tour at the visitor centre.