10 Must-Sees on New Zealand’s North Island

Saturday, March 25, 2023

I was born in New Zealand but moved to the United States when I was around seven years old. It's a long, expensive trip home so we don't get back very regularly. In fact, my family was attempting to plan a visit around Christmas in 2020 but of course, that did not come to fruition. We were finally able to visit the country again, which had some of the strictest pandemic-related guidelines, in June 2023. 

On this trip, we rented a JUCY Van and travelled all around the North Island. We definitely checked off a few bucket list items. Here are my top 10 must-see spots on New Zealand's North Island: 


Mount Taranaki is a mostly symmetrical volcano on New Zealand's west coast. It is sometimes described as the country's "most climbed mountain," with well-equipped hikers summiting between December and April. In the winter months, mountaineering experience and equipment are required to tackle the snow and ice.

Hikers of all skill levels can enjoy walks with varying altitudes and lengths. We hiked the Ngatoro Loop Track, a 1.2 km (.75 mi) loop. From the visitor center, this trail includes a brief boardwalk before descending into the "goblin forest." At this elevation, ferns and moss are abundant among the trees. This is considered an easy hike, with a few steps and a stream crossing that can be impacted by heavy rain.


Carved in the late 1970s, the 10 meter tall carving depicts a likeness of Ngatoroirangi, a visionary Māori navigator. Carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell completed a 10-year training with Māori elders and came to Lake Taupo, his grandmother's land, to mark the occasion. While this carving is just 40-50 years old, it's said to represent the traditional knowledge and skills that continue to be passed down through generations of Māori people. 

We road an Ernest Kemp Cruises boat but you can also venture out on a kayak. Our tour guide also mentioned that in the summer sightseers take a dip in the lake right by the carvings, too.


New Zealand's longest river, The Waikato River, begins as a series of small streams on Mount Ruapehu. It then flows out of Lake Taupō and runs northeast, including Huka Falls and Aratiatia Rapids. There are a few ways to see the Huka Falls, including parking right at the falls and walking a short distance to the viewpoint. To make a morning or afternoon out of it, you can also hike or bike from Huka Falls to the Aratiatia Dam.


This might be my favorite thing we did on our road trip around the North Island. The Waikite Valley Hot Pools offer day entry or camping options. We booked a powered site and were able to access the pools for the duration of our stay. We even woke up early - before sunrise - to soak as soon as the pools were filled for the day.

There are six pools on site, including two cold tubs. The whole campus feels so luxurious even though you don't have to spend too much to visit. There are also private bathhouses if you prefer. 


Just outside Rotorua, you'll find the National Kiwi Hatchery. Over 2,200 kiwis have hatched at the facility, making it the world's largest and most successful hatchery. We learned on our tour that historically, the kiwi had no natural predators. After several small mammals were introduced to the island, chicks had no way to protect themselves. National Kiwi Hatchery works to collect kiwi eggs and raise the chicks until they are large enough to defend against predators. If you visit at the right time of the year, you may get to see a kiwi chick being weighed or fed. We were able to see adult kiwis in the nocturnal house.


At the base of Mount Ruapehu is New Zealand's oldest national park. Tongariro's World Heritage status recognizes the Māori cultural history as well as its volcanic features.

Whakapapa Village is a small alpine town that serves as the entrance to the park. From here, visitors can begin the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing or take a more on one of many hiking trails. At the visitors’ center, there are opportunities to learn about the volcanic landscape and local wildlife. There is a holiday park and a restaurant, with a full bar, also in the village.

We hiked the Taranaki Falls loop, a popular and highly trafficked trail in the park. Upper and lower tracks form this 6km (3.7 mi) loop, with spectacular views of Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe. The lower track follows the Wairere Stream, with views of the water and gorge.


For stunning views and a serious leg workout, take a 4 mile hike to the Mount Manganui summit. We walked up the 4WD track for a gentler incline and down a shorter, steeper trail. There were beautiful views of Pilot Bay and the coastline from all around the mountain. We saw sheep around the track on the way up  be sure to close any gates you open on the way to keep the livestock inside. 

For the best post-hike reward, visit the Mount Hot Pools for a soak in heated saltwater pools. If you prefer a flat walk or want to get even more steps in, there's also a base track that's 2.1 miles long. This trail takes you from Pilot Bay around the mountain and over sandy beaches. 


New Zealand's capitol city has plenty to offer for a day trip or longer visit. It's most iconic activity is probably the famous red cable cars. Take the ride up to Lambton Quay shopping district and explore the cable car museum, space place or walk back down through botanic gardens. 

While in Wellington, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is another must-see. You could easily spend a whole day exploring Māori culture, art, and natural history. The Wētā Workshop is another famous attraction, where visitors can take a behind-the-scenes tour of the artistry behind films like The Lord of the Rings. 


Take a leap off the Auckland Bridge Bungy while visiting New Zealand's largest city. You can also dip into the ocean during this jump. If this type of thrill-seeking isn't your style, AJ Hackett also offers guided bridge climbs for a 360 view of the city. I previously bungy jumped at Kawarau Bridge outside of Queenstown in the south island so I didn't take the plunge on our road trip around the North Island but highly recommend it. 


For an adventure that is truly like no other, you can go black water rafting in Waitomo. There are two tour options: The Black Labyrinth and The Black Abyss to choose from. We made this the splurge of the trip and completed The Black Abyss tour - it's 5 hours long and will cost you $290 NZD. 

After we checked in and met our guides, they took us to get all the gear we would need to head into the caves. We completed a crash course in abseiling (rappelling) and then dropped into the cave. The tour included ziplining, floating under a sky of glow worms, climbing over waterfalls and breaks for warm drinks. Our guides even brought along a waterproof camera and shared all the photos after the tour. 

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