New Zealand: A Landscape of Fire and Ice

15 March 2017

From the frosty tips of volcanic peaks to the bubbling thermal energy of geysers and mud pools, New Zealand's North Island is a land forced by the power of nature.

The North Island beckons to travellers of all ages with a breadth of experiences that thrill, excite and inspire, unfolding on a journey of discovery through a land of fire and ice.

Auckland skyline Vibrant Auckland is the perfect base from which to explore many of the North Island's coolest destinations

Auckland acts as the perfect starting point. Set within the Waitakere Ranges with twin harbours and stunning views from multiple vantage points – including on descent to the airport – this city delights with a sweep of incredible natural beauty. And while it’s easy to get caught up in the views, the diverse and delicious dining scene through Viaduct Harbour and Britomart, vibrant shopping spots along Ponsonby Road, cultural precincts, and landmark SkyTower are all equally amazing ways to discover the city.

Set out an hour in any direction and you’ll find yourself surrounded by the splendour of nature. Venture a little further (2.5 hours further to be exact) and you’ll find yourself in the underbelly of the earth at the fascinating Waitomo Caves.

This network of 300 known limestone caverns thrills with activities like abseiling, zip-lining and black-water rafting. Though, one of the major highlights is simply setting adrift in the dark on an underground river to view the glowworms, spread like a blanket of iridescent stars across the roof of the cave.

Maori Rock Carvings Lake Taupo is not only one of the largest lakes in the world, it is home to the incredible Maori rock carvings of Milne Bay

Continue your journey to Great Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand and the heart of the volcanic activity that formed the North Island’s geothermal landscape. Taupo is a bustling lakeside resort town with a buzzing cafe and restaurant scene, and it’s the perfect place to base yourself to enjoy world-class skiing. The Whakapapa and Turoa Ski areas of Mount Ruapehu open in early July, offering peak skiing and boarding all the way through to the end of October. There are 54 runs to choose from, or hop on the sightseeing chairlift to lunch at Knoll Ridge Cafe, New Zealand’s highest cafe.

If that doesn’t satiate your appetite for alpine terrain, Tongariro Alpine Crossing is also nearby. Classified as one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, this one-day hike is a spectacular journey from alpine meadows to the mountain summit across a surreal landscape of craters, jewel-toned lakes and volcanic rocks.

Huka Falls Witness the power of Huka Falls first hand with a jetboat ride that takes you right up to the falls

A day on the lake is well spent fishing, boating, sailing or simply enjoying the serenity of the crystal-blue waters as you gaze upon the Maori rock carvings of Milne Bay. The Taupo region is also an adrenaline junkie’s mecca. Jet boats, bungy jumping, whitewater rafting and skydiving are all on offer in this nature lover’s paradise, and be sure to experience the power and roar of the mighty Huka Falls, one of New Zealand’s most photographed scenic wonders.

Next, set your sights on Rotorua. This epicentre of geothermal activity is alive with bubbling mud pools, gushing geysers and natural hot springs that make for the ideal relaxation point after all that exploring. This central North Island hotspot also happens to be the perfect spot to immerse yourself in rich Maori heritage, with a cultural evening that culminates in a traditional hangi feast.

A hobbit hole in Hobbiton Cap off your North Island journey by going on an adventure through Hobbiton

Any trip to the North Island simply isn’t complete without a stop at the Kaimai Ranges to follow in the footsteps of Frodo at the Hobbiton Movie Set. Transporting you to the world of JRR Tolkien’s famed Lord of the Rings trilogy, you can learn all about this real-life creation of Middle-earth. It’s a unique end to an equally unique journey.

Carlie Tucker

Travelling is for discovering the unexpected. From fantastic meals in ramshackle joints to stumbling upon a best kept secret, I love those fortuitous travel moments that couldn't be planned if I tried.