Home to windy capital Wellington and the country’s largest city, Auckland, New Zealand's North Island is the more populous of the two and is your best base for urban comfort. That’s in no way saying that the North Island isn’t as naturally blessed as the South, as it still packs a heavy dose of classic NZ scenery and magnetic Maori culture.
The best connected of all New Zealand cities, Auckland will likely be the starting place for your North Island visit. The largest Polynesian city in the world, Auckland consistently ranks high on the list of World's Most Liveable Cities. You won't be left wondering why after visiting its world-class harbour-front restaurants, outlying wineries and unspoiled beaches!
The country’s financial capital is a stylish city as well as a popular spot for thrill-seekers. If you want to get an adrenaline fix, Auckland is the place in the North Island to do so. Take a controlled leap from the Auckland Harbour Bridge, or base jump off the Sky Tower – the tallest free-standing structure in the southern hemisphere.
Volcanic and vivacious
Located less than three hours' drive south-east of Auckland, Rotorua is widely regarded as New Zealand’s Maori heartland. Don’t be alarmed by the city’s distinct smell as it wafts off the pungent Lake Rotorua.
A hive of geothermic activity, while Rotorua’s sulphur-rich water will never be bottled as perfume, it does have various therapeutic benefits. After a dip in the thermal pools or mud baths, indulge in another quintessential Rotorua experience – a traditional hangi feast steamed for hours in an earth oven. Why not work off the calories with a (not so) leisurely luge or zorb afterwards?
At the southern edge of the North Island, Wellington is a city that’s truly had the spotlight shining on it in the past decade, thanks to its role in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films. Cosmopolitan capital Wellington is rich with galleries and museums, with more bars, restaurants and cafes per head than in New York City!
Some Wellington must-dos include a trip to the National Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa), a ride on the historic Wellington Cable Car, and a visit to Zealandia – a 225 hectare sanctuary where you might just spot the iconic kiwi!
Sights beyond the cities
If you have more time to spare in the North Island, make sure to step outside of the three main cities to explore some of New Zealand’s most captivating landscapes. Journey to the land of the endless summer at the Coromandel Peninsula, where the surf is up and the sands are golden.
If you don't want to venture too far from Auckland, explore the city's western fringe by getting back to nature in the forested Waitakere Ranges, or strolling the black-sand beaches of Piha. For a little more silver-screen trivia, you might recognise Karekare Beach as the setting of the film 'The Piano'.
Just north of Rotorua is the equally impressive Bay of Plenty. The location where James Cook first anchored back in 1769, the Bay of Plenty is home to some of New Zealand’s tastiest seafood restaurants and most spectacular beaches. It’s also where you’ll find White Island – one of the world’s only accessible active volcanos.
Further south in the centre of the island is the World Heritage-listed Tongariro National Park. A land of geographic contrasts, make sure you have plenty space on your camera to capture the emerald lakes and hot springs set against the back drop of Mount Ruapehu – a 2797-metre-tall volcano and ski-resort.
Back down at sea level, be wowed by the white-water of Huka Falls, or cast a line at Lake Taupo – New Zealand’s largest lake coming in at around the same size as Singapore.