One of the most common things I heard while traveling on the North Island was that the South Island was so much better. Having spent two months traveling on the North Island, I must disagree. Yes, the South Island is beautiful, but the North Island has a different kind of charm and some spectacular scenery.
Below are my favorite places I visited on the North Island and why. The list starts at the northern tip of the island and works its way south. (Note: This is definitely not a recommend driving route, as looking at the map will show you.)
Cape Reinga (1)
Cape Reinga is the most north you can get in New Zealand and is a wild place where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet. In Maori culture it is the place where the souls of the departed travel in order to leave the world of the living.
Waipoua Forest (2)
This is where a large portion of the kauri trees still left in New Zealand reside. These trees are amazing, so make sure you see them. If you don’t have a chance to see them in Waipoua Forest , they can also be found in Whangarei or the Coromandel Peninsula. For more about the kauri trees, read my post about them here.
Mt. Maunganui (3)
Mt. Maunganui is essentially a seaside suburb of Tauranga. It looks a bit like Miami Beach on a tiny scale, complete with palm trees and pastel-colored buildings. There’s a great hike to the summit of Mt. Maunganui, many tasty cafes and ice cream parlors, and a fur seal sighting if you’re lucky.
The East Cape (4)
This area of the North Island is one of the least visited and least inhabited. I found it to be one of the most beautiful. It’s also the only place in New Zealand from which you can watch the first sunrise of each day.
I happened to be in Raglan for three days of rain. Despite this I found it to be a nice town with beautiful scenery and a very funky hostel (Solscape). I am not a surfer, but if you are or want to learn, this is your paradise. For a stunning view of the sunset, head to Te Toto Gorge lookout.
Tongariro National Park (6)
I wrote a long post about this park, which you can read here. In summary, you should go because it’s awesome.
Egmont National Park (7)
I wish I could have spent more time in this park encompassing Mt. Taranaki. There are hikes for all levels, ranging from 10 minutes to 4 days. You can climb up the mountain, around the mountain, and just about anything in between. It has quite the varied terrain, ranging from Goblin Forests to reflecting lakes to stark volcanic growth. Make sure you check with the Visitor’s Center and the weather before going on any hikes.
After an earthquake the destroyed most of the city in the 1930s, Napier was rebuilt in the art deco style. It looks like a Hollywood movie, until you step out of the city center that is. Hastings is 30 minutes away, and is also lovely. The surrounding countryside boasts wineries, honey and cheese shops, and the delicious Silky Oak chocolates.
Cape Palliser (9)
If you want to see fur seals, stunning vistas, and a candy-striped lighthouse, this is the place for you.
The capital city of New Zealand reminds me of San Francisco and Washington, D.C. It’s got an eclectic, worldly population with lots of good food. It’s a relatively small city, but there’s a never-ending amount of things to do.