New Zealand for Tourists – North Island

I didn’t write my blog with the intention of providing useful information. However, quite a few of my friends have asked for advice on New Zealand so I thought I’d add a couple of retrospective posts.

This first post will give a general overview of the main sights that New Zealand has to offer for tourists. I will follow this up a second post aimed at people who are keen to exploit the amazing array of walking trails and mountain huts that the Department of Conservation maintains.

I will list this as a five-week itinerary – an epic tour of the whole of New Zealand. If you’re making the 24-hour-plus journey from the UK, I think you should seriously consider spending this long there, but if you wish to do it in less, just cut out parts that interest you less. My route starts in Auckland and ends in Christchurch, but the reverse route would work just as well.

Auckland – Welcome to North Island! The the largest city, we didn’t even go there because cities aren’t really my thing. If you’re a city person, try it, but if you’re a city person, you probably won’t really enjoy NZ!

Bay of Islands – Sub-tropical islands and beaches north of Auckland. Again, we didn’t go there (not a great start advice wise!) because I’m not that in to beaches, but there are also some culture and history in the form of important Maori sites. It’s a long way off the route, so will add 7 hours to your already long drive.

Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove – This was our northernmost destination and I was shocked by how spectacular (and tropical-feeling) these beaches were. Dig yourself a natural hot-tub, fed by underground thermal rivers, then take a walk through Cathedral Cove. You can comfortably do both in a day, but may wish to stretch it out… take note of the tide times, which affects the best time to dig your hole.

Hobiton Movie set – again, we didn’t go here, but I thought I should mention it, as I’m sure some LOTR fans will not want to miss it.

Rotarua – We didn’t like this town much, but it’s the best place to see geothermal New Zealand in action; ie. lots of expensive spas and a foul stench of sulphur everywhere. We did stay in a great campsite about 30 minutes away: The Waitangi Valley Thermal Pools: as the name suggests, there is an on-site spa and entry is included in the price of your campsite.

From here, you have three options: to travel down the West, Centre or East of the Island. Of course, you can incorporate parts of both, but it will make for a very zig-zagging route over small, poorly maintained roads – we did this, but we had 3 months!

Eastern Route:

Taupo – We went here for a Parkrun and to cheer on some friends, who we met in a mountain hut, in an Ironman race. The town seemed nice enough, but not that exciting otherwise.

Napier – Famous for its vineyards, it’s one of the warmest and driest parts of NZ. We stayed at a really great AirBnB with Malcolm and Liz, who felt like our parents by the end of our stay. As well as the vineyards (Black Barn was our favourite), there was a great farmers’ market and scenic views from Te Mata Peak. The coastline is also famous for its surf: for us, the beaches were not as scenic as elsewhere, but if you like long, straight beaches, there is plenty of sand here. The town of Napier is also known for its art-deco style buildings, mostly built after a huge earthquake levelled the town in the early 20th century. The town houses a museum with a thorough exhibition all about this disaster.

Central Route:

Tongariro National Park – Passing ‘Mount Doom’ from Lord of the Rings, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the most spectacular day walks in the world. It took us around 5 hours – leave up to 8 if you’re not so fit. It’s not a loop, so you need to organise transport from one end to the other (From here, you can leave your car and get a shuttle to the other end, or local hotels can organise transport to the start and from the end.

Western Route:

Taranaki – We spent a week in the Taranaki area and I personally loved it. We had great views of the volcano from pretty much everywhere we went, including the main town of New Plymouth. It’s known as an arty town and we particularly enjoyed the Govett-Brewster art gallery, as well as the great views from the very short but very steep climb to Paritutu Rock. Nothing, though, can surpass the views from the top of Taranaki itself. If you’re reasonably fit, you can walk to the top and back from North Egmont visitor centre. When I visited in mid-December, crampons were advised but not necessary; however, there was a significant amount of snow and ice for the final 500m, so I wouldn’t have been comfortable without solid walking boots and poles.

Whichever route you choose (perhaps add a week or two and do all three), your next stop will be Wellington. A hip, hilly city, it’s probably the place that we’d most like to live in New Zealand. Home to our favourite peanut butter Fix and Fogg (visit their little counter to taste and buy) and probably our favourite restaurant from our whole trip, the Aro Cafe, we enjoyed the feel of this place. Whether you cafe hop along Cuba street or walk up to the Mount Victoria lookout, it has a bit of something for everyone. It’s also the place where you will take a ferry to the South Island…

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