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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in North Island

Home to crystal-clear lakes, volcanic islands, bubbling mud pools, empty beaches, dense forests, and vibrant cities, New Zealand’s beautiful North Island offers something for everyone—and activity-filled, informative tours to maximize your experience. Shop 'til you drop in the chic boutiques of Auckland or Wellington, sample award-winning wines among the vineyards of Martinborough, or experience the rugged coastal beauty of the spectacular Coromandel Peninsula—one of New Zealand’s most isolated regions. Using Auckland as a base, you can take in top attractions such as the otherworldly Waitomo Caves, where bright green glowworms hang in cavernous subterranean tunnels. For an altogether different outdoor experience, Rotorua’s steaming geothermal landscapes and the Bay of Islands’ peaceful coves are all within easy reach. The fertile valleys of Waiheke Island offer relaxing food, wine, and art tours; and you can delve into New Zealand’s open wilderness among the mighty Waitakere Ranges. For fans of Frodo, Bilbo, and their respective adventures, “Lord of the Rings”–themed tours help you fulfill any Tolkien fantasies by visiting the rolling hillsides of Matamata, used as a Middle-earth filming location in the trilogy. Of course, no visit to the North Island is complete without witnessing the haka—a traditional Maori dance proudly demonstrated by native Maori tribespeople across the island.
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Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings
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The unique art and handicrafts produced by New Zealand’s Maori population are among the country’s most vibrant and celebrated art works. There are few better examples of the Maori Rock carvings at Mine Bay. One of the most striking attractions of Lake Taupo, the immense carvings adorn the cliff faces of the bay, towering over 10 meters high.

Although the designs appear like the remains of an ancient Maori settlement, they were in fact carved by artist Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell in the 1970s, taking three summers to complete. The dramatic works are some of the largest rock art of their kind in the world, depicting Ngatoroirangi – the Maori visionary who guided the Tuwharetoa and Te Arawa tribes to Lake Taupo over a thousand years before. Flanking Ngatoroirangi are two smaller carvings depicting the south wind and a mermaid, and utilizing traditional Maori stone-carving techniques.

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Te Puia
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When you first catch a glimpse of Pohutu Geyser thundering up from the Earth and crane your neck skywards at a column of water that’s nearly 100 feet high, you begin to understand why this place has drawn visitors for literally hundreds of years. Only five minutes from central Rotorua, Te Puia is a geothermal and cultural attraction in the Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley. When compared to Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, Te Puia is closer to the geysers and also offers an impressive center of Maori arts and crafts. Tour the bubbling, geothermal landscape with a native Maori guide, and then retreat to the national weaving and carving schools to watch Maori students re-create the traditional arts of their ancestors. For a look at furry kiwi birds, there is a small, dark kiwi enclosure that houses the national bird, and for arguably the best evening in Rotorua, return at night to experience Te Po—a traditional ceremony and hangi feast of eating, dancing and lore.

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Auckland Sky Tower
27 Tours and Activities
The tallest man-made structure in New Zealand, Sky Tower offers breathtaking views for 50 miles (80 kilometers) in every direction. There is plenty to do up this high; relax with a coffee in the Sky Lounge, enjoy a revolving feast at the 360-degree Observatory Restaurant or, in true New Zealand fashion, you can also jump off Sky Tower. At 1,076 feet (328 meters) tall the Sky Tower is taller than the Eiffel Tower and it took two years and nine months to build. It was built to withstand 125 mph (200km/h) winds and magnitude 7.0 earthquakes. It has three viewing levels and climbs into the antenna mast or around the exterior can be organized. The tower gets around 1,450 visitors a day and is one of Auckland’s main tourist attractions. During the year it is lit in the various colors of causes and charities to show Auckland's support.
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Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
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Like much of New Zealand's attractions, the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland centers on walking outdoors - but what a walk! The park is New Zealand's most colorful and diverse geothermal attraction; visitors follow demarcated tracks through a stunning variety of volcanic phenomena. You'll see fantastic, naturally colored hot-and-cold pools, the world famous Champagne Pool, the amazing Lady Knox Geyser and the massive craters that are the hallmark of the Rotorua region's volcanic heritage.

You'll want to bring a camera and plenty of film/memory cards - the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland has some truly amazing views and scenery. New Zealand is known for its natural beauty, but this geothermal park accentuates it with its unusual geothermal topography. In particular, the shimmering water flowing over the Sinter Terrace Formations is not to be missed.

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Government Gardens Rotorua
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The Government Gardens in central Rotorua are so bountiful that they could easily be mistaken for a piece of the old English countryside. If it weren’t for the telltale scent of sulfur that wafts through the air from the nearby hot springs, many visitors would forget where they’re standing, due to the Edwardian architecture and dignified landscape.

As it happens, this 50-acre compound on the shore of Lake Rotorua was gifted to the Crown by Maori tribes. Taking what was once a patch of scrubland peppered with therapeutic hot pools, the area was transformed into a public park complete with manicured lawns and the famous baths. To add to the impeccable nature of the gardens, an ornate bath house was constructed on the property and now serves as a piece of architectural history. Standing stoically above the flower gardens that burst with color each spring, the building houses the Rotorua Museum of Art and History, which is also well worth a look.

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Mt. Victoria Lookout
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One of the best places to get your bearings in the city of Wellington is from the Mount Victoria Lookout. The panoramic views stretch from the harbor islands all the way to planes taking off and landing at the airport south-east of the city center. Mount Victoria is 196 meters (642 feet) high. The lookout is topped by a triangular memorial to Antarctic explorer Admiral Byrd.

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Weta Workshop
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When it comes to The Lord of The Rings, New Zealand is always famously mentioned for the enchanting beauty of its scenery. From deeply-gouged canyons and ominous volcanoes to lofty, snow-covered peaks, the physical beauty of Middle-earth was arguably the films’ greatest draw. What many moviegoers don’t realize, however, is that the filming locations for The Lord of The Rings were just a fraction of the overall production. Mythical creatures such as orcs and balrogs were needed to prowl those canyons, and professional makeup and creative design were needed to round out the set.

While there are numerous tours to Lord of the Rings filming locations in cities across New Zealand, there’s only one tour where you can visit the place where the magic was all tied together. At Weta Workshop in the suburbs of Wellington, this 65,000 sq. ft. facility is where much of the design, props, makeup, and weaponry were created in the making of the films.

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Auckland Harbour Bridge
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The magnificent Auckland Harbour Bridge is an eight-lane motorway bridge that spans Waitmata harbor between St Mary's Bay in Auckland and Northcote Point on the North Shore.

The bridge is 3,348 feet (1,020 meters) long and 15 stories high. Although it is an imposing sight from land, one of the most exciting tourist attractions for visitors to Auckland is to get up close and personal with a bridge climb or bungy.

The climb involves clamoring up the steel struts to the top of the bridge where you will see spectacular views of Auckland, known as the “City of Sails.” Bungying sees thrill-seekers falling 147 feet (45 meters) to touch the waters of Waitmata Harbor.

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More Things to Do in North Island

Sulphur Point

Sulphur Point

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The first thing you notice when you arrive in Rotorua isn’t the natural beauty; instead—it’s the smell. From the moment you set foot in this North Island hot spot, the pungent smell of rotten eggs seems to waft in the air like a cloud. Don’t worry— it doesn’t take long to get used to the smell, and it’s actually the result of fresh sulphur and the Earth’s volcanic flux.

While the smell is noticeable all across town, nowhere is the sulphur more beautifully evident than at the sands of Sulphur Point. Here, on Lake Rotorua’s southern end, sulphur particles suspended in the shallows turn the water a milky white. The constantly shifting geothermal wetland houses 60 species of birds, which somehow survive the warm waters and boiling, earthy minerals. Follow the boardwalk around the point to find steaming mud pools and vents, and signed placards along the boardwalk explain the volcanic action.

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Lake Rotorua

Lake Rotorua

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Although the Rotorua area is speckled with dozens of lakes, Lake Rotorua is a different entity, detached from its neighboring lakes. Larger, deeper and much, much older, geologists believe it dates back over 200,000 years. Some of Rotorua’s other lakes were created by the Tarawera eruption of 1886, but Lake Rotorua is the original waterway to grace this section of the North Island.

Unlike the ocean, the waters of the green-hued lake are colored by sulfur and minerals, and the 920-foot elevation makes it a little cooler to the touch. It is the second largest lake on the North Island, is surrounded by a geothermal playground and offers a variety of activities for travelers. Take a cruise through the Ohau Channel, which connects with Lake Rotoiti, or go fly fishing where the waters connect and try to reel in a big one. Slide into the seat of a kayak and silently paddle the lakeshore, or strap on a helmet and go hurtling over falls while rafting on a nearby tributary.

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Parnell

Parnell

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The most charismatic of Auckland's neighborhoods, charming Parnell Village is Auckland's oldest suburb and is renowned for its restaurants, cafes, galleries and boutique shopping.

Spend a day exploring the fashionable village shopping area along Parnell Road which is renowned for quality crafts and good jewelers. In the evening there is an international flavor to the 40-odd restaurants and cafes in the area and a dinner option to suit every budget. Every second Thursday of the month there is music in the streets and Parnell’s galleries stay open until 7:30pm for late night art; afterwards you can bunker down in one of Parnell’s many lovely bars. Leave behind the main shopping area and you'll find beautiful, quiet parks including the Parnell Rose Gardens and some interesting historic buildings, including the Anglican Cathedral which stands at the top of the hill and exemplifies ‘Modern-Gothic’ style, as well as the impressive 1930s brick Auckland Railway Station.

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Auckland Domain

Auckland Domain

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Every city needs a large central park, and Auckland Domain provides 185 acres where you can escape the bustle of the city. Set on the slopes of an extinct volcano and protected since the 1840’s, Auckland Domain is not only the largest, but also the oldest park in Auckland.

Located just east of the city center, Auckland Domain has a network of walking trails which weave their way through the forest. Unlike the pace of nearby downtown, peaceful moments abound in the park such as watching ducks land on the pond or relaxing on a bench in the shade. In the spring, cherry groves pepper the forest with a pink and vibrant hue, and during most times of the year you can find teams playing rugby on any of the large open fields. For all of the open space, however, the largest draw of Auckland Domain is the building atop the hill. Constructed in 1929, the Auckland War Memorial and Museum is a three-story, neo-classical building with displays on everything.

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Kaitoke Regional Park

Kaitoke Regional Park

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In the movie trilogy Lord of the Rings, there are more than a handful of mysterious places which are either sinister, dark, or foreboding. On the other hand, there are also places which are so peaceful and magical that you wish they could only be real. One of these places—Rivendell—is the home forest of the immortal elves who lead a life of peace and tranquility. The lush forest provides a welcoming enclave, and all who enter are immediately enraptured in a refreshing sense of calm.

While Rivendell might be fictional, however, the place where the scenes for the movie were filmed couldn’t possibly be more real. At Kaitoke Regional Park, about 50 minutes north of Wellington, the peaceful surroundings and ancient forest make it the perfect hideout for elves. While you’re unlikely to find any pointy-eared characters enjoying a moment in the forest, you will find a spot where the sun filters through treetops to create a welcoming setting.

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North Head Historic Reserve (Maungauika)

North Head Historic Reserve (Maungauika)

14 Tours and Activities

To early Maori this strategic viewpoint was known as Maungauika, and looking out over Auckland’s Harbor and the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, the summit of this ancient volcanic cone was perfect for fending off an attack. In the 1800s, under European rule, the hill was fortified with cannons and guns to deter a Russian invasion, and was again fortified during both World Wars to protect the precious harbor. Though the attacks themselves thankfully never came, the tunnels, guns—and view—still remain. As the fortification of the hill slowly grew, it ultimately became the preeminent coastal defense system in all of New Zealand. The guns here were cutting edge for the time they were built and installed, and included a pair of “disappearing guns” that would actually recoil back into the ground once they had fired a shot. The guns are visible at the South Battery, which along with tunnels dug by prisoners using light from flickering lanterns.

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Devonport

Devonport

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The delightful harborside village of Devonport is an excellent spot for whiling away a day in antique shops, sampling local fare in the many restaurants and cafes or idling on beautiful Cheltanham Beach.

The area has a number of charming heritage buildings including the Art Deco Victoria Cinema, the oldest cinema in the southern hemisphere. The lovely Esplanade Hotel is a well-preserved example of an 1890s English seaside hotel and offers dining options with views over the harbor. The suburb is home to the Devonport Naval Base and you can get an excellent insight into the area's military history at the Navy Museum. There are also the fascinating WWII caves that you can visit at North Head.

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Blue Baths

Blue Baths

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The ornate Blue Baths on the shores of Lake Rotorua blend history, leisure and high society all with anachronistic charm. This art deco, Spanish mission-style building has been masterfully restored to its original splendor from 1933, a time when the thermally heated baths became New Zealand’s first place for “mixed bathing.” The history of baths in this section of Rotorua actually dates to 1885, when men’s-only bath houses to the west of the current site sat by the lakeshore. With the opening of the now-famous Blue Baths, however, the original ones were shuttered, and mixed bathing has become the cultural norm.

Today, you can walk through the Blue Baths interior, tour its small museum and enjoy the sophisticated classical music that serenades from the speakers above. Enjoy high tea on site looking out over the Government Gardens, and if you fancy a dip, purchase a ticket for a relaxing soak in the thermally heated baths.

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Pompallier Mission and Printery (Pompallier House)

Pompallier Mission and Printery (Pompallier House)

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When Europeans were first beginning to establish settlements in New Zealand, a race was on between British and French for who would have the most influence. While the Protestant British would eventually win out and form an island colony, the French still managed to build multiple settlements and influence local Maori. One of those ways was through Catholic texts that were translated and distributed in Maori, which were printed, tanned, and bound right here at the Pompallier Mission by Russell. Accessible today through a guided tour, the Pompallier Mission offers visitors a glimpse of early European settlements, as well as a thorough explanation of how British, French, and Maori tribes all skirmished and negotiated for land. Aside the early printing press and info relating to printing, the Pompallier building is a sight in itself, having been constructed in 1842 in a rammed-Earth style that was typical of the day in the French city of Lyon.

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Auckland War Memorial Museum

Auckland War Memorial Museum

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Perched on top of a dormant volcano, the Auckland War Memorial Museum is one of New Zealand’s finest museums. The Museum is the place to explore Maori and Pacific Island history with the largest collection of artifacts in the world, including buildings, canoes, carvings and around 1.2 million images.

An extensive permanent exhibition covers the wars in which New Zealand has been involved both at home and abroad. Exhibits include Spitfire and Mitsubishi Zero airplanes and models of Maori pas (earth fortifications).

Children will have fun exploring in the Stevenson Centre where they can get up close with bugs and birds and even touch a real elephant tooth. The Walk on the Wild Side self-guided tour explores the evolutionary history of New Zealand’s plants and animals giving kids the chance to see dinosaur bones and fossils.

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Wellington Cable Car

Wellington Cable Car

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New Zealand Parliament (Beehive)

New Zealand Parliament (Beehive)

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New Zealand’s architectural symbol is the beehive-shaped Parliament House in Wellington. Hosting the executive wing of parliament, ‘the Beehive’ was built between 1969 and 1981, and features murals and artworks by noted New Zealand artists.

The building has 10 floors, filled with cabinet rooms, prime ministerial offices, a banqueting hall, function rooms and several restaurants. Take a free guided 1-hour tour or drop into the visitor center in the ground-floor foyer. You can sit in the public galleries of the debating chamber when the House is sitting.

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Old St. Paul's

Old St. Paul's

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Wellington’s first Anglican cathedral, the classic Gothic Revival Old St. Paul Cathedral’s is a picture-book wooden church built in 1845. The building was designed by the parish vicar, the Reverend Frederick Thatcher. The simple white-painted exterior leads to a dramatic interior featuring bold use of native timbers. The piers of wood form trusses that curve upwards to meet in the roof’s center, a bit like the hull of an upturned boat. Another highlight of this popular building is the lovely stained glass, particularly the windows surrounding the apse and south alcove. While the church no longer hosts regular Sunday services, it’s a popular venue for weddings and funerals.
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Red Rocks Reserve (Pariwhero)

Red Rocks Reserve (Pariwhero)

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