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.
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.
Located alongside the scenic island of Rangitoto, the emerald landscapes, striking coastline and thick forests of Motutapu Island attract visitors from across the globe. Sandy beaches and easy walking paths offer up plenty of opportunity for rest and relaxation, while the 300 Maori archeological sites that scatter the land showcase a rich history and detail ancient lives of early inhabitants.
Travelers can explore one of the Island’s popular walking tracks, like the Motutapu Walkway, which connects the causeway to Rangitoto and the Matutapu ferry dock. Several World War II military sites in the northern junction offer history buffs with a look at gun pits, shelters and other fortresses. Outdoor adventurers can overnight at one of the island’s popular campsites and those looking to give back can volunteer at the Motutapu Restoration Trust, where locals and out-of-towners work alongside each other to plant trees, clean up beaches and monitor wildlife.
With a prime location at the heart of central Auckland, Albert Park is the ultimate urban garden, with its pretty flower beds and towering palm trees set against a backdrop of looming skyscrapers and the landmark Auckland Sky Tower. With the Central Business District and Auckland Art Gallery to the west, and the University of Auckland to the east, Albert Park is among the city’s most popular green spaces, and its shady benches and grassy lawns provide ample space for picnickers.
A former military barracks, Albert Park was laid out in the late 19th-century and features a series of flower gardens and walkways around a central Victorian fountain. Notable features include the historic band rotunda; the Albert Park House, now a museum; a series of oak trees planted in honor of the United States Navy's Great White Fleet; and a number of statues and memorials.
The brainchild of the renowned marine archaeologist and diver, Kelly Tarlton's SEA LIFE Aquarium is an aquarium designed to thrill the whole family. It was the first aquarium to use curved-glass viewing containers and a conveyor belt to move people along. There is an exciting array of specimens from tropical marine fish to Antarctic penguins.
Highlights include the gigantic stingrays, turtles and octopus that you will see in the deep water exhibit and the pufferfish and stonefish in the venomous-fish tank.
Jump aboard an Antarctic Snowcat, a vehicle usually only used in Antarctica, and travel through the penguin enclosure where you will see king and gentoo penguins.
If you’re up for some added excitement you can snorkel with the fish or for a real adrenaline rush you can swim with the sharks or stingrays.
Smack in the middle of downtown Auckland just off of bustling Queen Street, Aotea Square is a popular spot for festivals, gatherings, and events. Located just across from the Auckland Town Hall, Aotea Square provides over an acre of open space downtown, and after a massive renovation in 2010, can now accommodate up to 20,000 people for rallies or open-air concerts. Aside from a handful of shade producing trees, the square houses large, public works of art such as statues and Maori sculptures, the most famous being the Waharoa gate that serves as the entrance from Queen Street. In summer, dance under the stars when part of the square is converted into a dance floor, or strap on skates in the middle of winter when an ice rink is built in the square.
Permanent and touring exhibitions of contemporary art are displayed at the City Gallery Wellington.
Works by New Zealand artists are highlighted, along with a lively program of contemporary visual arts, architecture and design. If a major international exhibition of contemporary art is touring, it’s likely to be staged here.
The gallery is a popular meeting spot thanks to its free entry and well-regarded Nikau cafe, serving organic produce and award-winning coffee.
There are a variety of activities to partake in and the fascinating cave system with its geological wonders and fantastic creatures to explore.
Climb through the long galleries and lofty chambers to view stalactites formed over thousands of years by the constant dripping of water. The cave system itself is over two million years old.
A highlight of the caves is the glowworm grotto; illuminated by thousands of glowworms suspended from the cave ceiling, it is a magical place.
If you seek an adventure that plays with your senses and provides an unforgettable thrill then try abseiling (rappelling) into the awesome limestone tomb to experience the adrenaline rush as you clamber and scramble up through the black abyss and waterfalls in your pursuit of daylight.
Other tours offer the chance to float on an inner tube through the maze of underground rivers then rush through a downhill river system to emerge in Waitomo forest.
The resort town of Paihia services the villages and islands of the Bay of Islands.
Boasting the area’s best accommodation and restaurants, Paihia Harbour is the ideal place to base yourself while you explore this lovely part of New Zealand.
Hire a kayak to paddle out to the islands, follow the rivers winding in from the bay, or take a walk through kauri forest to lookouts over the water.
To walk from Paihia to neighboring Waitangi is a pleasant 40 minutes one way.
The North Island’s Ninety Mile Beach runs northwards along the west coast near Kaitaia all the way to Cape Reinga on New Zealand’s northernmost tip.
This seemingly endless stretch of wave-lapped sand is rimmed by dunes and topped by the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea.
A 90 mile (145 kilometer) marathon is run along the beach each year, commemorating the race run by a legendary athlete along the stretch of sand in pre-colonial times.
New Zealand is known for its crisp whites and bold reds, and there is no better way to sample the flavors of the region than by taking a trip through Kumeu Wine Country. The scenic vineyards of this world-class wine destination are home to quiet cafes, small breweries, five-star restaurants and of course, some of the best wine-makers in the country.
Some of Kumeu’s wineries date back to the early 1930s, and the region’s unique “cellar door” experiences take travelers through the process of winemaking from harvest to fermentation. Visitors love sipping glasses of the region’s finest while looking out over the lush Muriwai Valley. In addition to exploring Kumeu’s world-famous vineyards, travelers to the region can relax at the nearby Muriwai Beach, where rolling dunes and black sand result in one of the most scenic beaches in the area, or hike the well-kept trails of Woodhill and Riverhead pine forests.
Spilling 85 feet over a wide cliff face, Whangarei Falls is often referred to as the most photogenic waterfall in New Zealand. This three-ribboned, curtain waterfall is the perfect place for a refreshing swim on a hot summer day in the Northland and serves as a romantic spot for poolside picnics or rest any time of the year. More than just an enjoyable lunch spot, however, Whangarei is incredibly popular for its convenient location and easy access; two viewing platforms are a short walk from a large, paved parking lot, and they provide a stable spot for photographing and viewing the iconic Northland cascade.
Once you've finished snapping photos or swimming in the clear, cool waters, take a stroll on one of the wooded trails that fan their way out from the falls. For an easy 30-minute stroll, the Whangarei Falls Loop crosses the river just above the waterfall, while the Sands Road Loop provides a three-hour journey along the Hatea River Walkway.
Whether you see it, hear it, or smell it first, approaching the bustling Auckland Fish Market is always an exciting experience. Here along Auckland’ famous waterfront, fisherman returning back to the docks come to sell their fresh catch at auction, and diners come to feast on fish that was literally caught that morning. At the popular Auckland Seafood School, learn how to cook and prepare new dishes with a rotating schedule of classes, or simply stroll through the retail market where a dozen restaurants, shops, and grocers sell everything pertaining to fish. There’s sushi served in tight little hand rolls and baskets of fish and chips, and markets selling everything from smoked fish or lobster to wine from Auckland’s best vineyards. Go behind the scenes on a special tour that shows how the fish market functions—from where the fishermen drop off their catch after spending all night at sea, to where local chefs and restaurateurs come to purchase the freshly caught fish.
The rural lifestyle and country charm of New Zealand’s heartland are revealed on a day trip to the Wairarapa region from Wellington. It’s an area of sheep-raising, vineyards, farms and outdoor activities like horseback riding and hiking through forest parks.
A major feature of this lovely fertile region is Lake Wairarapa, the North Island’s third largest lake. It’s a popular spot for fishing and birdwatching.
The main town, Martinborough, is a firm fixture on the foodie gourmet trail. Wellington locals flock here at weekends to drop into the cellar doors of surrounding vineyards, known for their good-quality pinot noir and sauvignon blanc wines.
Nearby there are farms to visit, horses and quad bikes to ride, outdoor rope courses, kayaking and bushwalks to get appetites firing.