Things to see and do on your New Zealand Road Trip: North Island

Spot native takahe, drive isolated roads, soak in hot springs and indulge in a craft beer or two. Get your tickets to Auckland and hit the road (in a clockwise loop) to 13 of our most valued places on the North Island of New Zealand.

1. Ancient trees – Waipoua Forest

Before humans came to these isles, ancient forests ruled the landscape. You can get a taste for how the landscape looked in Waipoua Forest near Hokianga Harbour.

Massive kauri can still be found here – one of the world’s most colossal trees. They can live over 2,000 years, grow more than 50 metres tall and have a trunk girth up to 16 metres. New Zealand’s largest known tree, Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest) resides here.

Tane Mahuta up close and personal
Tane Mahuta up close and personal

2. Sandboarding – 90 Mile Beach

Take NZ’s highway of sand – yes, it’s an official highway! – to Te Paki Sand Dunes. You’ll either need to get your hands on a 4WD or join a day tour to safely navigate the beach.

If you can’t get a ride to the dunes, try tramping to them.

Bizarrely, 90 Mile Beach is actually only 55 miles (88 kilometres). Rumour has it the name originated from the days of horseback, where horses could typically be ridden 30 miles in a day and it took three days to traverse the beach.

The almost endless serenity of 90 Mile Beach
The almost endless serenity of 90 Mile Beach

3. Urupukapuka Bay Campsite – Bay of Islands

Before Auckland became New Zealand’s second capital in 1841, Russell in the Bay of Islands was the first.

It’s a remarkable area of the country with enough bays, inlets and islands to lose yourself for a few months. Spend some time camping by the sea at one of a few Department of Conservation (DOC) camping spots – with Urupukapuka Bay Campsite being one of the best.

You’ll find plenty of short walks with rewarding views in all directions and if you’re lucky, dolphins may pass nearby.

There are also water taxis and passenger ferries that can get you to Urupukapuka Island.

Hanging out in the Bay of Islands
Hanging out in the Bay of Islands

4. Conservation sanctuary – Tiritiri Matangi Island

One of New Zealand’s major wildlife sanctuaries is an island off the coast of Whangaparaoa, north of Auckland. You’ll have the privilege of walking amongst a variety of rare native species like the:

  • Reptilian tuatara
  • Flightless takahe
  • Tube-shaped kokopu fish

If you want to stay on the island overnight, book the Tiritiri Matangi Island bunkhouse through DOC’s website.


5. The Pinnacles – Coromandel

A real hidden treasure on the stunning Coromandel Peninsula is the historic Pinnacles Walk. You can choose to tackle it as a long day walk or an overnighter.

You’ll pass through groves of nikau palms and native rata, and face swing bridges and streams. The track follows in the footsteps of early 1900’s packhorses that used to carry supplies for kauri loggers, gold miners and gum diggers.

The Pinnacles lookout is at a respectable 759 metres so be sure to have the right men's or women's thermal clothing to enjoy the view.

Camping in the Coromandel
Camping in the Coromandel

6. Kerosene Creek – Rotorua

Looking for a remote hot spring? One where you can truly enjoy the value of being in the wilderness?

Roughly halfway between Taupo and Rotorua is the aptly named Kerosene Creek – a geothermally heated stream where you can bath, relax and chill out.

The spring gushes over a waterfall and into a large pool, heating it to a comfortably warm temperature. Kerosene Creek is surrounded by lush native bush.


7. Hang out with the locals – Tolaga Bay

In 1769, one of explorer Captain Cook’s crew described this place as ‘agreeable beyond description.’ It’s an expression you’ll find true if you decide to explore the Bay of Plenty, spend a night at Tolaga Bay and make some Kiwi bros.

Check out the locals fishing, have a drink with them at the pub and join them eating off the land.

Walk the length of the historic Tolaga Bay Wharf and soak up the peaceful atmosphere – you’ll get a sense of how it was utilised a few centuries ago.

It can get fairly windy at Tolaga, so be prepared with a warm down jacket.


8. Eat out – Napier

If you’re saving your pennies for one or two nights out dining on some of the North Island’s finest food, choose Napier as your feasting venue.

Beyond the Art Deco style of the town (rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1931) there really is a playground of original foods to be sampled. A few highly rated establishments to consider include:

  • Mister D
  • Pacifica
  • Bistronomy
  • Indonesia Restaurant
  • Rasoi Cuisine Of India
Napier's stony, sun-drenched beach
Napier's stony, sun-drenched beach

9. Get crafty – Wellington

Wellington has built up a well-crafted reputation for craft beer over the last decade or so. When you spend some time in the capital don’t miss out on sampling some of the local produce.

Calling itself the ‘craft beer capital’, it’s certainly starting to live up to that reputation. Blend in with some local urban travel gear in the capital by getting decked out in our Federate range.

If you’re not into beer and prefer something non-alcoholic, try an L&P. It’s a classic Kiwi soft drink that stands for Lemon and Paeroa – the latter being the home town of the spring water.

After you've tried some crafty beers, visit the entertaining Weta Workshop
After you've tried some crafty beers, visit the entertaining Weta Workshop

10. Forgotten World Highway – Stratford to Taumarunui

From one of the four saddles you’ll drive over on the Forgotten World Highway, you’ll be able to view the four giant North Island volcanoes – Taranaki, Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe.

Fern and podocarp vegetation rules the landscape while a section of unsealed road gives you the feeling a dinosaur could appear from the undergrowth.

Take a break at the self-proclaimed Republic of Whangamomona – roughly halfway along the highway. The Whangamomona Hotel is an iconic piece of NZ history.

You could also choose to paddle the Whanganui River which the highway follows for much of the journey.


11. Embrace adventure – Waitomo

Translate the Maori Waitomo into English and you’ll immediately know why people come to this region. ‘Wai’ translates into ‘water’ while ‘tomo’ means ‘hole’ – the stream which flows into the hole in the ground.

The Waitomo Caves are an adventurer’s paradise. Many of the caves here are packed with glow worms to help light your way. Bring your A-game and try:

  • Black water rafting
  • Caving
  • Abseiling


12. Marokopa Falls – Tawarau Forest

The 35 metre high Marokopa Falls is your reward at the end of this short walk through tawa and nikau forest.

Sometimes described as one of New Zealand’s most picturesque falls, it’s well worth the 20 minute walk – particularly after heavy rain.


13. Ascend eight famous volcanoes – Auckland

After overindulging yourself in all New Zealand has to offer, polish off your North Island journey with some serious fitness – and rewarding 360 degree views to go with it.

There are more than 50 volcanoes across metropolitan Auckland. Many of those have now been built on and are difficult to recognise. Some are prominent, and you can climb them.

  • Rangitoto Island – the most recent, formed only 600 years ago. Combine kayaking, hiking and caving on your trip here.
  • Mount Eden – so close to the CBD, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the downtown area.
  • One Tree Hill – the most famous of Auckland’s volcanoes with a memorial to Maori built on the summit and the remains of the last ‘one tree’ which was attacked with a chainsaw in 1999
  • Mount Wellington – once home to a Maori village and formed 9,000 years ago
  • Pukekawa – known as Auckland Domain and home to the Auckland War Memorial Museum
  • Mount Victoria – once the location of a Maori defence settlement, and also a European military position, it’s the highest volcano on the North Shore
  • North Head – military history with tunnels to explore
  • Mangere Mountain – close to the airport and features some sculptures that offer clues as to how the volcano was used in the past


Still deciding? Explore what the South Island of New Zealand has to offer.