The North Island of New Zealand is known as the city in the volcanic centre, abundant in history, geothermal activity and pristine lakes and bays.
Our North Island itinerary was incredibly diverse, ranging from challenging Alpine hikes to relaxing strolls around geothermal wonderlands and lazy days at the beach. Here are some of the highlights of our trip.
THINGS TO DO IN NEW ZEALAND, NORTH ISLAND:
Tongariro Alpine Crossing Hike
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is often boasted as ‘New Zealand’s greatest hike’ and it was by far, the highlight of our trip. The track is a 19.4km advanced hike which takes approx 6-8 hours to complete, offering unforgettable panoramic views of steaming vent mountains, craters and hot springs.
As this is a one-way track, you’ll need to organise your transport to and from the different start/end points but this can be challenging during peak seasons. To make things easier, we booked a Tongariro Crossing Summer Deal with The Park Hotel Ruapehu which included 2 nights accommodation, a packed lunch and a return shuttle service to/from the hike and our hotel.
The recommended route for the Alpine Crossing starts from Mangatepopo and ends at Ketetahi as it involves less climbing (Mangatepopo (1120 m) to Ketetahi (760 m)). However, you’ll still be faced with steep climbs and downward slopes of loose gravel so hiking shoes, walking poles and plenty of water are a must.
Unfortunately during our climb, we witnessed a hiker being airlifted to safety after losing his footing right down the slopes, so be careful!
- Book a Tongariro Crossing Summer Deal: The Park Hotel Ruapehu ($326 NZD)
- For more trail notes: Trail Hiking Notes
Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland
Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland is an exceptional landscape of active geothermal attractions. There are 3 different walks available around the area but if you’re strapped for time, the most impressive sections of the walk are the Champagne Pool and Devil’s Bath.
This is also an easy and family friendly day walk that can get very crowded after 10:15am due to the daily presentation and eruption of the Lady Knox Geyser at this time every day, so get there early if you can.
- Book Tickets: Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland ($32.50 NZD)
- For more detailed walk notes: Hikes Peak Trail Notes for Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland
Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley
Waimangu Volcanic Valley is a self-guided walk through less frequented geothermal attractions featuring a bright blue Inferno Crater that makes it well worth the visit!
Walkers have the option of the Mt Haszard Hiking Trail or the easy day walks with bus stops available throughout the track to take you back to your starting point. As we were short on time, we opted for the easy self-guided day walk to the second bus stop which took 45mins and the highlights of the track were the Inferno Crater and Frying Pan Lake.
White Island Volcano Tour
White Island is New Zealand’s most active volcano, yes that’s right, you can get up close and personal with an active volcano! This incredible white and yellow sulphur landscape was also featured in The Chronicles of Narnia and is located 49km off the North Island coast which is only accessible through a White Island Tour.
The 5-6 hour tour will take you on a cruise across the Bay of Plenty, if you’re lucky you’ll be greeted by a few dolphins and have time for a quick swim! Once you step foot onto the island, the crew will take you on a 1-1.5 hour exploration of the roaring fumaroles, steaming vents and bubbling mud pits in the inner crater of the volcano. The sulphur fumes can make it hard to breathe at times but you’ll be given a mask for fresh air.
- Book Tickets: White Island Volcano Tour ($219 NZD)
Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
If you’re a Lord of The Rings fan, you can’t go past a visit to the Hobbiton Movie Set. This can only be accessed via a tour where you’ll be guided through the 12 acre set past Hobbit Holes, the Mill and into the Green Dragon Inn for a drink on the house. If you’re hungry, you can even book yourself into a banquet tour for a Hobbit-style feast.
Due to limited availability during the Summer Holiday period, we were only able to book a regular day tour around the set which was extremely crowded in some parts. Don’t worry, you’ll be given plenty of time to enjoy the Hobbit Holes but don’t expect to take a picture without being photobombed by someone in a neighbouring tour group.
- Book Tickets: Hobbiton Movie Set Tour ($79 NZD)
Matapouri Bay, Mermaid Pool
Matapouri Bay itself is a beautiful white sand beach minus the crowds. But just when you thought you’ve found paradise, make the climb over the final cove at the north end of Matapouri Beach to the Mermaid Pool.
We recommend wearing grippy shoes for the climb as the steep incline will require you to establish your footing and hold onto plants and shrubs as you pry yourself up the hill. But don’t let this deter you, the climb itself will only last 15-20mins before you’re rewarded with the beautiful natural rock formation that is, the Mermaid Pool. These pools are best enjoyed during low tide so check the tide times before making your way there.
After enjoying a few splashes around the Mermaid Pool, we decided to head back to the bay and spent the rest of the day lazing on the sand. The perfect way to wind down after a jam-packed week of activities.
- For more trail notes: Mermaid Pool Matapouri Notes
Source: Sea Kayak Tours NZ
On our last day in New Zealand we were hoping to do the 45min walk along Hahei Beach to explore the picturesque Cathedral Cove. Unfortunately the hoards of people made it impossible for us to find parking anywhere near the beach so we had to save this one for our next visit to NZ.
In hindsight, it would’ve been best to book a Kayak or Boat Tour to avoid the crowds at Hahei Beach.