For my first part of my trip I already wrote an article about the South Island of New Zealand. I fell in love with the variety in scenery and landscape of that island and was stoked to see what the North Island would look like. This was the second part of my trip and will describe it to you so it might help you not missing out on my highlights. For the North island I rented a vehicle and camped out in a tent or in hostels whenever there was bad weather coming or whenever we were in a city. As you might have read in the first article I travelled the South Island with two other travellers. With on of these I also travelled the North Island in our red coloured Toyota Corolla! Including the ferry ride and our stay in Wellington our trip took around 3 weeks. We did do most of the highlights but of course as for the South Island you could spend months exploring this island. So let us get started and enjoy the ride with us while you sit back with your head wandering off by the pictures you’ll see.
Ferry ride Picton – Wellington
The Interisland ferry ride between Picton (South Island) and Wellington (North Island) is a very enjoyable and one of the most beautiful ferry crossing in the world! It takes about 3 hours and you’ll be taking off inside the Marlborough Sounds. You can easily book your ticket online or in the ferry terminal. If you want to take your car on the ferry or have more information about other aspects check out the Interislander website.
The Marlborough Sounds are one of the three Sounds on the South Island. When departing from Picton you’ll be right in the middle of it for about an hour. When lucky you might even spot dolphins or whales!
When you arrive in the port of Wellington you will immediately get a good view of this cosy lively city. Embedded inside a bay Wellington contains a few high buildings a mountain with incredible views and a city beach!
With Wellington being the capital of New Zealand you’d expect a big city with high skyscrapers, densely populated and maybe even a little bit dirty. Even though Auckland is the biggest city, due to it’s location Wellington took over the name of capital city in 1865. With many restaurants, events and the biggest Maori museum it is a lively city which would easily conquer your heart.
To get a first view of the city and it’s beauties take the famous Wellington Cable Car to the top of the mountain and the botanical gardens. From here you can take a most wanted instagram picture with the red cable car and the city in the background. Wander around in the botanical garden from where you’ll find more lookouts on the ocean based city. Walk all the way down towards the tulip gardens back towards town.
When still feeling active you could go towards the other side of the city where you have Mount Victoria and it’s lookout. Either you take the challenge to walk to the top through a beautiful foresty park or you go by car to the Mount Victoria Lookout. Now you’ll see the city from the opposite side than from the botanical gardens.
Potentially the weather might not be as great every day but no worries because on a bad weather day there is the impressive Te Papa Tongerawa Museum. It’s New Zealand’s National Museum and is a six floors high building with mostly Maori exhibitions. If you ever wanted to know anything about the Maori culture you should definitely visit this museum. The best part is that almost every exhibition is free! What is a better way to spend your rainy day in Wellington!
Tongariro National Park – Urchin
In Wellington we rented a vehicle for the next two weeks with in our mind ending in Auckland and stopping at all the interesting places along the way. Because the weather forecast seemed perfect the day after we got the car we wanted to drive to Tongariro National Park on the same day so we would be there to do the famous Tongariro Crossing Hike in good weather. It is a pretty long drive (5 hours) with nothing worth mentioning on the way. We slept at the Urchin Campground which was the closest free campsite in that area.
We got up early this day because we were going to do the almost 20km hike through Tongariro National Park and see ‘Mount Doom’ (Lord Of The Rings Mountain) with our own eyes. You can start this hike at two places; Ketetahi on the North side of the park and Mangatepopo on the West. But be aware the crossing will take you at least six hours and they have put a parking time limit at Mangatepopo parking for four hours on it. Thus if you want to do a shorter walk you are allowed to park your car there but when you are planning to do the Crossing then it is recommended to book one of the shuttle services in advance who will take you to the start at Mangatepopo and you can leave your car at their carpark!
It is probably the best hike on the North Island and especially when the weather is clear. Make sure to check the weather conditions before you head off because temperatures can drop very fast while you’re up the mountain. On the way you will have magnificent views on the Tongariro volcano as well as big craters and volcanic lakes. The hike was long but definitely not the toughest hike we did and thus very doable for people with less physical fitness (although you still need to be able to walk 20km’s of course!).
We finished the hike in about 6 hours which made us sweaty and tired so ready to freshen ourselves up with a nice swim in Lake Taupo. We found a little bay called Stump Bay which is on the way to Taupo city where we were craving to get a big juicy burger from Burgerfuel!
Taupo is a lakeside town with a view eateries, spa’s and aquatic activities. Some might call it the Queenstown of the North Island.
As dawn was upon us we went to our free campground not far outside of Taupo called Reids Park Farm.
Get up in the morning and decide what you want to do because there are a few options. Either you go to the Huka Falls first thing in the morning or you take a dip in the free natural Taupo Spa Thermal Park hot pools.
You could combine the two by walking from one to the other on the nice walking track next to the Waikato River. The hot pools are perfect to relax in the day after you did the Tongariro Crossing!
On your way towards Rotorua there is another small but steep hike with a nice view on the hilly area. Surrounded by Teletubbie like hills and coming across some smoking volcanic activity the Rainbow Mountain Hike was very fascinating and I can recommend it.
Not far from here you can find the Lake Okaro Campground which was free at that time.
Rotorua – Pohaturoa Track Whaka lookout – Maori Village Ohinemutu- Kuirau Park – Tauranga
Rotorua is the heart of the North Island and most known for its geothermal activity. When entering Rotorua you might smell the sulfur dioxide in the air and see smoke coming out from the ground everywhere. One of the top activity is Whakarewarewa – The Living Maori Village. Because we were backpacking and traveling on a budget and this park was pretty expensive we found another way to get a little taste of this park for free. Just before entering Rotorua you can turn right towards a big mountainbike park and walking forest. In here try to find you way towards the Pohaturoa Track Whaka lookout from where you have a nice view on Whakarewarewa for free. In this forrest you’ll also find some volcanic activity like a hot mud pool.
In Rotorua itself you can find a small Maori Village in Ohinemutu. It’s not big but it does give you an impression and some history of the way Maori’s live(d). Have a walk through Rotorua where you can grab some nice lunch before your trip to the free Kuirau Park. In this park you will find dozens of boiling little ponds emitting a lot of heat and smoke. Dip your feet in the hot pools and wander around in ”Middle Earth”.
Back towards the ocean! Drive to Tauranga a harbourside city in the Bay of Plenty region with nice beaches and some surf. Hike Mount Maunganui which will give you some magnificent views on deserted coastline of the North Island. Tauranga is apparently very famous for New Zealanders to visit in holiday season with multiple holiday apartment complexes around. It’s a very lively place to be in and we regretted not spending more time here.
Whangamata – Hot water beach – Hahei (cathedral cove) – Chaeppi’s shebang campground
Travel on towards the Coromandel Peninsula one of my favourite places. A very scenic road will bring you to Whangamata where you’ll find a nice beach where you can rent a surfboard and head out to catch some waves. Whangamata isn’t very big but it does have a big supermarket where we got our last stock up on food for the next few days.
Follow and enjoy the nice coastal route towards one of the few touristy places around on this peninsula. Hot Water Beach is a beach where you can dig your own pit in the sand and feel the hot thermal water running into your self-made pool. Combine this with the cold seawater and you’ll have a lovely bath in the sun with the best view in the world! You can rent a shovel at the coast guards or just wait until someone leaves his pool.
After you relaxed in the pools you can do a little walk again from Hahei to the Cathedral Cove. On the way you may have a stop at one of the little inlets where you can snorkel.
Otama Beach swing – opito bay – Whangapoua New Chums beach – Coromandel – Dickey flat campsite
After “breaky” drive towards the deserted Otama Beach, where you can find a big swing on the beach, and Opito Bay. Because it’s on the tip of this peninsula and not exactly on a thorough road you’ll most probably be the only one standing on the beach.
Next up one of the most secluded and most beautiful beach seen on the North island. Park your car in the little town of Whangapoua. Make sure you are wearing swimwear and good firm shoes because it is still a challenging walk towards the beach. You’ll have to cross a small river and walk loose rocks. But it is so worth it! New Chums Beach was definitely one of my favorite beaches throughout this trip!
After your nice dip in the ocean time to go get some late lunch in Coromandel. A very nice little town with some shops and and a few restaurants. Especially the road to and the road from Coromandel is very scenic. From Coromandel you drive along the ocean all the way untill you are back outside of the Coromandel Peninsula.
We looked for a free camping close to Matamata because of our plans to go visit The Lord Of The Rings movie set.
Matamata – Hobbiton – Hobitton movie set – Raglan (Solscape eco retreat – Raglan backpacker and waterfront lodge)
Whenever you hear someone talk about New Zealand the first thing you think of is the beautiful cinematic landscapes in The Lord Of The Ring movies. What better thing than to walk into one of their movie sets itself and see where Frodo lived and was brought up? Hobitton Movie Set or The Shire is in the middle of the North Island and probably one of the main attractions on this island.
Make sure to book a few days in advance because you have to choose a timeslot and it can get busy especially on summer days. It is pretty costly but this shouldn’t stop you from doing it because it’s worth every Dollar! You’ll get a tour with a guide and in the end you get to enjoy a typical Lord Of The Ring beer or cider.
From Matamata we drove towards the West side of the island where we stayed for a couple of nights in the hippy/surferstown of Raglan. A very small and cosy surfer’s town known for it’s widespread beaches and big waves. We stayed in Solscape Eco Retreat which had trainwagons as rooms the first few days and then switched to the more social Raglan Backpacker And Waterfront Lodge.
Mangawhai heads – Parua Bay overnight stay
From Raglan we passed through Auckland to get towards the Northern side of the North island. On our route we stopped at Mangawhai Heads. A wild beach with a rough sea but a astonishing hike along the waterfront and the Mangawhai Hill. Definetely a very nice stopover on your way towards the Bay Of Islands.
We freecamped at Parua Bay which wasn’t the prettiest campsite but it was next to a lake and had some good facilities like a toilet and a place to swim.
Whangarei – Pahia
Because it was a very rainy day we looked for something to do which wouldn’t make us as wet. Whangarei is a small cost town with something very special and perfect for a wet day. Close to the little harbour in Whangarei you’ll find a Clockmuseum with hundreds of different type of clocks chronically ordered from oldest to youngest. Even when you are not a clock fanatic this was still pretty impressive to see!
From here it is about an hour drive to the Bay Of Islands and Paihia. Here we chose to book a hostel because of the bad weather which turned out good.
Paihia – Ferry to Russell
Walk around the bays of Paihia where there’s a walkaway from Paihia along the water towards Opua. A very fun path to walk with nice views on the blue water of the Bay Of Islands. Pahia itself isn’t very big but it has a really nice holiday vibe with some nice restaurants and shops to spend your rainy days in. A bit outside of this town you have the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where you can find some of New Zealand’s history and an authentic cultural experience, and the Hararu Falls.
After exploring Paihia and surroundings you can take a ferry to Russell. You’ll arrive in the harbour of Russel where you are welcomed by waterfront restaurants and some old aged buildings. We hired a bike in our hostel which we were allowed to take with us on the ferry. This way we had our own transportation device to explore this peninsula although it wasn’t always as pleasant by bike because of the many steep hills!
First we went to Flagstaff Hill from where you have a stunning 360 degrees view on the bays in the area. The water is so blue that even your mind can’t believe it is water. From Flagstaff Hill we drove towards Tapeka Point Beach and Tapeka Track. A beautiful beach and a view on Paihia in the far distance with a track that again goes to the top of a hill with again a 360 degree view on all the whole Bay Of Islands. After all this hard work cycling or hiking up these hills it is a very good idea to head to Oneroa Bay on Long Beach Road. A long stretched sandy bay with some small waves, a coffee stand and some other tourists, perfect for a nice and relaxing afternoon before getting back on the ferry to Paihia.
Tawharanui regional park campground
Leaving the beauty of the Bay Of Islands behind and driving back towards Auckland I would really recommend you to spend a night at the Tawharanui Regional Park Campground. You have to book it online at the Auckland Council website.
It’s a very green campground with all sorts of birds and animals running around your tent and a nice bay for surfing and sunbathing. It has basic facilities like a toilet and some drinking water. It is probably one of my favorite campgrounds on the North Island and only a one hour drive from Auckland!
The ”biggest” city of New Zealand but still not the capital city. When driving to Auckland you’ll notice that this might be the only city in New Zealand with a lot of big tall skyscrapers, very big and expensive yachts and a bit more high class attitude. Nonetheless this city has a very good vibe with a lot of very good restaurants and bars, but also a big botanic garden; a Sky Tower and a big hill from where you have a nice view of the whole city.
Best and easiest way to get around is on the Lime scooters as mentioned in my previous post of the South Island. There is plenty of accomodation available in Auckland but we decided to stay in backpackershostel The Attic which we can definitely recommend if you are looking for a hostel to stay in.