When you think of New Zealand you may think of Lord of the Rings, wine, sheep and of course the majestic South Island where adventure and breath taking beauty awaits. But what about New Zealand’s other island? The North Island is home to gorgeous beaches, stunning vineyards, fascinating museums, Maori culture and much more. Here are 7 reasons you should visit New Zealand’s ‘other island’.
The North Island’s climate is much more temperate than its Southern counterpart. Temperatures rarely dip below 50 degrees (10 ˚C) in coastal areas and rarely climb above 76 degrees (25˚C). The North Island does get some snow in winter in certain parts so it can get cold but is generally warmer than the South Island by several degrees. The North Island typically has more sunshine and less rainfall too.
2. Maori Culture
Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. They arrived here sometime around 1300 and were the sole occupants until the British explorer James Cook arrived in the late eighteenth century. Today there are approximately 600,000 Maori living in New Zealand making up 15% of the nation’s population.
One of the best and easiest ways to experience Māori culture in New Zealand is by visiting a Māori village such as Te Hana Te Ao Marama (approximately an hour north of Auckland). The village is set up as an example of a pre-European Māori settlement complete with surrounding fortification. They offer guided tours 5 days a week in which you are treated to a traditional Māori welcoming ceremony and concert, shown around the village and offered a traditionally cooked meal known as a hangi.
Another great opportunity to experience Māori culture can be found in the lovely town of Rotorua (about 3 hours South of Auckland). There are numerous companies here which offer guided tours around some geothermal sites in Rotorua, a traditional performance, a geothermal hangi lunch and if you wish, you can spend the night in the marae (traditional meeting house). For an additional cost you can also take a flax weaving lesson, and get a personalized traditional tattoo.
In addition to the Maori population, New Zealand is home to the largest population of Pacific Peoples outside of their native countries, and more than 80% of these people reside in the North Island. (87% of Māori also live in the North Island.) Visitors to New Zealand can experience some Pacific culture and food at the annual Pasifika festival held in Auckland in March. Each country has it’s own stage where traditional performances take place, and stalls sell authentic foods and crafts for you to enjoy.
The North Island has some absolutely stunning beaches, and because most of the island is really narrow you’re never far away from one. Two of the best spots are the Bay of Islands and the Coromandel Peninsula. Each of these areas has a variety of beaches, slightly different but all equally gorgeous. And if you’re in the Coromandel there is even a hot water beach where you can dig a hole in the sand and relax in a bath or warm water.
↑ New Chums Beach, Coromandel ↑
New Zealand’s national museum Te Papa is located in Wellington and is well worth a visit. Te Papa has exhibits on New Zealand’s geology and changing landscape, as well as an outdoor exhibition of native bush, and it has a small area devoted to Māori. It is also home to the colossal squid – the largest specimen on display in the world. Te Papa is located on the Wellington waterfront – right next to the Sunday morning farmers markets, and a range of cafes and bars for you to relax in after soaking up some culture.
Another museum worth spending some time is the Auckland War Memorial Museum in Auckland. Don’t be fooled by the name – the war memorabilia only makes up a small part of the exhibitions on display here. It has an extensive collection of Māori and Pacific artifacts including scale replicas of some traditional Maori buildings, and a marae which you can walk around inside of. There is also a large natural history section, an ancient civilisations exhibit, and a ‘weird and wonderful’ space for children to explore. If it’s a nice day the Auckland domain where the museum is located is a great space to spend some time; there are gardens, duck ponds, walking trails and gorgeous views across the city.
5. A geothermal experience
In addition to being a place to experience Maori culture, Rotorua is also home to a hive of geothermal activity. The city itself is built over a geothermal hotspot so there are natural steam vents, hot water lakes and hot mud pools. One of the best ways to experience these natural wonders is at the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, which has a large selection of steaming lakes, craters, waterfalls, geysers, sulphur terraces and bubbling mud pools. If that’s not enough to excite you there’s also the Lady Knox Geyser – a natural feature which erupts up to 60 feet each day at 10:15am.
↑ Champagne Pool at Wai-O-Tapu ↑
Another place to visit is the ominously named Hell’s Gate. This large site (50 acres) has spectacular mud pools, geysers and hot springs as well as the Southern Hemisphere’s largest hot water waterfall. And, after a long day of sightseeing I strongly recommend relaxing in one of the many natural spring spas Rotorua has to offer. The Polynesian Spa is pretty special with its stunning views over Lake Rotorua.
6. Active volcanoes
If you’re feeling a little adventurous why not climb an active volcano? The north island has several to choose from, though arguably the best is found in the Tongariro National Park in the centre of the island. Mt Ruapehu, which last erupted in 2007, stands over 9000 ft tall and offers spectacular views of a crater lake and icy glaciers. Also within the Tongariro National Park are Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe both of which can be hiked by experienced climbers.
↑ Mt Ruapehu ↑
Another active volcano is White Island, located 30 miles off the coast of the Coromandel. This is New Zealand’s only marine volcano, and one of the most easily accessed marine volcanoes in the world. Walking on White Island has been compared to walking on the moon due to its base of salt crystals and bubbling, steaming vents.
7. Island Life
Not surprisingly the North Island has several other islands in close proximity, many of which are definitely worth a visit. At the top of the list is Waiheke Island which lays just a half hour ferry trip from Auckland City. Waiheke is known for its gorgeous beaches, numerous vineyards and laid back lifestyle. Great Barrier Island is another stunning location, 50 miles north of Auckland. It has world renowned snorkeling and diving, as well as surfing, hiking trails, fishing, biking and rock climbing.
↑ Waiheke Island ↑
Also worth mentions are Rangitoto Island; a dormant volcano just off the coast of Auckland which offers stunning views when climbed, TiriTiri Matangi; a wildlife sanctuary off the Whangaparoa Peninsula and Rotoroa Island; a former drug rehabilitation centre run by the Salvation Army that has now been transformed into a conservation park for native flora and fauna.