The North Island of New Zealand is home to some of the most beautiful nature on earth. From the glowworm caves to the tallest geyser in the southern hemisphere, and to luxurious natural hot springs, there is enough to keep you busy for weeks. This list includes the most incredible things to do in New Zealand, North Island. Every single one of these attractions – both popular and off-the-beaten-path – is bucket list-worthy.
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1. Ruakuri Bushwalk – the magic North Island New Zealand forest comes alive by night
Imagine walking into a magical forest at night. Around you, trees gently sway in the moonlight. An old wooden bridge crosses a small stream, and you can just spot a cave nearby. As your eyes adjust to the darkness, you notice luminescent blue dots all around you, lighting the way. The blue dots are glowworms, tiny creatures that live in the forest. And you can find this magical place on New Zealand’s North Island, on Ruakuri Bushwalk. This hike is easily accessible, but to find the magic you must come here after dark. Very few people visit this place, which makes it even more magical.
2. Pohutu Geyser – the largest geyser in the Southern Hemisphere
Towering at more than 30 meters, the Pohutu Geyser is by far the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. In addition to being huge, the geyser is unique because you can stand next to it during an eruption. The geyser’s eruptions bring with it cool, non-acidic water. Therefore, if some of the water falls on you, you will not be injured. Standing under the Pohutu Geyser in the middle of an eruption is an awe-inspiring, bucket-list-worthy experience in North New Zealand.
3. Polynesian Hot Springs – pamper yourself in paradise on New Zealand North Island
New Zeland’s answer to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, the Polynesian Hot Springs remains a well-kept secret. Unlike the famed Blue Lagoon, all the water here is natural and contains minerals from deep within the earth. Many visitors rave about the way their skin glows after a visit here. The Polynesian Hot Springs offers a range of experiences, from budget-friendly to super luxurious. I highly recommend the luxurious Deluxe Lake Spa package. This package gives you access to the ultra-quiet pools that are practically empty, a delightfully peaceful and relaxing experience.
4. Tongariro Crossing – one of the most beautiful hikes in the world
Tongariro Crossing is probably North Island New Zealand’s most famous day hike. In fact, this trek is so popular you must take a shuttle to the trailhead. However, the spectacular views will be worth the effort as you traverse the 12 miles and gain more than a thousand feet of elevation. Altogether, This moderate to advanced hike will take about 6 to 8 hours. The Tongariro National Park also has the distinction of being a Unesco Heritage Site.
5. Cathedral Cove Cave – explore Narnia on New Zealand North Island
Chances are you’ve already seen this stunning view in a movie or a poster. A giant cave towers over a sandy beach, and a huge boulder stands in the distance. This area is called the Cathedral Cove, and most recently it was featured in The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian. To get here you’ll need to walk over the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve (alternatively, you can take a boat). But the journey is absolutely worth it.
6. Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve – a collection of stunning beaches
The Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine reserve spans more than 2,000 acres on North New Zeland Island. One of the most visited natural attractions in all of New Zeland, this marine reserve offers a beautiful walking path that will eventually bring you to the Cathedral Cove beach. The best walking path starts at Hahei Beach. It takes about 45 minutes to walk from Hahei Beach to the Cathedral Cove. Along the way, you can explore other beautiful beaches such as Gemstone Bay and Sting Rays Bay.
7. Huka Falls – New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction
The powerful Huka Falls is a product of the longest river in New Zealand – Waitomo River. Just before the falls, the water passage narrows down from 100 meters to only about 15. The clear green water is squeezed through a tiny opening and produces stunning, but short waterfall. The power of the falls here is astounding – and so are the vibrant colors.
8. Sky Tower – conquer New Zealand’s tallest building
In New Zealand’s capital city, Auckland, the tallest man-made structure on the island is hard to miss. That gleaming object in the sky is the Sky Tower – which stands at 1,076 meters (more than 3,000 feet) tall. To me, it looks a bit like the Space Needle in Seattle. Here, lucky visitors get to travel on the super-fast elevator to the top and admire New Zealand’s modern capital from birds’ viewpoint.
9. Hot Water Beach – dig in for the long haul
Most of the time, the hot water beach near Hahei looks just like any other North Island New Zealand beach. However, if you visit here during low tide, the beach is transformed into a makeshift spa. All around you, folks are digging the sand in search of precious hot water to fill a volcanically heated and very sandy bathtub. After you make a tub of your own, relax in the sand for up to 4 hours before cool ocean waters dilute the fun. The best time to visit here is 2 hours before low tide.
10. Kuirau Park – walk into a fairy tale on North Island, New Zealand
From the outside, Kuirau Park in Rotorua looks like your average municipal park. It is large, green and nondescript. But if you know where to go (north end of the park), you’ll discover scenes straight out the land of make-believe. No matter how pragmatic you think you are, the smells and sounds of hot springs, the fog rising from boiling cauldrons ensconced in the ground, the wooden pathways connecting the colorful streams, it all conspires to make you think you just walked into a fairy tale. Best part? Only a few locals come here, tourists almost never visit. Let’s keep this one between us, shall we?
11. Waitomo Caves – sail under glowworm stars
The tiny glowworms make an appearance again in Waitomo Caves, located just five minutes from Ruakiri Bushwalk. Unlike the hike, you can visit the cave during the day. Additionally, unlike the hike (which is free), a visit to the cave is pricy and the time flies quickly. During this incredible experience, you’ll get to slide in a boat through a totally silent cave under the sky of thousands of glowworms. The “cruise” only lasts about 10 minutes, but the memories will last a lifetime. Just keep in mind that since photography and phones are strictly forbidden, the memories in your head will have to do.
12. Te Pare Point – the incredible, super easy hike most people miss
Te Pare Point is located just south of Hahei Beach on New Zealand’s North Island. This area is not part of the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve and most people don’t know you can visit here. Their loss is your gain because this easy 20-minute walk (start on the southern end of Hahei Beach) rewards you with sweeping views. This site was once the home of a thriving Maori village, and if you look carefully you might also find archeological remnants.
13. Lake Taupo – witness a stunning sunset on North Island in New Zealand
There are many places to watch sunsets and sunrises in New Zealand. But Lake Taupo’s crystal clear green waters create a light show that few others can compete with. The best place to watch the sunset over Lake Taupo is Wharewaka Point.
14. Maori Cultural Show – discover the Maori culture
Deep in the heart of Rotorua, at the Te Puia complex (home of the Pohutu geyser), you can discover the traditions of the Maori community. Here, Maori performers share with you important aspects of their culture, such as the famous Haka. The hosts discuss different aspects of their traditions and help dispel some important myths. In addition to the Haka, you will get to see the dancing and singing traditions of the Maori people.
15. Auckland Art Gallery – explore New Zealand’s art scene
You won’t need to travel far to explore New Zealand’s thriving art scene. Located in the center of New Zealand’s capital, the Auckland art gallery explores the work of the most famous artists in the country. In addition, several areas of the museum are designed specifically for social media-friendly photography. Keep in mind: many blogs claim that admission is free. However, admission is only free for long time residents of New Zealand and requires proof.
16. Aranui Cave – explore a stunning scenery beneath the earth
Aranui Cave, located in the same area as the Ruakuri Bushwalk is a natural marvel you must see to believe. This “dry cave” doesn’t have a water feature and consequently, no glowworms. However, the natural decorations in the cave more than make up for the lack of tiny creatures. The stunning stalactites and stalagmites are dozens of feet tall and create an environment that feels straight off a Lord of the Rings movie set.
17. Ruakuri Cave – go black water rafting in the underworld
On this bucket list-worthy experience you’ll get to travel deep beneath the earth inside the glow-worm friendly Ruakuri Cave. You’ll put on a wet suit and jump off waterfalls inside the cave as you traverse a black river with a million tiny stars above your head. If this sounds a bit too extreme, you can also do a “dry” tour inside the Ruakuri Cave. On the dry tour, you can explore the internal workings of this giant cave and take pictures of the glow worms.
18. Mine Bay Maori Rock Carving – embrace the vision
Created in the 1970s by a local Maori artist, this art installation is stunning – and worth a visit. You can only reach this North Island New Zealand attraction by water. The best way to see the Mine Bay Maori Rock Carving by kayak or during a fishing expedition, although pleasure cruises will take you here too. I found the cruise a little boring, so would recommend one of the other options.
19. Tookanu Wharf – walk the pier to perfection.
Build in the 1800s, this wharf was the main thoroughfare between all the villages on Lake Taupo. In the 1920 roads were built around the lake, and the wharf abandoned. Consequently, the pier fell into disrepair. However, in 2003 the community around Lake Taupo came together to restore this wonderful historical structure. Today the Tookanu Wharf (which points east) is one of the best locations in all of New Zealand to watch a sunrise. This is also a great location to see many of the native birds of New Zealand.
20. Marakopa Falls – take a cool dip in a giant waterfall
In any other country, Marakopa Falls would be a famous natural attraction. But on the north island in New Zealand competition is so fierce that only a few people visit these falls. You’ll find Marakopa Falls about 45 minutes from Ruakuri Bushwalk. The powerful waterfalls are easy to access and many people who visit chose to swim in the stream below. Of course, you won’t need to fight crowds for a spot or a picture – and can often enjoy these giant waterfalls in privacy.
21. Mangapohue Natural Bridge – traverse North Island, New Zealand’s fantastic landscape
Another attraction in close proximity to the Ruakuri Bushwalk is the Mangapohue Natural Bridge. Here, a short but pretty walk brings you to a stone overpass, with a natural stream beneath. Walk the stairs up for a great view of the phenomenon, as the natural bridge “hangs” right over your head. This attraction is so secluded that I saw cows grazing in the area. Mangapohue Natural Bridge is a great stop if you are looking to explore North Island New Zealand off the beaten path.
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