There are many places of interest in the north island of New Zealand and if you remove Auckland from this list you can easily spend a month travelling around. We had 2 weeks in the campervan and during that time we travelled from Cape Reinga to Wellington and from New Plymouth to Gisbourne, in other words the length and breadth of the island, and for us these were our highlights:
The east coastline of the north island, with particular emphasis between Napier and Gisbourne, had some of the best weather we encountered anywhere in New Zealand. The area is divine with beautiful beaches, numerous vineyards and it seems they can grow just about every fruit imaginable.
If you like your architecture or just fancy seeing a snapshot of the past, then Napier is a must. This beautifully rebuilt town makes you feel like you are stepping back in time to the 1930’s. We had heard that it was a one of a kind, but didn’t really believe it until we saw it.
Also as its situated on the coast it has miles of beaches stretching out in either direction, making it an all-round perfect little town!
Tongariro National Park
We didn’t know much about the Tongariro National Park except that there was a walk which seemed really cool. Arriving in the evening we headed out to the i-Site and discovered that the walk we were interested in was indeed the Alpine crossing trek. The normally 8 hour walk was however, partly closed due to recent volcanic activity. Nevertheless, we would still be able to get to the crater and the lakes.
We arrived back at the i-Site at 9am the next morning and were informed that we can not get to the car park where the trek starts as it’s closed to public traffic and we would have to take a return shuttle for NZ$35 each.
We had been warned that it would be windy at the top but we thought with our layers of Icebreakers and light snow jackets we would be fine. To be fair we were ok, even after it rained and it felt like our combats were made of ice and stuck to our legs, we still felt ok to carry on. 3 hours into it and nearly there, we had even dried off from a little sun, we hit the edge of the crater. We could barely see what was in front of us due to the clouds and the wind was really picking up.
Despite it we made it across and were welcomed by a break in the weather and even managed to get a look at the crater we had crossed. Feeling inspired we started to climb out of the crater and in essence towards the last leg of the journey – the Emerald Lakes. Big mistake.
As we made our way up the ledge the wind was so strong it was literally pushing me towards the drop on the other side. But it wasn’t so much the wind as the temperature that was the killer. It felt like being in a freezer with a wind turbine behind me. I can honestly say I have never felt so cold! Despite my gloves, albeit thin ones, I could not feel my fingers and I could barely bend them!
I knew then I could not carry on, despite being just half an hour away from the lakes we had to turn back as I could feel my body temperature dropping. As such it took me nearly the whole walk back down to warm up sufficiently to get some feeling back in my fingers.
Having said that the scenery was really beautiful and I will definitely return one day to do the full trek, just with proper gear!
The town itself may not be as pretty as either areas but what stands out about New Plymouth is its location. Built on the north side of Mount Taranaki, the town has the coast and mountain range on its doorstep, giving visitors the chance to relax on the beach or explore the forests of the national park.
A great drive is the surf highway which follows the coast around from New Plymouth to Hawera taking in surf beaches along the way.
The largest lake in New Zealand is a must for everyone. Not only for being in an active geothermal location but also for the numerous activities available. Lake Taupo for us was one of the nicest areas of the north island.
Along with its neighbour Rotorua, Taupo has an abundance of thermal pools and spas. However, for a more budget option try the DOC pools in Tokaanu at only NZ$6 per person or NZ$10 per person for a private pool.
Other highlights to the area were Orakei, NZ$36 per person and Wai-o-Tapu, NZ$29 per person. Again, there are many options available between Taupo and Rotorua to see geothermal activities such as sulphur lakes and geysers, but we thought these 2 were best in terms of value and offerings.
By the time we reached Rotorua, north of Lake Taupo we had already seen our fair share of geothermal activity. As such we opted to do something different and spend a leisurely afternoon in the redwood’s forest, which is free to access. If you opt for the “yellow” track and go to all the lookouts you can actually get a bird’s-eye view of the Te Puia geothermal complex, including the geysers.
The town of Rotorua is also a good place for Maori culture shows and villages, and there are many options available from just a show to a full evening with Hangi, food cooked in ground oven pits.
If you’re a beach person you will love the Coromandel region. Not only does it seem to get the best weather in the area but it also has some of the best sandy beaches too.
Despite our rental agreement we took our campervan off-roading and drove the extra hour from the town of Coromandel through the winding gravel roads to the tip of the peninsula – Port Jackson.
This lovely little bay had a large DOC site literally on the beach and on the off-chance you ran out of the basics, a small food van came by everyday with bread, drinks and of course ice! The place was an obvious favourite with locals as there were hardly any tourists there, probably due to the rental contracts, and in the true good-natured spirit of the Kiwis, we even got given a giant fillet of Snapper on our last night – delicious!
At the very tip of the north island stands a little white lighthouse in the area known as Cape Reinga. This cape is not only famous for being the furthest point in New Zealand, but also for the fact that the Pacific Ocean on the right meets the Tasman Sea on the left, making a lovely backdrop for sunsets.
The ninety mile beach also ends here and tours can be taken to drive along the beach and reach the lighthouse.
Although, if you visit Cape Reinga independently I would advise arriving in the evening after all the tours have left so that you have the whole place to yourself!