New Zealand’s overlooked North Island

Road to Mt TongariroMany who have visited New Zealand will urge you that if you had to choose one of New Zealand’s islands to visit, it should be the South Island. The scenery is more dramatic, there’s more to do and you can go to Queensland and Christchurch. Well I would challenge this view! The North Island has some amazing scenery and unique attractions that are right up there with anything the South Island has to offer.

If you are heading for a holiday in New Zealand then it is likely that you will want to make the most of your time there and see as much as possible. The best way to get around is via the road network. If you want more comfort than a bus and don’t fancy the idea of a motorhome then make sure you hire a car. Zest Car Rental have numerous locations on both islands and all rentals come with free excess reimbursement insurance and a free additional driver so you can share the driving.

North of Auckland

Auckland is a fantastic city in its own right. There are lots of things to do and plenty to see as well. New Zealand’s appeal is not in its urban areas. As great as Auckland is, the Northland province has plenty to offer that cannot be found in a city. 

At the tip of the Aupouri Peninsula, north of Auckland, is the northernmost point in New Zealand, Cape Reinga. Not only is it the extreme end of the country, but it is also the point where two seas meet. The meeting of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean can create some dramatic waves which the Maori legend suggests is a battle of a male sea against a female one. The cape is an isolated location but it is well worth the visit to discover the Maori myths and legends that surround this magical place.

90 mile beachDriving south from Cape Reinga make sure you head to the west coast to visit 90 Mile Beach. There are some incredible dunes at the north end of the beach which provide the backdrop for a stunning landscape. The beach itself is actually a public highway and is used as a road when the main road to Cape Reinga is closed due to landslides. The surprise in seeing a coach speed along the sands is worth a visit in itself.

On the opposite side of the peninsular to 90 Mile beach is Whangarei. Just north of the city is the stunningly beautiful bay of islands. Whilst here, make sure that you enjoy the scenery by hiring a yacht or taking a guided cruise of the bay. It is also the perfect place for wildlife watching and it is possible to see penguins, dolphins, whales and many more marine species. There are also tailored cruises which can take you to the ‘Hole in the Rock’ whilst letting you watch dolphins on the way.

The Coromandel Peninsula

The Coromandel is not just there to protect Auckland from the sea, its natural beauty and outdoor lifestyle should not be ignored. On the east coast of the peninsula is Hot Water Beach. This beautiful but seemingly normal beach is best visited two hours either side of low tide. At this time it is possible to dig a hole in the sand which will consequently fill with hot water from the subterranean hot springs. There is something particularly magical about naturally hot water, and you can sit in your own custom made hot tub and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

CoromandelOnly a short drive north up the coast from Hot Water Beach is Cathedral Cove. If you are in the vicinity you should make the trip to see this spectacular cave. The beach is a short stroll from the car park but the scenic walk is a treat in itself. The gigantic cave links two secluded bays and it results in one of the most naturally photogenic areas in New Zealand.

The whole peninsula is awash with great walking routes but The Pinnacles walk is perhaps the pick of a fantastic bunch. The walk is suitable for all abilities although the final ascent from The Pinnacles Hut to the summit is more challenging. It is worth it though and a staggering view of the peninsula awaits those who make it to the top. The walk can be done in a day but for those of you who are willing to stay a night in ‘The Hut’ (a modern hostel) the sunrise and sunsets here are particularly special.

Right in the centre of the island is the city of Taupo. The city sits on the shores of Lake Taupo, which is the largest lake in New Zealand. The city is a great base for exploring this area of the island as there are popular attractions to the north and the south. The lake is popular for trout fishing and there are some historic Maori rock carvings that can be seen only by boat. You can also visit the dramatic Huka Falls which are just a short stretch down the Waikato River, which drains from the lake.

Lake TaupoA short drive north of Taupo is the city of Rotorua. It is more than likely that you will be able to smell Rotorua before you arrive and this is the biggest clue as to its attraction. Nicknamed ‘The Sulphur City’, Rotorua is famed for its geothermal activity. There are geysers and hot mud pools, which are the main attraction in the city. You can dip your feet in a hot pool in Kuirau Park or go to one of the luxury spas to escape the rotten egg smell which is a result of the sulphur dioxide escaping from the geysers. 

South of Lake Taupo is a world famous walking route, and perhaps the most popular one-day hike in New Zealand. The Tonagariro Alpine Crossing is a challenging walk that passes the active volcano Mount Tongariro. It is featured in The Lord of the Rings films as the location of Mordor and the dramatic landscape did not need much adaptation. The walk should take between 7-9 hours and there are steep sections involved. It is however worth it for some incredible views of the surrounding volcanic peaks and turquoise lakes. The route is a one-way walk and so transportation should be organised to get back and you should make sure you are fully prepared, with warm clothing and lots of food, before starting the crossing.

Although we have only touched on a few of the fantastic locations that the North Island has to offer we hope that we have successfully dispelled the myth that the South Island is overwhelming superior for visitors. Although the South Island is fantastic, it can sometimes be more rewarding to go somewhere slightly different.

About the author

This is a guest post by Nicholas Ferns from Zest Car Rental (formerly Economy Car Hire), an award-winning internet based holiday car hire specialist. They are a fast growing family-run business with a strong customer focus. You can follow Nicholas and the rest of the Zest Car Rental team on Facebook, and Twitter.

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