Looking for the best places to visit in North Island New Zealand? You’ve landed in the right place!
Having lived in Auckland, New Zealand most of my life, it’s safe to say I’m pretty familiar with the North Island. From its stunning beaches to gorgeous lakes and endless bush walks, there’s something for everyone.
Now of course there’s the lifelong debate of which is better, the North Island or the South Island? A lot of people are quick to answer with the South Island. However, my question to them is are they familiar will all the North Island has to offer? If not, you may be surprised!
So to help you make a call for yourself, here are 13 of the best places to visit in the North Island.
Best Places To Visit In North Island New Zealand
1. Karikari Peninsula
The Karikari Peninsula is one of the best-kept secrets in the North Island.
Located in the Far North, it’s a remote area that’s home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. The coastline is dotted with small bays and coves, making it perfect for swimming, fishing and all-round exploring.
A must-visit in the area is Maitai Bay, it’s seriously one of the most gorgeous beaches in the north. It is so gorgeous that it could be featured on a postcard.
The best way to get to the Karikari Peninsula is by driving, from Auckland it takes about 4 hours and 45 minutes.
So yeah it’s a bit of a hike, but trust me it’s sooo worth it and I always love visiting here. The best time to visit is during summer when you can make the most of the warm weather.
Things To Do In Karikari Peninsula
✔️ Beach hop
Where To Stay In Karikari Peninsula
2. Cathedral Cove
Located on the Coromandel Peninsula, Cathedral Cove is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the North Island.
The cove is best known for its dramatic limestone cliffs and sheltered beach, which makes it a favourite spot for swimming, snorkelling and kayaking.
The walk from the car park to the cove takes about 45 minutes one way.
Be sure to stop at Stingray Bay and Gemstone Bay along the way. Often overlooked, they are worth a visit and who knows, you might be the only one there!
If you need to cool off for another swim after returning from the Cathedral Cove walk, Hahei Beach is the place to go. It’s a stunning white sand beach with clear water. Located only a short walk from the visitor’s carpark at the start of Hahei Village.
This car park is where the shuttle bus operates from and it will take you to the top of the hill. This is where the Cathedral Cove walk starts in the summer months.
If you’d like to turn your trip into a weekend away, there are plenty of accommodation options in the area. Everything from campgrounds and hostels to luxury lodges.
Things To Do In Cathedral Cove
Where To Stay In Cathedral Cove
➡️ Hot Water Beach Top 10 Holiday Park (the Deluxe Villa is super cute!)
Taupo is a must-visit place in the North Island, with its gorgeous lake and laidback vibe there’s something for everyone.
It’s the perfect place for a weekend away or you could stay longer and explore all that Taupo has to offer.
There are plenty of things to do in Taupo, from adrenaline-pumping activities like skydiving and bungy jumping to more relaxed activities like wine tours, spa days or golf.
Then of course you’ve got the beautiful lake. One of the best things to do in Taupo is to take a cruise on Lake Taupo, it’s the largest freshwater lake in New Zealand after all.
There are plenty of different cruises to choose from, whether you want to go fishing, sightseeing or even swimming in the lake (perhaps just a summer activity otherwise it’ll be a bit chilly!).
Huka Falls is a waterfall on the Waikato River, located near Taupo and is worth stopping by on your way. The gorgeous blue colour of the falls is created by the minerals in the water.
If you’re feeling active, there is a track that takes you to the top of the falls where you can get a different perspective and some great photos.
Things To Do In Taupo
Where To Stay In Taupo
4. Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is one of the best places to visit in North Island New Zealand, and for good reason. With its stunning coastline, crystal clear waters and lush green hills, it’s easy to see why this area is so popular.
There are plenty of things to do in the Bay of Islands, from sailing and fishing to kayaking.
You can book a tour to explore some of the islands by boat, or even hire a kayak and explore them yourself. There are plenty of sheltered coves and beaches you can stop at for a swim. You could even try stand-up paddleboarding.
If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, why not go parasailing and see the islands from above?
There are also plenty of things to do onshore, from exploring the quaint towns and villages to hiking through the native bush.
Make sure you leave some time to relax too, this is the perfect place to soak up some sun and enjoy the laid-back lifestyle.
Things To Do In the Bay of Islands
Where To Stay In the Bay of Islands
➡️ Bounty Motel
5. Waitomo Caves
The Waitomo Caves are a must-visit destination when in New Zealand, and for good reason. These caves are home to some of the most amazing natural rock formations. And of course, they are packed with glowworms that light up the caves.
The Waitomo Caves are located in the Waikato Region of the North Island. The best way to explore the caves is on a guided tour, which will take you through some of the most impressive formations.
You’ll get to see the glowworms up close and learn all about how they live in the caves. There are plenty of different tours to choose from, so you can pick one that best suits your interests.
If you’re feeling daring, why not give black water rafting a go? You’ll float downstream through the caves on an inflatable raft, and it’s a great way to see the glowworms in action.
You get given head torches so don’t worry you won’t be totally in the dark. It’s a pretty awesome experience and one I’d definitely recommend.
I’m claustrophobic AND hate the dark but I still rate this experience, it was that cool!
Things To Do In Waitomo Caves
Where To Stay In Waitomo Caves
➡️ Abseil Inn
Mangawhai is a small town on the east coast of the North Island. It’s a great place to visit if you’re looking for some peace and quiet.
The best thing about Mangawhai is its beaches. The sand is white, the water sparkling blue.
It’s become a popular spot over the years. With plenty of delicious cafes and restaurants to choose from you’ll be spoilt for choice.
There are also some great walking and cycling tracks in the area. It’s the perfect place to come if you’re looking to do a little bit of exploring.
And of course, Mangawhai is a great place to just relax and soak up the sun. It really is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the larger cities.
Things To Do In Mangawhai
Where To Stay In Mangawhai
If you’re looking for a city that has it all, Wellington is the place for you.
The capital of New Zealand, Wellington is home to a mix of culture, history and nature. There’s something for everyone in this vibrant city.
From world-class museums and galleries to stunning coastal walks, there’s plenty to do in Wellington.
One of the best things about Wellington is its food scene. There are plenty of delicious cafes and restaurants to choose from, so you’ll never go hungry.
Wellington is also a great place to shop, with plenty of boutique shops and markets to explore. And if you’re a fan of wine, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
There are some gorgeous vineyards to explore. If you book a day tour a huge plus is not having to worry about the logistics of getting from place to place! Especially after a few tastings.
No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find it in Wellington.
Things To Do In Wellington
Where To Stay In Wellington
Rotorua is a town located in the Bay of Plenty region on the North Island of New Zealand. It’s best known for its geothermal activity, with plenty of hot springs and geysers located in and around the town.
Rotorua is also home to a number of Maori cultural experiences, including traditional performances and hangi.
There are plenty of things to do in Rotorua, whether it be visiting the hot springs, riding the luge or ziplining through the forest.
The luge is a must-do when in Rotorua. It’s basically a toboggan ride down a hill, and it’s great fun. You can race your friends or family down the track, and it’s a great way to see the city from up high.
For more adrenaline-pumping adventures why not ride the zipline and soar through a centuries-old forest canopy. This is a great way to get your heart racing and see the sights of Rotorua from a totally different perspective.
There are also plenty of walks and hikes in Rotorua, so it’s a great place to come if you’re looking to explore the outdoors.
Things To Do In Rotorua
Where To Stay In Rotorua
9. Waiheke Island
If you’re looking for a stunning island escape, look no further than Waiheke Island. Just a short ferry ride from Auckland, Waiheke is home to some of the best beaches in New Zealand. With crystal-clear waters and soft white sand, it’s easy to see why this island is a favourite destination for locals and tourists.
Waiheke Island is also home to some of the best vineyards in the North Island (in my opinion anyway!). The island is famous for its red wines, and there are plenty of tours you can do or you can hire a bike and explore the vineyards at your own pace.
Another option to explore the island, whether it’s vineyard hopping or beach hopping is grabbing yourself a hop-on hop-off bus pass. This is a great way to see the island, especially if you’re short on time.
I mentioned earlier that there are plenty of beaches to explore on Waiheke and one of my favourites is Onetangi Beach. This beach is over 3 kilometres long so there’s plenty of space to set up camp for the day.
No matter how you choose to spend your time on Waiheke Island, you’re guaranteed to have an amazing time.
Things To Do On Waiheke Island
Where To Stay On Waiheke Island
If you’re looking for a charming rural escape, Matakana is the place for you. Just an hour’s drive from Auckland, Matakana is home to some fantastic wineries and gorgeous beaches.
With stunning vineyards and rolling green hills, it’s easy to see why this picturesque town is a favourite destination for locals and tourists alike.
The best beaches in the area include Omaha Beach and Tawharanui Regional Park Beach. Both are perfect for swimming, sunbathing or even surfing if the conditions are right. Omaha Beach has lovely rolling waves minus the strong currents so it’s a great spot for beginners.
The best time to visit Matakana is on the weekends as this is when the local markets are run. At the Matakana Village Farmers market, you’ll find a range of locally produced goods, including fresh produce, artisanal bread and cheeses, then at the Matakana Country Park market, you’ll find handmade arts and crafts.
The Matakana Village Farmers market happens every Saturday morning, whereas the Matakana Country Park market happens every Sunday morning. It’s definitely worth checking out both if you can!
Things To Do In Matakana
✔️ Visit the Matakana Markets
Where To Stay In Matakana
Napier is a charming coastal town located in the Hawke’s Bay region of the North Island.
Known for its Art Deco architecture, Napier is a popular tourist destination thanks to its beautiful beaches and delicious wines.
There are plenty of things to do in Napier, from exploring the local wineries to visiting the Marine Parade.
Why not feel as though you’ve stepped back in time and take part in the Vintage Car tour?
There are plenty of vineyards in Napier worth adding to your list. Church Road Winery is one of the most popular, thanks to its beautiful setting and delicious wines.
If you’re looking for a place to relax and soak up the sun, Marine Parade is the perfect spot. This long stretch of golden sand is lined with palm trees and features a tasty array of restaurants, bars and cafes.
Things To Do In Napier
Where To Stay In Napier
Tauranga is a beautiful coastal city located in the Bay of Plenty region of the North Island. The city is known for its stunning beaches, delicious seafood and lovely climate.
There are plenty of things to do in Tauranga, from exploring the local wineries to visiting one of the many beautiful beaches.
Mount Maunganui is a must-do, this stunning beach is always a hive of activity with its awesome bars and cafes. There are some great shops that give off the ultimate beachy boho vibe and are worth visiting.
There’s also an awesome walk you can do up Mount Maunganui, it takes around an hour to reach the summit but the views are definitely worth it.
If you’re here in the summer months definitely try and do the walk earlier in the morning rather than later, it gets supeeeer hot otherwise. The good news though is at least you can cool off for a swim afterwards!
Papamoa Beach is another gorgeous spot near Tauranga worth visiting if you want to explore the area a bit. This beach is a little more relaxed than Mount Maunganui and is a great place to come for a swim or just to relax in the sun.
Things To Do In Tauranga
✔️ Walk up Mount Maunganui
Where To Stay In Tauranga
13. New Chums Beach
Now I’ve gone and saved the best for last, I’d even go as far as saying New Chums Beach is one of the best places to visit in New Zealand!
If you’re looking for a beautiful and secluded beach to visit, New Chums Beach is worth checking out. This beach is located in the Coromandel Peninsula and is only accessible by foot or boat.
The walk to New Chums Beach is worth it, the views are stunning and the beach is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It’s a big call but this walk has to be one of my favourites in the Coromandel.
It’s relatively easy too, you just have to cross a stream (best done 2 hours on either side of low tide) and walk over some rocks at the end of the beach to get to the start of the track but after that, you’ll be sweet.
Whatever you do, make sure you don’t miss walking up to the lookout! This is where you’ll find those incredible views looking out across the ocean and down to the beach.
Being a pretty isolated part of New Zealand, there isn’t much else around but that is what’s part of the charm. The closest town is Matarangi which is where you’ll be able to find some accommodation options.
Things To Do In New Chums Beach
✔️ Do the walk to New Chums Beach
✔️ Visit Matarangi Beach
Where To Stay In New Chums Beach
What Is The North Island of New Zealand Best Known For?
The North Island of New Zealand is best known for its stunning scenery, incredible beaches and delicious food. The island is also home to some of the best wines in the country.
If you’re looking for an amazing vacation destination with plenty to see and do, the North Island of New Zealand should definitely be at the top of your list!
The beaches in particular are something the island is best known for. From the white sand beaches of Mangawhai to the surf beaches of Mount Maunganui, there’s something for everyone and all of them are gorgeous.
The further north you travel, the softer and finer the sand becomes. You might even forget you’re in New Zealand and mistake it for Fiji (Maitai Bay I’m looking at you!).
Then if you’re exploring the beaches on the Coromandel Peninsula, you’ll find the sand is a bit more golden but the water is just as blue.
Hands-down my favourite thing to do in New Zealand in the summer months is to just jump in the car, and go spend the weekend relaxing at one of the many beaches.
Which New Zealand Island Is Most Beautiful?
Ah the lifelong question of which New Zealand island is most beautiful… The answer to this question depends on two things.
- Who you ask in New Zealand
- Whether you’re a beach person or a mountains person
Us kiwis are very biased, if we’re from the North Island, chances are we’ll tell you the North Island is the most beautiful. But if we’re from the South Island no doubt you’ll be told the South Island is the most beautiful.
Here’s the thing, both islands are absolutely beautiful in their own way. For example, in the South, you’ve got incredible mountains and stunning lakes but in the North, you’ve got drop-dead gorgeous beaches.
So the question then becomes, are you a beach person or a mountain person?
When deciding which New Zealand island to travel to, answering that question will help you immensely.
What Time Of Year Is Best To Visit The North Island of New Zealand?
Since the North Island is best known for its gorgeous beaches, the best time to visit is in the summer months. In the North Island, we are rather lucky and have a pretty mild climate which means our summers are pretty long.
Don’t be surprised if you find people swimming in the ocean around October, all the way through to early April. On these shoulder months, it is largely weather dependent and you will still find it pretty chilly on an overcast day, particularly in October as the ocean hasn’t had much time to warm up yet after winter.
But if you do get a lovely sunny day, you may be pleasantly surprised at how warm it feels. I’ve been swimming at New Chums as early as October and I can’t say I was in the water very long but it was so refreshing.
If I were to narrow it down to a particular month, I would say March is the best time to visit. It’s technically Autumn by March but it honestly still feels like Summer and since the ocean has plenty of time to warm up, it’s great for swimming.
The great thing about visiting in March is the beaches won’t be so busy, as the school kids and university students are back studying.
The weather also seems to be particularly good in March and you can expect sun most days – the ultimate beach weather!
How To Get Around The North Island In New Zealand
I would 110% recommend hiring a car while exploring New Zealand. If I’m being totally honest, our public transport system is not that great and the freedom that comes with hiring a car is unbeatable.
The thing about New Zealand is that there are still soo many remote parts of the country, and these are often the most beautiful to explore.
However due to them being so remote, you bet there isn’t going to be a bus that takes you there and don’t even think about trying to get a taxi.
That’ll hurt your pocket big time as they get pretty expensive in remote areas when you need to travel a decent distance.
We do have Uber in New Zealand but only in the main cities like Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington etc so you would be alright without a car in those places.
Conclusion: 13 Best Places To Visit In North Island New Zealand
That’s a wrap on the 13 best places to visit in the North Island of New Zealand!
It really is an incredible place with so much to offer. Even though New Zealand is a small country, it will take longer than you think to tiki tour around.
A lot of our roads are extremely windy so to make the most of exploring what the North Island has to offer best you allow at least two weeks.
And if you’re thinking of doing a road trip around the South Island as well, I would recommend at least three weeks so you don’t feel rushed.
But whatever you do and however long you spend in New Zealand, it’ll be an experience you’ll never forget.