New Zealand: a magical county of contrasts, history, culture, nature and adventure. It is well worth taking the time to explore this magical place. A few years ago my son & I had three weeks in North Island and we stayed in a wide range of accommodation, including caravans at parks with hot springs to relax in, luxury hotels and budget motels. Almost without exception, these places were of excellent quality with great food and friendly, helpful customer service.
Here are my Top 10 Places to visit on North Island, New Zealand
1. Auckland – a cosmopolitan city, lively and youthful. I fulfilled a life-long ambition to sail on an America’s Cup Yacht around the busy harbour and even had a go at the helm. My son loved the view across the city and the many islands out to sea from Sky City Tower. He scared himself standing on the see-through floor and luckily had no desire to try the bungee jump experience! We also visited Auckland Zoo; I am not a great fan of zoos but Alex loves animals so we went and I was very impressed with the conservation work and excellent conditions.
2. The Coromandel Peninsula - this coastal area is known for its natural beauty, rainforests and pristine golden beaches. Sadly it was covered in mist on our visit, so we only saw it from afar. Hot Water Beach is a favourite place to hop about on …
3. Waitomo Caves – famous for the glow-worms that pinpoint the roof of these caves, we enjoyed the experience of drifting gently through the caves. You can also go Black Water Rafting in giant rubber rings. I have to admit to being a bit disappointed as many of the glow-worms seemed to have had their lights put out, but it was a memorable excursion.
4. Rotarua – a spa town on the shores of a vast caldera lake that blew out in a gigantic prehistoric eruption. Sulphuric geysers erupt on a regular basis and we found out lots about Maori life at a Hangi dinner at a Maori village.
5. The Kiwi House, Otorohanga - a purpose-built Kiwi Conservation Centre open to the public. This was such a lovely day out and my son laughed aloud at the incredibly shy kiwis thumping around their open nocturnal house foraging for food in an enclosure that is as similar to their natural environment as possible.
6. Lake Taupo – the largest lake in New Zealand, it offers visitors a huge array of activities including hiking, fishing, water sports, skydiving and much more. We sailed round the lake on a yacht once owned by Errol Flynn, and got really close to the beautiful Maori rock carvings.
7. Huka Falls Jet Boat – a fantastically exhilarating boat ride along a beautiful river, lined with native bush, sheer rock cliff face and natural hot springs to this powerful waterfall, one of New Zealand’s most visited natural sights.
8. Mount Taranaki – a 2518m dormant volcano that dominates the region and bears a striking resemblance to Japan’s Mt Fuji, used in films such as Tom Cruise movie, The Last Samurai. Nearby New Plymouth is not on the usual tourist route but my friend’s Mum lives there and we had a lovely relaxing few days surfing and swimming at the beach of this attractive town.
9. Napier - an Art Deco dream of a town, it is a really popular stop-off for tourists with its unique concentration of 1930s Art Deco architecture. It also has one of the most photographed tourist attractions in the country, a statue on Marine Parade called Pania of the Reef. We just missed the February Art Deco Weekend event, a celebration of its Art Deco heritage and history.
10. Wellington – the capital city is gracious and fascinating with loads to see & do. My son’s favourite place was Te Papa Museum, with its interactive exhibits to help visitors find out more about New Zealand’s history, its art and culture. He also loved visiting the setting of many scenes from Lord of the Rings. We both enjoyed a day out at Karori Bird Sanctuary - now known as Zealandia, a magical oasis where we saw and heard a huge variety of native birds AND a sighting of the extremely rare Tuatara reptile, a relic from prehistoric times.
It’s the sheer awe-inspiring natural beauty of NZ that really touched me. The variety of landscapes, colours, sounds and scents is so lovely. The people are really friendly and everywhere we went there was a welcome and a warmth that makes this place hard to beat.
Now read how a dream came true ‘Swimming with Dolphins‘ at Kaikoura on South Island.