My recent trip to New Zealand was literally the trip of a lifetime. I planned it start to finish based on reading blogs and travel websites to ensure I was getting the best of New Zealand. In the process, I learned a lot about the history, people, and just what New Zealand is known for. Along the way, I found some hidden gems and even some areas to avoid. I’ve always been a planner but this trip took my love for travel and planning to a whole new level. I planned thirteen full days start to finish, which included the flights, hotels, transportation, activities, road stops. I know I sound like I am bragging and it’s because I totally am; a lot of love, frustration, planning and re-planning went into this trip to make sure it was perfect.
In 13 days, we saw so many beautiful places and did so many incredible things. There were things that I never thought I could do just based on the fact I have limited myself so much on past travels. I came up with the list of things that you must do while in New Zealand, which could be an activity, visiting a place, or just something you can’t miss. When you go to New Zealand, none of these things should disappoint. With New Zealand having so much to offer, I will be dedicating one post to the North Island and one post to the South Island. This post will be about the North Island and everything it has to offer.
Hahei is locate on the Coromandel Peninsula is located just a short 2.5 hours away from Auckland and the perfect beach paradise. White sand beaches, incredibly pleasant people, and beautiful weather will make sure that Coromandel will not disappoint. We spent an entire day exploring Hahei, one of the most popular towns on the peninsula.
- Gemstone Bay – Rent some snorkel gear from Cathedral Cove Dive & Snorkel and head down to the Gemstone Bay to have a chance at seeing some of the sea creatures of New Zealand! We unfortunately did not see much but we were able to spot some sea urchins. It was still Spring so the chance of it being too cold for a lot of the sea life is increased.
- Stingray Bay – Spot some stingrays swimming near the shore and enjoy the beautiful beach that is secluded from the rest of the attractions.
- Visit Cathedral Cove – A rock formation that looks like…you guessed it!… a cathedral! The beautiful spot makes for some dramatic photos and a place you just can’t miss if you visit Coromandel. It is quite the walk/hike as it takes about 40 minutes from the car park but I promise it is totally worth it. Pack a snack and water!
- Hot Water Beach – Rent or buy a spade and head over to Hot Water Beach on either side of low tide. The rule of thumb is 2 hours prior or after the low tide time. You can find that information online. You dig a hole in the sand and feel the naturally hot water. It is like a hot tub without the bubbles! Be sure to have good timing as it gets crowded and you also don’t want to miss the opportunity to soak up all the heat! In addition to the hot sand baths, the views from the beach are beautiful.
- Stay at Tahiti Lodge – the perfect accommodations for those staying a night or a week. The woman who owns the lodge also takes really great care of it. She keeps everything very clean and perfect and from what her staff was saying, she would not accept anything less! They have mostly 2 bedroom accommodations, which are great for couples or friends traveling together. They also provide a spade to use at Hot Water Beach!
- Eat at The Pour House Bar & the Coromandel Brewing Co. – They brew their own beer and they have magnificent food. We ate here our first night in New Zealand and it was fantastic.
- Grab Breakfast at Colenso. It is a family owned café with the most delicious food and the cutest gift shop. If you are one that cannot disconnect from the world while traveling, they offer complimentary WiFi too!
For any Lord of the Rings fan, this is a must do. I am not a huge fan as I watched the trilogy weeks before we left (should I even admit to this?) but Hobbiton was incredible. If you just close your eyes, you can imagine the scenes being brought back to life and you are standing right there. Who wouldn’t want to visit “Middle Earth”?!
- Take a movie set tour – it is the only way you get access to Hobbiton as it’s protected by the tour guides and there are strict rules about where you can and cannot go. Whether you are a big fan of the movies or not, the tour is really interesting. This movie set is so well done and permanent! They have real plants that sometimes need to be replaced on a regular basis during seasons when those plants can’t survive. They want the set looking just like it does in the movie and you can see the amount of care and time they spend to do just that.
- Have a drink at the Green Dragon Inn – Included with your admission ticket is a drink from the Green Dragon. They brew their own beer and have some delicious apple cider. If you aren’t a drinker, don’t worry! They have a non-alcoholic ginger beer.
- Take a picture with/of Bilbao Baggin’s House – You can’t go on this tour and not take a picture with the infamous green door. Since you are with a tour everyone else wants their picture taken too, so just be patient… Your turn will come!
I do not have a whole list of things to do in Waitomo, but you can’t miss what is available.
- Book a Glowworm Cave Tour – We booked the Black Labyrinth tour, which was 3 hours long and involved tubing through a cave. We got all geared up in super smelly wetsuits with squishy shoes and then got into a van that brought us to our tubing location. You MUST be in decent shape to do this particular tour. You also must be okay with tight spaces and listen to the tour guides as parts of the tour can be dangerous. With this being said, this was one of the highlights of our two week trip. These glowworms illuminate the caves and it’s breathtaking. Not to mention the tour is a lot of fun; you get to jump over waterfalls and tube through a cave. The tour is well worth the time and the money. For those who want to see the glowworms and do not want to tube and walk through the caves, you can take a little boat and see the glowworms without much work.
- Buy the photos taken by your guide – Don’t plan on bringing any type of camera with you as you will more than likely lose it. They take photos for you that you can buy at the end.
You can do and see so much in Rotorua. Culture, education, and adventure awaits you. Rotorua is a city you could spend days doing all there is to offer.
- Whakarewarewa Forest – A redwood forest offering a few different trails that you can hike. The trail you choose should depend on your activity level and time. We chose a moderate trail that was expected to take about 3 hours. We ended up finding some shortcuts as the forest turned into a mountain bike trail and looked like a dead forest. There are aspects of the forest that are breathtaking and worth the visit. If you have time to kill and want to get some hiking or mountain biking in, this is your place, but if you are there just to see the trees, you don’t need to go far once entering.
- Skyline Luge – SO MUCH FUN. This is one way to get in some excitement without too much work. You have to buy a lift ticket and then a luge ticket based on the number of times you would like to ride down the mountain. We did 3 and felt like it was not enough but time was also limited. I don’t want to say too much because this is something you would need to experience for yourself, but just know it’s a lot of fun by yourself or with friends.
- Visit a Geothermal Park – This is why the city smells like rotten eggs (or Sulfur). There are multiple parks throughout the city but the one that will be most convenient is Kuirau Park, which is located right in the city center. You will be able to get your fix of bubbling mud. You can also visit Waimango Volcanic Valley. I personally did not visit a park with thermal activity as we already experienced a lot of it while visiting Iceland! If you have never seen it, I highly recommend you take the time to visit a park.
- Go Whitewater Rafting with Rotorua Rafting – The crew was excellent and the fun was never ending. Never in a million years did I see myself whitewater rafting, but it was such a great experience. You even get to raft down the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world! You can purchase photos taken by professionals at the end of the tour that capture some of the best moments of your time on the raft.
- Tamaki Maori Village – This is a must-do if you are interested in learning about the Maori culture and history. While the Tamaki Maori Village is a bit touristy, they could not do a better job of educating you on everything there is to know while giving you the Hangi Dinner experience that is so important to their culture. They do a traditional dance and song performance, teach you the games kids played, and tell you the meaning behind their tattoos that cover their faces & bodies.
- Eat at Terrace Kitchen – We had the best breakfast and dinner here. It was close to our hotel, which is how we stumbled upon it, but the food was also amazing. The acai breakfast bowl was incredible and had so many flavors; I am still craving it 4 months later! For dinner, we each got something different and we all enjoyed what we ordered (the french-fries are delicious!).
- Devonport – Take the ferry from Downtown Auckland and walk the streets of the quaint coastal town. From cute little cafés to independently owned shops, it makes the perfect day trip on a beautiful day. You also get the perfect skyline shot of Auckland from a distance, and unfortunately it happened to be foggy and ready to rain when I was able to capture this shot.
- Queen St – Walk the main street in the city and check out the shops and restaurants. You will find a lot of the country’s chain stores that you won’t find in most others.
- Stroll on the North Wharf – Create a relaxing aspect of your day by admiring the beautiful boats in the harbor and eating at one of the best restaurants in the city. Not to mention you get to eat with a view of the water.
- Visit the Sky Tower – Auckland’s tallest building that you can suit up and jump off! We already had quite our adrenaline rush in Queenstown so we did not take part in this but it is one of the top attractions. If you do not feel like jumping, they also have the SkyWalk where you walk around the outer room and see all of Auckland below your feet. If you make reservations ahead of time, you can even dine in the rotating restaurants towards the top.
- Eat at Depot – Known for the oysters but has delicious food in general. They offer small plates to be shared with friends or family. This works out for those who want to try different things off the menu. You really cannot go wrong with anything you order as everything was delicious. The staff was efficient and super friendly. Make sure you get there earlier rather than later as they do not take reservations.
I wish I had the opportunity to spend some time in Wellington and to hike Tongariro National Park, but with New Zealand, you have so much do and so little time. The North Island had so much to offer and soon you will see what the South Island brought to the table. Stay tuned for part 2 for all must-do’s on the South Island!