Although New Zealand's South Island gets a lot of attention due to its adventure capitals of Christchurch and Queenstown, the North Island has plenty of activities of its own. You can explore the thriving city of Auckland, catch some rays at the gorgeous beaches along the coastline, or go wine-tasting at the lush vineyards. Read on for the 10 best things to do on the North Island.
East Coast Beaches
The eastern coast of the North Island is filled with lovely beaches and bays of every description. Sheltered from the western weather by mountain ranges, you will find most of the beaches protected from the wind, with lots of sunshine and golden sand. They are ideal for swimming, sunbathing, and all water sports. The best beaches are in the northern half of the island, from Northland to East Cape.
West Coast Beaches
The beaches on the west coast are very different from the east coast but equally worth visiting. The entire coast is wild and rugged, exposed to the prevailing westerly wind that flows in from Australia. Many of the beaches also have black volcanic sand, which can be extremely hot in the summer. If you like wild waves and surfing, the west coast is for you. The best beaches include Ninety Mile Beach in the far north and the beaches close to Auckland.
Sailing and Boating
With its tranquil beaches and many offshore islands, the east coast of the North Island is a wonderful place to explore on a boat. Kiwis are great sailors and there are boats of all types on the water in the summer months. The best places for sailing and boating are the Bay of Islands in Northland and the Hauraki Gulf near Auckland.
Auckland and Wellington are both international cities and offer a huge array of places to shop. You'll find all of the international brands as well as many local ones. New Zealand has a world-class reputation for fashion, clothing, wine, gourmet foods and art. You should also pick up a unique local Maori and Pacific-inspired souvenir or two while you are here.
Entertainment and Nightlife
With a third of New Zealand's total population living in Auckland, you would expect the city to offer world-class evening entertainment. In addition to great bars, clubs, and restaurants, there are always shows and concerts being held at one of several city venues. Auckland also has New Zealand's largest casino and the tallest building, the Sky Tower, right in the heart of the city.
The North Island was originally covered in forests. Today, there are still many areas where you can enjoy the unique and magnificent trees and plants. Amongst the native trees are the totara, rimu, and matai, but the most impressive of all is the kauri. These can grow to an enormous size and age. There are many great examples still left in areas north of Auckland.
The pohutukawa is found all along the coast of the North Island and provides welcome shade on the beaches in the summer. It is also known as the New Zealand Christmas Tree because of the bright red flowers it produces around Christmastime.
The culture of the native New Zealand people, the Maori, is much more evident in the North Island than the South Island. Explore their fascinating culture and history at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands (where the original treaty between Maori and European was signed in 1840) and Rotorua in the North Island.
Geothermal and Volcanic Activity
The center of the North Island sits right on top of an active part of the earth's crust and is a wonderland of volcanic activity. Visit the geysers and thermal pools of Rotorua, the large volcanic Lake Taupo, or the active volcanoes at White Island and Tongariro National Park.
North Island Wines
World class wines are made in several parts of the North Island, including Northland, Auckland, and the Wairarapa, north of Wellington. The two largest areas make some of the best wines of their type in the country; Gisborne is renowned for Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer white wines, while Hawkes Bay is home to leading reds like cabernet sauvignon and merlot.