New Zealand's North Island: 5 Amazing Experiences
January 1, 1970
by Marie Vanderwoodsen
Most people say that New Zealand’s South Island is more beautiful than its North Island. I disagree.
I wouldn’t even want to compare them. To me, they are both equally amazing and have a beauty to them I haven’t found in any other country. And they are very different.
The North Island is particularly mesmerizing when it comes to cultural experiences, Lord of the Rings filming locations and beaches. But see for yourself, which 6 Experiences you should not miss out on.
1. Tongariro Alpine Crossing (Mordor)
The 19.4 kilometre-long hike within the Tongariro National Park was voted one of the best day hikes in the world. For a reason. Or actually, for a couple reasons.
First, you start your ascent through mysterious, volcanic landscape. This area served as the filming spot for the most sinister of all of the places in the Lord of the Rings movies: Mordor.
And looming behind it all is Mount Doom. If you decide to follow Frodo’s footsteps and climb this mighty active volcano, plan about three hours for the return trip. The hike is very steep and without a marked trail but you will be rewarded with stunning views and a chance to throw your own ring into the crater.
What follows Mordor is pure serenity. Your hike will lead you to three Emerald Lakes – and they are mesmerizing. Watch the sun sparkle on the ice blue waters and take a moment to embrace the tranquility.
2. Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
Hobbiton is a magically innocent place.
44 cute little hobbit holes are nestled under emerald green hills and iridescent flowers that bloom in all colors imaginable.It’s definitely the cutest village in the world for me. Although it is staged, because of all its little details and 8 (!) gardeners looking after it, it hardly feels like it.
I went on the 2-hour movie set tour, which was definitely one of the best activities I did here in New Zealand. The guide will tell you all kinds of interesting trivia about the filming of the LOTR and The Hobbit trilogies, you get to see each hobbit hole up close as well as the mill by the lake and you will end your tour with a cider at the Green Dragon Inn. If you are a fan, it doesn’t get much better than that!
3.Waitomo Glowworm Caves
This is an out of this world experience. Literally. Entering the glowworm cave, you feel like you have crossed the border into a fantasy world. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take a photo within the cave because it’s forbidden. But focusing just on the experience makes it even more worthwhile.
To see the glowworms, you can go on a 45-minute tour that includes a boat ride. For the first 30 minutes, you don’t actually get to see the glowworms. Instead, your guide will show you around the cave and tell you a couple more or less interesting facts about it. Don’t be too disappointed because the enchantment is just about to start.
Once you make your way down to the boat, everything becomes completely dark. Except for 12.000 glowworms that sparkle on the cave’s ceiling like a blue, almost alien-like sky of stars. Everyone in your boat holds their breath and the cave becomes quiet. All you can hear are drops of water and your own excitement inside of you. I have never experienced anything so magical before in my life.
4. Tamaki Maori Village
Visiting this Maori Village was a culturally enlightening experience. Journey back in time and learn about the Maoris’ rites and dances and have a traditional dinner experience.
You start this journey by bus from the town of Rotorua. Your driver will prepare you for the welcoming ceremony you will go through at the Maori village. Each bus is welcomed as one tribe and has to pick a chief who will take part in this ancient ceremony.
Upon arrival, the Maori perform their war dance (the haka) until all chiefs come forth and show that they have come in peace. Each chief is greeted by the Maori chief by pressing his nose on theirs two times. At that point, you are not allowed to laugh, which is particularly hard when one of your friends is involved in the ceremony.
Before your actual dinner, the Maori will tell you about their traditions and rites in different workshops you can take part in. Learn about their facial tattoos, participate in warrior training and learn how to perform the war dance.
Your dinner (the hangi) is then lifted from the ground where it has been cooking for hours on hot stones. Enjoy your meal while watching the Maori perform some beautiful dances and songs in their own language.
5. Artsy, Colorful Wellington
Wellington is one of the most colorful cities I have ever seen. Its cheerful vibe and location right by the sea constitute its unique charm.
Stroll along the waterfront and wander past an abundance of cute, artsy cafes and bars on famous Cuba Street. Hike up Mount Victoria to enjoy a breathtaking view over New Zealand’s capital and have a picnic in the Botanic Garden.
Also don’t forget to check out Te Papa, the national museum and art gallery of New Zealand. They have lots of great interactive exhibitions about the Maori culture, the country’s wildlife and a superb wax gallery about the first world war that puts Madame Tussaud’s to shame. And now, every backpacker heart will beat a little bit faster: it’s free!
6. Cathedral Cove
This bay might look familiar to you – it was featured in the Chronicles of Narnia. It is probably the most picturesque beach on the North Island. Once the sun sets and the crowds of tourists vanish, the place has such a magical feel to it.
You can take a public bus here from Hot Water Beach (which takes you only about 10 minutes) and then hike along the Cathedral Cove Walk, which is about a 2-hour return trip.