The North Island of New Zealand is relatively small island, but it is packed edge to edge with excitement. We only scratched the surface on our visit. If you are considering a visit now or in the near future and are the adventurous type, here are the adventure highlights from our trip. We roughly followed this ~700 mile route around the island:
We traveled place to place by car, but once we got to a spot, we often borrowed bikes from our airbnb or rented bikes for a day of exploring. Auckland has tons of trails and the Kiwis give out free and helpful maps everywhere.
Once you’re on your bike, there are great waterfront trails all around the city. Keeping to the coast will also help you stay off the giant hills as you move more inland.
While many, including us, picture the Campervan as the quintessential New Zealand vehicle, we booked our trip too late and didn’t grab a van in time. We ended up with a rental car, which worked perfectly for the four of us. We stayed mostly in airbnb’s with kitchens, which was cheaper, healthier, and probably tastier. (Side note, we were generally underwhelmed by the cuisine in New Zealand. Maybe we just hit the wrong places but we had a lot of British type pies and casseroles that were just mediocre.)
Don’t forget to take a cycling break to watch some cricket in Victoria Park if you pass by on a Saturday in the summertime!
Driving on the “wrong” side of the road was an entertaining activity. The thing Adam and I both found hardest about driving on the left was hitting the wipers when you wanted a turn signal!
Driving about two hours south from Auckland, we went on our first adventure in a glowworm cave with a tour group called Spellbound in Waitomo. We saw illuminated insects all over the ceilings of the caves during a short walk. Then, to make it more awesome, we floated on a raft up and down a cave river with the only light coming from the glowworms.
The glow worms are actually gnat larvae. The species is unique to New Zealand. In the larvae stage, the glowworms illuminate above sticky web-like strands to catch other flying insects. (We have seen similar creatures hanging webby strands during our cave adventures in Mulu, but never with their own lights.)
After the caves in Waitomo, we continued south to hit up Tongariro National Park and hike the Alpine Crossing. This ~12 mile day hike gets you up close and personal with three volcanoes, beautiful alpine lakes, and crazy volcanic scenery.
Leaving Tongariro, we headed for the Hawke’s Bay and Napier region to ride bikes around town and to wineries.
From there, we found the original adventure town of New Zealand: Rotorua. This town is known for geothermal activity, especially geysers and mud baths, but it also has plenty of spots for hiking, paddling, and other adventure sports like skydiving and ZORBing.
After our calm and serene hike, we moved on to the more bizarre: ZORB. In this New Zealand invented activity, people are sealed into a giant plastic ball with a little water and then rolled down a hill. It looks something like this:
While it may look like the Zorb ball is rolling quite slowly, it feels much faster inside! We got our tickets on a New Zealand version of Groupon called Grab One, and I would strongly recommend looking for those discounts before zorbing.
If, and really only if, you are a huge LOTR movie fan, then you may want to check out Hobbiton. Frankly, I was underwhelmed by this experience, especially given the hefty $70 price tag, but I am not a huge fan of the LOTR or Hobbit books or movies. It would’ve been helpful to have re-watched some of the films before attending too so we could appreciate the scenery and the descriptions of the special effects.
After leaving Hobbiton, we headed to Tauranga to enjoy a little more hiking, especially this short but challenging walk up Mount Maunganui for beautiful views before heading back to Auckland.
To recap, if you want an action-filled week of adventures on the North Island, try any of all of the following, listed in our order of attack:
- Grab one of a million free maps and ride bikes on the waterfront and around Auckland.
- Watch rec-league cricket in the park. Beers are optional and questionably legal.
- Drive a car on the left side of the road
- See glowworms with Spellbound in Waitomo
- Hike the moderately challenging ~12 mile Tongariro Alpine Crossing
- Get back in the (bike) saddle and pedal on a DIY wine tour around Hawke’s Bay
- Take a leisurely stroll around Blue Lake in Rotorua
- ZORB: Ride in a giant plastic ball down a hill in Rotorua
- Feel tall at Hobbiton, but please only visit if you are a big LOTR fan
- Hike up the short but challenging Mount Maunganui in Tauranga