Of all the countries I’ve visited, New Zealand is definitely among my favorites. The reason I say this is because rarely is such natural diversity to be experienced in such a relatively small area. There are subtropical forests, ice fields, deserted beaches and rolling grasslands to be found across its 2 main islands. North Island, described here, has a slightly warmer climate than the South and more of the land is cultivated. The destinations listed are picked to appeal to the lover of nature and the outdoors as, while the towns and cities of New Zealand have their own charms, it was the unspoilt natural landscapes that drew me there. Here then are 5 places to see on North Island.
Ninety Mile Beach which runs up the Tasman Sea coast to the northern tip of North Island is definitely worthy of a visit. A vast expanse of sand stretches seemingly forever in a place where the only sounds are the wind and the endless crashing waves of the Tasman Sea. Did you know that it’s actually nearer to 60 than 90 miles long – even so the only place you can see both ends from is an aeroplane! A tip here is to go on an organised tour as many hire vehicles are not insured for driving on the sand. The tours also go to Cape Reinga at the northern end of New Zealand which is a bonus.
Bay of Islands is a little way down the East (Pacific) coast and is a popular destination especially in Summer. We stayed in Russell which is smaller than the main town of Paihia and is reached from there by ferry. The Bay is exactly as the name describes – a sheltered area of sea dotted with small wooded islands some but not all inhabited. A must do trip from Bay of Islands is the boat to the Hole in the Rock out in the South Pacific. You will usually see dolphins on the journey past the sheltered sandy beaches of the inner bay to Cape Brett and the open ocean where the Hole in the Rock is found – a huge cavern though a rocky island.
The Waitakere Ranges are a few miles to the West of Auckland – New Zealand’s largest city – and comprise an area of steep hills cloaked in dense rainforest – or native bush as it is known here. The visitor centre has wooden walkways above a canopy of jungle-like tree ferns with views across the forest on one side and to distant Auckland on the other. Head on to the Tasman Sea coast and you’ll come to the spectacular Pihar Beach guarded by Lion Rock – a good spot – or visit nearby Karekare Beach. You need to walk to that one but those are always the best beaches.
The Waimangu Volcanic Valley is situated about 20 miles south of Rotorua which is known for its hot springs and geysers. Waimangu is a huge geological feature formed as recently as 1886 by the violent eruption of the nearby volcano Mount Tarawera that completely altered the local landscapes. You can walk through the now forested valley along a trail (perfectly safe!) that leads past boiling lakes, old craters and a river of steaming water which flows the length of the valley to a viewpoint where can be seen the offending volcano. If you were interested by Rotorua’s hot springs then you’ll love this!
Whakapapa (pronounced fakapapa) is the highest township or village in New Zealand at something like 1100 metres. It is situated in Tongariro National Park just south of Lake Taupo at the foot of Mt Ruapehu which at 2797 metres is the highest mountain on North Island. The surrounding area is the high rough grassland known as the tussock country while 3 volcanoes dominate the area – Mt Ruapehu, the cone shaped Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro after which the Park is named. The area is a paradise for hikers with the world famous Tongariro Crossing starting nearby as well as the spectacular hike to Ruapehu’s crater. The largest ski area in New Zealand is situated at the top of the Bruce Road leading out of town. Whakapapa has a campsite almost in the centre of the village.
Well, there are a few ideas but when you get there you’ll no doubt find another fifty I’ve not mentioned which are just as good – enjoy your trip.
Travel writer Pete Buckley is the author of 31 Days in a Campervan which follows a camper van journey around New Zealand made with wife Jacqui in summer 2005. He currently runs the mountain walking website easywayup.com