So I’m back as promised with a micro guide to New Zealand’s North Island, and while I have visited and loved all of the places I’m about to share with you, exploring the country in a campervan meant that many of the best moments came from those little places barely mentioned on maps or in travel guides, and as soon as you step off of the beaten track, you’ll find them around every corner.
The Cook Strait separates the North Island from the slightly larger but much less densely populated South Island, with roughly 76% of New Zealands population living in the North Island. It does have a more temperate climate than its neighbour, although you will still notice the difference between the sub-tropical climate in the very north of the island and the slightly cooler temperatures in the south.
Arriving in Auckland and buying a campervan on our first day there, my travel partner and I could barely contain our excitement about hitting the open road, which lead to us barely spending a week there. While the place didn’t necessarily excite me, it was pleasant enough and sat within easy reach of a selection of beautiful beaches and islands.
Within sight of Auckland, just across the gulf, lies a place with a pretty and rather exotic name, The Coromandal, and it’s everything that a big city like Auckland isn’t. Native rainforests wrap the area in a comforting blanket of soothing greenery, while white sand beaches provide a dazzling colour contrast. The unspoilt tranquility and relaxed atmosphere here have attracted many artisans and craftspeople, and it’s a great place for picking up a unique piece of art or pottery.
In the Northland region lie the Bay of Islands, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. A 2006 study found the Bay of Islands to have one of the bluest skies in the world, second only to Rio de Janeiro.
New Zealand’s Maori people are integral to the country and it was in Rotorua that I first felt the presence of these indigenous people who today make up 14% of the population. Rotorua is the ancestral home of the Te Arawa people who settled in the region more than 600 years ago, and there are many ways to learn more about them when you visit this incredible city. Home to sky rocketing geysers, hot springs, gurgling mud pools and the ever present eggy aroma of sulphur, Rotorua sits proudly on a volcanic plateau and has to be smelled to be believed!
One of our next stops was The Bay of Plenty, where in 1769 James Cook quite literally discovered a ‘bay of plenty’, ‘full of plantations and villages’. The bay is no less plentiful today and an abundance of fruits are grown here. From here, you can pay a visit to White Island and walk on an active volcano; try not to wince, scream or cower every time the ground hisses, omits throaty belches or grumbles and rumbles angrily beneath your feet!
Lake Taupo, roughly the size of Singapore and really more of an inland sea, is New Zealands largest freshwater lake and was created by an enormous volcanic eruption. Nearby are the ‘Craters of the Moon’ where you’ll find evidence of the lakes dramatic and fiery birth in its myriad geysers, spookily steaming craters and mud pools. While bathing in boiling hot geysers is unadvisable, the geothermal water currents at some of the lakes beaches, mean that swimmers or toe dippers can enjoy warm waters there.
Situated just north of Lake Taupo, are the mighty Huka Falls, one of the most visited natural attractions in New Zealand. The name Huka is in fact the Maori word for ‘foam’, and when you see 220,000 litres of water thundering down over the cliff face and cascading into the rapids below, you will see how it creates a spectacular ice blue foam.
On to Hawkes Bay then, one of the countries warmest and driest regions that has made it a leading producer of wine and the first stop on the classic New Zealand Wine Trail. Around the region you’ll find many examples of beautiful Art Deco buildings and artistry.
Lastly on our micro tour, and named ‘the coolest little capital in the world’ by Lonely Planet in 2011, is Wellington. This coastal city has a vibrant cultural scene, and I could happily have indulged my urban self there for some weeks. In fact I could have spent many more weeks and months travelling around the whole island, and while I’ve given you at least eight reasons to visit, believe me, there are so many more.