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New Zealand

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New Zealand’s South Island is praised for its striking nature. From the Southern Alps to expansive glaciers, and turquoise glacial lakes, the South Island has plenty of admirers among the travelling community. But the more populated North Island can’t be underestimated either.

If you’re planning to travel around the north, you can expect to encounter hot springs, stunning coastlines, and volcanic cones. These truly show off the beauty of nature. Before you pack your bags for a journey ‘Down Under’, read our list of 10 natural highlights that are worth visiting on the North Island of New Zealand.

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Tongariro National Park

Tongariro was the first area to be declared a national park by the New Zealand government in 1887, and for a good reason. It has some of the most dramatic landscapes in all of New Zealand, with moon-like craters, imposing volcanoes, and endless tramping opportunities.

This reserve is home to winter sports areas such as at Mount Ruapehu, and during summer the Tongariro Northern Circuit and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing are jaw-dropping hikes to undertake. Highlights include Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies), the enchanting emerald lakes near the Red Crater, and the Tama Lakes. The Taranaki Falls and Tawhai Falls are amazing locations and proof of the variety Tongariro has to offer.

Emerald Lakes and Mountain Views - Tongariro in New Zealand

Coromandel

Coromandel is a peninsula located roughly 120 kilometres east of Auckland. This part of the North Island is blessed with age-old forests, beaches and dazzling rock formations along the coastlines. One of the best-known sites is Cathedral Cove, a magnificent inlet that seems to be carved out of massive limestone rock. An excellent way to take in the beauty of Cathedral Cove and its rocky neighbours is by sea kayak.

More of the peninsula’s allure is displayed along the Coromandel Coastal Walkway. Here are white-sand beaches, bays, and enchanting forests.

Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

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Mount Taranaki

With its nearly perfect cone, Mount Taranaki has similarities with Mount Fuji in Japan and Mount Mayon in the Philippines. This stunningly beautiful, 2518 metres high mountain is a nature lovers’ dream on the west coast of the North Island. ‘Naki’ can be seen from all around the area, and from lots of designated viewpoints and trails.

Lake Mangamahoe is a fantastic spot to see Mount Taranaki in all its majesty; after an effortless stroll to the viewing point, you overlook the lake full of aquatic birds with Mount Taranaki in the background. If you wish to get closer to the mountain, the Pouakai Circuit offers a 25-kilometre tramp that traverses around the giant mountain. This way you won’t only get a glimpse of the towering Taranaki, but also pass by swamps, forests, and gushing waterfalls.

Mount Taranaki

Waitomo Caves

The Waitomo Caves aren’t just ordinary caves such as found in numerous other countries. Instead, they provide a home to some of New Zealand’s most extraordinary creatures. Entering the caves is like sailing into an enchanted world thanks to an abundance of glowworms on the ceiling. A colony of these self-illuminated animals reside permanently in the caves of Waitomo, which you can explore during a boat ride or walk. Glowworms are endemic to New Zealand, so this light show is both a magical and unique experience for any traveller.

Glowworms in Waitomo

Hot springs of Rotorua

The islands of New Zealand are shaped and carved by volcanism, and witnesses of the natural forces are visible throughout the country. One of the best examples is Rotorua, a resort town that is located within an enormous caldera. The resort has gained fame for its geysers, mud pools and hot springs.

Kuirau Thermal Park oddly lies in the centre of Rotorua town, but it displays the stunning environment created by volcanism. Here, visitors can see steam coming from the hot water, colourful mud pools and deep holes in the crust of the earth. With its vivid blue crater lake and hiking opportunities, Rainbow Mountain Scenic Reserve is another breathtaking destination within the Rotorua region.

Rotorua has numerous hot springs you can enter upon paying an entrance fee.

Champagne pool in Rotorua, NZ

Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga sits on the northernmost tip of the North Island, no less than 420 kilometres north of Auckland. This is where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide, and the picturesque lighthouse marks the end of the road in New Zealand. Cape Reinga is also a sacred place to the Maori. The pohutukawa tree at the end of the cape is regarded to keep the spirits of the deceased Maori before they jump over to the ocean on their way to the land of ancestors. Don’t forget to pay a visit to Tapotupotu Bay, a rustic camping area with white sand beaches, rolling hills, and lush vegetation.

Cape Reinga Lighthouse at Cape Reinga on the North Island of New Zealand

Lake Taupo

Although most of New Zealand’s major lakes can be found on the South Island, the largest of them all lies in the heart of the North Island. The lake is best explored on a cruise, during which you’ll have a chance to see the mysterious Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings. However, there are many more ways to bask in the allurement of Lake Taupo. Follow the Great Lake Trail for hikers and bikers, or dip in warm mineral water at the Otumuheke Spring Park.

The Craters of the Moon Geothermal Walk offers a glimpse into a strange world, full of bubbling mud pools and hissing steam vents. Just like at Rotorua, the earth is alive around Lake Taupo.

Lake Taupo at dusk

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Huka Falls

‘Sensational’ is an understatement to describe Huka Falls, a pounding rapid that’s spouting through the Waikato River. The volume of the river is massive, considering the narrowness of the passage, which results in an extremely powerful rapid. Huka Falls drops 11 metres and can be viewed from a walking bridge spanning over the Waikato River and a viewing platform. You can also opt to follow the tramping trail from the Spa Park to the falls, a 1-hour walk through dense forest on the banks of the river.

Huka Falls is in close proximity to Lake Taupo, which makes it convenient to combine these wonders of nature during your journey around New Zealand’s North Island.

Huka Falls - Taupo, New Zealand

Whanganui National Park

Whanganui National Park is named after Whanganui River, a long waterway that meanders down from Tongariro, all the way to the Tasman Sea on the west coast. The reserve mostly consists of forests, with plenty of typical New Zealand ferns and other native trees that are home to numerous bird species. Some characteristics of Whanganui National Park are hills and the steep drops that surround the river. A popular way to navigate this park is by kayak. One of New Zealand’s Great Walks is actually the kayaking route that crosses Whanganui.

Whanganui river, New Zealand

Waitakere Ranges

The Waitakere Ranges are just outside of Auckland, but can’t be of more significant contrast to the city. Those who travel to the ranges will be treated with long-stretched beaches, rock formations, and bushes teeming with birds. Travellers’ favourites are Muriwai Beach with its jaw-dropping rock formations and the Karekare Falls, an incredible waterfall encircled by greenery. Despite being so close to New Zealand’s largest cities, the Waitakere Ranges’ varied nature and expansive network of walking trails make it one of the most exciting getaways from the city.

Whatipu Coast Walk Waitakere Ranges, New Zealand

Summary

The volcanic nature of New Zealand’s North Island has resulted in a rugged landscape. Composing of perfectly shaped cones, roaring rivers, serene forests, and coastlines dotted with picture-perfect beaches. The highlights are spread, and anywhere you travel, you’ll encounter amazing places worth stopping at.

You may also be interested in 10 Must-See Natural Highlights on New Zealand’s South Island.

Tours and Activities

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Huub Lakerveld

Writer and Traveller
Huub travels around the world as a digital nomad since early 2018, while working as a travel writer. His passion for travel is driven by connecting with locals and searching for different landscapes. Always joined by his favourite travel companions: a camera and notebook. [Read full bio]
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