10 of the most beautiful places to visit in North Island, New Zealand by the lovely travel blogging couple Domino Panton-Oakly and Pete Oakly…
New Zealand is a place that appeals to all the senses. Firstly, you’ll see the most out-of-this-world sites such as the twinkling glow worms at Waitomo caves and then there’s the cool capital and there are many great things to do in Wellington. You’ll also taste some of the best wines you can imagine during a tour of Waiheke Island. Then, you will smell the eggy, pungent, volcanic gasses at Rotorua. You’ll hear the birds tweet and the water flow as you picnic at on the grass at Karangahake. And whilst you reach out and grab the rugged, cold rocks as you climb the cliff top at Castlepoint, you’ll feel overwhelmed as you reach the top and look out to the sea below. Want to experience this adventure? Here is a list of the 10 most beautiful places to visit in North Island New Zealand.
Phenomenal views across the island and sea, waves of green hills, and over 20 vineyards to choose from, Waiheke island is one of the most picturesque places to visit in New Zealand. Spend the day hopping from one vineyard (or brewery) to another, tasting wines and drinking in the views. Visit Mud Brick vineyard for its British, country-house feel, plus it has amazing sculpted gardens of topiary, lavender and flowers in bloom. Not to mention the exquisite views! Or try Cable Bay for a more contemporary, upmarket, decadent setting. This fancy vineyard-come-restaurant has the glorious, unspoilt views that take your eye swimming across the water and over to Auckland on the other side. With no traffic lights, no motorways, no fast-food joints and only nine thousand residents, Waiheke is the perfect, place to spend a peaceful day outside of the capital.
This forgotten gold mining village is the perfect, little, hidden gem! Stop here to go on walking trails or just stop for a bite to eat. There is a little cafe, still in the original wooden building, or take a picnic and sit in the peaceful scenery. Be surrounded by a palette of evergreen trees, daisy’s growing in the grass, birds tweeting, and the sounds of the river Ohinemuri flowing over the rocks. The walking trails include abandoned mine buildings and underground chambers or, you can just stroll along the river gorge. Cross old suspension bridges and head up the hill for scenic views over grassy cliff tops. This tiny forgotten town of Karangahake is one to remember.
Based in Alexander Farm in Matamata, Hobbiton is where you can visit The Shire from the movies Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The attention to detail here is unbelievable. There are clothes hanging from washing lines, items such as pots and pans in the windows behind the curtains, and smoke coming from the chimney. The Hobbit Holes are built into the rolling hills which overlook the lake. There is plenty you’d recognise from the films, such as the village green, Bilbo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee’s house, alongside the iconic Green Dragon Pub. At this real working pub, you are offered a refreshing, cold beverage after the tour. I’d also recommend trying their delicious pies! Seeing the cute little houses over the lake, surrounded by huge tree’s and fiddle music playing in the background, you really do feel transported to another world.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, Rotorua
The first thing you notice about these thermal pools and bubbling geysers is their beauty. The second thing you notice is the smell, like rotten eggs that have been left in the sun! However, to see a kaleidoscope of earthy colours bubble and rise from underground, visit Wai-O-Tapu wonderland, it is like walking through a painting. With silver rocks, huge collapsed craters and lime-green pools, the park is other-worldly. The colours of the pools are created by chemicals in the water, which react with the rocks and the heat from the magma left behind from volcanic eruptions. Champagne pool, with its bright orange ledge against a deep green pool, is the largest at 65m in diameter. With numerous geothermal features, this park resembles a martian landscape.
Lake Taupo is the largest crater lake in the world at 640sq km, it can fit the whole of Singapore inside it! The Lake is surrounded by beauty and the water is so clean that it is safe to drink from. On a clear day you can see three mountains peaks which are snow-capped during winter and spring. The tallest mountain being Tongariro mountain which is the famous ‘Mount Doom’ from Lord of the Rings. The lake is also famous for the Maori carvings etched into the rock. These huge and beautiful carvings tell a story of the artists history. Each line of the face has a different meaning, for example, the spirals on the forehead represent male and female ancestors. Taupo itself is such an affluent area, with magazine worthy houses, gated communities and even helipads! With so much to do and see, a visit to Lake Taupo is a must.
Like a page from the The Great Gatsby, Napier is full of art deco buildings and vintage cars. After an earthquake in 1931, the majority of the town needed rebuilding, this was during the peak of the art deco movement. Symmetry, geometric shapes and pastel colours all stand out against the clear blue skyline. Old cars and vintage shops line the streets and you can even dress up in 1930s costumes for a walking tour of the city. Alongside the amazing art deco buildings, contemporary murals decorate the city in a splash of colour. These gigantic murals are part of the SeaWalls project, bringing attention to the beauty and the destruction of our seas. Take a walking tour of the street art, many of them are situated along the sea front. Napier is unique, colourful and creative, a perfect little town.
To the right, a one hundred-year-old lighthouse sits on top of a hill. To the left, a rugged, grassy cliff-top. Directly in front of you, stunning views of the sea, beach and the New Zealand coastline. Castlepoint is definitely worth the detour. Walk to the foot of the lighthouse for 360 degree views across the ocean, you can even spot seals searching for food. Other wildlife in these seas includes the common dolphin, orca and even sperm whales! Take the 1.5 hour walk up the clifftop to see green hills sprawling along the coastline. But if you want to reach the top be careful, there are some steep, steep slopes. You need good shoes, a decent level of fitness and a lot of bravery. It can be windy! Spend the night camping in Castlepoint to see phenomenal colours of the sunset against the lighthouse. And when night falls, be dazzled by the endless stars in the sky.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Like the New Zealand sky on a clear night, the Waitomo glowworms look like a sparkly constellations of stars. Or as Rihanna sings, ‘like diamonds in the sky.’ Within the caves, thousands of glowworms dot the cave ceiling, glowing bright in the otherwise pitch-black surrounding. They glow to attract insects that then get stuck in their sticky web-like string. Take a quiet boat ride through the cave tunnels to see these tiny, little insects twinkle. Be guided through the caves by a living descendant of the cave founder for a real, personal history of this natural wonder. lt is caves like this which make your mouth drop and you realise just how incredible nature truly is. Unfortunately, photography is not permitted in the cave, so here is one of the gift-shops postcard images.
Visit this quaint little town, the first European settlement in New Zealand. Russell is full of beautiful, historic buildings, affluent houses, and the most breathtaking walks. Head up to Flagship Hill and higher still on the Tapeka Point trail for magnificent views across the whole area of Bay of Islands. At the top, you can see vivid, turquoise seas with crashing waves and flowing green mountains and hills on the horizon. Stop at the perfect picnic spot on the beach, and listen to the sounds of sea. Also, this was the only place on our travels where we saw wild, native kiwi birds, bobbing along in the woods.
Brick Bay Vineyard
As their tagline states, Brick Bay is ‘Art and Wine, Entwined’. Not only is it a beautiful vineyard, it is also a fantastic sculpture garden, along with a farm and restaurant! For the art lovers, explore the 2km nature trail, taking in a mix of ornamental and interactive sculptures that relate to their natural surroundings. You’ll also hear beautiful sound pieces that create a magical, ethereal feeling as you wander through the woods. For the wine lovers, try their wine tasting menu for delicious flavours of New Zealand berries that tickle the taste buds. And if neither of those sell it to you, you can always just sit back on their wooden deck with view over the calming, lily-pad-filled lake, with sheep and spring lambs pottering about in the distance.
All words by Domino Panton-Oakley and photography by Pete Oakley, check out their blog A ticket to… and peteoakley.co.uk