25 Unmissable Things to Do in North Island, New Zealand

Looking for the best things to do in North Island, New Zealand? There’s no shortage of options! Check out this post for 25 top North Island itinerary ideas.

New Zealand’s North Island is home to an unbelievable list of attractions. There are pristine beaches, remote islands, iconic volcanoes, giant lakes, countless waterfalls, hot springs, big cities, cultural hotspots, and so much more.

You’re almost spoilt for choice. Somehow, people planning a trip have to decide which beautiful places and bucket list activities to put on their itinerary and which to skip.

Are you traveling to New Zealand soon and want some help choosing how to spend your time there? This list should help. After spending over two years exploring Aotearoa on four separate trips, I’ve assembled a list of what I consider the 25 best things to do in North Island, New Zealand. Let’s dive in…

1. Visit Cape Reinga

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Cape Reinga is at the northernmost tip of North Island. It’s a site of great significance in Maori culture and a gorgeous part of the country. The drive here is spectacular, but the best views are at the iconic lighthouse on the cliff edge. This is where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. Expect noisy, turbulent waters crested in white far down below.

2. Drive Down Ninety Mile Beach

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Ninety Mile Beach is on the northwest coast, at the top of North Island. While it’s not actually ninety miles long, it’s still a vast expanse of sand that stretches forever and a day. One of the coolest things to do in North Island, New Zealand, is drive your car on the sand. Just be careful – people get stuck in the sand all the time.

3. Sandboard Down the Te Paki Sand Dunes

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

For a truly memorable day out, drive up 90-Mile Beach until you hit a riverbed that takes you inland to the mighty Te Paki Sand Dunes. From there, you can hire a sandboard (last I checked, it costs 15 NZD per board) to slide down these enormous mountains of sand at insanely high speeds. You can also get here by road.

4. Explore The Bay of Islands

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

The Bay of Islands is on the eastern coast of Northland, in North Island. With 144 different islands to explore, this micro-region is a paradise for beach and boat lovers. Swim, sunbathe, enjoy endless water sports, or join a dolphin and whale watching tour. Back on land in towns like Paihia and Russell, a mass of bars, cafes, and restaurants ensure you’re properly fed and watered.

5. Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

While you’re in the Bay of Islands, visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds – one of New Zealand’s most important historical sites. On February 6, 1840, Maori chiefs met here with the British Crown to sign the country’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi.

6. Gawp at the Giant Tane Mahuta Kauri Tree

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

In Waipoua Forest on the western side of Northland (a region of North Island), you can see one of the oldest and most impressive trees on the planet, Tane Mahuta. This is the largest known living kauri tree in New Zealand. Consider stopping there on your way to/from the far north. It’ll take you off the fastest route, but it’s a worthy detour.

7. Relax at Whangarei Heads

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

On my first trip to NZ, I spent a couple of months in the city of Whangarei with family friends. It isn’t much to write home about, but they owned a bach (a type of holiday home) a bit further up in Whangarei Heads, which is absolutely gorgeous.

While you won’t see it on many other lists of the best things to do in North Island New Zealand, I loved it. Expect first-class beaches (don’t miss Ocean Beach), secluded bays, top hiking opportunities, and general access to a quintessentially Kiwi coastline.

8. Experience Auckland

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

If you have limited time and are visiting New Zealand primarily for its natural attractions, don’t spend too long in Auckland. It’s a big, bustling metropolis – you’ve probably explored similar places.

That said, there aren’t many cities where you can walk up volcanoes and swim in the sea on the same day! Likewise, the modern amenities, exciting atmosphere, attractive marina, and ferry links to stunning islands off the shore (more on this coming up) make it a worthy place to explore.

9. Sip Wine on Waiheke Island

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Another benefit of visiting Auckland is its proximity to several islands. Waiheke Island is one of the most popular, and it’s only a 40-minute boat trip from the city. Once there, you’ll enjoy wineries, walks, beautiful beaches with water sports, historical sites from WW2, and so much more.

10. Get Lost on Great Barrier Island

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Great Barrier Island is another popular island accessible from Auckland. It’s much further away, though, and it takes 4.5 hours to get there by ferry. If you’re looking for a quieter, “off-the-beaten-track” vibe, this is where to find it! Only 1000 people live on Great Barrier Island, and they’re all off the grid. Nature lovers will adore it. Swim at sandy bays, visit secluded hot springs, stargaze on clear nights, and hike until your heart’s content.

11. Explore the Coromandel Peninsula

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

The Coromandel Peninsula is a coastal paradise. Mountains covered in native bush provide an epic backdrop to sandy beaches and secluded coves. Hiking and biking trails crisscross the landscape, and you’ll also find a thriving art scene.

Two of the Coromandel’s main attractions are Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. The former is a unique stretch of sand where you can dig a hole and watch it fill with naturally heated water. Cathedral Cove is a gigantic natural rock archway on a picturesque beach.

12. Unwind in Mount Maunganui

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Mount Maunganui is an iconic volcano on the east coast of North Island, in the Bay of Plenty. It’s also the name for the small yet popular city that has built up around it – a bustling, touristy place full of bars and restaurants. The beaches here are stunning, too, and provide some good beginner-friendly surf. Climb the volcano, cool off with a swim, then grab a beer and an ice cream…what more could you want?

13. Explore Hobbiton

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Lord of the Rings fans can’t visit the North Island and not explore the iconic home of the hobbits! This movie set is one of the most popular attractions in the country, welcoming over 650,000 visitors annually. It’s exactly like what you see in the LOTR and Hobbit movies – a trip to the Shire itself, complete with Hobbit Holes and The Green Dragon Inn.

14. Surf and Relax in Raglan

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Raglan is a cool, laid-back, artsy surfer town on the west coast. It’s full of bars serving craft beers, boutique stores selling locally made wares, and artisan bakeries. The scenery’s beautiful, too. Expect gorgeous beaches both in and a short drive from town, several outstanding hikes, endless water sports, and the famous Bridal Veil Falls.

15. See Glowworms in Waitomo

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Waitomo is a tiny town famous for its extensive network of underground caves. A spelunker’s paradise, expect a magical subterranean landscape full of giant caverns, tight squeezes, and rivers you can float down. However, the main event at the Waitomo Caves is the countless glowworms that line the cave walls and light the way.

16. Enjoy Geothermal Rotorua

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Rotorua is renowned for its thermal activity. Expect a striking, otherworldly landscape that stinks like sulfur and spits steaming hot water into the air!

It’s also extremely beautiful, though, and has endless things to do for outdoor enthusiasts. There’s hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and white-water rafting, to name just a few. Fancy a more relaxed visit? Rotorua’s hot pools and spa therapies have you covered.

17. Visit Napier in Hawke’s Bay

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

If you love the beach, wine, and Art Deco architecture, visiting Napier will be another perfect thing to do on North Island. You’ll find it in Hawke’s Bay – a region famous for its wine – on the east coast. Expect a charming stopover with terrific scenery, a thriving culinary scene, and plenty of quirky shops to explore.

18. Have Fun at Lake Taupo

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Right in the center of North Island is the popular town of Taupo. It sits on the northeast bank of the mighty Lake Taupo – a body of water so enormous it feels like you’re visiting the ocean.

More outdoor activities await in Taupo, but the lively bars and clubs mean it’s also a great place to let your hair down. Throw in some hot pools on the outskirts of town and the mighty Huka Falls slightly further out, and there’s plenty to keep you entertained.

19. Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

In a country with thousands of hiking trails, it says a lot that so many hail the Tongariro Alpine Crossing as New Zealand’s best day hike. I’ve done it twice, and I totally agree. It’s an epic 19.4 km (12 miles) trek through unbelievably diverse landscapes, including ancient volcanoes and emerald lakes.

20. Hike and Gawp at Mount Taranaki/New Plymouth

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Remember Mount Maunganui? Well, Mount Taranaki is like its big older sibling on the west coast. This iconic active volcano dominates the area and you can spot it from countless miles away on clear days. It’s covered in more first-rate hikes, close to lovely beaches, and next door to the vibrant coastal city of New Plymouth.

21. Get Off the Beaten Path in Castle Point

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Getting to Castle Point isn’t straightforward unless you have your own set of wheels. It’s out in the sticks over on the southeast coast, but getting there is worth the effort. It’s a stunning, remote stretch of coastline with world-class beaches, striking cliffs, a lighthouse…and not a lot else. A fantastic escape from busier places, visit Castle Point to swim, surf, fish, and hike.

22. Visit Wineries in Martinborough

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Martinborough is wine central. There are over 20 wineries here, most of which you can cycle between. I’m yet to visit, but I’ve heard it makes for a fun day out if you love wine and fancy a tipple or twelve! Hire a bike, cycle between the wineries, and then head back into the picturesque colonial town for dinner.

23. Explore the Putangirua Pinnacles

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

As well as being an epic, otherworldly, and somewhat eerie geological feature, The Pinnacles (as they’re known for short) are another well-known Lord of the Rings filming location. This was the Dimholt Road in The Return of the King, which led Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli to the Paths of the Dead. They’re about 40 minutes in the car from Martinborough.

24. Explore Windy Wellington

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Wellington is the vibrant New Zealand capital. It can get incredibly windy (hence its nickname, Windy Welly), which isn’t as fun, but this city’s hard to beat on a nice day. Expect a cool, bustling city with culture, coastal views, beaches, endless bars, restaurants, cafes, and clubs. It’s also where you catch the ferry over to South Island.


15 Photos That Prove New Zealand Is the Most Beautiful Country on Earth

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

It’s hard to overstate how beautiful New Zealand is! Here are 15 of its most awe-inspiring sights.


Useful New Zealand Map Collection To Print or Add To Google Maps

A panoramic view of Queenstown in New Zealand at dusk. When looking at a New Zealand map, Queenstown is located in the Otago region of South Island.
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Are you looking for a New Zealand map to help plan your trip or take with you on the road? This map of New Zealand collection should do the trick.


Author: Danny Newman

Title: Writer and Content Creator

Expertise: Travel, Digital Nomadry, Outdoors, Blogging

Danny Newman is a writer, content creator, and digital nomad from the UK. He founded the travel and lifestyle blog What’s Danny Doing, a popular resource for people seeking more adventure, self-discovery, and purpose. A nationally syndicated writer, Danny’s work features in dozens of online publications, including MSN.com and news sites across the US.