Navigating the North Island of New Zealand

When choosing where to go in New Zealand, we kept hearing that we can spend time in the North Island but that the South Island was where we should focus our trip. After lots of googling and a ton of bucket list research, we decided to split our time and were pleasantly surprised by the experience we had in the north island!

The North Island can be a bit tricky to navigate so I wanted to write out some suggestions for those first time travelers to New Zealand!

Auckland tips

Where to stay & what to do

  • Stay in the CBD (Central Business District): you can walk to everything from here and are in the hustle and bustle!
  • Waiheke Island: take a tour! The ferry offers a gorgeous view of the city and you can pre-book a tour or fend for yourself but it’s a must visit when in Auckland! Whether you spend all day and add zip lining into your tour or just do a wine tour you have to visit! We did the “wine and dine” tour and visited Stonyridge and Thomas Bach and had the most incredible time!
  • Mission Bay & St Heliers Beach: In just 15 minutes by car from the center of the city you reach beautiful little pockets of beaches. Each has a few restaurants and bakeries and offers a gorgeous place to enjoy happy hour or brunch!
  • Sky Tower: This tower has the best panoramic view of the city and there’s also a casino if you’re looking to kill some time! Sign up for a free casino card and get a discount book for city things!
  • Hotel Grand Windsor High Tea: This gorgeous hotel is right in the center of the CBD and has an amazing high tea (make sure to book in advance!)

Where to eat & drink

  • Winona Forever: Looking for a great “instagrammable” brunch spot- look no further!
  • Chuffed: With their incredible cappuccinos and amazing garden, this cafe is a hidden gem in the CBD
  • Viaduct Harbor: If you’re looking for a place to dance the night away make sure to head here after dark. It really comes alive!
  • Dr. Rudi’s Brewing Company: Directly next to the ferry is this rooftop brewery with beautiful views and some delicious beers!
  • Giapo: Their ice cream is on everyone’s list and when you try it, you’ll know why!
  • Porch Bar & Eatery: If you make it to St. Heliers Beach and are looking for an amazing cocktail or delicious brunch stop at Porch! We loved our cocktails and appetizer and were sitting in a shaded patio next to the ocean

Rotorua & Hobbiton tips

  • Stay in the center of Rotorua: We stayed at the Regent of Rotorua which has free parking and is walking distance to everything!
  • Rotorua Night Market: every Thursday evening there’s a market that comes to life downtown! Enjoy amazing music, delicious snacks, and local artists.
  • Redwoods Treewalk: These redwood trees are massive and they built walkways above the ground from tree to tree. We went at night with the lights offering a really interesting vibe although the daytime looks just as cool! Some people even buy tickets for both and come back for a completely different experience.
  • Hells Gate: Hells gate geothermal park was a major highlight of our trip for me! We started with a walking tour that was led by the old manager who was incredible. You could really tell he cared about the property and loves what he does. We opted for a private mud bath and thermal spa (and smelled like it for a few days after just FYI) but it was so relaxing and our skin felt like we went to the four seasons!
  • Hobbiton: DEFINITELY worth a trip! It’s kept in pristine shape and I was expecting a total tourist trap but it was so beautiful and memorable. Book in advance! If you are looking for a place to eat around there your best bet is the cafe on site!

Pro-tips

  • Rent a car! Definitely rent a car if you can. The roads are wide and the views are gorgeous. You can really get around easily and make your own route and the only place you’ll need to pay for parking is downtown Auckland
  • Plan extra time when driving: Because New Zealand is so beautiful, I definitely recommend to plan extra time between stops so you can enjoy the views
  • Book tours in advance: If you are doing Hobbiton, Waiheke Island, the Gloworm caves, or Redwood trees (or anything else adventurous) definitely book those tours in advance! It’ll ensure you get to see what you want to see if you’re all the way over there
  • Credit cards are accepted everywhere: We were in New Zealand for 6 days and never once took out cash. It might be good to have a little on hand if you are interested in shopping but also good to know it’s not necessary!

Other Ideas

Everywhere we went was beautiful and our experiences were completely worth the visit! Hope you enjoy your trip to the North Island of New Zealand!

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