Wine country, giant trees, active volcanoes, hobbits, world-class golf, natural hot springs, Maori culture, glow worms, sailing and fishing – welcome to New Zealand’s North Island!
You could take three days and choose one location to visit on the North Island, or with at least a week you could see many of the highlights of the whole island. Start in Auckland, the gateway for all flights from the US, and spend a few nights on the waterfront. Go sailing, explore the black sands and dunes of Muriwai Beach, or go to the top of the Sky Tower, then start off in your rental car or with your driver. To the north is the Bay of Islands, home of sleepy bays and calm water, dolphins, fishing and great local food and farmer’s markets. Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the place where the treaty was signed between the Maori and the British in 1848, then continue up to the tip of the North Island at Cape Reinga and see the Pacific Ocean meet the Tasman Sea – they are actually different colors!
From Cape Reinga, turn around and drive down the West Coast through the Waipoua and Trounson Forests, full of huge kauri trees similar in scale to the redwoods and sequoias of northern California. Spend a few hours visiting these giants, or better yet, do a twilight excursion into the forest with a local Maori guide. Continue south through sprawling farmland, horse country and rolling hills and make a stop in Waitomo to see the glow worms or Matamata to visit the Hobbit village. Spend a couple of nights in Rotorua, the center of Maori culture on the North Island, surrounded by geothermal wonders, and perhaps go fishing near Lake Taupo. The wine country of Hawke’s Bay is not to be missed, and then follow the food and wine south towards Wellington, New Zealand’s capital.