The North Island of New Zealand is full of some of the most spectacular scenery on earth. This island is rich with many different kinds of natural beauty. Just with driving a short distance, you can see dramatically different landscapes, all breathtaking in their own way. This summer, we got the opportunity to explore this gorgeous island. We took a road trip from Wellington, the capital city of NZ at the south end of the island, to Auckland in the north, NZ’s most populated city. The Wellington-Auckland route is one of the most convenient and beautiful road trip route in NZ, and here are our ten highlights of the trip (with order from Auckland to Wellington):
1. Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Waitomo region is the home of many underground caves in the location. Inside these 30 millions of years old limestone caves, you will find gorgeous stalactites, stalagmites, limestone pillars and curtains. But perhaps, the most famous feature of the Waitomo caves is the glowworms! Brilliant blue radiating creatures that cling beneath the cave ceilings, makes you feel like looking at a gorgeous starry night sky. There are many guided tours available, including the guided walks, boat ride tours, and cave tubing expeditions!
2. Pohutu Geyser in Whakarewarewa Geothermal Area
The Whakarewarewa Geothermal Park in Rotorua is a home to many geysers. Pohutu Geyser is the most famous one, erupting approximately every hour, as high as 30 meters. The entrance fee to this park is quite high, but the ticket also includes a Maori cultural experience. The park area is fenced off, but if you are a cheapskate like us, you can find some gaps in the fence around the side of the park, and enjoy the glorious Pohutu Geyser eruption from a distance.
3. Orakei Korako Geyserland
Orakei Korako, also called the Hidden Valley, is a large and highly active geothermal area between Rotorua and Taupo. This gorgeous land o f silica terraces has numerous active geysers, boiling hot crystal clear pools, muddy mud pools, and colorful algae layers to complete its beauty. Lonely Planet Guide described this place as â€œpossibly the best thermal area left in New Zealand and one of the finest in the worldâ€.
4. Huka Falls
This picturesque falls is not far from the Lake Taupo, and there are several different spots along the road to enjoy the beauty of it from different angles. This rapid and torrential falls especially look stunning because of the beautiful gorge it passes through and the lush green along the cliffsides. Adventurous jet boat rides are also available if you want to admire the falls from below.
5. Aratiatia Dam and Rapids
Several times a day, the gate of Aratiatia Power Station Dam in the Waikato river is opened to release water back into the river downstream. At low tide, the view of the rocky river gorge below the dam is gorgeous, with big boulders, lush forest, and calm water trickling over the rocks. When the dam gate is opened, a torrent of water floods this river bed, filling it up high, and making an enormous rapid. The power of this sudden surge is astonishing to watch.
6. Craters of the Moon
The face of this geothermal area is uncanny. The land is bare, with several large pinkish craters as deep as 20 meters that were formed by hydrothermal eruptions. From many fumaroles in the area, steam clouds are released. Enhanced by the unusual and strong sulfuric smell, this place feels out of the world.
7. Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand. This magnificent caldera lake was formed approximately 26 millennium ago, in a supervolcanic eruption. There are lots of water activities you can do here including trout fishing, but my favourite thing to do is watching the sunset.
8. Tongariro National Park
This national park is marked with 3 active volcanoes: Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngaurohe, and Mount Tongariro. In the winter seasons, this place is transformed into ski hills, however in the summer, you can do hiking, trekking, and various walking trails. The view from the road is already stunning, but if you can, take the time to get right up close to the volcano. If you go there in the summer and your time is limited, one choice is to go to the Whakapapa ski field on the Mount Ruapehu. Unless the weather is bad, the ski lift is open even in the summer season. You can go up with the ski lift, then take some walking trails to enjoy the scenery of an active volcano that has just recently erupted, where the power of nature is evident through the recently cooled lava and barrenness everywhere you look. If you are a more experienced trekker, you can find your way to the crater and be rewarded by the magnificent view up there.
9. Rangitikei River
Rangitikei River is one of the most photogenic rivers in the New Zealand. So beautiful, Peter Jackson filmed the Lord of the Rings’ Anduin River here. If you want to try bungee jumping or flying foxes in stunning natural setting, Gravity Canyon located on this river will not disappoint you. This river canyon also makes gorgeous setting for jet boat rides, kayaks, and white water raftings.
10. Otaki Forks
Otaki Forks was where we had our best lunch picnic in the North Island of new Zealand. From the Highway 1, take Otaki Gorge Road. This scenic forest drive along the Waiotauru river will bring you to Boielle Flat picnic area. Here you can have a picnic right at the gorgeous river bank. Lush green forest surrounds you, including many of NZ’s giant fern trees. From here, you can cross the river over a swinging bridge, and enjoy walking the various tracks available. The view to the river fork gorge is just stunning.
So, I hope this inspires your journey to the North Island of New Zealand. If you’ve been there, share with us your highlights!
Photo credit: Waitomo caves pictures were either purchased from the company or taken from their website Waitomo.com since carrying camera was not allowed. Other photos were taken by ourselves.