The North Island of New Zealand: Top 10 Kiwi Experience Highlights
WELCOME TO NEW ZEALAND!!
Truly one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and a destination that has something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for gorgeous landscapes, metropolitan cities, or adrenaline rushes — you’re pretty much guaranteed to fall in love with New Zealand.
While I may have only scratched the surface of the North Island, the two weeks I did spend on the Big Green Kiwi Experience Bus were absolutely fantastic! I wish I had a bit more time, especially to check out the far North, but I’ll save that for my next trip!
This is what I got to up to, and I would do it all over again tomorrow if I had the chance!
1 ) Auckland SkyTower Sunset
The majority of travelers embarking on a trip around New Zealand will begin their holiday in the beautiful city of Auckland. While at first glance some people find this city rather quiet, it’s actually a really great place. It reminded me of a much tamer version of Sydney (where I lived for nearly a year), and think it could be a really nice place to call home.
I don’t recommend travelers spending too much time in Aucklandthough, as there’s tons to see around the country!
With that being said, you definitely have to make your way up to the Auckland Sky Tower for sunset. The observation deck provides stunning 360° views of the city, and you’ll get the chance to see Auckland from above during the day & at night.
2 ) Piha Beach
If you do find yourself with a few extra days in Auckland before / after your Kiwi Experience…then I’d recommend making the short 40-minute drive over to Piha Beach.
My local friend took me here on a day-trip because it was raining pretty hard in Auckland, but the weather at Piha looked a bit friendlier.
When we arrived, I was blown away by how beautiful this place is. The massive and iconic “Lion Rock” stands tall in between the two sections of Piha Beach, but the real highlight is the 20-minute walk up to the Tasman Lookout.
While it’s not technically included on the hop-on / hop-off bus pass with Kiwi Experience, it’s definitely worth checking out!
3 ) Exploring Karangahake Gorge
Scenic walks, suspension bridges, and historical mining tunnels.
While we did only stop at the Karangahake Gorge for a little over an hour, it really was a highlight of the North Island for me.
There’s several short and FREE walking trails along the mining railways that were fascinating to learn all about. It also provided a few really beautiful view-points, and great to walk along the river flowing through the gorge.
4 ) Kayaking Cathedral Cove & Hot Water Beach
Let’s go for a paddle…
There’s tons of places to go kayaking around the country, but I definitely think one of the better options is around Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel Peninsula.
We lucked out with beautiful weather for this time of the year, and really enjoyed the 3-4 hour tour with Cathedral Cove Kayaks.
Sadly, we didn’t get the chance to paddle onto the beach where the cove is actually located, but kayaking along the coastline was gorgeous!
For the Kiwi Experience people who opted out of kayaking, they all went on the free Cathedral Cove walk.
We then spent the night at the Hot Water Beach Top 10, which was one of my favorite places I slept during the whole trip! I missed out on getting to experience the self-dug jacuzzis unfortunately, but these things happen…
5 ) Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Have you ever heard of BLACK WATER RAFTING…?
I honestly had no idea what it was, but it ended up being one of my favorite things I did during my entire trip in the country!
We abseiled 35 meters through a narrow hole into the cave, zip-lined in complete darkness under glowworms, swam in the underground (freezing cold) black water river, floated in innertubes while marveling at the bright blue glowworms while my friend Caitlin sang an incredible acapella version of “Oh Danny Boy”), explored different alleys in this complex Ruakuri Cave system, and finished the tour by climbing up two rushing waterfalls.
6 ) Hobbiton Movie Set
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” — J.R.R Tolkien
THIS TOUR WAS AWESOME ! ! !
I’m a big fan of “Lord of the Rings”, and have dreamt of visiting Hobbiton ever since I was a little boy. I was so stoked to check out some of the filming locations of my favorite trilogy, and was nerding out pretty hard. ;-)
It was amazing to walk around the movie set, and to learn some behind the scenes information about the movies. The location really is spectacular, the tour was fun and informative, and it even included a free beer at the Green Dragon!
7 ) Tamaki Maori Village Overnight Stay
“A HAKA MANA PARA TAWA NGA WHA”
*To to tune of “Stupid Cupid”*
That’s just the first verse of the Maori song we learned and sang during our overnight cultural experience.
The whole day & night was fun, and I am glad I did it, but I gotta say that it did feel a bit too touristy for a cultural activity.
With that being said, the food was seriously delicious, the games were fun, and the late-night hot-tub sessions with Kiwi Experience friends was a night to remember for sure.
Budget Travel Tip: If you don’t want to spend the money on the full overnight experience, than just check out the evening dinner and show. It’s pretty cool, and you’ll save a bit of money on accommodation.
8 ) Lake Taupo
I’M OFFICIALLY ADDICTED TO SKYDVING!!
There are plenty of places around New Zealand to jump out of a plane, but I’m really happy I got to do it over the gorgeous Lake Taupo.
I jumped from 15,000m up in the air and enjoyed a scenic free-fall for nearly a full-minute! If you’ve been skydiving before, I’m sure you understand how incredible of an adrenaline rush it is.
Lake Taupo was also a pretty fun night out in the city with the Kiwi Experience crew, and Skydiving turned out to be a solid hangover remedy! ;-)
*Another highlight of the North Island is the Tongariro Crossing, which unfortunately got cancelled due to bad weather. I’ll be back to check it out soon though! :-)
9 ) River Valley Lodge
For any New Zealand travelers who love WHITE WATER RAFTING…then River Valley Lodge is the place to do it!
These rapids are no joke though, because they are known for being some of the most intense in the entire country. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get to raft down them myself, as the weather conditions were just a bit too harsh! Sighh….
But that didn’t stop the Kiwi Experience crew from having a crazy night, because the River Valley Lodge had some great specials, and drinks were flowing all over the place. It was a night filled with drinking games, ping-pong, and even a bit of nudity, lol. Yeah, it got a little weird…
While we didn’t get to experience the rafting, the entire property really is beautiful, and it ended up being one of my favorite nights of the trip.
10 ) Wellington
When I’m traveling, I like to ask people I meet on the road this question:
“If you could only live in three cities for the rest of your life, where would you choose?
A lot of people would respond with standard and predictable answers like “New York, London, Sydney, Paris, etc”. Nothing is wrong with those answers, because they are ALL fantastic places.
But I’ll never forget when a friend of mine (I met while traveling in South-East Asia) included Wellington for one of his choices. I had never even heard much of the city, but I remember getting really excited to visit it someday.
I spent three days exploring Wellington and the surrounding area, and I really fell in love with the “cultural capital” of New Zealand.
Watching the sunset from Mt. Victoria Summit, taking a day-trip to Wine Country, and a full-day of cafe and bar hopping in the city were a few of my highlights.
I’m 28 years old, which means I have a couple more years to move to New Zealand to complete a Working Holiday Visa — and I would love to get back to Wellington and treat it as my home-base sometime in the near future.
Enter To Win a Free Kiwi Experience Pass!
I partnered with the amazing people over at Kiwi Experience during my travels in New Zealand, and they are giving away FREE SHEEPDOG PASSES to 2 lucky individuals! Follow the link and enter your details for your chance to win.
The North Island really is incredible, and if you make it there I hope you can check out everything I did as well!