The Best Activities, Attractions, Sights and Tours on the North Island
So, you’re hitting the road on the North Island of New Zealand or “Te Ika-a-Māui”. What are the activities you can’t miss? We’ve compiled a mammoth list of the 51 best things to do on the North Island so you can start planning your travels with ease. From geothermal wonders to the immersive Maori culture to aromatic wines, there’s a huge range of must-dos on the North Island. Get your North Island bucket list in order right here.
Before we get into the best things to do on the North Island, open up The Best Travel Guide to New Zealand in a new tab to plan the rest of your trip.
1. Meet the Icon of New Zealand, the Kiwi Bird
See New Zealand’s iconic flightless bird, the kiwi, at one of the many conservation centres on the North Island, including the National Kiwi Hatchery in Rotorua (more info on Viator or Klook) and the Otorohanga Kiwi House.
Location: Check out all of the North Island locations in Where to See Kiwi Birds in New Zealand.
2. Go as North as You Can Go (in New Zealand) to Cape Reinga
The lighthouse at the (almost) northern point of the North Island is an iconic photo stop. Either drive up independently or join a tour to combine the visit with sandboarding on Ninety Mile Beach.
Location: Cape Reinga, Northland. Learn more about things to do here in our Cape Reinga Guide.
3. Enjoy a Maori Cultural Evening with a Hangi Dinner
Experience New Zealand’s Maori culture with an evening village tour in Rotorua. Mitai Maori Village and Te Pa Tu (formerly Tamaki Maori Village – more info on Viator and Klook) both offer engaging experiences with performances, mini-workshops and a traditional meal called a “hangi”.
Location: Rotorua, Bay of Plenty. See more Maori experiences in the 10 Best Maori Tours in New Zealand.
4. Hike to the Pouakai Mirror Lakes
One of many ultra-scenic hikes on the North Island, the Pouakai Tarns Track (Mangorei Track) journeys through verdant forest onto the tussock-covered hilltops and to a mirror lake reflecting Mt Taranaki.
Location: Egmont National Park, Taranaki. See more walks in our 6 Best Hikes in Egmont National Park.
5. Sample Some Wine in Hawke’s Bay
Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s oldest wine region. Either visit wineries independently for tastings, hire some bikes with On Yer Bike Hawkes Bay or let someone else worry about driving by taking a tour like Prinsy’s Tours.
Location: Napier/Hastings, Hawke’s Bay. Check out more wine regions in the 10 Best Wine Tours in New Zealand.
6. Wake Up for an East Cape Sunrise
New Zealand is one of the first countries to see the sunrise of a new day thanks to its position on the International Date Line. An iconic place to watch the sunrise is the East Cape Lighthouse on the easternmost shores of the mainland.
Location: Te Araroa, Gisborne. Learn more about the region’s attractions in the 13 Eastland Must-Dos.
7. Land on the Beach After an Epic Skydive in the Bay of Islands
Get a dose of adrenaline combined with epic views by challenging yourself to a skydive! One of the most unique dropzones in the North Island is with Skydive Bay of Islands where you can land on the beach.
Location: Bay of Islands, Northland. See more amazing dropzones in the 12 Best Places to Tandem Skydive in New Zealand.
8. Follow Crystal Clear Spring Water on the Te Waihou Walkway
Take the Te Waihou Walkway to follow the ultra-clear waters of what’s known as the “Blue Spring”. The walk takes about three hours to complete back and forth.
Location: Putāruru, Waikato.
9. Experience a Whale Watching Cruise
While most tourists flock to Kaikoura to do whale watching cruises on the South Island, savvy travellers on the North Island know they can see whales straight out of Auckland! Join Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari to see Bryde’s whales, bottlenose dolphins and a variety of seabirds (more info on Viator and Klook).
Location: Auckland. See more locations for whale watching in the 5 Best Places to Spot Whales in New Zealand.
10. Witness Geysers, Hot Springs, Silica Terraces and More at a Geothermal Park
The North Island is literally a hotbed of activity with entire geothermal parks to explore. Highlights include Waimangu Volcanic Valley (more info on Viator and Klook) and Orakei Korako.
Location: Rotorua – Taupo, Waikato. See more geothermal hotspots in the 8 Best Geothermal Parks in New Zealand.
11. Be Amazed by the Rapids of Huka Falls
Witness awesome rapids leading to a waterfall as the Waikato River squeezes into a narrow canyon. Huka Falls is the most-visited natural attraction in New Zealand and for good reason!
Location: Taupo, Waikato. See more epic attractions nearby in the 10 Best Things to Do in Taupo.
12. Tackle the Volcanic Terrain of the Tongariro Crossing
This popular day hike crosses the volcanic terrain of Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe with rich red craters, vibrant green lakes and steaming vents. Prepare for the mission using The Guide to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Location: Tongariro National Park, Waikato. See more ways to experience Tongariro’s volcanic landscape in the 10 Tongariro National Park Must-Dos.
13. Scuba Dive at the Poor Knights Islands
To add to the North Island’s list of adventures, scuba diving is also worth giving a go. A highlight is the marine reserve of the Poor Knights Islands.
Location: Tutukaka, Northland. For more North Island dive sites, head to the 11 Best Places to Scuba Dive in New Zealand.
14. Dig Your Own Hot Pool in the Sand at Hot Water Beach
That’s right, you can dig yourself a soothing hot pool at a beach in the Coromandel! Hot Water Beach has a hot spring seeping through the sand, ideal for making a hot pool when mixed with seawater. Visit at low tide.
Location: Hahei, Waikato. See more beaches to visit in the 22 Stunning Beaches in New Zealand.
15. Experience Downhill Go-Karting on The Luge
One of the more bizarre activities on the North Island, The Luge is made up of downhill tracks for go-karts powered by gravity! Find the North Island’s Luge track at the top of the Skyline Rotorua gondola.
Location: Rotorua, Bay of Plenty. See more wacky activities like this in the 9 Newest & Weirdest Extreme Activities in New Zealand.
16. Step Back in Time on Kapiti Island
Experience what New Zealand used to be like before human migration on Kapiti Island. After taking the ferry from Paraparaumu, you’ll arrive on the island with walking trails where it’s possible to spot a variety of rare native birds.
Location: Paraparaumu, Wellington. See more things to do in the area in the 8 Best Things to Do in Paraparaumu.
17. Soak in Mineral Hot Pools
Thanks to the North Island’s geothermal activity, it’s not too difficult to find a pool complex fed by natural mineral hot springs. Some highlights include Taupo DeBrett’s and the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua (on Klook and KKday).
Location: See the locations of these North Island hot pools and others in the 10 Best Hot Pools in New Zealand.
18. Go on a “Great Walk”
Backpacking/tramping/multi-day hiking is a classic way to connect with nature and see the North Island’s breathtaking scenery. While there are over 250 multi-day hikes in New Zealand as a whole, the ones on the North Island with the best facilities are known as the New Zealand Great Walks. Try the Lake Waikaremoana Track or the Tongariro Northern Circuit, for example.
Location: See the North Island locations of all of the Great Walks in The 10 Great Walks of New Zealand. For cheaper walks, see the 12 Awesome Alternatives to the New Zealand Great Walks.
19. Ski Down an Active Volcano
That’s right, New Zealand’s largest active volcano is home to three ski fields! Mt Ruapehu is at the centre of the North Island and has some of the largest ski fields in the country. Compare them with others in our Top 24 Ski Fields in New Zealand.
Location: Tongariro National Park, Waikato. Prepare for the ski season using our guide, Ski Season in New Zealand: North Island or South Island?
20. Enter the World of Middle-earth at Hobbiton
It would be a sin for any Lord of the Rings fan to miss this attraction! The Hobbiton Movie Set is the village of Hobbit Holes exactly as you saw in the movies. A guided tour is available to learn all about the behind-the-scenes (more info on Viator and Klook).
Location: Matamata, Waikato. For more North Island Middle-earth locations, see the 23 Best Lord of the Rings Locations in New Zealand.
21. Raft on the Rapids of the Rangitikei River…
There’s no lack of white water fun on the North Island’s rivers. One of the highlights is the grade 4 and 5 rapids of the Rangitikei River.
Location: Taihape, Manawatu-Whanganui. For more North Island rafting locations, check out the 7 Best Places to Go White Water Rafting in New Zealand.
22. … Or Ride a Jet Boat in the Rapids of the Waikato River
Speaking of rapids, you can also experience them in the adrenaline-inducing New Zealand invention of a jet boat! There are many jet boat tours on the North Island, but a pretty epic one is Rapids Jet in Taupo taking you over tumultuous white water.
Location: Taupo, Waikato. For more jet boating locations, see the 17 Best Places to Jet Boat in New Zealand.
23. Gaze Upon the Glowworms of Waitomo
Enter caves twinkling with the blue lights of glowworms in Waitomo. While caving and underground tubing are fun ways to see these shiny maggots, the classic experience is a walking and boat tour with the Waitomo Glowworm Caves.
Location: Waitomo, Waikato. Check out more North Island locations with glowworms in the 7 Best Places to See the Famous Glowworms in New Zealand.
24. Hit the Surf in Raglan
With more than 15,000 km (9,320 mi) of coastline, you can bet that surfing is extremely popular in New Zealand. The most famous surf town on the North Island, however, is Raglan where there are plenty of lessons and gear hire available (more info on Viator or Klook).
Location: Raglan, Waikato. For more surfing locations, see The Best Surf Regions in New Zealand.
25. Wander Among the Giants in a Kauri Forest
By “giants”, we mean giant trees and kauri are the largest of all in New Zealand. The biggest one, Tane Mahuta, is known as the God of the Forest and can be found in the Waipoua Forest. See it via a walking track or visit as part of an evening Maori experience with Footprints Waipoua.
Location: Hokianga, Northland. For more North Island kauri locations, see the 10 Best Kauri Forests in New Zealand.
26. Visit the Te Papa Museum
Located in the capital city, Te Papa is the national museum of New Zealand. There’s so much to explore here between the displays about New Zealand’s volcanos, flora and fauna, Maori and European settlers and more. What’s more, the museum is free!
Location: Wellington. For more experiences in the capital, see the 20 Best Things to Do in Wellington.
27. Experience New Zealand’s Farming Culture at Agrodome
Farming has been a way of life in New Zealand for more than a century and tours like those at Agrodome in Rotorua give visitors an insight into sheep shearing, cattle rearing and even kiwifruit growing.
Location: Rotorua, Bay of Islands. See more family-friendly activities like this in the 50 Best Things to Do in New Zealand with Kids.
28. Feed Stingrays in Gisborne
When the tide is low, Dive Tatapouri invites visitors to meet their resident rays to feed them and learn more about these friendly reef-dwellers.
Location: Tatapouri, Gisborne. See more Gisborne highlights in the 10 Best Things to Do in Gisborne.
29. Take the Ferry to Rangitoto Island
Even from the heart of Auckland city, you can escape to nature. For instance, take the ferry to Rangitoto Island to hike through lava fields and explore caves on your way to the crater summit. Rangitoto is just one of many islands to visit from Auckland.
Location: Auckland. For more Auckland highlights, check out the 10 Best Things to Do in Auckland.
30. Walk, Cruise or Kayak to Cathedral Cove
The white cliffs, archway and sandy shores of Cathedral Cave complete this iconic image of the Coromandel. Get to Cathedral Cove either by boat, kayak, or on foot – be aware of the parking restrictions for the walk.
Location: Hahei, Waikato. For more attractions in the area, see the 10 Best Things to Do in the Coromandel.
31. Dive into New Zealand History at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds
Visit the site where New Zealand became a nation. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds offers a museum, carving studios, bushwalks, a historic homestead and Maori culture performances (more info on Viator and Klook).
Location: Bay of Islands, Northland. Plan more of your visit with the 10 Best Things to Do in the Bay of Islands.
32. Zipline Through the Forest in Rotorua
Soar through the forest like a kererū on one of New Zealand’s zipline tours, such as that with Rotorua Canopy Tours (more info on Viator, Klook and KKday).
Location: Rotorua, Bay of Plenty. For more zipline locations on the North Island, check out the 10 Best Places to Zipline in New Zealand.
33. Walk by Mining Tunnels, Historical Equipment and More at Karangahake Gorge
Gold mining was a huge part of New Zealand’s pioneering history. Remnants of the past can be seen along the rugged terrain of Karangahake Gorge with lots of walking and cycling trails to explore.
Location: Paeroa, Waikato. See more to do in the town nearby in the 5 Best Things to Do in Paeroa.
34. Swim with Dolphins in Tauranga
During the summer months, cruises like Dolphin Seafaris from Tauranga take you out into the Bay of Plenty to swim alongside its resident pods of dolphins.
Location: Tauranga, Bay of Plenty. Check out the 5 Best Places to Swim with Dolphins in New Zealand for more locations around the North Island.
35. Cruise the Bay of Islands to See the Hole in the Rock
144 islands scatter the Bay of Islands, so needless to say that there’s plenty to see on a cruise here. As well as dolphin and seal sightings, cruises like Explore and Fullers GreatSights will also take you through a giant archway island known as the Hole in the Rock.
Location: Bay of Islands, Northland. For more awesome places to cruise on the North Island, check out the 11 Best Cruises in New Zealand.
36. Meet Rare Birds at Zealandia
Even in New Zealand’s capital, you can easily find wilderness areas where birds thrive thanks to state-of-the-art predator-proof fencing. Zealandia is one such eco-sanctuary with walkways lined with bird-feeding stations making it easy to spot native parrots, tui, robins and the colourful takahe.
Location: Wellington. Plan more of your trip to the capital using the 20 Best Things to Do in Wellington.
37. Hike or Take a Tractor Tour to Cape Kidnappers
Not only are the dramatic cliffs of Cape Kidnappers excellent examples of tectonic plates, fault lines and ancient fossils, but they are also home to New Zealand’s largest mainland gannet colony. Either walk the trail or take a tour with Gannet Safaris Overland.
Location: Hastings, Hawke’s Bay. Plan more of your trip using the 10 Hawke’s Bay Must-Dos.
38. Explore the Wellington Botanic Gardens
Something that New Zealand cities do particularly well are their public gardens. A top choice is the Wellington Botanic Garden covering some 25 hectares (62 acres) across the city.
Location: Wellington. Explore more attractions like this in the 21 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wellington.
39. Try Out Stand-Up Paddleboarding
A favourite pastime for coasties in New Zealand, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is well worth trying for a relaxing yet healthy way to explore the North Island’s lakes, rivers and coast. Some of our favourite paddle destinations are Donut Island from Whangamata and the glowworm tunnels on Lake Rotoiti with Paddle Board Rotorua.
Location: Whangamata and Rotorua. See more paddleboarding opportunities in the 10 Best Places to SUP in New Zealand.
40. Get Breathtaking Views from the Mt Manaia Walk
Get glorious coastal views from this stunning viewpoint in Northland. The Mt Manaia Walk is one of the North Island’s top short walks, incorporating kauri forest, rocky outcrops and views for miles.
Location: Whangarei, Northland. Plan more of your trip using the 12 Best Things to Do at Whangarei Heads.
41. Kayak or Cruise to the Maori Rock Carvings of Lake Taupo
The fact that Lake Taupo is the crater of a supervolcano is impressive enough in itself, but checking out the shore’s towering Maori carvings is another reason to cruise with Sail Barbary (more info on Viator and Klook) or kayak with Canoe and Kayak Taupo.
Location: Taupo, Waikato. See more ways to experience the lake in the 5 Ways to Experience Lake Taupo.
42. Check Out the Views from the Top of the Sky Tower
Piercing the sky in Auckland is the Southern Hemisphere’s tallest building. Take the elevator to the observation deck of the Sky Tower to see a mix of an urban jungle, glistening harbour waters and outer islands of the Hauraki Gulf (more info on Viator and Klook). Add a dose of adrenaline to your visit by doing the SkyWalk or the Sky Jump.
Location: Auckland. Plan more of your trip with the 10 Best Things to Do in Auckland.
43. Take the Weta Workshop Tour
Forget Hollywood; the New Zealand film industry mostly functions out of “Wellywood”. This includes the Weta Workshop which created props and special effects for The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, some Marvel movies and more. Take a tour in Wellington (more info on Viator and Klook) or at Weta Unleashed in Auckland to learn more about movie-making.
Location: Wellington and Auckland. Check out more movie locations in the 15 Best Film Locations in Wellington.
44. Get a Photo of Whangarei Falls
The North Island is home to plenty of waterfalls. One of the easiest to access and most picturesque is Whangarei Falls. The short waterfall walk offers various picture-perfect viewpoints.
Location: Whangarei, Northland. Add more to the itinerary with the 10 Best Things to Do in Whangarei.
45. Visit the Bridge to Nowhere
Nestled in the dense forest of the Whanganui National Park, the Bridge to Nowhere is one of the rare remnants of a time long forgotten. Visit the bridge via multi-day hiking and cycling trails or learn why the bridge is there on a guided jet boat tour.
Location: Whanganui National Park, Manawatu-Whanganui. See more attractions here in the 10 Best Things to Do in the Whanganui National Park.
46. Join an Art Deco Tour of Napier
After a devastating earthquake in 1931, the city of Napier was rebuilt with characterful art deco architecture. Learn about the city’s history and see its most noteworthy buildings on a guided art deco tour with Hawkes Bay Scenic Tours.
Location: Napier, Hawke’s Bay. This activity is one of the 15 Best Things to Do in Napier.
47. Experience a Railbiking Journey Through a “Forgotten World”
The disused railway lines of the North Island have not been left to rust thanks to the Kiwi ingenuity that invented railbiking! Hop on an electric or peddle-powered rail kart to get to some of the North Island’s remotest places. Railbiking is available with Forgotten World Adventures, Gisborne Railbike Adventures and Awakeri Rail Adventures.
Location: Taumarunui, Waikato or Gisborne or Whakatane, Bay of Plenty.
48. Race Down the Rere Rockslide
Instead of a waterpark, Gisborne has its own natural waterslide at the Rere Rockslide. Get a bodyboard or an inflatable mattress and have the time of your life!
Location: Rere, Gisborne. Plan your visit with the 10 Best Things to Do in Gisborne.
49. Watch the Underwater World Through a Clear Kayak
New Zealand’s waters might be a little too cold for us mere mortals to casually snorkel in, but that’s where clear kayaking comes in! It allows you to observe the fish and kelp forests without getting wet. Hire a Clearyak at the Goat Island Marine Reserve.
Location: Leigh, North Island. See more stuff to do in the 10 Best Things to Do in Leigh.
50. Roll Down a Hill in a Giant Inflatable Ball
A ridiculously fun thing to do on the North Island is Zorb. Simply jump into a hollow inflatable ball with some shallow water and let gravity do the rest!
Location: Rotorua, Bay of Plenty. While you’re here, do these 10 Best Things to Do in Rotorua.
51. Experience Mountain Biking on the Timber Trail
There’s no real reason that we’ve left the mountain biking until point #51, especially considering how many epic cycle trails there are on the North Island! Regardless, an awesome day trail is the Timber Trail in the midst of the Pureora Forest Park.
Location: Pureora Forest Park, Waikato. See more top trails in the 10 Best Bike Trails on the North Island.
More Things to Do on the North Island
That’s it for the best things to do on the North Island. Now discover more activities to do around New Zealand:
- 101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List
- 51 Best Things to Do on the South Island
- The Complete Travel Guide to New Zealand
- 10 Unique & Unusual Things to Do on the North Island
Finally, plan the ultimate road trip around the North Island using North Island in Two Weeks: Road Trip Itinerary and North Island in One Week: Road Trip Itinerary.