The Champagne Pool at Waiotapu ("Sacred Waters") thermal area, near Rotorua
The North Island of New Zealand is warm, with scenery ranging from sandy beaches, through rolling farmland to active volcanic peaks. Although it is smaller than the South Island, it is much more populous, with half of New Zealand's population living north of Lake Taupo in the middle of the North Island.
The Māori population of the North Island is much larger than that of the South Island and, in the 2006 census, 24% said that they could carry out an everyday conversation in the Māori language. For more than two hundred years this island was known as Aotearoa, often translated as land of the long white cloud, by Māori. Recently, there has been an increase in use of the alternative name of Te Ika a Māui – "the fish of Maui". In 2009, the New Zealand Geographic Board discovered both the North and South Islands had never been officially named. In October 2013, the island was officially named North Island / Te Ika-a-Māui.
Regions of the North Island
The regions, listed from north to south (as best as possible), are:
- Auckland – the "City of Sails" and, with more than 1.5 million people or one third New Zealand's population, by far the largest metropolitan area in New Zealand and Polynesia
- Hamilton – a major city, with the great Waikato River flowing through it
- Napier – Art Deco and wine in sunny Hawke's Bay
- Rotorua – famous for Māori culture, geysers and beautiful hot pools
- Taupo – trout fishing and adventure activities at the big lake
- Tauranga – great weather, sun and beaches in the Bay of Plenty
- Wellington – the capital and third largest city in the nation, home of Parliament and the Beehive
Mount Ruapehu from the Desert Road in mid-January (summer)
Auckland International Airport (IATA: AKL) is the primary arrival point, handling 70% of all tourist air travel, and is serviced by most major airlines. There are also international flights to Wellington airport.
A significant number of people arrive in Auckland by cruise ship.
Bluebridge and the Interislander ferry companies sail across Cook Strait from Picton in the South Island through the Marlborough Sounds to Wellington. The ferries take bikes, cars, buses and trains and the scenery on a good day is spectacular. The ferries are substantial ships designed for the sometimes rough conditions and the journey takes 3-3.5h.
The North Island is adequately serviced by many national bus companies.
- InterCity Coachlines is New Zealand's national coach company and operates over 150 services to more than 600 destinations nationwide.
- Nakedbus.com is the cheap alternative to Intercity with tickets starting from $1 - book early and get bargain bus travel. They do not have quite as many routes or services as Intercity but are catching up fast.
The North Island may not be quite as well known for its outdoor attractions as the South Island, but it still has an impressive selection. As it has the greater share of the country's population it also has a good selection of urban sites.
Volcanoes and geothermal heat
- The bubbling pools all around Rotorua make it an ideal place to see geothermal activity, with a chance to see how it combines with Maori culture.
- Taupo has a couple of geothermal and volcanic sights.
- The Tongariro National Park contains the three active volcanoes of Mount Ruapehu (the island's highest peak), Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe.
- Rangitoto Island was formed in volcanic eruptions which last happened about 600 years ago. The island can be explored as a day-trip by ferry from Auckland.
- Exploring Te Papa, the national museum, in Wellington can easily fill a day. It is an excellent exhibition of New Zealand history, natural history and art in an impressive modern building. Other museums and galleries in the city could occupy another day.
- Auckland War Memorial Museum is also a good general museum of New Zealand history and natural history. The Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum is particularly worth visiting if you are interested in sailing.
Parks and gardens
- Wellington has a pleasant Botanic Garden on a nice hillside site which gives good views over the city.
- Hamilton has the impressive Hamilton Gardens which has over a dozen themed gardens each of which would justify a visit.
- New Plymouth has the substantial Pukekura Park, which is transformed for the Festival of Lights in December and January.
- The Bay of Islands has some of the earliest Pakeha history, and several historic (nineteenth century) sites.