Wellington, New Zealand.
The city that can BLOW you away!
Our final destination in our travel to New Zealand in the North Island is Wellington.
We enroute to Napier, the Art Deco city in the North Island, for a look-see and as a stopover as it a long drive to Wellington. If you don’t have a car hire in New Zealand, you can book a flight with Air New Zealand.
It is a pity that we can’t stay on for a night as this seems to be a lovely little town in the North Island. We had breakfast in a nice local café, Ujazi.
There’s something about this place; it’s warm, friendly and cosy. We enjoyed the food and it was value for money. If you are in for a caffeine fix, Ujazi serves great coffee! We continued our North Island journey to Wellington.
We have been told about how windy Wellington is. But the truth is, it is windier than we truly expect! At some point, I almost take this city out of our itinerary but sure glad I did not. Some friends tell us that it is just another New Zealand city but it is not!
Wellington is sophisticated and artistic. In my opinion, it has one of the nicest and impressive architecture in New Zealand. Many of the old historical buildings are restored and used for commercial purposes. You can find cafes, restaurants and retail shops housed in some of these characteristic buildings during your New Zealand travel.
I find the shopping here trendier and more exciting than Auckland. If you have the time, you can start from Lambton Quay to Willis Street and into Cuba Mall. You won’t be short of places to get a good New Zealand gift.
One of my favourite shops is ‘Living Nature’ which has a flagship store in Lambton Quay. This is a locally owned skin/body care company from Kerikeri. It is organic, natural and affordably priced. Despite the cold winds and rain, we spent a day at the waterfront and the famous Te Papa museum. We got there after a few pit stops from the strong winds – typical of Wellington weather.
Wellington is a compact place and you can get around the city quite easily by foot. Most attractions can be seen via the excellent public transport If you can park your rental car in your accommodation, do so. Driving can be a hassle in the city.
The restaurant, bar and cafe scenes here is amongst the liveliest in New Zealand. This city is so cosmopolitan. I particularly adore the elegance in the architecture. Old with character.
We had lunch at Smith the Grocer, housed in the Old Bank Arcade. This seems a popular place for working corporates during lunch, and it is often booked for corporate functions in the evening. You can find a wide variety of ready-to-eat and specialty items. The food is casual and the atmosphere, very lively and relaxed.
As a mother to a one year old, I often find it a comfort to see a well-stocked grocery store when I travel. This is most important when I need to pick up a few items to cook for the little one. So if you are in my shoes or if you plan to do some cooking in your motel or apartment in Wellington, you will like New World Metro, a city supermarket on Willis Street.
It is better stocked (not cheaper) than 7-Eleven or some of those 24-hour convenience store.
Since it was raining that evening, we pampered ourselves with some fine New Zealand cuisine at Bisque, the fine dining restaurant in our hotel (The Bolton). This restaurant boasts a reputation for fine cuisine by award-winning chefs. It seems a little inappropriate to have Clayton in that kind of fine restaurant – dim lights, fine cutlery, impeccable service. But we were house guests so no one is complaining…
Bisque also serves delicious cooked breakfasts. This was where I had the best New Zealand pancakes too! Don’t forget to make a trip to the Botanic Gardens. It is so convenient getting there.
Hop up the Kelburn Cable Car along Lambton Quay (next to McDonald’s) and you will get there. Besides, the view is splendid on a cloudless day. Just be prepared for very strong New Zealand winds and the cold if you are here on a less than perfect day.
See Wellington in a different light right here…
Well, if you can afford the time, step into the cafe next to the Botanic Gardens. Having a cuppa surrounded with lushing greens is a great way to spend a leisure afternoon.
Our trip in the North Island ends as we cross over to the south via the Interislander – The Lynx. If you have a car hire in New Zealand, this is where you return your rental car and pick a new one at Picton.
Ok… they say ‘pictures speak a thousand words’. So I’ll let our North Island pictures do the talking…
Shots of Wellington city from The Lynx.
The viewing deck in The Lynx is a nice place to enjoy the sea view.
Our travel to Wellington New Zealand is a memorable on with the ferry experience. Make plans for this trip if you can afford the time. It’s truly a great encounter for every New Zealand tourist.
Moving on in our New Zealand travel, we decided to stop at Mount Maunganui for a night before arriving at Rotorua. Commonly known as The Mount, this small town resembles a little of Surfers Paradise at the Gold Coast, Australia, except that it is less crowded and not so commercialised. The Mount is also a popular place for joggers and climbers.
We did the full walk of 3.5km with Clayton in the pram. It is a easy and lovely climb. We stopped by a few times just to admire the sea views, at the same time, get some rest. Go for the climb to the summit if you can. It takes about 2 hours to get up there and this is a popular spot for hang-gliders and para-gliders.
We like this little town. It is one place where the Mount meets the sea and it’s so friendly and relaxing. It looks like a great place to retire which may explains why there are so many luxury properties facing the ocean. Doesn’t this look like a great place to retire?
Ocean Beach is a great place to lay back…
The sidewalk cafes along Marine Parade are a favourite hangout for the locals. Unlike the Surfers Paradise in Gold Coast, you get more locals here than tourists. Take a drive and check out the grand, luxurious houses along Ocean beach, some of them are the most impressive in the North Island.
For sumptuous breakfasts, tasty sandwiches, fresh salads and aromatic coffee, we recommend the award-winning café, SideTrack Pacifa. This is definitely a favourite among the locals all-day long, you can simply tell by the regulars relaxing in al fresco style along the walkway.
Don’t leave the town without savouring a double cone from the famous Copenhagen ice-cream parlour along the Marine Parade.
If you are deprived for some retail therapy or can’t wait to buy your New Zealand travel souvenir, take a short drive in your rental car to Tauranga.
Taupo – Home to New Zealand’s largest lake
On our way to Lake Taupo, we stop by at the Huka Falls. We were amazed at the speed on which the water move from the Waikato River to the drop!
It was raining during our two nights in Taupo. But then again, the poor weather didn’t spoil our fun in Taupo either. We had a great time in Baycrest Lodge. Our room came with a private courtyard and private thermal tub. We can then fill to our requirements with 50 degree C thermal water extracted from the ground.
It is so relaxing soaking in the tub in the moonlight… yep! And you don’t even have to bother about swim gear. It is so private. I’m sure you can star gaze on a clear night.
Lake Taupo is the biggest lake in New Zealand. Take a nice stroll and enjoy sunset by the calm lake. This town seems less busy than Rotorua. There are some nice shops to browse around so start shopping for a New Zealand gift. Don’t miss out on the many cafes if you like a lazy afternoon.
Taupo in the North Island is serene and quiet during our time of travel but this lakeside town can get very busy during summer months.
For food in Taupo, you ought to check out Replete Café. For some reason, the queue is endless during lunch. The food is quite tasty with a touch of Asian but the menu selection may be a little limited. I like the quirky store next to the café. You can find lots of nice- looking kitchenware and selected gourmet condiments on the shelves.
Few restaurants have opened up on the lakefront but unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to try any of them due to wet weathers on both the nights. So if you have the time during your New Zealand travel, don’t forget to stop by one of these cafes or restaurants.
Hold your noses! We are in Rotorua! When in New Zealand, North Island, it is almost a crime not to make Rotorua a part of your New Zealand trip. This is one of the most visited places in the North Island.
You can smell Rotorua before entering the town. Every one on the street seems to be a tourist. You can tell by the many New Zealand gift shops in the city and popular attractions. Having said that, this town is energetic and full of life! It is packed with lots of activities and accommodations to suit all kinds of budget. There are many international hotel chains here and tour buses are a common sight too.
Apart from the sulphuric aroma, thermal spas and pools are common sights here. It’s a great opportunity for pure indulgence. Soak those aches away! If you don’t have a car hire in Rotorua, don’t worry. That is because most of the activities offer a pick up and drop off service to/from the Rotorua I-Site.
This is like ‘the landmark’ in Rotorua for visitors!
This is the most well-designed and impressive tourist information centre we have seen in New Zealand. A great place to gather information for every New Zealand tourist. I recommend that you visit the i-Site first if you are uncertain about what to do here.
It pays to chat with one of the consultants to find out more about the activities and adventures. You can also find lots of accommodation brochures here on the North Island.
Make sure you also check out the geothermal attractions here. To name a few:
Waimangu Volcanic Valley
Hidden Valley Orakei Korako Geyserland Resort
It’s probably good enough to visit at least one, or if you have time, two of these geothermal sites. Among these, we pick WaiOtapu. The highlight of this colourful thermal attraction is Lady Knox Geyser which performs at 10.15am daily.
You will also see the spectacular Champagne Pool and the country’s largest mud pool.
Lady Knox Geyser
Alex with Clayton at the bubbling Champagne pool.
It is a nice place to visit and we definitely had a better understanding of geothermal activities in this region after the walk through. If you have no time to travel to any of these attractions, go for the free geothermal action at Kuirau Park. It is in town itself, off Pukuatua and Ranolf Street.
There are heaps of outdoor activities to keep every New Zealand tourist busy in Rotorua, New Zealand. Alex booked an adventure with SledgeAbout (He’s a water junkie!). He was all ‘drained’ after sledging in the rapids!
Check out Alex in his gear with guide, Adam. All ready to sledge! While Alex got his adrenalin rush at the rapids, I had my own private moments at this award winning café, ‘Lime’. The roast lamb salad is yummy and the hot chocolate is rich with flavour! Enjoying good food is the highlight of our New Zealand trip!
You are spoilt with choices when it comes to dining in Rotorua in the North Island – from Turkish to Korean, Indonesian to Italian, and a good selection of local fare too. We tried The Pig & Whistle City Bar. This is a local favourite which serves a good range of beers and hearty New Zealand pub-style meals. Atmosphere here is casual and relaxed.
You will probably notice Fat Dog Café which is known for its lively ambience, you can’t miss it by the attractive signage. This busy place is very popular with almost anyone of all ages – food is reasonably cheap, tasty, good selection of counter food and sumptuous meals. Alex raved about the yummy milkshakes! For me, the big portion of salad I ordered was delicious and very filling! The Fat Dog Cafe is good value for money!
What better indulgence than to soak in the spa after a long day! We booked ourselves for a family spa at the Polynesian Spa. This is real fun.
It is Clayton’s first ‘warm pool’ experience in New Zealand and he absolutely enjoys it! Look at that smile! I enjoyed having my stroll in and around Rotorua town. The Rotorua museum is one place you won’t miss. I simple adore the architecture.
Dusk at Lake Rotorua
Amidst all the adventures, activities and energy in this town, lake Rotorua is great for those seeking some calmness and peace. We head for Lake Taupo after our spa experience. Yes, it’s another wonderful experience in our family trip to New Zealand.
Next in our itinerary for our New Zealand trip in the North Island is Paihia and a day trip to Far North, Cape Reinga. This is the place where you will experience the unique side of New Zealand.
Paihia in the Bay of Islands is one quaint seaside village that attracts lots of tourists and locals. This is the hub for all New Zealand tours and cruises in the region. We spend two days here and it is nice just driving around in our hired car while enjoying the pristine beaches and clear blue waters in the North Island.
What is memorable for us in the Northland was our day trip (12 hours!) to the Far North, Cape Reinga on a 4×4 wheeler which was converted from a military truck! My husband and myself agree that this is the best of natural New Zealand in the North Island.
Besides the Kauri Forests, the highlights of our New Zealand trip in the North Island are the Te Paki sand dunes and the long flat stretch beautiful coastline of Ninety Mile Beach of the North Island. This is a ‘must-do’ and ‘must-see’ if you get a chance to visit the Bay of Islands and the Far North.
The sand-boarding experience at the Te Paki sand dunes is something we enjoyed thoroughly. I must warn you that it is an aerobic activity! One word of caution: private cars are not allowed on 90mile beach unless you plan to get a tow truck to your rescue!
Speaking of beaches, Coromandel, North Island has lots to offer. Compared to the Northland, the coastline in Coromandel is more rustic and remote, complemented with the rugged forests. This is the rugged coast of the North Island. Due to time factor for our New Zealand holidays, we only managed to visit Hahei and Hot Water Beach.
If you are in this area, please don’t miss the gorgeous Cathedral Cove. We could only catch a glimpse of it as it is challenging taking the full trail with Clayton on our backs!
Cathedral Cove is easily accessible by walkway from Hahei. Bring a bottle of water with you if you are doing the walk. You do need few days to see and do more here in the Coromandel if time permits for your New Zealand holiday. In my opinion, it is more local, less touristy, more untouched.
And yes – your trip to Hahei is not complete if you haven’t experience the hot spring pool at The Hot Water Beach.
Alex is having fun in his hot spring pool!
The Hot Water Beach is a natural hot water spa two hours either side of low tide. You can dig your own spot and soak yourself in the hot spring pool.
You may want to check out the low tide times with the reception of your stay or any tourist information centre in the area.
If you are looking for a nice place to eat, look no further. The Hot Wave Café, situated a few minutes walk to Hot Water Beach serves nice lunches. You even get live entertainment on Sundays. It’s a popular place with the locals.
There are probably more dining options in Whitianga, especially along the beachfront. To get here from Hahei, the quickest way is to board a ferry which only takes 10 minutes. It’s a lot further if you drive.
We had a very nice dinner at The Fireplace, a great waterfront restaurant with a cosy courtyard, fresh seafood, unique selections of wood-fired pizzas and most of all, friendly service.
So you can see how we truly enjoyed Northland and Coromandel during the short time in the North Island during our holiday in New Zealand. Read our later posts for more reports of our New Zealand trip.
For us, our North Island travel in New Zealand began in Auckland. This would be a good base if you are planning to tour only the North Island. Other than being known as a big city, Auckland New Zealand does have a lot to offer for your travel experiences– from first class accommodations, a busy night scene and a host of popular attractions and leisure activities.
It is easy to move around in Auckland New Zealand even if you plan not to go for car hire. Though I prefer the shopping scene in Wellington city to Auckland, the specialty shops on Ponsonby are my personal favourite.
This is Ponsonby at dusk.
The main shopping area (the starting point for visitors) in Auckland is Queen Street which is lined with all sorts of stores. I like Ponsonby. There are a few nice shops and lots of cool restaurants. This is one suburb you must not miss when visiting the North Island!
The shop that attracted me most is this big, colourful shop called ‘The Garden Party’. The shop has a large mural outside and it’s hard to miss it when you are walking along Ponsonby Road. It stocks lots of cute, quirky and unusual finds. This will be a wonderful place to find a New Zealand gift to take home.
We had lunch in Prego along Ponsonby road. This is a popular Italian restaurant and the food is simply delicious. Don’t forget to end your meal with their famous tiramisu.
If you are a burger lover, don’t miss the delicious patties at Burger Fuel, a burger-chain found only in New Zealand.
Ponsonby is known for its host of eateries but don’t miss out on the specialty design stores and boutiques. If you are all out to spend your money shopping in Auckland New Zealand travel, head to High Street, Newmarket and even Parnell.
Newmarket, a favourite fashion district for locals, offers mainstream shopping and here, you will also find Two Double Seven Shopping Centre, a 5-storey building.
Parnell, a short drive from Auckland city is a nice place to spend your afternoon. You will be quick to notice a yuppie crowd and and a whole lot of nice restaurants and cafes too. For lunch, we tried ‘Mink’, a cosy and casual café with great New Zealand food and nice coffee. Parnell village is popular with visitors.
The Chocolate Boutique Cafe is my favourite. Don’t miss the Hoglund Art Glass Gallery if you like fine glass art. An item from here makes a great New Zealand gift. You can get here on or The Explorer. Alternatively, you can take an easy drive if you have a car hire in New Zealand.
Shopping at High Street-Vulcan Lane can be an expensive one. I spotted a few shops stocking Korean/Japanese street fashion. You can also find some international labels in the fashion hot stops along High Street.
If you are after some New Zealand fashion labels, check out Mooch and The Untouched World. WORLD in High street and Ponsonby is a nice (but expensive) shop to browse. This designer boutique carries a few international labels and some nice collectibles.
When it comes to dining in Auckland, you are spoilt with choices. Just take a walk along the Viaduct Harbour and the options awaits you. The restaurants and bars in the area come alive in the evenings.
Tired of shopping? How about taking a drive to Mount Eden? For me, your visit to Auckland for your New Zealand travel should include this beautiful place. It is popular with families in the evenings and weekends.
Alex & Clayton – a close encounter with the cows at Mount Eden!
We witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets here in the North Island. Mount Eden makes a wonderful spot for an afternoon picnic. It’s also an ideal location for picture moments in the North Island.
Right here, you get the best views of the city and the harbour too.
Auckland is a nice city to hang around for a few days. It is laid back but if staying in a city is not what you desire for your New Zealand travel, then Auckland may not satisfy. You still can take a drive to the beaches in Paihia and enjoy the space and idyllic waters.
Welcome to natural New Zealand, North Island! Get ready your road map for your New Zealand Trip. Hire a car if you need one! Months before the trip, I have researched and looked at loads of New Zealand holidays websites.
As mum to one year old Clayton, my top requirement in my search for New Zealand accommodation is a place that can enable me to do some simple cooking. For me, it’s important to sleep comfortably when on a vacation. This must, of course, be accompanied with good location at a good price.
Then comes facilities and quality standards which also play an important role when making choices.
The places we stayed for our New Zealand trip in the North Island are:
The Duxton Hotel, Auckland
The Sebel Suites, Auckland
The Ascott Metropolis, Auckland
The Crows Nest Villas, Opua
Cathedral Cove Villas, Hahei
Oceanside Twin Tower Resort, Mount Maunganui
Troutbeck Cottage, Rotorua
Baycrest Lodge, Lake Taupo
The Bolton Hotel, Wellington
Very briefly, New Zealand, North Island is made up of the following regions:
Northland & Corormandel
Waikato & Bay of Plenty
Rotorua, Taupo & Tongariro National Park
Gisborne & Hawkes Bay
Taranaki & Wanganui
As it won’t be possible to stop by every region, we could only cover:
Northland & Coromandel
Mount Maunganui, Bay of Plenty
Rotorua & Taupo
Unless you have time (like more than a month) to move around for your New Zealand holidays, you can’t possibly visit every region in the North Island. Remember that New Zealand is a big country. Therefore, you would need some smart and careful planning to enjoy your trip in New Zealand.
That’s where the New Zealand road map comes in handy!
If you are not the adventurous sort and prefer to see all the popular highlights in New Zealand, I suggest you join a package tour.
Or, the better option would be to plan your trip according to your interests and liking with the help of a New Zealand road map or guide. Focus on certain regions and activities. This way, your New Zealand trip will be more memorable and you will not end up tiring yourself with too much activities.
Opposed to the comments we received on the North Island from many of our friends, we find that the North Island has its own beauty and characteristics which the South Island may not deliver.
Before you do anything, don’t forget to pick up a guide for your New Zealand trip. If you are a shopaholic, there are many places where you can pick up a New Zealand gift to take home. Whatever your travel options are – budget or luxury, you will be spoilt for choices, here in New Zealand, North Island. View our North Island Itinerary!