The scenery in New Zealand North Island may not be quite as spectacular as in the South Island, the previous stage of my Round the World tour. However, I was very much looking forward to seeing some of the backdrops to the film ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and visiting the geothermal areas.
My route in the North Island took me from the capital, Wellington, north along the west coast to Wanganui (Maori name Whanganui), then inland to Mt Ruapehu.
After skirting the shores of Lake Taupo, I headed to the Rotorua region. My eight day tour of the island finished in Auckland, New Zealand’s most populous city, and the port of departure for the South American stage of my Round the World adventure.
Again, as in the South Island, I’d badly underestimated the time I needed for my tour. Maybe that is why I picked up a speeding ticket whilst driving on a wide open road with no other car in sight… except the police car driving towards me!
Nevertheless I very much enjoyed my time on the North Island. I have no reservations in including the drive from Wellington to Auckland in my list of the world’s Top Ten Road Journeys.
My Ten Highlights of New Zealand North Island
1. I found Wellington to be a great city to stroll around. The waterfront is a major feature of the city, with cafés, sculptures and parks along the way,and a harbour-side market on Sundays.
Don’t miss out on the bohemian Cuba Street, a couple of blocks back from the waterfront, with its colourful shops and street performers.
2. Wellington Botanic Gardens. I include these gardens in my Top Ten Gardens of the world based on their unusual situation on a steep hillside overlooking the city, combined with a great collection of plants.
3. The Coast Road from Wellington to Wanganui. There are great views along this quiet, unspoiled coastline, including of Kapiti Island, one of my Top Ten Small Islands of the world.
4. Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Ruapehu. These two active volcanic peaks featured in the planning and filming of Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’.
I drove 6 km up the Bruce Road to the ‘Top o’ the Bruce’ café, 1,600 m up Mt Ruapehu. There are great views along the way of Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom in ‘Lord of the Rings’) and after Whakapapa village the road cuts through strange volcanic rock formations.
It was February when I visited and very quiet. In the winter months this road and the whole area are given over to the skiing fraternity.
5. Orakei Korako Thermal Park and Cave. A fascinating geothermal area with boiling mud-pools, strangely coloured rock formations, geysers and a cave.
It is known as the ‘Hidden Valley’ because of its remote location. Hence there are few tourists compared with Rotorua. The entrance charge is on the expensive side, with no Senior discounts, but does include the ferry trip across the Waikato River.
6. Rotorua. Much against my better judgement, I decided on the Whakarewarewa Authentic Maori Geothermal Village Experience. Okay the hot lakes and geysers were impressive and the Maori Cultural Performance was entertaining enough.
Maybe it was just the pouring rain or the hordes of tourists, but I was pleased in the end to get out of this theme park! It was fairly expensive with no Senior discounts.
I had a much more enjoyable time just wandering around Rotorua near the lake shore, observing the bubbling mud-pools and sulphurous-smelling steam clouds billowing up from the gardens of many of the houses.
The Rotorua Museum was an excellent place to spend a rainy afternoon learning about the local culture and the volatile landscape. And, yes, they actually give a 10% discount for Seniors 65+.
7. Hamurana Springs Reserve. Although only 15 minutes’ drive north of Rotorua, this oasis of peace and tranquillity could be a world apart. A 20 minutes’ walk along the river bank past, curiously, a redwood grove, takes you to crystal clear springs bubbling up from the ground.
8. Viaduct Harbour in Auckland. Like Wellington, Auckland has a pedestrian-friendly harbour area, with cafés, restaurants and a museum. Maybe not quite up to the standard of Cape Town or Sydney, but still a pleasant way to spend some time in an afternoon or evening.
If you are into shopping, which I’m not, then the Britomart shopping and entertainment complex is close by.
9. Auckland Sky Tower. The tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere dominates the city skyline and almost begs you to go to the top and take in the panoramic views. You can of course bungee jump from near the top, but I decided to make a miss of it on this occasion!
It’s quite an expensive viewpoint at $28 (about £14) for adults, but Senior citizens pay a more reasonable $18.
10. Devonport, just across the bay from Auckland. This so-called seaside village has many fine heritage buildings and great views from the volcanic Mt Victoria peak. We had an excellent meal there as we watched the sun setting over Waitemata Harbour.
Accommodation in New Zealand North Island
I stayed at the very elegant and impressive Intercontinental Hotel in Wellington, well placed for seeing the city sights, and at the Crowne Plaza in Auckland, which was just a few minutes walk from the harbour.
In both cases I obtained a Senior discount rate. See how to get these special rates at Intercontinental Hotel Group.