In order to make it a bit easier to choose the experiences to not miss, we’ve whittled the long list down to the very top things to do in New Zealand's North Island.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, Rotorua
It may look like something dreamt up in a story, but unlike Alice’s rabbit hole, make no mistake about it – this is real! In fact, this is about as close as you can get anywhere in the world to the natural phenomena taking place beneath our feet. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, 27 km south of Rotorua, is one of the top things to do in New Zealand's North Island because it is the most colourful and surreal illustration of the central North Island’s active volcanic zone. The picturesque Champagne Pool is the main attraction, with its deep green steaming waters framed by layers of alternating coloured crusts. However, there are many other geothermal spectacles to see, like the Sinter Terrace formations, huge volcanic craters, bubbling mud, steaming ground – and don’t miss the impressive Lady Knox Geyser, which erupts once every day!
Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Often named among the best one-day hikes in the world, Tongariro Alpine Crossing is undoubtedly one of the top things to do in New Zealand’s North Island. Taking you through otherworldly volcanic landscapes in the heart of this dual World Heritage area, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing gets you up close and personal with dramatic rock formations, unique landforms, and awe-inspiring views onto the iconic volcanic peaks of Tongariro, Ruapehu, and Ngauruhoe. If visiting Lord of the Rings film sites is among your top things to do in New Zealand, you’re in luck, too – you should recognise these landscapes as the slopes of Mount Doom and barren plains of Mordor!
Wellington Lord of the Rings
Wellywood, as it is affectionately known, is the epicentre of New Zealand’s film industry. And for ringnuts and Hobbit fans, it is an absolute must-visit. From the tree stump under which Frodo and the hobbits hid from the Dark Riders in The Fellowship of the Ring, to a tour of the award-winning special-effects workshop where you can see every imaginable kind of fantastical prop used in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie trilogies; the filming locations for Rivendell, Minas Tirith, and the Gardens of Isengard, and even an orc-sized LOTR-themed lunch, this full-day Lord of the Rings tour of Sir Peter Jackson’s hometown does not disappoint.
Hole in the Rock dolphin cruise in Bay of Islands
The beautiful Bay of Islands is a haven for kayaking, snorkelling, and swimming in New Zealand's North Island. The ultimate thing to do here, though, is the dolphin-watching boat cruise along the Rakaumangamanga Peninsula all the way to Cape Brett. You’ll be accompanied by common and bluenose dolphins – and whales if you’re lucky! – as the guide explains the importance of Cape Brett’s famous Hole in the Rock in local Maori history. If weather and seas permit, you even get to pass through the Hole in the Rock by boat, just as Maori warriors used to do for good luck before leaving for battle. Tours depart from either Paihia or Russell.
Rangitoto Island, Auckland
Visible across the water from many parts of Auckland, Rangitoto Island’s iconic volcanic peak beckons for day-trippers from the city. Among the top things to do in New Zealand in the North Island, especially for people only visiting Auckland for a short time, this day tour includes a boat ride, road-train journey, and a decent hike. Starting from the ferry terminal in Auckland or Devonport, enjoy great views back towards the city as you cruise across the Hauraki Gulf to Rangitoto Island, a 600-year-old volcano. Transfer onto a road-train that will take you winding through lava fields and native forests to the base of the volcanic cone, where you start a short but steep walk up to the summit for fantastic 360-degree views over Rangitoto Island, Auckland, and the Hauraki Gulf.