There’s a good reason New Zealand’s North Island is well-kept secret. Ask anyone in the world what they think of when they think of New Zealand and nine times out of ten you’ll hear “mountains, lakes, hikes, snow peaks, Lord of The Rings’ or anything that describes the rustic, beautiful South Island countryside.
There’s no doubt about it, it’s New Zealand’s southern island that steals the plaudits, but it’s New Zealand’s North Island, which we feel is as, if not more, beautiful. Think idyllic white sandy beaches, quaint surfer towns, and some of the most beautiful coastal drives you could wish to see. The sun shines, the waves crash, the dolphins frolic, and the pohutukawas (Aotearoa’s red flowering trees known as “New Zealand Christmas trees”) stand proud along the coast.
There’s a shade of green and blue that the coastal headlands and ocean of New Zealand’s North Island boast, respectfully, that give the island a unique character that is distinctly recognisable in a photograph. It really has its own charm, it isn’t like anywhere else in the world, and we want to help you unlock what we think is one of the world’s best kept secrets.
Waiheke, which is Te Reo Maori (the indegenous language of New Zealand) for “cascading waters”, is Auckland’s very own hidden gem. About a 40-minute ferry ride from the port of Auckland, Waiheke has everything from white sand beaches, sloping hills, stunning vantage points, abundant native bush and birdlife, and more wineries than you could imagine, producing some of New Zealand’s most outstanding and premium wines. We have grown so fond of Waiheke that it will be the destination of our wedding in 2020.
- Stay: Some of the best places to stay in Waiheke are Onetangi, Palm Beach and Oneroa. There are plenty of resorts and Airbnbs in all three areas.
- Drink: Our favourite wineries are Goldie Estate, a philanthropic winery which partners with universities and invests in local horticulture education; Tantalus Estate, a boutique French-style winery producing some of the island’s finest red wines; and Peacock Sky, a quaint winery located on the top of a hill which produces the best Chardonnay we have ever tasted!
- Sun: It’s difficult to pick a favourite beach on Waiheke Island, as they all have their own charm. Palm Beach, Oneroa, Little Oneroa and Man O’War Bay are all worth visiting – one we’d skip spending all day on – Onetangi, it gets busier than the other beaches and because it’s so open it doesn’t have the charm of the other bays.
The Coromandel Peninsula sits on an eastern peninsular of New Zealand’s North Island and is home to some of New Zealand’s most stunning coastal locations. Whether it’s parking up on the quiet beachy town of Waihi for an ice-cream or smoothie, taking a boat out through the inlets in Pauanui, or driving the stunning coastal road which meanders around the west of the peninsula, the Coromandel really does have it all.
- Pop into The Secret Garden, Waihi’s very own Balinese cafe, for a smoothie and a spot of meditation, if you are that way inclined.
- See it from the air. If you can, try and hire a light aircraft and see it from above. The Coromandel Ranges are some of the most stunning coastal mountain ranges you’re likely to see.
- Take to the road: the coastal drive on the West of the Coromandel rivals any in the world. Between us we have been to The Big Sur in California, Captain Cook’s Highway in North East Australia, The Great Ocean Road on Australia’s East Coast, and this potentially tops them all.
For anyone who likes a quieter pace of life, hipster vibes, and a spot of surfing – then Raglan, a quiet surfer town on the Island’s West Coast, is the place for you. It is famed the world over for its barrelling waves, with professional surfers around the world flocking there each year. While we aren’t surfers, we love watching it, and we don’t think you’ll see a better standard of surfing anywhere. It really is impressive to watch. Just picture parking up in your combi van, putting on The Beach Boys’ Greatest Hits and being the most laid back version of yourself you can be. You’ll practically be horizontal!
- Have breakfast or lunch at plant-based cafe Soulscape, which has the best panoramic views of the coast that you’ll find in Raglan. Be mindful that Soulscape closes over the winter months.
- Stop by the surf beach and watch the surfers do their thing. When you’re finished, walk up onto the rocks located at the top of the beach, get your camera out to get some awesome photos. If you time it right, you’ll get a splash of surf rise from the rocks behind you.
- For something more adventurous: take some surfing lessons, kitesurfing lessons, or hire a kayak.
- Shop in the local boutique stores. Raglan has some of the most charming pottery, clothing, and surf shops you could wish to find. Whether you have money in your pocket to spend or you just want to windowshop, we definitely recommend checking out what’s to offer.
Bay of Islands
Northland is a not-to-be-missed region in New Zealand. A trail of beaches, sleepy towns, an abundance of sunshine and, of course, scenic islands – life really is better in the ‘winterless north’. The Bay of Islands is an archipelago of more than 140 subtropical islands. The best way to see those islands is of course by boat. We recommend chartering a yacht and spending a few days island hopping, hiking, swimming and sleeping under the stars.
– While you’re in Northland why not drive all the way north to Cape Reinga the northernmost point and get some photos at the lighthouse.
– Another great thing to do while you’re in the area is visit 90 Mile Beach and go for a drive in the sand. You’re allowed to drive on the beach, just be safe and make sure it’s legal.
Tauranga is a coastal city on the east of the North Island, just south of the Coromandel, which is a bit like a quieter, New Zealand version of Australia’s Gold Coast. It has a population of 131,500, which by New Zealand’s standards is basically New York! Just joking, of course, but it’s a city with year round residents, which means it isn’t quite as sleepy as some of New Zealand’s coastal regions in the offseason, and has an array of bars and restaurants. Mount Maunganui, which is a mountain on the coast of Tauranga, is a great hike for beginners and offers the most stunning views of the coast.
- Hike up Mount Maunganui. It only takes about half an hour to get to the top. It isn’t too steep which makes it good for beginner hikers and children. Just make sure you wear trainers (or sneakers depending on what part of the world you’re from), sunblock and take a camera – to capture the epic views.
- Swim with wild dolphins. There are boats you can take from the port in Tauranga which take you out to the coastal waters to swim with wild dolphins. While this is expensive, it’s one of the few places in the world where you can do this, so it’s worth opening the purse strings for a once in a lifetime opportunity.
There’s no time like the present, get out the laptop and start planning a trip to what we think is the world’s best kept secret. We’ll save some of the North Island’s other attractions, such as the volcanic region of Rotorua, the glowworm wonder of the Waitomo Caves, the movie-lovers’ haven, Hobbiton, and the grandeur of Mt Ruapehu for another post. Keep an eye out.