Discover - Central North Island
Just south of Auckland lies the Hamilton-Waikato region; a land of lush pastures that was chosen to play The Shire in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films.
Well-known for its underground wonders, black sand surf beaches and rolling green hills, the Hamilton - Waikato region of New Zealand offers a wealth of nature-based activities and attractions surrounding a vibrant city hub.
If you’re fascinated by what lies beneath the earth, head to the Waitomo Caves. Here, millions of twinkling glow worms lie within subterranean rock formations and underground rivers. Known for its ultimate underground experience, you can indulge in a variety of adventure activities catering to all levels - choose from gentle boat and walking tours through the maze of caves, with glowworms to light your way and stunning cave formations to marvel at to the more adventurous jet-boating, blackwater rafting, caving, abseiling and ziplining through the underground passageways. Enjoy spotting stalagmites and stalactites, as well as interesting natural rock sculptures as you adventure through the darkness. The good news for the thrillseekers is regardless of the weather, it’s always good underground! Above ground there are good cafes, agricultural shows and top walks including the beautiful Marokopa Falls and natural limestone Mangapohue bridge.
The rolling green hills of the Waikato region are also home to the popular Hobbiton Movie Set – a must visit on any New Zealand itinerary. The guided tour starts with a drive through a picturesque 1,250 acre sheep farm with spectacular views across to the Kaimai Ranges.
This area also offers ample hiking opportunities, with stunning waterfalls and mountain top views all on offer. Highlights include the 153m high Wairere Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Hakarimata Summit Walk. Meanwhile, the Opal Hot Springs, which are right next to Matamata’s 18-hole golf course, add to the region’s many opportunities for a soak or swim in naturally heated waters.
The Hamilton Gardens is a must-see for those passionate about all things botanical. With a focus on having a story for each of the collections, enjoy themed gardens from Japan, Italy, America and more.
If you love the coast, don’t miss the ruggedly beautiful West Coast beaches of Raglan and Kawhia – great for surfing, or eating fish and chips on the beach.
The South Waikato offers the walking, hiking and biking enthusiasts among us a world of options including the Waikato River Trails. Water also features strongly with natural hot pools, crystal clear waterfalls and the Waikato River flowing through the area. The water of the area’s famous Blue Spring is in fact so pure they bottle it. Follow the Te Waihou Walkway to the source, which is fed by spring water that has been underground for up to 100 years.
Experience a volcanic wonderland where the ground steams, mud and waters bubble and geysers erupt high into the sky. A place where the Earth's power is revered and history is carved in wood and tradition; surrounded by sparking lakes and native forest as far as the eye can see.
When adventure beckons, tackle the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall, the 7m Tutea Falls on the Kaituna River; or challenge yourself in the Whakarewarewa Forest on the best mountain biking trails south of the equator.
World-class adventure attractions provide the ultimate thrills. There’s the luge, a gravity-fueled ride where you zoom down the side of a mountain in your own four-wheeled cart, before catching a gondola to the top to do it all over again. Velocity Valley is home to bungy jumping, the ‘Swoop’ – where you drop towards the earth from 40m in the air – and a wind tunnel where you can experience the feel of skydiving.
Magnificent trees, birdlife and forests can be found throughout this region, and one of the best ways to enjoy them is with Rotorua Canopy Tours or the Redwoods TreeWalk. While the former offers a unique combination of thrilling ziplining, forest walks and conservation stories, the latter takes you on suspension bridges and makes you feel the spirit of the iconic Redwood Forest.
Experience authentic Maori culture and feel the manaakitanga (hospitality) of the Te Arawa people who have greeted visitors to the region for centuries. Gain an insight into Maori culture and the myths & legends of the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley at Te Puia. Home to the iconic Pohutu Geyser as well as the National Schools of Wood Carving and Weaving, enjoy live Maori cultural performances as well as a live kiwi bird sanctuary.
Made over thousands of years, Wai-o-tapu Thermal Valley is a fascinating landscape of geothermal colour and energy. Admire the bright orange and turquoise ‘champagne’ pool, bubbling mud, impressive volcanic craters, steaming fumaroles and bright silica terraces.
Soak in world-renowned curative waters, bathe in mineral enriched mud, and experience traditional Māori massage to the backdrop of a geothermal wonderland dotted with crater lakes, erupting geysers and boiling mud pools.
Thirty five minutes south of Rotorua is Kerosene Creek, a geothermally heated stream where you can bathe and relax. Hot water from a natural spring under the earth bubbles up into the cool waters of the creek, creating pleasantly warm waters. Swimmers have piled up small smooth rocks to create little hot pools beside the 2m waterfall. Set amongst lush native bush, Kerosene Creek is popular among visitors and locals alike, offering a natural bathing experience like no other. There's no admission charge, just be courteous to other bathers, and take any rubbish away with you.
Taupō was created nearly two thousand years ago by a volcanic eruption so big it darkened the skies in Europe and China. Visit the Craters of the Moon and you'll see evidence of the lake's fiery birth in the geysers, steaming craters and boiling mud pools. At some of Taupō's beaches, swimmers and paddlers can enjoy warm, geothermal water currents.
Just north of Taupō you'll find New Zealand's most visited attraction, the magnificent Huka Falls, where more than 220,000 litres of water thunder over the cliff face every second, erupting from a natural gorge and thundering 11m into the Waikato River below. You can take a jet boat trip or river cruise up to the crystal-blue pool at the base of the falls until you can feel the spray on your face.
Taupō is a great lake for water-skiing, sailing and kayaking. The Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay, which can only be seen from the water, make for a great boat trip or kayaking excursion. The forests surrounding the lake offer hiking and mountain biking to suit all levels of experience.
Taupō is ground zero for every activity that a thrill-seeker could wish to try including Skydiving and Bungy Jumping.
But what Taupō is really known for is fishing. The town of Turangi has the largest natural trout fishery in the world; this is the place to cast a line and look for the big one.
New Zealand’s oldest national park and a Unesco World Heritage site for both its cultural and natural values, Tongariro National Park is a volcanic wonderland of steaming craters, surreal lakes and strange rock forms, surrounded by alpine gardens. Its centrepiece is Mt Ruapehu –the North Island’s highest peak – that sits alongside the smaller but no less striking cones of Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro.
Taking in many of the national park’s most spectacular sights, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, considered New Zealand's best one day hike, has justifiably made this place famous, but there are plenty of other hiking trails ranging from short nature trails to multi-day. In winter, Mt Ruapehu’s snowy flanks transform into the North Island’s best ski areas.
Mount Ngauruhoe played a supporting role as Mordor’s fiery Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. The crater in which it is found has striking deep red and brown/green coloured crater walls.