Though nature lovers and thrill seekers heading down under to the Antipodean nation of New Zealand tend to stick to the beautiful South Island, there is a wealth of uncovered gems waiting to be discovered further north.
Home to the biggest cities in the land, Wellington and Auckland, the North Island of New Zealand can more than hold its own when it comes to natural splendour. Being further north, and therefore closer to the equator, the North Island also has the added benefit of a warmer and more enjoyable climate, compared to the blistering winds and cold rain associated with regions further south. Here is a look at some of the outdoor attractions available on New Zealand’s most populated island.
The largest lake in New Zealand is also one of the most eye-catching, being surrounded by the dramatic caldera of a long dormant super-volcano. Cliff faces and steep slopes rise up out of the water at some points, verdant meadows gently roll at others, while mountain ranges frame the far distance. The undulating land round here is perfect for walking holidays, while mountain biking enthusiasts will be pleased to know that the perimeter of the lake is famed for its off-road cycling terrain. Indeed, every year the well plied biking routes in the area host the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, a test of grit, endurance and cycling skill. The lake can also boast world-class trout fishing, and the calm, peaceful waters of this 238 square mile lake offer a serene place to lie back and reconnect with the peace and quiet of the natural world.
Tongariro National Park
The South Island’s Fiordland certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on breathtaking mountain landscapes, as any visitor to the wild and wonderful Tongariro National Park can attest to. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the wildlife park is one of the oldest protected reserves on the planet, and is home to smoking volcanoes, snow-capped peaks, broadleaf rain forests and rough tussock grasslands. Though the region has proved inhospitable to man, endemic species such as the famous kiwi, or the protected blue duck, thrive here, making this one of New Zealand’s finest locations for fans of the natural world. Tongariro is also ideal for those seeking activity holidays in New Zealand’s North Island, as hiking and rock-climbing opportunities abound in the summer months. During the harsher winter high-altitude slopes prove great off-piste skiing opportunities, while a superb year-round activity for hikers is the park’s Alpine crossing.
The Waitomo Caves
Not a destination for the faint-hearted, the two-million year old Waitomo Caves are one of the North Island’s most mysterious and enchanting natural wonders. Over 300 ancient caves survive in this area, from deep, dark caverns to floodlit chambers the size of banqueting halls, with stupendous stalactites and stalagmites jutting out of every surface. Extreme cavers will enjoy swimming in underground aquifers, while less adventurous travellers can enjoy underground boat-rides through caves populated by millions of luminescent glow worms, a species native to this area.
Located near the north-western tip of the Island, not far from Auckland, the Waipoua Forest is home to New Zealand’s greatest collection of ancient Kauri trees, huge specimens that can reach up to some 168 feet in height, and grow more than 45 feet in girth. An official sanctuary since 1952, the area is popular with wildlife treks, and a five mile dedicated forest trail through the densest portions of the forest will take you up close to many of the oldest trees, some dating back thousands of years.