The Best of New Zealand’s North Island

 @MarkJohansonIBT on June 03 2011 11:56 AM

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Everyone raves about New Zealand's South Island.  Sure, it's stunning.  But, the North Island's got its share of amazements too.  The North Island is the spot to soak in traditional M?ori culture, bathe in geothermal wonders, and sun along the country's best beaches.  Dominated by towering volcanoes at its center, the coastal regions boast some of the world's best wine.  You can ski, swim, and sip your way across this four seasons island any time of year.  Hike through wild microclimates, catch shows in two of the country's bustling urban centers, or gape at stunning natural beauty from the window of your car - this whale-shaped island has got something for everyone.  With most international fights dropping you in Auckland, the ten destinations below are all within a day's drive of the big city.  The photos alone are proof that New Zealand's North Island is unlike any place you've ever been.  

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Coromandel

Where Aucklanders come out to play, Coromandal is the pristine peninsula on the far side of the Hauraki Gulf.  Rugged coastline and sweeping aquamarine beaches await beyond the inner forests of Coromandal's core.  Head out to the hot sand beach or Cathedral Cove on the eastern shores or stay in a quaint B&B on the rugged west.

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Tongariro

New Zealand's first National Park, Tongariro is not easily described.  Part desert, part snow-capped volcano, part forest, this World Heritage area is a showcase of microclimates.  Go for a ski on Mt Ruapehu's volcanic slopes or hike along the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand's greatest day trek in the summer.  Either way, Tongariro National Park is your best bet for a taste of alpine adventure on the North Island.

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Wellington

While most travel to New Zealand for its beautiful landscape, Wellington is the one city not to miss.  Forget Auckland, Wellington is not only the administrative, but also the cultural capital of the country.  Its museums, shows, bars, and clubs blow Auckland out of the water.  Recently rated the best compact capital in the world by Lonely Planet, Wellington may be small, but it has more bars and cafes per capita than New York City.

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Waiheke Island

While you can still make out Auckland on the horizon, this laidback island feels miles away from the inner city.  With bush walks, secluded beaches, chill cafes, and wine tasting galore, there are plenty of ways to kick back on Waiheke.  Hop on the ferry from Auckland's CBD and dock in a summertime paradise 30 min later!

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Whakatane

Use it as a stopover on your way out to the East Cape or spend a few days exploring the local M?ori culture, Whakatane is the Bay of Plenty's most picturesque town.  Nestled below bushy cliffs where the Whakatane River meets the Pacific Ocean, this snug township is full of seaside accommodation and tantalizing fare.  Head to any warfside restaurant and ask for the fish of the day - it will not disappoint.

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Gisborne

The wild and rugged East Cape's main town, Gisborne is a wonderful spot to get away from it all.  The filming location for many of New Zealand's great films including Whale Rider and Boy, the East Cape is the place to soak in traditional M?ori culture.  Gisborne is home to a budding wine region, renowned for its Chardonnay.  This sunny, seaside town also has many swimming and surfing beaches and is one of the first cities in the world to see the sunrise.

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Russell

Gateway to the Bay of Islands, Russell is much preferred over nearby Paihia.  Containing many of the country's oldest buildings, the town's historic streets have the quaint look of colonial New England.  Now a quiet town with a row of shops, B&Bs, and restaurants that close promptly at 8:00pm, Russell was once known as the hellhole of the Pacific.  In 1835 Charles Darwin noted that it was full of the refuse of society and its picturesque beaches were notorious for debauchery.

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Mount Maunganui

One of New Zealand's most popular summertime destinations, Mount Maunganui's beaches stretch far beyond sight.  The Mount, as the town is known, is situated on a tombolo connecting the mainland with the green slopes of Mount Maunganui.  The peninsula separates the sheltered waters of Tauranga Harbor with the pristine white sand beaches and sparkling blue water of the Pacific.  The Mount's eastern edge contains world recognized surf and swimming beaches where several national and international sporting competitions take place each year.

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Rotorua

While the parks of Rotorua are pricey and exceedingly commercial, there are few places in the world where you can find such displays of geothermal wonders.  Try the Waimangu Volcanic Valley or Wai-O-Tapu (both twenty minutes south of the city center) for the most spectacular exhibits of volcanic activity.  If you have some extra time, several nearby museums and attractions showcase this area's rich M?ori history and culture.

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Napier

Napier is the Art Deco capital of New Zealand.  Virtually destroyed in 1931's Hawkes's Bay earthquake, the town was rebuilt in the art deco style popular at the time.  Interestingly, some 4,000 hectares of today's Napier was underwater before the earthquake raised the land above sea level.  The town itself is admittedly a bit dowdy and old fashioned, but the surrounding wine country is not to miss.  The Hawkes Bay region boasts endless sunshine and a landscape of rolling vineyards with some of the country's best wine.

***photos courtesy of markonthemap.wordpress.com

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