Monday, 27 June 2016

New Zealand's Scenic North Island: Sub-Tropical Northland and Geothermal Rotorua

It's easy to dismiss New Zealand as a destination too far away unless you're a seasoned backpacker, or Lord of The Rings enthusiast. However there is far more draw to this unspoiled, scenic, lush green land than the more obvious possibilities, and long haul flights really aren't a big deal. Back-to-back episodes of anything from Scrubs to The Simpsons - whats the problem?! 

New Zealand's Luschious & Scenic North Island

New zealand forest north island
For a start, the extremely low population means an unbelievably relaxed and friendly feel, and also the distinct possibility of having a picture-perfect sandy beach all to yourself, which we did - number of times, despite the fact that it was summer! The varied and extensive coastline of the North Island means there really is something for everyone. If it's a back-to-nature, outdoors holiday you're after, New Zealand certainly delivers.


The Maori culture and tradition in New Zealand is generally well-respected and you won't find too much of a race-divide in this country like you might in Australia for example. The Maori rituals and traditions are interesting to locals and visitors alike. 

Kiwis are generally friendly, sunny personalities and the nation's passion for nature and the great outdoors is extremely catching. There is a want-for-nothing attitude and you won't find many Kiwis lavishly decorating the outside of their homes for curb-appeal, or worrying too long about the street-cred of their latest smartphone. I am quickly brought back down to earth every time!

Food and Drink

New. Zealand. Lamb. That's all, thanks for reading!

No seriously, it's delicious but there's much more on offer too. In heavily touristed areas the food and restaurants are mainly American-style burger bars and the like, but there are unusual things to try too. E.g. paua shellfish is a native and local delicacy, and the New Zealand wine is not to be missed of course, but don't limit yourself to just those famed Marlboroughs: Tohu is a delicious alternative example of a far lesser-known wine.

Places to Visit: Landscapes, Beaches, Towns...

Geothermal Rotorua

Rotorua geothermal pool green and yellow

Rotorua itself does show the polished, mainstream touristed side to New Zealand, however the geothermal activity of the area is fascinating no matter how well-known or well-trodden, and nothing seems too commercialised or busy within the actual parks other than there possibly being more cameras than people... it is a great activity/attraction for children as it involves all the senses (the sound of those mud bubbles is quite something, not to mention the smell)!

Wai-o-tapu is home to a wonderful range of bubbling geothermal pools and steaming craters. It was my favourite simply because of its colour palatte. In fact, one of the large pools closely resembles an artist's palatte, with the colours in the water streaking and blending into one another. Wai-o-tapu is large with varied walking trails, and is just South of Rotorua - around half an hour in the car. Don't miss the bubbling mud lake nearby on the loop road, just on the way back towards Rotorua.

Hell's Gate is a fascinating mud park complete with a mud volcano, mud spa, and mud bathing opportunities! My feet have never felt so soft than after dipping them into the silky mud of this strange and exciting place.

Georthermal mud pool

Just North of Rotorua, another stunning natural attraction is very worth visiting. The shockingly powerful Huka falls is one noisy place, and the unspoiled setting very beautiful.


New-Zealand's population and infrastructure is dramatically less developed the further North you go, and although it is quickly becoming modernised, don't even think about coming 'shopping' here for any items less necessary than fishing or diving gear in some places! That said, there are some of the nicest and most genuine tasteful sovenirs available in quite a good choice of gift shops, and they are mostly locally crafted especially the art and ceramics. Paua shell jewellery is abundant and inexpensive but a pretty reminder of New Zealand's shining blue, green and aqua landscapes. 

Beaches of the Whangerei area

Ruakaka Beach

Mountain and sea new zealand
Whangerei Heads 

Whangarei's position on the East of Northland's coast, jutting in and out, affords stunning scenery with many varied beautiful bays and beaches. The Whangerei Heads rise up over the beaches to the very East, and can be seen in the distance on wide sweeping rural beaches such as Ruakaka, and in close proximiy at beaches like the popular and glamourous Parua Bay. For the most generous stretches of sand with plain views of the wide open ocean, head to stunning Ocean Beach. Apart from a picnic bench, there are no facilities really so go to beaches like Ocean beach equipped. We had the pram of course and had a good workout pushing it through the sand on the little walk down to the beach from the parking area! 

It is hard to get your head around the space and solitude available on some of the beaches in Northland. It is blissful. Also I was certainly glad of it when I tried my hand at surfing and floundered, getting beaten up by the waves, although it was fun trying - and watching my cousin show us how it's actually done! 

The Tutukaka coast and Whananaki have some of the most picturesque and deserted beaches in New Zealand. Whananaki is home to a fantastic camp site at Motutara farm, and a selection of holiday homes right on the ocean nearby. Some camping spots directly face the sea, right at the edge of the coast with nothing to spoil the view whatsoever. These are booked well in advance at Motutara so get in there quickly but do not allow this popularity conjure up images of tent jungles, cans of beer, and rows upon rows of sweaty sunbathers; It is very much the opposite.

Caping beach new zealand

Whangerei Town basin

The 'town basin' is the area of Whangerei by the harbour. It is a very pleasant little part of town with an array of lovely gift shops and cafes having made an appearance in recent years right beside the quay. The delightful harbour certainly bought me more time to lust over various handmade local trinkets in the gift shops; it kept Richard entertained with his people watching and boat-watching.

Whangerei Falls


These beautiful falls and the surrounding walks in the jurassic-park-like bush which also link with further parks and walkways, are wonderful places within the North area of the town to appreciate some nature. These graceful falls can be seen from above and below, and are very easily accessed.

Pahia & Bay of Islands

North of Whagerei is the stunning collection of islands known as the Bay of Islands. Boat trips can be expensive and popular so book in advance if you don't want to be disappointed like we were! There are various options including big day tours and short trips across the water to the old town of Russell - the old capital of the country.

Paihia is a popular little place and well worth a visit especially for the bustling atmosphere and great variety of unusual gift shops. The nearby Pahia lookout is a 30 minute walk up in the bush (worth it just for the unique smell of the vegetation), and allows great views of the bay of islands - the best you will get from the mainland anyway. We even managed to get the pram up there! 

Kerikeri & The Marsden Estate

This pretty little town is home to New Zealand's oldest trading post (1819), and although New Zealand is not the destination for medieval history, this has a little more recent history of its own.

Don't miss out on the Marsden Estate winery for food and wine. We ate here for lunch and the relaxed yet classy atmosphere is something hard to find elsewhere.

The food choices are unusual and delicious, and there are great choices of renowned wine from their estate to pair with your food. My choice of rose was just so tasty - a lovely fresh wine with notes of strawberry... as if I know what I'm talking about!

Our walk in the grounds and vineyards afterwards was also enjoyable, with the gardens full of tropical and colourful specimens to take lots of photos of our baby daughter with, until she grabbed a huge Hawaii-type flower and got pollen all over herself - bring on the babywipes!

The Far North

The far North is pretty much what it sounds like. It is the least developed and most sparse area but naturally that means it is one of the most rugged. 90 Mile Beach is a long stretch of sand (no, its not actually 90 miles) with sand dunes and great sand boarding possible, as well as off-roading (keep to the wet sand)!

Waipoua Forest

To the West of Whangerei we visited the Waipoua forest, with its ancient giant Kauri trees - which once blanketed most of the land. Tanemahuta is the name of the sacred and famed giant tree which is well worth seeing, as well as its other enormous friends in the forest. They certainly are so huge that my Aunty and I had trouble getting them to fit nicely in her Ipad camera. Although she was holding it the wrong way and stuck on zoom..! 

Stick to the walkways! Tramping around can threaten these ancient trees due to the disturbance of some type of spore which is deadly to them.

New Zealand is a clean, safe and beautiful country, and the treasures of the scenic lushious green North Island always leave me with a gaping hole every time I leave...

For more information on Rotorua and adventure-seeking in that part of New Zealand, visit Backpacking Matt - Adventure Seeking in Rotorua

If you have further information on exciting things to do and see in Northland or Rotorua, share in the comments - I'm excited to see what I've missed! 

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