Lonely Planet New Zealand's North Island

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Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet New Zealand's North Island is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Explore still-seething volcanos and bubbling mud pools, pull on your boots to tramp or kayak a Great Walk (yes, you can!) and learn how Maori culture is so much more than just rugby and the All Blacks; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of New Zealand's North Island and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet New Zealand's North Island:

  • Colour maps and images throughout
  • Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests
  • Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots
  • Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices
  • Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss
  • Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - History, sport, cinema, literature, arts, music, the environment and wildlife, Maori culture and etiquette, legends, politics, customs, extreme sports, wine and foodie experiences, festivals
  • Over 60 maps
  • Covers Auckland, Bay of Islands & Northland, Waikato & Coromandel, Taranaki & Whanganui, Taupo & the Central Plateau, Rotorua & the Bay of Plenty, the East Coast, Wellington and more

eBook Features: (Best viewed on tablet devices and smartphones)

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  • Effortlessly navigate and jump between maps and reviews
  • Add notes to personalise your guidebook experience
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  • Bookmarks and speedy search capabilities get you to key pages in a flash
  • Embedded links to recommendations' websites
  • Zoom-in maps and images
  • Inbuilt dictionary for quick referencing

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet New Zealand's North Island, our most comprehensive guide to New Zealand's North Island, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

  • Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's New Zealand for a comprehensive look at all the country has to offer.
  • Looking for just the highlights? Check out Discover New Zealand, a photo-rich guide to the country's most popular attractions.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveler community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travelers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

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Auckland

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Paris may be the city of love, but Auckland is the city of many lovers, according to its Māori name, Tāmaki Makaurau. Those lovers so desired this place that they fought over it for centuries.

It’s hard to imagine a more geographically blessed city. Its two harbours frame a narrow isthmus punctuated by volcanic cones and surrounded by fertile farmland. From any of its numerous vantage points you’ll be surprised how close the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean come to kissing and forming a new island.

Whether it’s the ruggedly beautiful west-coast surf beaches, or the glistening Hauraki Gulf with its myriad islands, the water's never far away. And within an hour’s drive from the city's high-rise heart, there are dense tracts of rainforest, thermal springs, wineries and wildlife reserves. No wonder Auckland is regularly rated one of the world's top cities for quality of life and liveability.

AAuckland has a mild climate, with the occasional chilly frost in winter and high humidity in summer.

 

Bay of Islands & Northland

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For many New Zealanders, the phrase ‘up north’ conjures up sepia-toned images of family fun in the sun, pohutukawa in bloom and dolphins frolicking in pretty bays. From school playgrounds to work cafeterias, owning a bach (holiday house) ‘up north’ is a passport to popularity.

Beaches are the main drawcard and they’re here in profusion. Visitors from more crowded countries are flummoxed to wander onto beaches without a scrap of development or another human being in sight. The west coast shelters the most spectacular remnants of the ancient kauri forests that once blanketed the top of the country; the remaining giant trees are an awe-inspiring sight and one of the nation’s treasures.

It’s not just natural attractions that are on offer: history hangs heavily here. The site of the earliest settlements of both Māori and Europeans, Northland is unquestionably the birthplace of the nation.

ANorthland's beaches go crazy at New Year and remain busy throughout the January school holidays, with the long, lazy days of summer usually continuing into February and March.

 

Waikato & the Coromandel Peninsula

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Verdant rolling hills line New Zealand’s mighty Waikato River, and adrenaline junkies can surf at Raglan, or undertake extreme underground pursuits in the extraordinary Waitomo Caves.

But this is also Tainui country. In the 1850s this powerful Māori tribal coalition elected a king to resist the loss of land and sovereignty. The fertile Waikato was forcibly taken from them, but they retained control of the rugged King Country to within a whisper of the 20th century.

To the northeast, the Coromandel Peninsula juts into the Pacific, forming the Hauraki Gulf’s eastern boundary. The peninsula’s east coast has some of the North Island’s best white-sand beaches, and the muddy wetlands and picturesque stony bays of the west coast have long been a refuge for alternative lifestylers. Down the middle, the mountains are crisscrossed with walking tracks, allowing trampers to explore large tracts of isolated bush studded with kauri trees.

ABeachy accommodation in Waihi, Whitianga, Whangamata and Raglan peaks during the summer holidays from Christmas until the end of January. New Year's Eve in particular can be very busy.

 

Taranaki & Whanganui

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Halfway between Auckland and Wellington, Taranaki (aka 'the 'Naki') is the Texas of New Zealand: oil and gas stream in from offshore rigs, plumping the region with enviable affluence. New Plymouth is the regional hub, home to two excellent art galleries, a provincial museum, and enough decent espresso joints to keep you humming.

Behind the city, the moody volcanic cone of Mt Taranaki demands to be visited. Taranaki also has a glut of black-sand beaches: surfers and holidaymakers swell summer numbers.

Further east the history-rich Whanganui River curls its way through Whanganui National Park down to Whanganui city, a 19th-century river port that's ageing with artful grace.

Palmerston North, the Manawatu region's main city, is a town of two peoples: tough-talkin’ country fast-foodies in hotted-up cars, and caffeinated Massey University literati. Beyond the city the region blends rural grace with yesterday’s pace: you might even find time for a little laziness!

AMt Taranaki is one of NZ’s wettest spots, and frequently cops snowfalls, even in summer: weather on the mountain can be extremely changeable.

 

Taupo & the Central Plateau

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From river deep to mountain high, New Zealand’s geology takes centre stage in this diverse region – and boy, does it shoot for the moon. Much of the drama happens along the Taupo Volcanic Zone – a line of geothermal activity that stretches via Rotorua to Whakaari (White Island) in the Bay of Plenty. It's the commotion below the surface that has gifted the region with some of the North Island's star attractions, including the country's largest lake and the three hot-headed peaks of Tongariro National Park.

And the thrills don’t stop there, for this area rivals Queenstown for outdoor escapades. How about hooning on a jetboat up to a waterfall, bouncing on a bungy over a river, skydiving or skiing fresh powder? Or maybe you'd rather take it easy, soaking in thermal baths or frittering away a day or two with some fly-fishing. If so, mark Taupo and the Ruapehu region as a must-do on your North Island itinerary.

AEqually popular in winter and summer, there's not really a bad time to visit the centre of NZ.

 

Rotorua & the Bay of Plenty

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Captain Cook christened the Bay of Plenty when he cruised past in 1769, and plentiful it remains. Blessed with sunshine and sand, the bay stretches from Waihi Beach in the west to Opotiki in the east, with the holiday hubs of Tauranga, Mt Maunganui and Whakatane in between.

Offshore from Whakatane is New Zealand’s most active volcano, Whakaari (White Island). Volcanic activity defines this region, and nowhere is this subterranean spectacle more obvious than in Rotorua. Here the daily business of life goes on among steaming hot springs, explosive geysers, bubbling mud pools and the billows of sulphurous gas responsible for the town’s ‘unique’ eggy smell.

Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty are also strongholds of Māori tradition, presenting numerous opportunities to engage with NZ's rich indigenous culture: check out a power-packed concert performance, chow down at a hangi (Māori feast) or skill-up with some Māori arts-and-crafts techniques.

AThe Bay of Plenty is one of NZ's sunniest regions: Whakatane records a brilliant 2350 average hours of sunshine per year! In summer (December to February) maximums hover between 20°C and 27°C. Everyone else is here, too, but the holiday vibe is heady.

 

The East Coast

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New Zealand is known for its mix of wildly divergent landscapes, but on the East Coast it’s the sociological contours that are most pronounced. There's a full spectrum of NZ life here, from the earthy settlements on the East Cape to Havelock North’s moneyed, wine-soaked streets.

Māori culture is never more visible than it is on the East Coast. Exquisitely carved marae (meeting house) complexes dot the landscape, and te reo and tikanga (the language and customs) are alive and well.

Intrepid types will have no trouble losing the tourist hordes – along the Pacific Coast Hwy, through rural back roads, on remote beaches, or in the mystical wilds of Te Urewera National Park. And when the call of the wild gives way to caffeine withdrawal, you can get a quick fix in Gisborne or Napier. You’ll also find plenty of wine here: the Hawke's Bay region is striped with vine-rows.

AThe East Coast basks in a warm, mainly dry climate. Summer temperatures around Napier and sunny Gisborne nudge 25°C; in winter they rarely dip below 8°C.

 

Wellington Region

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If your New Zealand travels thus far have been all about the great outdoors and sleepy rural towns, Wellington will blow the cobwebs away. Art-house cinemas, funky boutiques, hip bars, live bands and endless restaurants all await you in NZ's cultural capital.

Wellington is the crossing point between the North and South Islands, so travellers have long been passing through these parts. The likes of Te Papa and Zealandia now stop visitors in their tracks, and even a couple of days’ pause will reveal myriad other attractions: a windswept harbour with a walkable waterfront, hillsides clad in pretty weatherboard houses, urban surprises and some of the freshest city air on the planet.

Less than an hour away to the north, the Kapiti Coast has a slower, beachy vibe, with Kapiti Island nature reserve a highlight. An hour away to the northeast over the Rimutaka Range, the Wairarapa plains are dotted with quiet towns, farms and hip wineries, hemmed in by rugged, wild coastline.

AWellington has a bad rep for blustery, cold, grey weather, but this isn't the whole story: 'Windy Welly' breaks out into blue skies and T-shirt temperatures at least several days a year, when you'll hear locals exclaim, 'You can't beat Wellington on a good day'.

 

Environment

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by Vaughan Yarwood

New Zealand is a young country – its present shape is less than 10,000 years old. Having broken away from the supercontinent of Gondwanaland (which included Africa, Australia, Antarctica and South America) in a stately geological dance some 85 million years ago, it endured continual uplift and erosion, buckling and tearing, and the slow fall and rise of the sea as ice ages came and went.

Straddling the boundary of two great colliding slabs of the earth’s crust – the Pacific plate and the Indian/Australian plate – to this day NZ remains the plaything of nature’s strongest forces.

The result is one of the most varied and spectacular landscapes in the world, ranging from snow-dusted mountains and drowned glacial valleys to rainforests, dunelands and an otherworldly volcanic plateau. It is a diversity of landforms you would expect to find across an entire continent rather than a small archipelago in the South Pacific.

Evidence of NZ’s tumultuous past is everywhere. The South Island’s mountainous spine – the 650km-long ranges of the Southern Alps – is a product of the clash of the two plates; the result of a process of rapid lifting that, if anything, is accelerating today. Despite NZ’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mt Cook, losing 10m from its summit overnight in a 1991 landslide, the Alps are on an express elevator that, without erosion and landslides, would see them reach 10 times their present height within a few million years.

 

Directory AZ

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For more accommodation reviews by Lonely Planet authors, check out http://lonelyplanet.com/hotels/. You’ll find independent reviews, as well as recommendations on the best places to stay. Best of all, you can book online.

The North Island is blessed with great accommodation at every budget level, including excellent holiday parks (fancy campgrounds with tent sites, self-contained cabins, games rooms and often a swimming pool) and some of the world's best hostels. As you'd expect, things are pricier in the big cities of Auckland and Wellington. Motels are the top sleeping choice for most Kiwi families, so you'll find them liberally scattered around all of the main holiday destinations. Hotel accommodation is mainly limited to the bigger cities, with the best range in Auckland and Wellington.

Bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation on the North Island pops up in the middle of cities, in rural hamlets and on stretches of isolated coastline, with rooms on offer in everything from suburban bungalows to stately manors.

 

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