Photography by Austen Gilliland Image by: Photography by Austen Gilliland
Start in Rotorua, a resort town about an hour's flight from Auckland. The smell of sulfur infuses everything in Rotorua, but a dip in the mineral-rich hot springs will wash away all your cares – and any sore muscles leftover from your trans-Pacific flight.
The town offers a variety of restaurants, bars and accommodations for travellers of any budget, but the Regent of Rotorua – an old "strip" style motel recently renovated to ultra-modern standards – is an excellent choice.
Tourists and locals alike walk the path alongside Lake Rotorua; depending how adventurous you're feeling, you can take a lake cruise or explore the area by air with Volcanic Air Safaris. A flight is certainly the best way to see the other-worldly craters of Mt. Tarawera, which erupted in 1886, and the vividly coloured Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake) and Lake Rotokakahi (Green Lake) – one so hot it's almost boiling, the other more acidic than battery acid.
A rich heritage
Just up the road from the city centre lies Te Puia, a Maori cultural centre that offers tourists a primer in Maori history and culture. Te Puia is home to training schools for Maori carving and weaving, plus abundant geothermal features, including spattering pits of boiling mud, geysers that vent up to 30 metres in the air, and deep wells of boiling water.
If you prefer a more active vacation, plenty of adventure awaits in the Rotorua area, including hiking (or "trekking") or mountain-biking. Or rent a catamaran from Pure Cruise to sail around the pristine Lake Rotoiti, for a day of fishing, swimming or soaking in hot pools.
Foodies will want to investigate Maori Food Tours. Owner Charles Royal escorts visitors through the bush while sharing local lore and foraging for wild delicacies such as piko piko (similar to fiddleheads), kawakawa (Maori bush basil) and horopito (Maori pepper). At the end of the day, relax and enjoy the meal that Charles – an experienced chef – makes of your harvest.
A glimpse of history
Across on the eastern edge of the island, travel around the community of Napier. Levelled by an earthquake in 1931, it was then rebuilt in the Art Deco style popular at the time. The Napier Art Deco Trust helps promote the restoration and preservation of the buildings with a variety of tours. Architecture buffs will enjoy being chauffeured around the UNESCO World Heritage site in antique cars, by guides – some of whom lived through the earthquake – in period clothing.
For a slightly different glimpse of living history, consider participating in one of the tours offered by Waimarama Maori, where you'll learn about ancient customs and craft techniques, participate in traditional song and dance, and enjoy a meal of Maori delicacies.
Discover Hawke's Bay
The temperate ocean-side climate of nearby Hawke's Bay means it's well suited for agriculture, and gourmet food and wine enthusiasts will find plenty to enjoy. Start the weekend with an early morning visit to the Hawke's Bay Farmers' Market (the oldest such market in New Zealand), then work up an appetite with a hike up Te Mata Peak, or venture out to The Farm at Cape Kidnappers for an extreme round of golf or to see the gannet colony with Gannet Safari Overland.
In the afternoon, take part in a bicycle-powered winery tour (or save the effort and take advantage of the services of a local tour company). However you get there, you'll find plenty of world-class food and wine to enjoy at wineries such as Trinity Hill, Craggy Range and Sacred Hill. If you time your visit to coincide with the Food and Wine Classic (F.A.W.C.), even better; this bi-annual event (one in the summer and one in the winter) is a 10-day long celebration of the best of Kiwi food and drink that will leave you hungry for a return trip.
The North Island's unique culture, landscapes and activities offer travellers a variety of experiences during their visit. Check out 13 amazing things to see and do in new Zealand's North Island.