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New Zealand’s North Island

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Thinking of taking advantage of the fact that you’ll be able to fly directly from Canberra to Wellington, New Zealand from September?

Here are some ideas (some more unusual than others!) for places you might want to visit on the North Island.

Auckland area

Waiheke Island

If you are travelling in Auckland and spending a few days there, one place that you should check out is Waiheke Island. It’s an easy 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland’s shopping district and you will be dropped off at Auckland’s most densely populated neighbouring island.

The beautiful beaches are aplenty here, but there is really one reason why you visit Waiheke Island—the wine! Home of some of New Zealand’s best wineries, you can follow a wine trail and walk from winery to winery in order to find a delightful red wine that suits your taste. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try your hand at clay pigeon shooting or archery on the Wild on Waiheke Winery, you can relax on the yoga deck and look out at the rolling hills of the Stonyridge Winery, sample the grapes with the French background at the Te Motu Winery, and follow the hilly winery walk to the stunning Spanish style Casita Miro.

Waiheke Island

Spookers Haunted Attraction Scream Park

If you love a good horror movie, don’t mind a bit of fake gore, and enjoy having things jump out at you from dark corners, then the Spookers Haunted Attraction Scream Park is the place you want to visit while spending the weekend in Auckland.

Spookers is roughly 40 minutes outside of Auckland and only open on Friday and Saturday nights. It is actually set in the old ruins of a rumoured-to-be-haunted mental asylum and is a series of mazes that are designed to scare you absolutely witless. There is the haunted house that is fresh from your nightmares as actors bring to life every horror movie ever made; a “freaky forest” maze that you guide by torchlight hoping not to run into the character who is prepared to chase you through the forest with a chainsaw; a psychedelic fun house filled with evil clowns, 3D glasses and glowing neon artwork; and if you happen to be there in the warmer months you can face your fears in an actual corn field!

Spookers is certainly not for everyone, but the fear pumps adrenaline like any adventure activity you will find in Rotorua or Taupo, and is all in the name of excellent fun!


Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park

The Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park is located just outside of Rotorua and was actually named by the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw due to the geothermal activity making him feel like he was at the gates of Hell. Lucky for you, these gates actually provide one of the most nourishing mud baths and hot springs in the area!

Hell’s Gate is split up into two different sections – the first is a large area that you walk around to view the different geothermal activities and visit places like the hottest pool in the southern hemisphere, a mud volcano, a sulphur waterfall used in Maori traditions, and even pools that was used to cook food. The second part of the park is a spa, where you can enjoy a mud bath and dip in the hot springs (private bathing options available) and even get massages and other beauty treatments.

What makes Hell’s Gate the best geothermal park to visit is the fact that it offers you more than just a dip in the naturally warmed pools and also provides you with education on the different kinds of thermal activities taking place, and an intriguing walk around the area.

Hells Gate

Photo by Byron Carr (

Tamaki Maori Village

While you’re in New Zealand, it’s definitely worth finding out more about Maori culture, and Tamaki Maori Village is an excellent place to do it. When you arrive, you’re treated to a traditional welcoming ceremony. You then get to wander around the village to learn about different aspects of Maori culture, from facial tattoos and poi to music and warrior training. This is followed by a cultural performance and a traditional hangi (food cooked underground on hot stones) feast. It’s fun, educational, and delicious.


Food being lifted from the hangi pit


Maori cultural performance at Tamaki

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

About two hours from Rotorua are the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. The glowworms in these caves are unique to NZ, and they really have to be seen to be believed. The boat ride to see them is just magical. You’ll also get to learn more about caves in general and the history of the Waitomo caves before your boat ride. There are also the nearby Aranui and Ruakuri Caves to explore. If you go at the right time of year, concerts are held in the Cathedral Cave, and by all accounts they’re pretty special.



Cuba Street

Cuba Street has often been referred to as New Zealand’s coolest street and the “little slice of bohemia” is said to be the culinary and creative soul of Wellington. Shops and dining outlets line the street, which was named after an early settler ship that defined the style of the stores found here. Many run with a Cuban theme, such as Fidel’s Café—one of Cuba Street’s best restaurants with Cuban coffee available—and Havana on nearby Wigan Street. Everywhere boasts live music, incredible cocktails and a mixing pot of buskers, art galleries, graffiti and quirky vintage stores.

If you love your vintage fashion finds and have a desire to feel a little creative and soulful, then Cuba Street is the best place to go to feel the vibes. Its nearby proximity to the pulsing life of Courtenay Place also means that this district is Wellington’s entertainment heartland and you will be hard pressed not to find a trendy and creative club, bar or store to toast to your holiday.

Te Papa Museum

New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa, is outstanding. It just gets everything right, from the collections and exhibitions, to how it’s laid out. It’s great for adults and children alike, and it’s easy to spend hours in there and not even realise. Look out for the colossal squid and the Gallipolli: The scale of our war exhibition, which is a collaboration with the amazing Weta Workshop (of Lord of the Rings/Hobbit fame).


If you’re a fan of high tea, then you must get yourself to Hippopotamus at the Museum Hotel. The name of the restaurant is fantastic, and there really are hippos everywhere, from when you get out of the lift (look at the ceiling when you do) to inside the restaurant. The cocktails and mocktails are sublime, and the food is fabulous—one of the best high teas you’ll ever have. Try and get a window seat so you can enjoy the view.


Other places/events of interest

Lava Glass Gallery, Studio and Café, Taupo – an excellent place to view and buy hand-blown lava glass art by artist Lynden Over
Huka Falls, Taupo – the largest waterfalls of New Zealand’s North Island
Devonport, Auckland – a lovely little suburb which you get to via ferry. It has some terrific food—try the seafood chowder from Manuka Café and definitely go to Devonport Chocolates, which has possibly the best chocolate in NZ.
World of WearableArt Awards Show (WoW) – an international design competition held annually in Wellington, WoW is an incredible mixture of theatre, fashion, and art.


Photo by Byron Carr (

Look out for our next pieces on ideas for the South Island and how to get your Lord of the Rings/Hobbit fix.

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