The Lifestyle Channel’s Travel Expert Rose Jacobs takes you on a tour of New Zealand's beautiful north island.
Kia Ora! Welcome to New Zealand. While the beauty of our neighbour’s south island is well-documented, it’s the north island that will truly astound you with her warmth, natural splendour and incredible sights.
And trust me, it has a beauty that is like nothing else on earth.
Here are my personal tips and favourite places to visit:
As one of New Zealand’s major cities, this centre of gravity is often overlooked by its southern cousin, Queenstown. But, I dare you to think again. The landscape is equally as breathtaking and there is a sense that you are as far from Australia as imaginable - which is particularly enticing when you’re on an escapist holiday!
Auckland is a landscape of white colonial style homes, shrouded in lush green tree-lines streets and alive with a buzzing social scene. The dining is mind-blowing (fitting with New Zealand’s reputation in general) with many of the options understanding the importance of seasonal, locally grown and sourced produce. And let’s face it, those hills of New Zealand do tend to produce some crazily good tastes!
The SkyCity Grand Hotel. It’s central, first class and you’ll feel a million dollars!
1. Book a Chef’s Table at The Sky City Grand. Words cannot describe the experience!
2. The Depot Eatery, right next door to the Sky City Grand Hotel. Super cool, warm, on trend and affordable. Worth the line up!
3. Head to the Auckland Seafood Markets for a selection of fresh seafood not to be found anywhere else in the world.
4. Evening dining: Ponsonby Food Market for an authentic night market experience.
5. Giapo: This global hot spot is THE place to be on Queen Street, complete with one of the most eccentric men you’re ever to encounter. Owner Giapo (pron. Jeearpow) has hand designed some of the world’s most extraordinary icecream creations imaginable and people flock from all walks to stand in line for a bite of his “selfie stick” or his “giant lips” creations.
You don’t need to be a fan of the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit films to fall head over heels in love with this movie set- turned tourist attraction. In fact, they are both the lasts things you will feel you are visiting when you step foot into this miniature adorable landscape complete with hobbit holes, smoking chimneys, clotheslines strewn with tiny clothes and even the Green Dragon Inn which provides a complimentary pot of home brewed cider!
Take your time on the tour to sit a while and feel the grass between your toes. You may spot a rainbow, have a chance encounter with the resident cat, mistake props for genuine objects, make a wish under the party tree or pick a carrot from the vegetable garden.
This is a day that will bring out the childhood imagination in the biggest adults!
Take a peg for your nose. No kidding. I wasn’t fully braced for the sulphur that smacked me in the face as we were driving into the township. It’s a good thing I have faith in my travel buddies! Thankfully, the beauty and the history of this area is so much more powerful than the smell that all is forgiven.
One day spent at the geysers at Rotorua’s Te Puia Cultural Centre will blow you away! Learn how to weave, learn about the traditional Maori Haka, the ancient wood carvings and even bake your own lunch in a genuine steam pit deep within the geothermal rocks themselves!
Strangely enough this is actually pronounced Toe-poor. But if you can get your tongue around that then you will discover a world of such rarity it will leave you breathless… and so will a guided kayak tour across Lake Taupo itself. Technically speaking, Lake Taupo is bigger than Singapore. And I dare you to name a lake more pristine anywhere else in the world.
But the best part, in my book, is the awe-inspiring giant Maori rock carving that you will encounter along the way, hand carved to depict the Maori warrior who first came to Taupo. It is intimidating, inspiring, beautiful and hard to believe all at the same time! In the summer months I strongly suggest taking your bathers for an extra-sensory experience swimming beneath it.
A visit to the impressive Huka Falls - a series of waterfalls created by a narrow gorge in the Waitako River near where Lake Taupo flows in - is another highlight. You can walk around the falls and take in the amazing views or, if you're feeling brave, take a jet boat ride through the rapids below.
A trip to the North Island is not complete without a stop over in New Zealand's wonderful capital city, Wellington. There’s a fantastic mix of cultural and natural wonders and my personal favourite activity is a wander down Cuba Street, the Bohemian heart of Wellington. It’s the go-to destination for lovers of art, music, vintage stores, earthy cafes and vibrant street performances.
For something a little more ‘laid back’ try the historic Cable Car from Lambton Quay to Kelburn. It’s a spectacular spot at the top for a picnic and to see the views of the city, followed by a gentle meander back down via the Botanic Gardens.
And at the end of the day, you’re certainly in the right place for a cleansing ale. In fact, Wellington is renowned as the world’s Craft Beer Capital, also boasting more bars and restaurants per capita than New York City! The produce is guaranteed to be fresh too, considering the city’s incredible farmland and ocean surrounds.
Just a spectacular one hour’s drive from Wellington brings you to the wine region (do I need to say more?) and in particular, some of the world’s best Pinot Noir. Picture a quaint colonial style town where everyone commutes by bicycle along the walking trails branching out from the adorable Village Square.
You’re destined to make some quality friends during your stay in Martinborough, especially if you choose to stay in one of the many historical cottages, B&B’s and Farmstays.
For total immersion in the local wine country, I suggest you check out the array of guided wine tours, some by bicycle, and even a Carême Cooking Class based on locally sourced fresh produce from the region.
And if you’re wondering how you could possibly fit this entire itinerary into one short trip, then worry not! Even a Hobbit would manage it, knowing that each destination is within a short drive from the next.
And if you know anything about New Zealand, be it the north or south, absolutely every direction you go in seems to be more extraordinary than the next.