When I look back on my childhood growing up in New Zealand I remember the weekend scenario of trying to pick which beach to visit, berry picking, volcano climbing, road trips South, visiting caves in search of stalactites and afternoons relaxing in natural thermal hot springs. I recall school trips we we’d pack a pillow and a sleeping bag and be taken to swing from trees, abseil down cliffs, ski down mountains, surf the rugged west coast and learn survival tips in the New Zealand bushland, usually ending in a night of camping with friends and eating skillet campfire cake. Let’s be honest, I’ve been pretty spoilt to have grown up in this lush environment but it wasn’t until I got a little older that I realised just how lucky I was to grow up in this magical country.
I was 9 when The Fellowship of the Ring came out but clearly remember the moment when I said to my parents “where is that in New Zealand?” when taking in the scenery. Like many, the Lord of The Rings trilogy documented this country in ways like I as a local had never seen before and since, I’ve become entirely captivated with finding these entrancing spots and seeking adventure.
Here are five places in New Zealand’s North Island that are all in their own way, somewhat surreal.
1. The West Coast- Piha & Anawhata
Just 45 minutes out of Auckland, this region of the North Island is known for it’s rugged surf coast, strong winds, black sand beaches and hidden waterfalls. This dramatic backdrop is a closely located escape from the concrete jungle where you can spend hours exploring secret rock pools, climbing waterfalls and swimming in lush forest rivers. I do believe they say “seek and you will find”, and in this region in particular, this couldn’t be more true.
2. Kerosene Creek
Rotorua and it’s surrounds are situated on geothermal land where you can find thermal hot springs, spouting geysers and bubbling mud pools. Kerosene Creek is about 30km south from Rotorua towards Taupo on State Highway 5. After passing the turnoff to Murupara on your left and Lake Ngahewa on your right, turn left on to Old Waiotapu Rd. The creek itself is where the hot springs and freshwater stream meet and is surrounded by lush forest.
3. National Park- Tongariro
National Park is Mordor Land and home to Mount Ngauruhoe, Mount Ruapehu and MountTongariro. This volcanic landscape is a wilderness wonderland and located about half waybetween Auckland and Wellington, making it an easily accessible retreat for most of the North Island. The most well known hike here is the Tongariro Crossing, a 22km hike that’s breathtaking all year around. Through the hike in Summer you’re rewarded with seeing the three emerald lakes atop and the blue lake, volcanic craters where you can watch the active volcanic steam swirl up into the horizon, though at this time of the year it’s common for 3000 people a day to do this hike.
In Winter, it’s a glistening white wonderland where you’ll need crampons, an axe and a guide to get through, but getting to see this exclusive view and slide down a powdery volcano side is a highlight that I’ll never forget. The area is also abundant with waterfalls- Ketetahi, Ohakune, Lupton, Tawhai Mangawhero, Waitonga and Taranaki Falls are just some of the glorious works of Mother Nature.
4. Mount Maunganiu
A town filled with great coffee, hiking, beaches, surf and plenty of batches to rent, Mount Maunganui or “The Mount” as it’s known to Kiwis is a small town on the North East peninsula of Tauranga and where many Kiwis like to retreat from the big smoke of Auckland. Hiking Mount Maunganui itself is a must do and takes you up a 230 metre elevation where you’ll get a clear view of surrounding bays and the ocean. Explore nearby Motiti Island, jump on a dolphin boat charter or ride horses around the opulent countryside.
5. Blue Pools
A spot which has recently been put on the map due to the old Instagram geo-tag, The Blue Springs and Te Waihou Walkway in Putaruru is where New Zealand gets 70% of it’s bottled water from. This turquoise water has been filtered for 100 years making it crystal clear and though a recent swimming ban has been enforced, the water stays a constant 11°C all year around. The well tucked away 4.7km track traces the Waihou Stream and survives in its own paradise of ferns, yucca and other exotic looking flora. You’ll also find small waterfalls which add to the scenic beauty of this North Island gem.