When I planned my trip to New Zealand, I decided based on my interests and what was on offer to spend more time in the South Island than in the North Island. However, this does not mean the North Island lacks places to explore. I left the visit to the North Island for the last 4 days of my month-long trip down under making Auckland my base and then traveling around the center of the island to visit places like the Waitomo glowworm caves (incredible!), Rotorua, Taupo, Huka Falls, and the geothermal fields. There was so much to see that even 2 days for these sites was a bit rushed.
I noticed a few differences between the two islands during my visit quite easily: two different worlds. Clearly, the North Island is more densely populated (this does not mean it feels crowded) and there was more evidence of human presence along the roads traveled in that part of the North Island whereas the South Island felt more vast and empty. Also, the presence of the Maori culture was much more evident in the North Island than it was in the parts of the south Island that I visited. Finally, the North Island also seems to have more going on in terms of volcanoes and geothermal activity but the South Island has the more extreme mountain scenery (the Southern Alps, glaciers, fiords). Here is a bit more of the North Island…
Meeting the Maori Culture for the First Time
One of the highlights for me of the north island was to get a small peek at Maori culture by visiting the Auckland Museum (I highly recommend it) and one of the cultural visits in the Rotorua area. It was great to understand better the songs and dances of the Maori, including the scary “haka” that I was familiar with only through watching the All Blacks rugby team in action!
Hot Lava, Anyone?
Another highlight for me was visiting the geothermal fields and understanding why those fields exist and are so active – the area is a very “alive” volcanic area. I visited a few sites where I saw geysers and thermal pools. The Artists Palette and the Champagne Pool were my favorite among the various famous sites near Taupo. But everywhere you looked, you could see a column of steam coming off the ground, not only in the areas set up for visitors but just about anywhere you looked. I have never seen anything like that before! Of course, along with all this comes a strong “aroma” of sulfur.
Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating too much so I did not get a good view of the lakes in the area. It rained a good bit the weekend I was in the North Island so I am sure that kept me from enjoying some nice views.
In Auckland itself, I limited myself to the Auckland Museum and the Maritime Museum, and to do a very long walk around the central business district (“CBD“), Ponsonby (where I stayed) and “K” road (Karangahape is the proper name). While the central business district had some neat architecture that I assume is early 20th century, it was the districts of Parnell and Ponsonby that seemed to have more of the charming feel. I did not explore beyond this central core of the city so there is likely more than I got to see. For instance, the central business district waterfront area is only a fraction of the coastline that is available to the city, which is bounded on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on the other by the Tasman Sea.
Auckland definitely felt very different than everything else I had seen in NZ in the trip. It is the most populous city in NZ (around 1.3 million residents out of the 4.something in the entire country). By comparison, the next largest city I visited, Christchurch, has about 350,000 residents. Dunedin, a charming southern town, even less. After spending a week in the southern half of the South Island, coming to Auckland required a bit of an adjustment for sure.
Among the many things I did not see but heard were worth seeing were the Coromandel Peninsula, the city of Wellington, islands off Auckland like Waiheke, the areas on the north of the North Island, etc. It seems, therefore, that I need to return to NZ to complete my visit 🙂 GLADLY!