A visit to New Zealand will be high on the wish list for any Lord of the Rings fans out there; not to mention adrenalin junkies, outdoor types and those seeking solitude in a land that boasts massive green space, sparkling white beaches, lush forests and mountainous terrain. Roughly the same size as the United Kingdom, New Zealand has a population of a mere 4.5 million and is renowned as having more sheep than people. The North and South islands have a very different vibe, and you could easily spend several months exploring both. We had four weeks to play with, and here is my twelve day North island itinerary to whet your appetite:
Coromandel Peninsula: Everything you imagine New Zealand to be; picture perfect towns, lovely beaches and beautiful, lush forests – not to mention the fish and chips! We could easily have spent several days here but in the short time we had we headed straight for the East coast to visit Hot Water Beach, aptly named after the underground thermal springs that can be taken advantage of during low tide. Grab a shovel, take a walk and follow the other revellers as you dig for your place in the sand. Timing and precision is required to find spring water at just the right temperature, dig a few meters out and you will find it is just a little bit too hot or too cold. Check out the Waiau falls and surrounding area for some stunning forested walks and a dip in the pools.
Matamata: I’ll admit I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan, so no visit to New Zealand would have been complete for me without a tour of the set of Hobbiton in Matamata. The films are really brought to life here and despite a slightly touristy feel to it, we loved this place. As manufactured as it is, the film set is pretty idyllic and with the weather on our side we were able to enjoy strolling past Bilbo’s house, the party tree and even had time to sample a traditional brew at The Green Dragon Inn, ‘hobbit style’! The downside is that you have to either join a tour group or pay extra to have your own private tour. At $79, even the group tour is not cheap but I would still highly recommend it if you love the films.
Tongariro National Park: the oldest National Park in New Zealand, Tongariro’s rugged beauty and volcanic peaks attract both the amateur and serious hiker. With an impressive network of hiking trails (some of which you can find here), the park is a paradise for those with a passion for being outdoors. Be sure to check the weather forecast and seek local advice before venturing out as trails become more challenging, even dangerous, during adverse weather. Unfortunately when we visited the visibility was so poor that we were not able to attempt the Tongariro Alpine crossing, a popular 19km hike (one way) which boasts an array of geothermal features and fantastic views. We settled for some shorter hikes close to our hostel and a visit to the filming location for ‘Mordor’ in Lord of the Rings.
Auckland: A convenient stop off between Tongariro National Park and Waipoua forest, the city of Auckland offers the visitor a plethora of shopping and dining opportunities, amongst many other attractions. Auckland’s west coast beaches can be found less than an hour away, and you won’t be short of scenery and walking trails if you want to stop here a little longer.
Waipoua forest: found on the West coast of the Northland region and home to some of New Zealand’s best preserved kauri trees, this makes for a breath-taking stop. For any nature lovers out there, Waipoua forest will not disappoint and is a must on your trip to the North Island. Take one of the many walks in the area and be awe-struck as you stand beneath Tāne Mahuta, or ‘Lord of the Forest’, the largest living kauri tree in New Zealand. Take a break at the visitor centre for more information about the area, where they even offer guided tours of the forest.
Bay of Islands
Known for its pleasant sub-tropical climate, the Bay of Islands provides the perfect setting for a relaxing break by the coast. Sandy beaches, pretty towns and a glimpse into the Maori culture await you in this scenic part of New Zealand. There is plenty to get your blood pumping with an array of water and land based activities on offer such as hiking, sea kayaking, diving and sand -boarding. A visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for a concert and traditional Maori Hangi feast will set you back 110 New Zealand Dollars (£62) but give you a fascinating insight into this ancient culture. Don’t miss Ngawha hot springs for a relaxing soak – popular with the locals, the facilities are pretty basic but for four dollars you really can’t complain. We loved it so much we went twice!
Top Tip: For the budget conscious traveller, you can get a day pass to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and museum for 40 dollars (£22).