Summer Top 40
The Best Summer Things to Do in New Zealand's North Island
November 27, 2022 • Tom Lanauze
13 min read
The North Island of New Zealand offers the volcanic and thermal wonders of the inland Central Plateau contrasted with the stunning coastal scenery of the Coromandel, Bay of Islands and beyond. All this combined with its gorgeous national parks, waterfalls and swimming holes, vibrant cities and historic Maori culture make it a fantastic holiday destination.
1. Lighting the Way for the Spirits
Cape Reinga offers one of the most scenic views in New Zealand as you look out over the joining of two oceans, their meeting point shown by unique currents and wave activity.
There are plenty of great walks here with the largest being the Te Paki 3 Day Coastal Track, however you can break this into smaller segments for short walks to match your holiday.
This place holds special significance to Maori, as this is the jumping off point for the spirits of their people as they leave this life for the next. It’s hard not to feel the mana and aura while visiting.
Read our Guide to the KariKari Peninsula and its nearby beaches for more information on this amazing region.
2. Have a Close Encounter with a Kiwi at Aroha Island
This Northland hidden gem provides a 12ha sanctuary on the KeriKeri inlet for local fauna and flora. It is one of the best and most accessible opportunities to see the iconic kiwi bird in the wild. Access is easy thanks to the causeway, linking the island to the mainland.
The eco centre offers a lodge, cottage, camping and glamping right on the East Coast making it a beautiful place to watch the sun rise while you enjoy a swim.
When the sun goes down, grab a red filtered torch and make your way into the gardens to spot the kiwi!
3. Go For a Dip at Charlie’s Rock
It's just luck that the popular Rainbow Falls is so close by. It means not only can you visit another epic waterfall, but that many people travel right past this less well known spot.
Just 30 minutes from the Bay of Islands capital of Pahea, this tiered rock waterfall provides a lovely place to swim away from the beaches and often the crowds.
See our guide for the Top 10 Waterfalls in New Zealand for more waterfall inspo and read on to see some others in the Top 40!
This dramatic marine landscape was formed by a gigantic volcanic eruption millions of years ago and while the islands themselves are stunning, the real beauty can be found under the waves of this iconic marine reserve, with more than 125 species of marine life present.
The legendary ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau once claimed that the Poor Knights Islands have some of the best diving in the world, and one visit to this extraordinary place will be enough to convince you too.
It can be explored via scenic cruise, where on arrival you can Kayak, paddle board, snorkel, scuba and swim.
One of its most famous dive sites is the Rikoriko Cave, one of the largest sea caves in the world.
5. Whale Bay
The Tutukaka Coast is rated by Lonely Planet as being one of the Top 3 coastal destinations on earth, yet still has managed to hold on to some of its mystery. A true hidden gem of this amazing coastal road trip is Whale Bay.
You’ll take a short stroll over a small hill via a formed path through ancient native bush offering bird song and epic views down the coast before exiting out on to the stunning white sand of Whale Bay.
Fringed with native bush, this sheltered bay and its crystal clear waters offers a great place for a swim, picnic or snorkel - dolphins can even be seen here!
For a truly off-the-grid experience, visit the Mimiwhangata Coastal Park and stay at its Waikahia Bay campsite. Its remoteness is matched only by its beauty.
Bay of Islands
6. 1st In A Class of 144. Vist Urupukapuka Island
One of the 144 islands located in the gorgeous Bay of Islands, Urupukapuka Island is our favourite! It’s easily accessed via ferry and offers a stunning place to explore or relax.
This is a predator free island, which makes the bird life here quite spectacular, offering one of the few places where they can truly be at home.
It is a tale of two sides.
On one side, a lovely walking track winds its way through native bush and down to hidden bays and beaches where the soundtrack to this holiday will be waves and bird song - Paradise Bay is our favourite place for a swim!
On the other side at Otehei bay, there is a beach side bar and restaurant with live music where you can just relax and enjoy the watersports and summer vibes, all with a local wine in one hand and the camera in the other.
From here, you can also catch dolphin cruises or visit the hole in the rock, one of the most photographed marine sites in New Zealand.
7. Wine and Dine At Waiheke Island
Summer like the locals and take a trip to Waiheke! Easily reached by short ferry, this little tranquil paradise right on the doorstep of New Zealand's largest city offers adventure galore, while being surrounded in vineyards and olive groves.
From hidden beaches to famous wines and cuisine, it is packed full of culture and has a summer vibe you will dance along to.
With the island comes a long list of adventures, from fishing and diving, to sea kayaking, mountain biking, surfing, sailing and more, it is the little island that has it all.
The Coromandel is a great place for beaches and this is one of the best! If you're in this area you have to stop here to see for yourself why Britain's “The Observer” named it in its Top 20 deserted beaches of the world! Accessed via a short nature walk, its gorgeous sandy beach offers a very special place to beat the heat.
Relaxing, beautiful, fun and deserted - what more could you ask for?
9. Hahei Beach
The Coromandel Peninsula is one of the locals' favourite holiday spots, and it's easy to see why.
Hahei beach is located right in the middle of the Coromandel, offering golden sands and crystal clear waters. It is also the start of a stunning short coastal walk that will take you to the world famous Cathedral Cove, and is only a short drive to the equally famous Hot Water Beach, where you can dig your own hot pool on the beach!
Hahei Holiday Park is right on the beach and offers all kinds of accommodation options in the heart of the Coromandel Peninsula and close to 3 of its top attractions.
Looking to escape the crowds? Read about some Off the Beaten Track Things to do in the Coromandel.
Bay of Plenty
Another of our local favourites, the PoriPori swimming hole is a natural freshwater rock pool, hidden away in a forest in the aptly named region of Bay of Plenty.
With its beautiful surroundings and clear water, it's a stunning place for some wild swimming. As it can’t be seen from the road, it remains relatively unknown, with many locals and tourists alike drive past this amazing spot, to flock to the region's more well known beaches for a swim.
Waikato & Central North Island
Located just outside the tourist hotspot of Rotorua is the Kaituna River. Join your local guide as you first learn about the river, its history and significance to local Maori.
This trip is the tale of two halves, as you first hear of Maori myths and legends before taking part in a Karakia - A Maori prayer. You then hit the water and meander your way through steep canyons and native bush, serenaded by bird song from each side.
How quickly things can change!
This all leads up to the Tutea falls. At 7 metres, it is the highest commercially rafted waterfall drop in the world!
12. Visit the Land of the Living Stars at Waitomo
There is no better way to escape the heat of summer than to head deep underground and into the land of the living stars.
The Waitomo Cave is one of New Zealand’s premier attractions and for good reason. You will enjoy a guided walk and boat tour through the glowworm grotto, the area lit up by nature's stars as you listen to local legends and stories from the caves and area.
While the glowworms are the stars of the show, the 30 million year old caves themselves are an impressive sight - one part of the cave system you explore is so big, it's called “the cathedral”!
13. Refuel Your Soul at Kerosene Creek
Take a short walk through idyllic native bush to Kerosene Creek. It’s a stream that's naturally heated thanks to the hot springs that flow into it up river. You can lay back under a waterfall to relax and recharge after your travels as the hot waters flow over your shoulders or get down into some of the deeper pools available and soak away the day!
14. Explore a Thermal Wonderland at Orakei Korako
This is just one of the many thermal parks in the geothermal area near Taupo and Rotorua, however this is also the one you need to visit.
Hidden in a picturesque valley complete with its own lake, this thermal area misses the summer crowds thanks to its off the beaten track location, allowing more time and less pressure to adventure through this unique thermal wonderland.
You’ll explore the boardwalks on a self guided walking tour as you safely meander around and over the bubbling mud pools, steam vents and geysers. Of particular importance are the stunning natural rainbow mosaics formed by some of the largest silica terraces in the world.
Orakei Korako is filled with the sights, sounds and smell of a true thermal region!
You can even stay on site and camp right on the beach, taking a dip in the stunning lake after exploring the thermal park!
15. See the Massive Maori Carvings at Mine Bay
Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand and is a summer hot spot, with its town home to a vibrant nightlife and culture.
The lake itself is massive, at times you feel like you have it all to yourself! It’s packed with hidden beaches and short walks and even has its own natural hot springs. You can find a plethora of activities at Lake Taupo - on and above the water. From world class trout fishing and kayak tours, to an epic skydive above this incredibly scenic area.
Our favourite summer activity at the lake is to pack a picnic and enjoy a leisurely afternoon yacht cruise to visit the massive rock carvings at Mine Bay that tower 14 meters above the lake - they have to be seen to be believed.
16. Hike With The Hobbits and Conquer a Volcano!
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the most famous day walks in the world. You’ll trek across a volcanic alpine landscape of dramatic contrasts – steaming vents, glacial valleys, ancient lava flows, alpine vegetation and vivid crater lakes, all with stunning views.
You may recognise some of them - you’ll be walking in the footsteps of Frodo and Sam - this was the home of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings!
As Boromir said, ‘One does not simply walk into Mordor’, check out our guide on Tramping in the Tongariro for some helpful hints and tips.
17. Meet The Stingrays Off Gisbourne’s Coast
This is one of the newest marine tours offered in New Zealand and already it has a world famous reputation. The reef eco tour adventure will see you meeting with wild stingrays in the gorgeous waters off the coast of Gisborne.
Both eagle rays and short tail rays can be interacted with here, along with many other species of reef fish.
Be sure to say hello to Pancake and Waffle - these two resident rays will come in for a stroke like your neighbour's cat!
18. Stay and Play at Maraetotara Falls
Located close to Havelock North, this is one of Hastings best kept secrets. As much a place to post to instagram as it is to enjoy a swim at with its 15 metre waterfall and large swimming lagoon tucked into a forest.
It also has a Freedom Camp located nearby allowing self contained vehicles to stay on site for up to two nights, making it an ideal summer stopover.
19. Slip 'n Slide at Wilkies Pools
While visiting the mighty Mt Taranaki for its epic views on the Pouakai Tarns Track, you have a chance to cool off after your hike in the famous Wilkies Pools and zip down a natural water slide!
First up, you'll take a short walk (around 45min) through the enchanted “goblin forest” before arriving at the Kapuni stream swing bridge. This is a well formed track suitable for children, prams and wheelchairs.
After crossing the bridge, you’ll arrive at the natural Wilkies plunge pools, formed after 20,000 year old lava was scoured away. You can climb up the rocks and zoom down these natural water slides before taking a dip in the pools, all in the shadow of the amazing Mt Taranaki.
Make sure you visit the more famous (and busy) Dawson Falls while in the area.
If you want to try your hand at climbing the towering the Mt Taranaki check at our guide on How To Climb Mt Taranaki Safely.
To relax after your hike, there is an excellent Holiday Park located at Fitzroy Beach a short drive away
20. Sweeping Views at CastlePoint
Voted as one of the best beaches in New Zealand, Its coastline receives regular visits from New Zealand fur seals and dolphins, so keep an eye out in the waves and along the coast. For its human visitors, it has great surf opportunities and an onsite surf school.
It has an awesome coastal walking trail you can explore for epic views of its dramatic coastline and you can see one of the two remaining beam lighthouses in all of New Zealand, adding to its charm and providing other excellent photography opportunities.
If you enjoyed this walk and you’re in Wellington, check out the other Awesome walks in the Wellington Region.
Travelling to the South Island Next?
From the quiet wilderness vistas of Fiordland to the warm waters of Nelson and the glaciers of the West Coast in between, this might be the most variable summer destination in the world!
Check out The Best Summer Things to Do in New Zealand's South Island