New Zealand's North Island in 5 days and 5 nights?
March 9, 2016 1:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be spending ~5 days and 5 nights on New Zealand's North Island in the last week of March (after Easter). I'll be there with a friend. Can you help make our trip a little less vague than it currently is? Details under the cut.

I'm Australian, she's German. We're going to be meeting in Auckland at the tail end of her trip. She will have covered all of the South Island and some of the North Island before we meet up. I've been to NZ twice before and have seen most of the touristy sights on the North Island, but that was when I was a child.
I'd love to head South, but I don't think it will be an option this trip because of limited time and my friend wanting to explore more of the North. We're currently considering the Bay of Islands and the Coromandel Peninsula, but we have nothing locked in.

Things that are certain:
- We are hiring a car
- First night and last night of our time together are booked in a youth hostel in Auckland (We need to finish up in Auckland because we're both flying out of there)
- I'm open to enjoying nature and going on walks or for a swim, but not super serious hikes

Is there anywhere that we should absolutely go? Should I try to convince my friend to go back to the South Island briefly? Will we need to book all of our accommodation ahead of time, or can we just wing it?

I've tried reading around but nothing is really standing out, and we should probably try to plan this thing.

posted by kinddieserzeit to Travel & Transportation around New Zealand (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not usually big on gimmicky 'extreme' sports, but nonetheless enjoyed the cave tubing in Waitomo.
posted by fairmettle at 2:11 AM on March 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Coromandel Peninsula is pretty accessible from Auckland via car and it's just great, especially if you can get up to Coromandel township and Whitianga. The roads aren't brilliant, though, especially the inland routes and the coast road past Colville. The Bay of Islands is a viable option, as is the Hokianga region if you want to get slightly off the beaten track. It's really unlike anywhere else in NZ, strongly Maori, and you can find some great food and amazing hostels pretty easily. And the landscapes are sublime.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:30 AM on March 9, 2016

Re: hostel accommodation in the Hokianga region. We stayed at this place (although that was over a decade ago now), and it was just an amazing experience. Unfortunately the Waterline cafe in Kohukohu (which had brilliant organic food and coffee) closed last year, but there's still the Koke cafe and the pretty unique Boatshed Cafe over the other side of the harbour in Rawene.
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:22 AM on March 9, 2016

Your choice is either to head north or south from Auckland in that kind of timeframe. I would head north. There's plenty to see and do.

Save the South Island for another trip.

I wouldn't bother booking ahead at this time of year if you're not too fussy about accommodation.

A lovely secret beach to head to is Whale Bay on the Tutukaka Coast.
posted by dydecker at 3:38 AM on March 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for other places on the North Island, Waitomo has amazing places to explore - we did a 4-hour spelunking tour of the Lost World cave with Waitomo Adventures. It was absolutely breathtaking, not too physically demanding at all, and the guides were great. The main touristy glowworm caves were also astonishingly pretty - very chill, and not too time consuming to do if you're only passing through. Definitely worth looking into, as it's a reasonable drive from Auckland.

Tongariro National Park has some amazing scenery, even if you're not super into serious hiking, but it might be slightly out of your way?
posted by harujion at 5:21 AM on March 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Highly recommend Bay of Islands. I stayed in Russell (at a camp ground) and it was beautiful and laid-back. We took a trip to Paihia for the afternoon and it was very touristy and overcrowded. Catamaran trips around the bay are a great way to see the area. The drive up from Auckland is nice too, with lots of small coastal towns to stop in for a bite to eat.

Also seconding the Tongariro alpine crossing if you have time. It was probably the highlight of my 6 month trip around Asia and Australasia. It was gruelling but the views were incredible.

Avoid Rotorua unless you like the stench of sulphur springs and tourist traps. The Maori cultural show was entertaining but the rest of the town was rough.
posted by krunk at 6:10 AM on March 9, 2016

The Waitomo caves are awesome. There's Hot Water Beach, where you can dig your own hot tub in the sand.

I dunno, I thought the lackadaisical attitude toward open sulfurous sinkholes in Rotorua was awesome: just a sawhorse with a sign reading, 'You will die.'
posted by culfinglin at 10:08 AM on March 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing the suggestion to stick to the North Island, and save the South Island for another trip. I did a short 8-day trip in NZ that covered Auckland, Rotorua, and Queenstown a few years ago - definetely not enough time to get more than a sense of the place. Went back last year to do a two week trip of the South Island, and that was just enough time to see most of the things we wanted to see. I definitely like the South Island more than the North Island, but I'm into super long backpacking trips.

- Take the ferry from Auckland to the volcano island in the middle of the bay, and poke around - it's a nice half-day excursion.

- Just outside of Rotorua is one of the few places you can go zorbing in the entire world. It's not like the MOST AMAZING ADVENTURE EVER, but it's really, really fun to roll down a hill in a giant inflated ball.

- Use the book NZ Frenzy North Island to find some off-the-beaten track adventures. I've only used the South Island guide, but it was great - led us to one of the best day hikes my husband and I have ever been on. He's honest about the number of stars he gives things, by the way - if something is only a couple of stars, only see it if it's on your way. If something if five stars, it's definitely worth checking out!

posted by Jaclyn at 10:32 AM on March 9, 2016

I'll nth the Tongariro alpine crossing. Really phenomenal views, best one day hike I've ever done. I'd probably take it over the Rockies or the Swiss alps because of its more manageable size. Up and down in one day!

I was meh on Rotarura. If bad smells bother you, the whole place will give you a killer headache all day due to the sulpher.

Coramandel is beautiful, and feels very tropical compared to the south island. The black sand beaches are cool, and there's some surfing too.... or you can sit on the beach with a drink and watch the surfers get thrashed.
posted by LegallyBread at 1:43 PM on March 9, 2016

I was there some years back and stayed in and around Auckland. I got out to the Coromandel, which was spectacular, and to Rotorua, which was eggy but the geysers and boiling mud were fun. I stayed right next to One Tree Hill, which has a fairly complex history; I walked up it every day and the view was great. Auckland Museum had / has a significant collection of Pacific and Maori artefacts (don't know if it would still be on display but there was a really old carving of a goddess that made me stop and stare every time I saw it - very powerful). There was a ferry you could catch that travelled around the harbour to various destinations (Kelly Tarleton's Underwater World, anyone?!) that was a great way to enjoy a view of the city. I think it did go out to Rangitoto, the volcano in the bay, but I didn't get that far. I seem to recall Newmarket was a good shopping destination even then.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 5:32 PM on March 9, 2016

Response by poster: So many fantastic suggestions!

Tongariro alpine crossing looks particularly stunning. I'm not sure whether my friend will have covered it already, but I have put in a request to include that in our journey. I've also taken note of the suggestions for specific places around the Bay of Islands and Coromandel.

I've been to Rotorua before and remember it quite well. I loved it there, but am happy to skip it this trip. I have a feeling I have been to some glow worm caves somewhere (maybe Waitamo?) and to Hot Water Beach, but am open to these things again.

You've all made me feel much better about staying on the North Island during the trip. I was starting to get worried when everyone I spoke to told me to head south.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 12:01 AM on March 10, 2016

If I was flying out of Auckland at a reasonable hour, I would spend my last night in Piha rather than a backpackers in the city.
posted by dydecker at 1:35 AM on March 10, 2016

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