The Central North Island contains a wide range of landscapes and activities. Hamilton, the region’s largest town, is set among lush farmland close to the western surf beaches of Raglan and the mysterious Waitomo Caves. North of Hamilton, the rugged Coromandel Peninsula flows into sandy, unspoilt Bay of Plenty beaches, the East Cape and the east coast, all popular spots for fishing and water sports. Hawke’s Bay is famous for its Art Deco buildings, orchards and vineyards. Geothermal attractions stretch from lunar-landscaped White Island to the volcano Ruapehu, the North Island’s best skiing location. At the bottom of the region, Tongariro National Park offers a wilderness experience.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Situated where the Waikato and Waipa rivers meet at the edge of the central Waikato Basin, Ngaruawahia is one of the oldest and most historic settlements in Waikato and an important center of Maori culture. On the northeastern bank of the river, off River Road, is one of the Maori people’s most important locations – Turangawaewae Marae, “the footstool” or home of the Waikato Tainui tribe. Turongo House, located within the marae, is the official residence of the reigning Maori monarch, Tuheitia Paki. Although Turangawaewae Marae is considered too sacred for tourism, and visitors are likely to be referred to Rotorua where Maori cultural experiences are widely available, the marae is open to the public for the annual Ngaruawahia Regatta on the river, which features waka (canoe) racing, iwi dance competitions, and other activities.
Waikato’s only seaside resort on the west coast, Raglan is a small, pleasant town with welcoming shady trees in the main street. Raglan fills with visitors during summer, attracted to the water sports available in its tranquil harbor, its good swimming beaches, and its excellent surfing. Te Kopua Beach and Te Aro Aro Bay, close to Raglan, are popular for swimming, while Whale Bay, a ten-minute drive south along the coast, is famous worldwide among surfers for its left-hand break. The 15-mile drive south along Raglan’s narrow coastal Whaanga Road provides breathtaking views of the rugged coastline and the swells of the Tasman Sea. About 13 miles southeast of Raglan, on the road to Kawhia, an easy ten-minute walk through dense bush leads to the Bridal Veil Falls. The 180-ft waterfall plunges in a single plume from a rock cleft to a deep pool below. A steep track continues to the base of the falls and an even more dramatic vantage point.
PIRONGIA FOREST PARK
This park, comprising four separate forest areas south and southeast of Raglan, contains an extensive network of trails, from easy walks on the lower peaks to more strenuous hikes higher up. At 3,146 ft, Mount Pirongia, an ancient volcano lying southeast of Raglan, is the most obvious landmark in the park; its dramatic skyline and dark green forest contrast strongly with the surrounding farmland. Closer to Raglan, 2,480-ft Mt Karioi rises sharply from the coastline. Tracks lead to both peaks. During the summer months, it is advisable to carry drinking water on the tracks as natural supplies are difficult to find. A number of native birds can be seen along the tracks and around the park’s margins. Several native fish species and a huge variety of aquatic invertebrates can be found in the park’s streams. A hut on Mount Pirongia – Pahautea – sleeps six to eight people. Hut tickets are available from the Department of Conservation in Hamilton. There are picnic areas at the end of both Corcoran and Grey roads and a camping area alongside Kaniwhaniwha Stream, which is also an excellent trout fishing spot.
Located on the coast 34 miles to the south of Raglan, along the winding but scenic back roads, the small settlement of Kawhia comprises a jumble of cottages on the north side of Kawhia Harbour, 3 miles from the Tasman Sea. The harbor is remote, splendid, and huge, its shoreline twisting and turning for 35 miles. In former times, Maori prized the harbor and the fertile valleys running down to it and fought over rights to the area. The Maori migration canoe Tainui, which plied the coastline eight centuries ago, is buried on the slopes behind the Makatu meeting house. Stones placed 75 ft apart above the bow and stern mark its position. The canoe was once moored to a pohutukawa tree, Tangi te Korowhiti, on the shore at the end of Karewa Street. Now a large clump of pohutukawas, the tree is still revered by the Tainui people as signifying the beginning of their association with Aotearoa.
New Zealand’s fourth-largest metropolitan area and largest inland city, Hamilton straddles a meandering section of the mighty Waikato River, at 264 miles the longest in the country. The city has grown from a 19th-century military settlement into a bustling center servicing the Waikato region, a huge undulating plain. Attractive parks and gardens, dissected by footpaths, border the river, and bridges connect the east and west banks. The MV Waipa Delta paddleboat cruises the river three times daily from its landing in central Hamilton, offering the best views of the area. Perched on five levels above the river, the Waikato Museum of Art and History features a large collection of New Zealand art, Waikato history, and history of the local Tainui people. On permanent display is an impressive war canoe, Te Winika. The Hamilton Gardens, located at the southern end of the city, are Hamilton’s most popular visitor attractions. Set along a scenic stretch of the Waikato River, they include pavilions showcasing Japanese, Chinese, and English gardens as well as seasonal attractions. Hamilton hosts Balloons Over Waikato, a fiesta which attracts balloonists from around the world, and the National Agricultural Fieldays at nearby Mystery Creek, one of Australasia’s largest agricultural trade shows.
Fifteen minutes’ drive south of Hamilton, Cambridge lies amid farmland, home to New Zealand’s thoroughbred horse industry. Known as “the town of trees” because of its avenues of oak and elm, the town has a charming village green and pretty gardens. The domain around Lake Koutu, fringed by exotic trees and native bush, is a popular place for walks and picnics. Cambridge is also known for its contemporary art and crafts outlets; one, the large, award-winning Cambridge Country Store, is located in a church built in 1898. The town’s numerous antique shops and galleries are another major attraction. Visitors can also view a potpourri of architectural styles at St. Andrew’s church and the public buildings along and adjacent to Victoria Street.
Thirty-one miles south of Hamilton lies Otorohanga, a small provincial town whose main attraction is the Otorohanga Kiwi House. Three kiwi species are bred at the zoological park and 300 birds, representing 29 species, can be viewed in a massive walk-through aviary. In addition to kiwis, these include native pigeons, tui, silvereyes, parakeets, and saddlebacks. Geckos, wetas, and tuataras (an ancient reptile) are also on display. Otorohanga is regarded as the gateway to the Waitomo Caves.
The area known as Waitomo consists of a 28-mile network of underground limestone caves and grottoes linked to the Waitomo River. A chamber of the Glowworm Cave was first explored in 1887, but most caves remain the domain of cavers and speleologists. Apart from touring the Glowworm and Aranui caves, famous for their glowworm grottoes and fantastic limestone formations, visitors can enjoy a range of cave-based adventure activities, including abseiling into a limestone shaft and cave system, and black-water rafting, an adventure sport unique to New Zealand. The 1.5 miles of caves accessible to the public have superb lighting, good paths, handrails, and informative local guides.
Located at the southeastern corner of the Firth of Thames, against hills that 100 years ago rang to the sound of battery stamps pounding quartz ore to extract gold, Thames is the principal town of the Coromandel region. It services surrounding farmland and a swelling coastal population. It is the gateway to the Coromandel Peninsula and an ideal base from which to explore the Coromandel Forest Park wilderness area. Many buildings in the town owe their grandeur to wealth created during the gold-mining era. The Thames Historical Museum features relics from the town’s past, including the pioneering foundries that sprang up to support the mining industry, while the Thames School of Mines and Mineralogical Museum features 5,000 mineral samples and equipment used to process quartz ore and extract gold. Mine managers were taught in the school’s classroom from 1885 to 1954. A large World War I memorial, off Waiotahi Creek Road, stands on a hill above the town to the north and affords panoramic views of the town, the Firth of Thames, and the Hauraki Gulf beyond. At the small Karaka Bird Hide, built among mangroves off Brown Street on the edge of town, a variety of migratory wading birds can be seen, especially between high and low tides.
COROMANDEL FOREST PARK
This park stretches for 62 miles along the peninsula’s interior, but the most accessible portion is the forested Kauaeranga Valley, with its well-developed network of short walks, longer tramps, and picnic areas. The valley was a major source of kauri timber from the 1870s to the 1920s. Remains of dams, trestle bridges, and river booms, used to flush kauri logs into the Kauaeranga River, are evident. Anglers can fish for trout in the valley’s streams where the keen-eyed may also find gemstones. A rocky ridge known as the Pinnacles offers fine views of both coastlines. The Kauaeranga Visitor Centre, 8 miles northeast of Thames, provides details of walks and tramps that comprise the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail, a pack track made by kauri bushmen, as well as park accommodation.
Coromandel town, as it is referred to by those wishing to distinguish it from the peninsula itself, is a quiet fishing and crafts town about an hour’s drive north of Thames. Mining featured prominently in the town’s formative years, and fine examples of Victorian and colonial architecture are a legacy of that era. The laid-back atmosphere and beauty of the area make it a haven for artists and craftspeople, and an ideal place in which to tramp, swim, fish, sail, or simply relax. One of Coromandel’s most popular attractions is the Driving Creek Railway and Potteries, built by well-known New Zealand potter Barry Brickell to convey clay and wood to his kiln and to service a kauri forest replanting project. The narrow-gauge mountain railway takes visitors in specially designed carriages on a one-hour round trip through native forest and tunnels and across bridges to a viewpoint high above Coromandel. The Coromandel Gold Stamper Battery and a 100- year-old gold-processing museum, featuring a large working water wheel, lie at the end of Buffalo Road to the north of the town. The Coromandel School of Mines and Historical Museum has displays of early gold-mining and kauri logging, geological specimens, and an old jailhouse.
At the tip of the peninsula, 35 miles north of Coromandel, Port Jackson’s long, lupin-backed beach comes as a surprise. The road, which is unsealed from the small settlement of Colville, the last supply point, ends at Fletcher’s Bay, 4 miles further on, a pretty pohutukawa-shaded cove with good fishing. The Coromandel Walkway, a 4.5-mile track, leads from Fletcher’s Bay to Stony Bay and takes about three hours to complete. Port Jackson, Fletcher Bay, and Stony Bay all have camping grounds with toilets, cold showers, and barbecue pits.
Whitianga sits on the innermost recess of Mercury Bay. Whitianga provides safe boat launching, ideal during the big game fishing season from November to April. Major fishing contests occur in February and March. The tiny Mercury Bay Boating Club, at the west end of Buffalo Beach, earned world fame when it spearheaded Auckland financier Michael Fay’s unsuccessful 1988 challenge to the San Diego Yacht Club for America’s Cup. The Mercury Bay Museum occupies a disused dairy factory opposite the wharf on The Esplanade. A short ferry ride across the narrow harbor entrance takes visitors to Ferry Landing, the original site of Whitianga, where there are walks, lookouts, and craft outlets. Whitianga Rock, upstream of Ferry Landing, was formerly a pa site of the Ngati Hei tribe. Whitianga’s Buffalo Beach is named after an 1840 shipwreck. The British ship Buffalo, which had delivered convicts to Australia and was to return to Britain with kauri spars, was blown by a storm onto the beach and destroyed. A cannon from the ship is mounted at the RSA Memorial Park in Albert Street. The Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve at Cathedral Cove covers 4 sq miles and extends from Cooks Bluff to Hahei Beach. It was established in 1992 to restore the area’s marine environment to its former rich and varied condition. No fishing or gathering of shellfish is allowed, although visitors may swim, dive and sail in the reserve.
Hahei is the start of a two-hour return walk to Cathedral Cove, where a dramatic, cathedral-shaped cavern, accessible at low tide, cuts through a white headland. Reasonable fitness is required to reach the cove but panoramic cliff-top views make the effort worthwhile. Hahei’s beach is sheltered by offshore islands and tinged pink with broken shells. The area is popular with divers. At Hot Water Beach, 4 miles south of Hahei, visitors can dig their own thermal spa in the sand between low and mid-tides. Spades are available for hire.
The town of Whangamata, meaning “obsidian harbor”, was named after the dark, glass-like volcanic rock that has washed ashore from Mayor Island, 19 miles from the mainland. The town is often referred to as “the surfing capital of New Zealand” because of the size of the waves in the area, particularly its sandbank surf break known as “the bar”. Its surf is also popular with swimmers who enjoy large waves and with surf-fishers. Other superb surfing beaches in the vicinity include Onemana and Opoutere to the north of the town and Whiritoa on the coast to the south. The hills and valleys behind Whangamata, a short drive from the town, offer many outdoor activities. Within the Tairua Forest lie the Wentworth Valley, Taungatara Recreation Reserve, and Parakiwai Valley. These are crisscrossed with walking tracks that make the most of stony streams and pockets of native bush. A popular walk takes in the “Luck at Last” gold mine and the remains of ore processors, water races, buildings, and even a baker’s oven. Walk details are available from the Whangamata information center and forestry company Matariki Forests, which may close access when it is conducting forestry operations. Wharekawa Wildlife Refuge, 10 miles north of Whangamata, is a conservation area based on the Opoutere sandspit. It is home to oystercatchers and dotterels.
The history of Waihi has been linked with gold since Robert Lee and John McCrombie discovered a gold-bearing quartz reef in 1878. The Martha Mine, established on the site in 1882 and worked continuously until 1952, was the most important and successful of many in the district. In 1988, it reopened, with concessions to operate until 2007, and substantial amounts of gold were extracted from the mine during this time. The mine is currently undergoing a rehabilitation project where, over a number of years, the site will be stabilized and transformed into a lake and the surrounding area revegetated. The Goldfields Railway operates vintage diesel and steam trains on 4 miles of track between Waihi and Waikino, the gateway to the Karangahake goldfields. The Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway, a 3-mile loop along the gorge past old bridges, abandoned mining equipment, and mining shafts, is signposted from the road. Waihi Beach, 7 miles east of the town, is one of the most popular along the coast.
Enthusiastic Irish colonizer George Vesey Stewart bought Katikati and its surrounding land in the 1870s and sold it to 406 “refined and educated” Ulster families. Unfamiliar with the hard work needed to break in their land, these immigrants initially resented Stewart, but the district has since proved itself ideal for horticulture and dairy farming. Today, Katikati has earned a reputation as an open-air “art gallery”. More than 30 murals and other art decorate its buildings, streets, and parks, all produced by local artists. Sapphire Springs, set in a bush reserve 4 miles from the town, has a number of freshwater thermal springs for swimming or soaking.
The largest city in the western Bay of Plenty and an important commercial center and port, Tauranga lies along a section of the sprawling Tauranga Harbour, a plain thought to have been flooded at the end of the last Ice Age. Its benign climate and coastal location are attractive to retired New Zealanders and to anyone who enjoys year-round outdoor activities. Recreational and competitive boating, surfing, and deep-sea fishing are among its major attractions. It is also a popular venue for jet-skiing, water-skiing, windsurfing, parasailing, and diving. The Strand, in the center of town, is the main shopping and restaurant area. The Elms Mission Station, built in stages between 1838 and 1847 by the Reverend Alfred Brown, is one of New Zealand’s oldest homes. The grounds contain gardens and several buildings, including an 1839 free-standing library. Tauranga’s other attractions include 31 miles of beach and foreshore reserve and 17 miles of public walkways around the coast, estuary, and inland reserves.
The town of Mount Maunganui, built on a narrow peninsula at the mouth of Tauranga Harbour, is the main port for the central North Island timber industry. Overshadowing the town is the 761-ft cone-shaped Mount Maunganui. A walk to the summit and back takes 90 minutes and provides views of Maori fortifications dating from when “The Mount”, as it is commonly called, was a pa site. At the top, unobstructed views up and down the coast can be seen. At the bottom are the Mount Maunganui Hot Salt Water Pools, which are heated by natural thermal water. Magnificent Ocean Beach extends east from The Mount to Papamoa and beyond, creating an ideal summer playground for surfers and swimmers. In high seas, a blowhole at Moturiki Island, off Marine Parade, shoots spray skywards.
Mayor Island (Tuhua) is rather hilly and bush-clad and there are very few landing places around its steep cliffs. The highest peak, Opauhau, reaches 1,161 ft above a roughly circular island 3 miles across. Two lakes, one green, and the other black lie within a crater crowning the summit of what is a dormant volcano rising from the seafloor. The island’s most striking feature is black obsidian, a natural glass formed by the rapid cooling of silica-rich lava. In pre-European times, Maori prized obsidian and fought battles over the island. An 11-mile walking track circles the island while other paths cross the interior. All sea life is protected within a marine reserve on the northern coastline. A camping ground and cabins provide accommodation, but visitors must take adequate food and water as supplies on the island are limited. Game fish in the vicinity of the island include tuna, marlin, kingfish, and mako sharks. Several companies run diving and sightseeing trips to the island.
Te Puke is another town originally settled with Irish folk by Ulsterman George Vesey Stewart in the 1880s. Early farming of sheep and cattle in the area was hampered by “bush sickness,” a cobalt deficiency that dogged farming in many central North Island regions until it was identified in the 1930s and corrected with cobaltized fertilizers. With an ideal climate for sheep, cattle, and dairy farming, these land uses predominated until interest in horticulture strengthened in the 1960s. Pioneering horticulturists experimented with what was then known as the Chinese gooseberry and developed an international market for it under a new name – kiwifruit. Since then Te Puke has been hailed as “the kiwifruit capital of the world”. All aspects of the industry, from cultivation to processing, are displayed at the export kiwifruit orchard and horticultural park Kiwi360, 4 miles southeast of Te Puke. Spring Loaded Fun Park, 5 miles south of Te Puke, is a large farm designed to show the diversity of New Zealand farming. There are sheep and pigs, as well as groves of avocado, kiwifruit, and pine trees. Children can get up close to young animals and hand-feed 60-year-old eels. Visitors can also explore the stunning natural beauty of the bush-clad Kaituna River during a 30-minute jet-boat ride.
Resting in the coastal heart of the eastern Bay of Plenty, Whakatane is one of New Zealand’s sunniest locations. The town enjoys more than 2,500 sunshine hours a year, making it ideal for a wide range of marine activities. These include fishing and viewing and swimming with dolphins. Whales and Dolphin Watch NZ takes visitors on a voyage out into the Bay of Plenty to swim with dolphins. The Whakatane District Museum and Gallery gives an insight into the lifestyles of early Maori and European settlers. It contains a pictorial history of the district as well as displays of Maori artifacts. There are several excellent local walkways. One, the Nga Tapuwae O Toi Walkway, provides beautiful views of the sea and coastal pohutukawa trees. Access to the route, which takes seven hours to complete, is from Seaview Road above the town. The first landmark is Kapu te Rangi (“ridge of heaven”), with some of the country’s oldest earthworks.
New Zealand’s most active volcano, White Island lies at the northern end of the Taupo–Rotorua volcanic fault line. It can be reached by boat or helicopter or simply viewed from the air. The island’s terrain is likened to that of the moon or Mars and many visitors rate it as one of the country’s best attractions. The island was mined for sulfur until 1914 when a night-time eruption killed all the miners. Remains of mining activities can be seen. There is a large gannet colony on the island and it suffers no ill-effects from the ash fall-out. The island also offers excellent diving.
Situated at the confluence of the Waioeka and Otara rivers, Opotiki is the gateway to the East Cape and the last major town before Gisborne. In 1865, at Opotiki, the Reverend Carl Sylvius Völkner was hanged and then decapitated by Maori convinced he passed information about their movements and fortifications to Governor George Grey. Hiona St Stephen’s Anglican Church, where the incident took place, lies at the northern end of the Church Street business area. A key is held across the road at the Opotiki Heritage and Agricultural Society Museum, which is full of early settlers’ items. An excellent example of a warm, temperate rainforest is Hukutaia Domain, which can be reached from the western end of Waioeka Bridge along Woodlands Road. The reserve is home to more than 2,000 native tree species, including a 2,000-year-old hollow puriri (Vitex lucens) where the bodies of important Maori were once exposed.
TE UREWERA NATIONAL PARK
This is New Zealand’s fourth-largest national park and the biggest tract of untouched native forest remaining in the North Island. For centuries its dense rainforest sheltered the industrious and resilient Tuhoe people. At the center of Te Urewera lies the 797-ft deep Lake Waikaremoana (“the lake of rippling waters”), formed 2,200 years ago by a landslide. A 28-mile track around the lake, one of the country’s Great Walks, takes three to four days to complete. Booking through the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre is essential. There are also many beautiful short walks into the park from the main road, which is partly gravel.
Gisborne is renowned for its warm summers, its farming, viticulture and horticulture, its surf beaches at Midway, Wainui, and Makorori, and its history. A monument and reserve on Kaiti Hill are named in honor of Captain James Cook who made his first New Zealand landfall at Gisborne’s Kaiti Beach on 9 October 1769. The Gisborne Museum, also known as the Tairawhiti Museum and Arts Centre, houses fine Maori and European artifacts and an extensive photographic collection. On the bank of the Taruheru River, but part of the museum complex rests the salvaged wheelhouse from the Star of Canada, which sank off Kaiti Beach in 1912. Statues of Captain Cook and Young Nick, at the mouth of the Turanganui River, commemorate cabin boy Nicholas Young, the first crewman on board Cook’s ship, the Endeavour, to sight New Zealand.
Situated on the southern shore of a lake of the same name, Rotorua is the North Island’s most popular tourist destination. The city’s hot and steamy thermal activity (evident from countless bores and fissures), healing mineral pools, adventure activities, and surrounding lakes, rivers, and crystal springs are major attractions. Rotorua is known as the heartland of Maori culture and offers visitors the chance to experience Maori art, architecture, song and dance, and colorful evening entertainment to the visitor.
The Blue Baths were built in the 1930s and offered the then-novel attraction of mixed bathing. Housed in a Spanish mission-style building, they were once a symbol of New Zealand’s ambitions to become the premier spa of the British Empire. A museum documents the social history associated with the construction and use of the baths. People from around the world visit the Polynesian Spa’s mineral waters, which vary in temperature from 92 °F to 107 °F. Radium and Priest waters, both acidic and cloudy, are sourced from an underground spring while alkaline Rachel water is piped to the spa from nearby. Adults have access to a mineral pool overlooking a large, heated, freshwater pool, with a shallow end for toddlers. Users can regulate the temperature in the spa’s private pools. Aix massage (under jets of water) and other therapies are available in the luxury spa area.
WHAKAREWAREWA THERMAL AREA
The geothermal area at Rotorua’s southern edge, commonly referred to as Whaka, comprises two separate areas – Te Puia, once known as the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, and Whakarewarewa Thermal Village. Te Puia’s attractions include Maori carving and weaving, cultural performances, examples of Maori buildings and fortifications, and the geysers Pohutu and Prince of Wales Feathers. At the Thermal Village, visitors can see a meeting house, cooking and bathing pools, and a cemetery. At both venues, guides take visitors on an educational journey that unravels the mystery of Maori ways.
WAIMANGU VOLCANIC VALLEY
Created on 10 June 1886 as a result of the Tarawera Eruption, Waimangu is the only hydrothermal system in the world wholly formed within historic times. It offers an easy, mostly downhill, 90-minute walk past a succession of geothermal features at the southern end of the 10-mile rift created by the eruption. The 409,032-sq-ft Frying Pan Lake, claimed to be the world’s largest hot water spring, emits steam over its entire area and is dominated by the red-streaked Cathedral Rocks. The lake was formed by an eruption in 1917 that buried a nearby tourist hotel. The pale blue steaming water and delicate silica clay terracing of the Inferno Crater should not be missed, even though it requires a short detour from the main path. The water reaches 176 °F in the lake and rises and falls 26 ft over a 38-day cycle. At the end of the walk lies Lake Rotomahana, submerging what remains of the Pink and White Terraces. Across the water stands Mount Tarawera. A boat excursion follows a shoreline scarred by craters, fumaroles, and geysers. Unusual thermal plants grow along the lake’s edge. Visitors need to allow two to three hours for the volcanic valley walk and the boat cruise.
WAI-O-TAPU THERMAL WONDERLAND
This is the country’s most colorful and diverse geothermal area and is home to the reliable Lady Knox Geyser, named in 1904 after Governor-General Lord Ranfurly’s daughter. The geyser shoots water and steam up to 69 ft into the air at 10:15 am daily. Other main attractions include the Artist’s Palette, a panorama of hot and cold pools, boiling mud pools and hissing fumaroles in a variety of ever-changing colors, and the Champagne Pool, with its ochre-colored petrified edge. The Primrose Terraces are also naturally tinted and have delicately formed lacework patterns. Walks through the geothermal area, over boardwalks, and along signposted paths, take 30 to 75 minutes.
ORAKEI KORAKO GEYSERLAND
Orakei Korako, or “The Hidden Valley”, as it is known, lies at the southern end of Lake Ohakuri, fed by the Waikato River as it flows northward from Lake Taupo. Reaching the valley’s geo-thermal attractions requires a boat trip across the lake to the imposing Emerald Terrace, the largest silica feature of its kind in the country. Beyond is a 60-minute walk taking in a geyser, more silica terraces, hot springs, a cave, and mud pools. Cabin accommodation is available at the lake’s edge.
Six miles north of Taupo is the area loosely referred to as Wairakei Park. The star attraction is the Huka (“foam”) Falls, where the Waikato River is channeled through a narrow rock chute before hurtling over a 36-ft bluff to a foaming cauldron below. Access down the Waikato River from Taupo to the Huka Falls is possible by jet-boat, or by the more sedate paddlewheeler, built in 1908. A 4-mile path leads from the falls down the right-hand side of the river to the Aratiatia Rapids, also accessible by road. Floodgates to the dam above the rapids are opened several times a day to allow kayaking and jet-boating. At Craters of the Moon, at the end of Karapiti Road, 1.2 miles south of Wairakei, steaming craters and boiling mud pits can be viewed free of charge among a bush-covered landscape. The country’s only prawn farm, off Huka Falls Road, uses geothermally heated river water to raise giant prawns for its restaurant, Prawn Farm Restaurant. Tours of the farm are conducted hourly.
The town of Taupo lies at the northeastern end of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake, formed by a volcanic explosion in AD 186. White pumice beaches and sheltered rocky coves surround the lake, which covers 239 sq miles. On a clear day, the distant volcanic peaks of Mounts Tongariro and Ngauruhoe and the snow-capped Ruapehu provide a spectacular backdrop to the lake. Taupo services surrounding farms and forests and an important tourist industry. All year round the town attracts large numbers of holidaymakers who come for its excellent lake and river fishing, sailing and water sports, and local geothermal attractions. There is a wealth of accommodation in the town, much of it with lakeside views, and good dining and shopping. Many hotels have their own hot pools. The wide selection of outdoor activities includes bungy jumping, boating and rafting, horse riding, mountain biking, tandem skydiving, flightseeing, and golf. The bungy, set in majestic surroundings above the Waikato River off Spa Road, is a big draw.
Located at the southeastern end of Lake Taupo on the banks of the Tongariro River, Turangi was a small fishing retreat until it was developed into a town in 1964 to accommodate workers for the Tongariro Hydro-Electricity Scheme. It remains an excellent resort area for anglers and is also a popular base for trampers, white-water rafters, kayakers, and skiers. South of Turangi is the Tongariro National Trout Centre, a hatchery and research facility. Ova collected from wild female trout are fertilized to breed trout for research purposes and to release into the lake. A self-guided 15-minute walk takes you through the hatchery and by a stream to an underwater viewing chamber to see trout in their natural environment.
TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK
At the southern end of Lake Taupo lies the magnificent 2,930-sq-mile Tongariro National Park. The peaks of the three active volcanic mountains which form its nucleus, Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro, were a gift to the government in 1887 by Tukino Te Heuheu IV, a Ngati Tuwharetoa chief. The park, which is surrounded by access roads, is a winter playground for skiers and snowboarders and a year-round wilderness walking, tramping, and mountain climbing area. The park was the first in the world to achieve UNESCO World Heritage status for both its natural (1990) and Maori spiritual and cultural (1993) value.
Perched on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, this elegant city is a memorial to a 1931 earthquake and fire that destroyed most buildings and killed many people. The quake raised marshland and the harbor bed, providing new farmland and room for urban development. During rebuilding, an earthquake-proof building code was enforced and architects adopted the then fashionable Art Deco style. Today, the city’s Art Deco buildings, with their pastel colors, bold lines, and elaborate motifs, are internationally renowned.
Situated on the Heretaunga Plains, 12 miles south of Napier, Hastings is the center of a large fruit growing and processing industry, including winemaking. Rebuilt after the 1931 earthquake, it is the only city in New Zealand with streets laid out on the American block system. It has some fine Spanish Mission buildings, the most notable being the Hawke’s Bay Opera House. Between Hastings and the eastern coastline, Te Mata Peak rises 1,309 ft. Maori legend describes the Te Mata ridgeline as the body of chief Te Mata O Rongokako, who choked and died eating his way through the hill, a task set him by the beautiful daughter of another chief. From Hastings the “bite” that killed him can be clearly seen, as can his body, which forms the skyline.
Maoris believe that the crescent-shaped bay and jagged promontory of Cape Kidnappers, 19 miles south of Napier, represent the magical jawbone hook used by Maui to pull the North Island from the sea like a fish. In October 1769, Captain Cook anchored off the headland naming it Cape Kidnappers after some Maoris attempted to carry off his Tahitian translator. At the cape, up to 20,000 young and mature yellow-headed Australasian gannets surf wind currents just feet from onlookers. The best time to see them is from early November to late February. Access is closed during the early nesting phase between July and October. At low tide, visitors can walk 5 miles along the beach to the colony – check walking times with the local i-SITE Visitor Centre. Guided tours by coach and tractor-trailer are also available.