Written by Ophelie
Updated 12th July 21
Will take 5mn to read
A road trip on the North island in 3 words: amazing, authentic, unforgettable. If that makes you dreamy, stay with me for a few minutes. Because I’ll reveal to you X fun things to do in New Zealand North Island, which my travel mate and I experienced on our 3 weeks road trip. Our bucket list of cool things and best places to visit in New Zealand North Island is perfect for travelers on a budget – as we were ourselves!
Where to find free and fun things to do in New Zealand North island?
- Free and fun things to do at:
- Lake Tikitapu
- Huka falls
- Lake Taupo
- Bay of islands
What to do on New Zealand’s North island? 12 free and fun things to try out
This bucket list comes straight from my 3 weeks road trip in New Zealand. One of the best favorite travel experiences I had the chance to live!
Explore Auckland by day and night
Auckland is the perfect start for your road trip in New Zealand. Firstly, because most affordable flights land in Auckland. Secondly, even if the city doesn’t seem special at first sight, there are actually fun things to do there. And there is something for everyone’s liking. Visit the markets at night, chill on the city’s beaches, go for a day to the stunning Coromandel Peninsula, or just appreciate New Zealand’s peaceful way of life. Free activities are easy to find and that’s a good start!
Bucket list of 5 fun things to do in New Zealand’s big city Auckland
- Climb the mount Eden
- Explore black-sand beaches and surf there
- Go to the night market
- Get a view from above at Auckland’s sky tower and its panoramic restaurant
- Go to Coromandel for a day
Experience one of the best places to visit on the North island: Rotorua and its geysers
Rotorua, or the city which smelled like eggs! This town is a good introduction to the country’s authenticity. No fancy city but a really cute place spread around a geothermal lake. Rotorua is the surprising home town of natural geysers and hot springs!
You can easily spend 2 to 3 days there. The only challenge is to get used to the “egg smell”! It comes from the geysers which regularly erupt in the middle of the town… charming and unique. Here is my favorite one of the fun things to do in Rotorua, New Zealand: wait for the huge geyser to explode in Kuirau Park… and try to photograph it avoiding Chinese tourists. A real sport!
Fun things to do in New Zealand North island: Rotorua
- Kuirau Park and Maori Museum: Corner of Pukuatua and Ranolf streets, Rotorua. Free entrance. Crater lake, mud pools, hot springs.
- Walk in the Government Gardens
- Go to the Waterfront, passing by the lake and sulphur point Rotorua
Where to sleep in Rotorua, New Zealand
The hostels we tested… and approved!
- YHA – 16$ in dorms – cheap price for clean and safe accommodation – quite impersonal because it’s a worldwide chain
- Crash Palace Backpackers – around 16$ in dorms – clean place with its own personality, very chill lounge area with good vibes, comfortable beds!
Chase the best photo spots between the trees at Lake Tikitapu
Next stop after Rotorua: the beautiful Lake Tikitapu. Actually made of two lakes, this place isn’t that much touristy and you’ll find peace here! It’s one of the best places to visit for hiking and practice your nature photography skills. Trees are everywhere and you somehow end up at lookouts where you see… nothing!
As photo lovers my travel mate and I had a fun time chasing photo spots around the blue and green lakes. Besides having fun with the camera, you can also take beautiful walks on the edges of Lake Tikitapu. The landscape is very inspiring. And it’s accessible for free!
Get stunned by the torrent of crystal blue water at Huka falls
Huka falls are a Nature wonder. Most visited attraction on the North, the Huka falls are 11 meters high and the impressive flow of ice blue water could fill an Olympic pool in only 11 seconds. That’s quite something.
A fun thing to do at New Zealand North island’s coolest falls: watch the tons of water rushing into an impressive fall – of ice and white sparkles. The lookout is only a short walk away from the parking spot. This is for free… and I think, way better than the jet boats full of tourists disturbing Huka falls’ beauty.
What to take with you on a road trip, by camper van?Traveling by van is the best ever… when you have all what you need with you! I learnt it the hard way, and made a list for you of the items I found very useful to have on my own road trips.
Swim in hot pools next at Spa Park hot pools, Taupo
That’s one of the very fun things to do on New Zealand’s North Island! Take a swim in hot streams of water near the iconic Huka falls! For sure, it’s more impressive if you tell your friends you went for a swim in North Island of New Zealand in cold winter. It might be quite crowded in summer. But it’s still the kiwis’ country, so there is space to swim anyway. And it’s a free thing to do, once again!
If you’re keen to explore more hot pools, you’ll find 6 hot springs around Taupo in this article.
Watch (romantic) sunset at Lake Taupo: a free, unforgettable, fun thing to do in New Zealand north island
This one belongs to my very favorite and best places to see on North Island New Zealand – along with Tongariro. Lake Taupo is a pure beauty! As a photographer, it’s even more magic! The soft blue water is so placid and the shore so green that it almost looks surrealistic.
So, what to do at Lake Taupo? My tested tip: go to the lake just before sunset. Park the car at a quiet spot. Sit down on the shore, alone or with your travel mate(s), and watch the sun setting down. Without exaggerating, I still feel so happy when I think back to this moment.
What to do at Lake Taupo: fun things to experience!
- Mountain biking
- Sunset watching
- Nature photography
- Skydiving and paragliding (not for free – the only exception in this list)
Experience the best place to see ever on the North island: Tongariro’s volcano
Climb Tongariro, scenery of Lord of the Ring’s movies
Yes, you read well… you’ll climb a volcano! More than a fun thing to do in New Zealand North island, Tongariro climbing is a real life-time experience. It’s definitely at the top of my best places to see’s bucket list.
If you are at first sceptic like I was about trekking on New Zealand’s volcano for about 8 hours, don’t miss this opportunity! Take up the challenge. You’ll have to wake up very early to start the ascent but it’s more than worth it.
Tongariro Alpine crossing is almost in the middle of the North Island. It’s a lunar landscape covered with volcanic lakes and craters. It’s a must-do in New Zealand for a lot of travellers because Tongariro was used as scenery for Lord of the Rings movies – Mordor and home of the dark Lord Sauron, for those in the know. And what’s awesome? This nature gem is accessible for free!
Tips to the best place to visit in New Zealand North island: Tongariro!
Where to sleep, before the climbing? Sleep near the volcano, to catch up the shuttle bus in the early morning. The bus pick up people at most accommodations in Taupo and Turangi.
The hostel we slept in:
- A Plus Samurai Lodge Backpackers – a very authentic hostel – maybe not the most luxurious I’ve been but an interesting place and a very nice owner!
- Other location: YHA National park Backpackers. Around 18$ in a dorm.
How to get to Tongariro
By shuttle bus – pick-up from most hotels in Taupo and Turangi – Tongariro Expeditions: the bus operator we tried. Reliable and on time. Find all official info about operating shuttle busses on Tongariro’s website.
During the climbing
- Be well-equipped, have muesli bars, energy snacks and water with you.
- The ascent follows a path made for most people. Though, a moderate to good level of fitness is required. Certain parts require climbing, literally.
- Avoid doing the climbing alone if you don’t feel confident.
Snap a cool selfie at one of Tongariro’s summits
And the fun thing to do after the ascension: the selfie (with style please!) on one of the volcano’s peaks. The climbing all the way up to Tongariro’s highest submit, on a vertical hill, is another story!
Take fun photos on the wild West Coast
So many places to photograph while traveling the West Coast… Stopping at random spots you like and going for a photo session is a very cool way to explore on a road trip. No need to be a pro or to have the latest Canon. A bit of imagination and a dose of good mood will do it.
Take your travel mate(s), a teddy bear, yourself or whatever you find inspiring and shoot! Original places are everywhere – on this volcanic beach, at the end of this little path, at the shore of this colourful lake. Get the coolest photos to show when you come back!
You’d like to use our itinerary for your own trip on the North Island? Please do so! Get our itinerary on a Google map. With the must-see places listed in my article! To save on your phone, in your emails…
Explore Wellington at night… and go crazy!
City life here… is relaxing! Wellington is, along with Auckland, the only ‘big city’ you will find on the North island. It’s a chill town and there are fellow travelers there. Wellington will be a nice break on your road trip.
What to do in Wellington? Go first to Mount Victoria. At sunset, you’ll see a beautiful sea of city lights, from the top.
Then, go out for one… or many drinks. And do the most fun thing to do: party! The entrance to most bars and clubs are for free. Backpacker bars have cool night events. Cuba Street is the place to be for dancing.
If the hangover is not too bad the next morning, visit the free museum Te Papa. It’s a very interesting place telling about Maori history. And above all, it displays one of the biggest squids in the world.
Quick bucket list to Wellington: Fun things to do
- Mount Victoria
- Cuba street at night
- Museum Te Papa
- Weta Cave (movie studios and special effects workshops)
Take an adventurous walk to Cape Kidnappers, Napier.
After the West Coast, your road trip will probably continue to North Island’ East Coast, its surf beaches and cute coastal towns. Napier is the fancy one. For us adventurers, the fun is here to find in an uncommon walk… to an impressive succession of cliffs on the coast. Really cool birds make the effort also worth it. The worldwide biggest gannet colony lives there.
However, Cape Kidnappers might challenge your skills. It’s a 5h return walk and tides to overcome! Cape Kidnappers walk is doable by foot only at low tide, so make sure you do a bit of planning before going. The fun could otherwise turn into issues.
Get lost on Bay of islands
Getting lost belong to the fun things to do on road trip… or at least, things that you find funny afterwards. It will cost you a bit of extra fuel, but it’s worth it! Bay of Islands is the perfect place on North Island to get lost for a while.
On the upper loop, the Bay gather 140 subtropical islands. From a ferry to another, we discovered some stunning places empty of any civilization. We felt like Robinson Crusoe and Friday, we felt alone on Earth. It was a lot of fun to walk on beaches which are ignored by tourist books. My favorite places to see were Russell, Paihia and Opononi.
Top places to see for free
- Paihia (surf beaches),
- Russell (coastal town)
- Opononi (sand dunes)
- Waipoua – Tane Mahuta (worldwide largest Kauri tree on a sacred Maori site)
Live like Robinson Crusoe
Do you fancy to try living in the forest? Fishing your own dinner? Sleeping at the feet of waterfalls and volcanos? Welcome in New Zealand… all of that is here possible! And for free. So, if road trip means for you adventure in Nature and a simple way of life, you’ll find camping a very fun thing to do in New Zealand North Island.
Tips to do camping
- Free camp spots are spread all over the island. Wild camping is of course tempting but be aware of the law. If not, you will get a fine and it is understandable – the Nature has to be preserved.
- Free camp spots apps: Rankers NZ – Wikicamps
Curiosity makes the awesome traveler you are.
Check out other travel and photo blog posts!
Check out other travel and photo blog posts!
I am made of photography,stories from the road and a good dose of passion. I am Ophélie, French-born traveler always on the go. My travel photography blog is about my travel experiences, tips and my addiction for adventure. To help you explore countries on your own… as an independent and curious traveller.