New Zealand’s vibrant North Island: brag-worthy ski fields and adventure plus
With a buzzy vibe, a vibrant culinary scene, and 29,000 kilometres of beautiful coastline, this pretty harbour city is a destination in its own right. But go touring beyond Auckland, and you’ll discover a winter wonderland in New Zealand's North Island, all within a few hours’ drive.
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Auckland’s Maori name, Tāmaki Makaurau – meaning a maiden desired by a hundred lovers – still rings true today. Often ranked as one of the world’s ‘most liveable cities’, this North Island metropolis is certainly a place people love to be. And it’s easy to see why, with its breathtaking position on a narrow isthmus bordered by harbours, dotted with volcanic cones, and undulating hills that meet a rugged coastline.
The city itself is a vibrant cultural centre with a plethora of things to do. Must-visits include the historic Britomart precinct with its revived buildings hosting hip cafes, bars and fabulous shopping; Queen Street’s high-end fashion stores; City Works Depot, a revamped industrial area comprising casual and quirky eateries; and the colourful nightlife of K Road – a favourite among artists and musicians.
Down on the city’s sparkling waterfront you’ll find Viaduct Harbour, home to five-star restaurants and views of sleek superyachts. There’s also Wynyard Quarter, a former industrial and port area that has been revitalised into an exciting, cool hub of new restaurants, and host to a weekly summer food truck market and outdoor cinema. And just a stone’s throw from the city, you can escape to a handful of sandy beaches for some R&R.
But the beauty of Auckland is not only within its city limits: this lively urban destination is the perfect starting point from which to set out and explore the North Island’s most remarkable corners on a touring adventure. The island really comes alive in the winter months, with the southern hemisphere’s best skiing set among a staggering landscape of snow-capped peaks. So hit the road and discover these three must-visit destinations, an easy drive from the capital.
Sink into Rotorua's bubbling mineral springs
Less than three hours south of Auckland sits Rotorua, a city that has been voted New Zealand’s most beautiful six times in the ‘Keep New Zealand Beautiful Awards’. And it’s no surprise, with natural wonders in abundance to be found here.
Rotorua is a geothermal utopia with a unique landscape of volcanic crater lakes, bubbling mud pools, spouting geysers and mineral-rich hot springs. Winter in Rotorua is to experience a world of contrasts, as the heat of volcanism collides with icy temperatures to dramatic effect. Wellness treatments are a big focus here, with the geothermal waters believed to have healing powers. Hells Gate and Wai Ora Spa – made famous in the 19th century for healing an Irish priest from arthritic pain – is the only place in New Zealand where you can have a geothermal mud bath.
For the more adventurous, there are also 145 kilometres of mountain bike trails, quad biking, rainbow trout fishing, and rafting on the Kaituna River, over Tutea Falls. Indeed, Rotorua is a place to connect with nature, whether in the peace of a geothermal bath, or on a white-knuckle adventure.
If you're a water baby, Lake Taupo's got you covered
The Southern Hemisphere’s largest freshwater lake is located just three-and-a-half hours south of Auckland, an easy hop when on a touring holiday of the north island. About the size of Singapore, Lake Taupo is, naturally, the place to experience all things aquatic. Scenic cruises, kayaking, jet boating, jet skiing, rafting and fishing are just some of the activities that visitors enjoy – but the fun doesn’t stop at the lake’s shore. Come winter it’s the gateway to world-class ski fields a little further south.
Towering above the lake, the traditional Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings can only be reached by water; to its north, the thundering Huka Falls, a phenomenon of 220,000 litres of water pouring over an 11-metre cliff-face every second; and around its forested shores cyclists can revel in the 71-kilometre Great Lake Trail.
Mt Ruapehu's brag-worthy ski fields
A quick drive from the southern end of Lake Taupo is the World Heritage-listed Tongariro National Park, home to the snow-capped volcanic peaks of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. It’s a winter wonderland in the colder months and is geared up for everything from hiking to snowboarding to just larking about throwing the odd snowball around.
From Mt Ruapehu’s unique volcanic terrain, a variety of ski trails make up New Zealand’s largest ski area, with more than 54 runs catering to beginners and experts alike. Even if you’re completely hopeless at skiing or snowboarding, there’s a snow play area where you can slide around in a specially designed family-friendly area perfect for having a snowball fight or building a snowman.
Going further off-piste, hikers are spoilt for choice with a dramatic backdrop of active craters, lava flows, steam vents and emerald lakes. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing can be tackled in winter too when it really is a land of fire and ice. A guided walk up here will take you from volcanic landscape to cool forest, and is considered one of the best day hikes in the country, if not the world.
Get me there now!
Qantas has daily flights to Auckland from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Visit Qantas Holidays for more information on packages to Auckland and beyond.
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