The South Island gets a majority of the praise from travelers, but for us the North Island is just as important to visit! It has trendy cities, a fascinating native culture, a magical outdoor movie set, and the most epic hike in the country. Plan on spending one week here and discover what the north island is waiting to show you.
The hip little capital city has everything from a rising brewery culture, the counties most fascinating museum, and an impressive special effects studio that you can tour through. Plan on spending a solid two days in Wellington. (Here’s our top five to get you started!)
1. The Garage Project
This artsy microbrewery started out of a garage and is known for selling bold flavors by the glass (or take it away in a liter). I had fallen in love with their Cereal Stout down in the south island and had to come checkout where this stuff was brewed. Come try a few free samples at their tap room and then head across the street to their pub to order a glass of something out of the ordinary.
2. Capital Market
This small asian inspired food market is tucked right along the street and tempted us with it’s spicy smells. Pop into Capital Market for lunch and choose from Vietnamese, Malaysian, Sri Lankan, or Japanese (you can’t go wrong).
3. Te Papa Wellington Museum
This massive museum is definitely worth a half day of your time. Our two favorite exhibits where:
A) Scale of Our War. A detailed story the battle of Gallipoli in WWI shown through giant human character recreations (created by a special effects studio – Weta workshop). Look closely at the details of these pieces such as the tiniest knuckle hairs and freckles. I had to pinch myself to remember that these were not real.
4. The Chippery
The coolest fish and chips shop we’ve been to is The Chippery. They offer 5 fish options, 5 potato options, and 5 batter options. Try some different combinations (beer battered sweet potato fries and panko crumbed snapper anyone?), and the best part – it couldn’t be fresher.
5. The Weta Workshop
This is the special effects studio that did a ton of work on The Lord of the Rings, as well as many other films shot in NZ. They offer a 45 minute tour done by a working studio employee. Your guide will walk you back into their work space to show off replica weapons, monsters, and even the real Sauron armor used in the intro to The Fellowship of the Rings. A highlight of ours was watching a woman thread hobbit feet molds with individual human hairs. Talk about attention to detail, this place takes it to a new level. (Their tours)
Inside the Tongariro National park lives a truly diverse and challenging hike – The Alpine Crossing (our favorite single day hike). Plan on this hike being your main event for the day at 19km with a 7hr estimated completion time. Park your car at the end of the trail and either hitchhike or take an organized bus to the trail head.
The Alpine Crossing has diverse terrain including: the mountain used as Mt Doom in LOTR (actually called Mt Ngauruhoe), waterfalls, a walk along the narrow top of a mountain, deep red volcanic craters, shocking blue lakes, natural steam vents, winding valley switchbacks, and a dense green forests. Start early, pack a lunch, bring water, and enjoy this beautiful day hike.
Māori Village (Whakarewarewa)
One of the best peeks into Māori life is to visit the last living village in NZ – the Whakarewarewa Thermal Village. This tribe has lived in the same spot for centuries and still uses the geothermal pools for cooking (known as a hangi meal). We did a 1 hour tour here by a local and enjoyed corn on the cob cooked straight from their bubbling natural pool. We ended our time at the village by watching a performance of traditional songs and dances. This was a memorable way to get up close and personal with the Māori culture.
See the video above for Kelsey being forced into a Maori female dance, and for a look at the geothermal pools.
No trip to New Zealand would be complete without a visit to the the home of J.R.R. Tolkien’s furry footed friends – Hobbiton. The farmers here negotiated a contract with director Peter Jackson to leave this set standing after the film and it is now the largest “living set” in the world. After a 10 minute tram ride with a video welcome, you find yourself entering Hobbiton just as Gandalf’s carriage did. Walk through multiple fields surrounded by dozens of brightly colored hobbit holes, bridges, and gardens.
A fun element is getting to see close up how some of the LOTR movie magic was made. One optical illusion the set crew created was making a group of hobbit holes very large so hobbit actors would appear small. They built other hobbit holes much smaller so that in comparison to Gandalf they appeared tiny. We then walked past Bag End with Bilbo Baggins iconic “No admittance except on party business”. The tour ends at an impressively recreated Green Dragon pub where you get a free ale (unfortunately they don’t come in pints). Definitely watch the movie before you visit to give yourself a refresher, and have your camera fully charged.
This city is much larger than Wellington and while lacking it’s cozy charm, still is a great place to explore for a day. We grabbed bagels at a funky themed lunch spot – Best Ugly Bagels and then enjoyed a tour by Auckland Free Walking Tours which gave us great context on the cities history. We ended our day with a short hike up Mt Eden for a great volcano overlooking the city view (the crater at the top is considered sacred by the Māori).
This city is also famous for its buggy jump off of it’s sky tower right downtown. I had already done a jump in the south island, but enjoyed watching a few other make the dive.
Whether you enjoy beauty through the big screen or on a long hike, New Zealand’s north island will leave you inspired to discover more.
See our New Zealand – South Island post