If you’re planning to visit New Zealand in winter, chances are you’re thinking about booking a stay in the South Island.

Hold up!  Give us a chance to talk you around.  Sure, the South Island has lots of awesome places (like our resort in Wanaka), but the North Island is pretty great from June to August too.  If those alpine peaks in Queenstown look a little cold for you, we might just have the answers.

Keep reading to find out the top five places you should visit in the North Island during winter.

Rotorua

It’s full of spectacular thermal geysers, a thriving Māori culture, and a range of incredible outdoor activities to enjoy all year round.  Why wouldn’t you want to visit Rotorua in winter?

This iconic New Zealand city is positioned on the shores of Lake Rotorua, in the heart of the stunning Rotorua Lakes district.  Its biggest attraction?  Those iconic geothermal displays.  Sure, you’ll get pretty used to the smell of sulphur, but Rotorua’s vividly coloured hot pools are definitely worth touring.  Keep an eye out for the 30-metre Pohutu Geyser.

If you’re after something equally awesome, check out any one of the city’s cultural exhibits.  From hāngi feasts to spectacular craftsmanship, it’s one of the best places in New Zealand to learn about the country’s history and experience traditional Māori manaakitanga (hospitality).

Last but not least, Whakarewarewa Forest is a vast collection of giant redwoods that’s well worth a visit.  Explore trees via swinging bridges, wander down needle-carpeted walking paths, or traverse the forest on the back of a mountain bike.

Nature, culture, and hands-down spectacular, all rolled into one awesome destination.  What else could you ask for?­

Where to Stay: Ramada Resort by Wyndham Rotorua

Where to Eat: Read the guide.

What to Do: Read the guide.

Tongariro National Park

tongariro trail
The start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Feel like spa baths and delicious food isn’t really your style of holiday?  Want to feel like Frodo hiking up Mount Doom instead?

Well, we’ve got good news: you can do exactly that at Tongariro National Park.  New Zealand’s oldest national park also happens to be where Peter Jackson filmed parts of Lord of the Rings.  The volcanic landscapes of Tongariro are equal parts spectacular and stark, so it’s no surprise they were picked as the location for Mordor and Mount Doom.

From epic hikes like the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to fresh powder in places like Turoa Ski Area, Tongariro is all about the outdoors.  We have to warn you – while the park is pretty incredible in winter, it’s also very cold.  If you decide to visit, make sure you rug up!

Where to Stay: Chateau Tongariro Hotel

Where to Eat:

What to Do:

  • Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
  • Visit Taranaki Falls
  • Ski on Mt Ruapehu
  • Walk or bike along Ohakune Old Coach Road
  • Hike Round the Mountain Track

Northland

tane mahuta
Tāne Mahuta.

If Tongariro is all about open spaces and stunning mountains, Northland is the opposite: towering kauri forests, glittering ocean, and giant sand dunes characterise New Zealand’s most northerly region.

While some of Northland’s best activities involve swimming (and, trust us, a Kiwi winter is too cold for that!), it’s got plenty of landbound activities that are equally awesome.  One of the most iconic?  Waipoua Forest.  This massive native forest is populated by kauri trees – including the titanic Tāne Mahuta, a 2,000-year-old goliath stretching 45.2 metres tall.

There’s also history to be explored at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.  As the site where the first treaty was signed between the British and the Māori, it occupies a pretty important place in the New Zealand national psyche.  Oh, and it’s full of fascinating museums and displays of traditional Māori culture.  What’s not to love?

Northland might not attract the same international attention as places like Rotorua, but this nature-focused region is well worth a trip.

Where to Stay: Taipa Beach Resort

Where to Eat:

What to Do:

  • Walk Ninety Mile Beach
  • Visit Whangarei Falls
  • Discover history at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds
  • Marvel at Tāne Mahuta in Waipoua Forest
  • Enter the Waipu Caves

Hamilton

hamilton gardens italian renaissance garden
The Italian Renaissance Garden in the Hamilton Gardens.

Hamilton is all about the culture.  This sophisticated city is the fourth-largest in New Zealand, and it’s famous for all the things tourists love: gorgeous gardens, arts and music exhibitions, a rich history, and, of course, a pretty bopping nightlife.

If you’re coming to Hamilton for a good time and a classy holiday, you won’t be disappointed.  One of the coolest things to get up to?  Visiting the Hamilton Gardens.  Okay, hear us out.  These aren’t your typical inner-city park spaces/botanic gardens.  They’re capsules of history, using flora as a medium to tell stories of human civilisation.  Featuring gardens dedicated to England, China, Japan, America, Italy and India, as well as Te Papara (the country’s first traditional Māori garden), this is one unique Hamilton attraction you won’t want to miss.

Of course, a day enjoying the serenity of the gardens means you’ll have to compensate by exploring the city’s awesome pubs and clubs.  Don’t worry – like everything else in Hamilton, getting rowdy is sophisticated.  Picture lots of upscale eateries and bars with tapas and great New Zealand wine.  If you’re travelling with little ones, a tour of the Hamilton night markets is also a great idea.

We could keep going (there are so many awesome activities and attractions!), but we’ll leave Hamilton here.  Just take our word for it: this city should be on your itinerary.

Where to Stay: Ramada by Wyndham Hamilton City Centre

Where to Eat:

What to Do:

  • Hamilton Gardens
  • Hamilton Zoo
  • SkyCity Hamilton
  • Waikato Museum
  • Classics Museum

Auckland

takapuna beach
Takapuna Beach, less than 15 minutes from Ramada Victoria Street.

So you like the city, huh?  Auckland might not be New Zealand’s capital, but it’s definitely the country’s crown jewel, with almost seven times the population of Wellington.  Think ‘metroplis’, but with a Kiwi twist.

Here, fast-paced urbanism exists less than an hour from stunning seaside locales, lending Auckland a pretty unique vibe.  Add in a thriving Māori culture, plenty of great eateries, and some pretty awesome attractions, and you’ve got a destination that deserves a visit.

The city’s iconic Sky Tower is a good place to start exploring.  At 328 metres tall, it’s the tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere – skip this one if you don’t like heights!

You can get lost in the SkyCity Auckland entertainment complex at the base of the tower, or book a very unique experience: the SkyJump.  Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.  Plummeting directly downwards for 192 metres while attached to a springy rope?  Uh … we’ll leave that one to you.

Where to Stay: Ramada Suites by Wyndham Victoria Street West

Where to Eat:

What to Do:

  • SkyJump off the Sky Tower
  • Tour Auckland Zoo
  • Enjoy the Auckland Botanic Gardens
  • Hike to Kitekite Falls
  • Visit Butterfly Creek

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