Dates of visit:
October 3, 2004 -
October 27, 2004

We rate this trip a:

Trip Highlights:
 Springtime visit
 Some rain
 Walk Auckland City
 Glowworm caves
 Hot Springs
 Beautiful drives
 Lush and green
 Wine country
 Maori culture
 Bush walks

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| Rotorua | Hell's Gate | Maori Village | Taupo | Tongariro |
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Introduction (click on image for larger view)
Putting New Zealand on the map: The North Island

North IslandNew Zealand lies in the South Pacific Ocean, 1,760 km (990 miles) to the east of Australia, 10,000 km (6,210 miles) from San Francisco and a similar distance from Tokyo.

Comprising two large islands and a number of smaller ones, its total land area is 270,530 sq kin (104,420 sq miles), making it comparable in size to Japan or the British Isles. The main North and South islands are separated by Cook Strait, 20 km (12 miles) wide at its narrowest point.

Two-thirds of the country's 3.9 million people live in the North Island, just over one million of those in Auckland, the country's largest city and the world's most populous Polynesian centre. New Zealand's capital is Wellington, at the southernmost tip of the North Island.

New Zealand's Landscape

New Zealand LandscapeNew Zealand is an old land with a young landscape: some of the rocks that underlie the country are, at 760 million years old, relatively ancient. However, the landforms that have been created from them are very young.

The Southern Alps, for example, began to emerge only three million years ago and volcanic explosions and earthquakes continue to create new forms. The overriding feature of the landscape is its diversity: mountains, lakes, rivers, beaches, hills, plains; volcanoes, rainforests and fiords are all contained in a relatively small area.

Flora and Fauna

New Zealand FloraNew Zealand has been a land apart for 80 million years, with the result that it is home to a collection of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. It has only two land mammals (both bats), although seals, whales and dolphins abound around the coasts.

Flightless birds, a diversity of Blue lizards, giant snails, primitive frogs and penguin plants that are as old as the dinosaurs combine to make New Zealand unique. Despite the impact of humans on flora and fauna over the last 1,000 years much remains to fascinate the visitor.

New Zealand's National Parks and Preserves

New Zealand National ParksFrom the snow-capped volcanoes of Tongariro National Park to the sheer cliffs of Fiordland, New Zealand's national parks contain an awe-inspiring range of scenery, beautiful geckos walking tracks, and numerous plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.

The 13 national parks cover 29,000 sq km (11,200 sq miles) or about 8 per cent of the country's land surface. There are also 20 conservation parks, 3,500 reserves and 14 marine reserves in New Zealand. The Department of Conservation, which administers all these areas, safeguards a total of 30 per cent of New Zealand's land area.

Maori Culture and Art

Maori CultureMaoris have developed a complex culture derived from their Pacific Island inheritance. Climatic and seasonal conditions that differed from their former home, and a more extensive land area, permitted independent tribal development and variations in Greenstone language, customs and art forms.

Forests enabled them to build large canoes for transport and warfare, as well as meeting houses. Maoris excel in wood, bone and stone carving, and in plaiting and weaving. Oratory, chant, song and dance are the means of passing on ancestral knowledge, and form an essential dimension of the rituals of challenge, welcome and farewell.

Farming and Horticulture

AgricultureDespite being so urbanized (85 per cent of New Zealanders live in cities or large towns), the country still depends heavily on its agricultural economy. Farming industries utilize more than 62 per cent of the total land area of 165,000 sq km (63,700 sq miles), and produce more than half of all export earnings.

Traditionally, pastoral farming has centred on sheep and cattle but other types of livestock, such as deer, goats, pigs and poultry, are gaining in importance. Pine trees cloak hills too steep to support livestock, while horticulture and other crops now dominate fertile coastal and inland areas.

The Wines of New Zealand

Wine countryAlthough grapes were first planted in New Zealand as early as the 1830s, it was not until the 1980s when wine makers decided to concentrate on white wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, that the country's reputation as an excellent wine producer began.

The number of wineries has since grown to almost 400, and export wine sales in 2000 reached 19.2 million litres (4.22 million gallons). In less than 20 years, the nation's wine makers have gone from producing wine of average quality to some of the best in the world. Wine drinking has also become popular in New Zealand.

A brief visual tour (click on image for larger view)
Auckland CityExploring Auckland ... Although the Auckland region is spread over more than 1,000 sq km (390 sq miles), many of its inner-city attractions are clustered near the water-front and around the city's oldest parks.

Panoramic views of the city, harbour and outer islands can be enjoyed from a number of extinct volcanic peaks, such as One Tree Hill, and from the observation decks and revolving restaurant of Sky Tower, the city's most distinctive landmark (see below).

Queen Street, long known as Auckland's "golden mile", is a major entertainment and shopping area, complemented by Parnell and Newmarket on the fringes of the city. Water is an important part of Auckland's magic, and no visit to the city is complete without a trip to Rangitoto or one of the other islands in the Hauraki Gulf.

Sky TowerSky Tower ... Opened in August 1997, Auckland's 328 meter (1,076 ft) Sky Tower, has taken over from Sydney's AMP Tower as the tallest building in the southern hemisphere. The tower, which is part of Harrah's Sky City, is visited by almost one million people a year. From its four observation levels, visitors are able to see about 82 km (50 miles) into the distance.

City of Auckland
Auckland from the air Auckland - Ferry Building Auckland at night

Waitomo Glowworm CaveWaitomo Caves ... The area known as Waitomo consists of a 45-km (28-mile) network of underground limestone caves and grottoes linked to the Waitomo River. A chamber of the Glowworm Cave was the first to be explored, in 1887, but most caves remain untouched. 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 2.5 km (1.5 miles) of caves accessible to the public have superb lighting, good paths, handrails and informative local guides.

Waitomo Glowworm Cave
Near the caves - fern trees Waitomo sunset Glowworm threads

Maori figureheadRotorua ... Situated on the southern shore of a lake of the same name, Rotorua is the North Island’s most popular tourist destination.

Despite the pungent, rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulphide gas emanating from countless bores and ground fissures, the town's hot and steamy thermal activity, healing mineral pools, and surrounding lakes, rivers and crystal springs are major attractions. Rotorua is also a major centre of Maori culture, offering Maori art, architecture, song and dance and colorful evening entertainment to the visitor.

Rotorua Rotorua museum Maori warlord

Hells GateHell's Gate ... Sixteen km (10 miles) from Rotorua, at Tikitere, Hell's Gate is famous for its ferocious volcanic activity. Drifting, wraith-like mists part to reveal a fierce and spectacular thermal valley that includes the Kakahi Falls, the largest hot waterfall in the southern hemisphere, and New Zealand's largest boiling whirlpool.

Another cauldron of water, the Sulphur Bath, is purported to cure septic cuts, bites and skin ailments. The area is well signposted, with good pathways and barriers.

Maori warriorsTamaki Maori Village ... Visitors are introduced to Maori customs and traditions at this replica of a pre-European Maori village. Daily tours include sampling a hangi, in which selected foods are cooked on hot rocks in an authentic earth oven. Prior to the evening cultural performance; visitors are challenged at the entrance by a fierce Maori "warrior" in traditional dress.
Huka FallsTaupo ... 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 619 sq km (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.

Ruapehu MountainTongariro National Park ... At the southern end of Lake Taupo lies the magnificent 7,760 sq.km. (2,930 sq.mile) Tongariro National Park. The three active volcanic mountains which form its nucleus, Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, were given to the government in 1887 by Tukino Te Heuheu IV, a Ngati Tuwharetoa chief. The park, which is surrounded by access roads, serves as 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 cultural value (1993).

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Tongariro National Park
Ruapehu Mountain Grand Chateau Tawhai Falls

Palmerston NorthPalmerston North ... From the mid-1960s, pastoral farming has been the stimulus for the development of Palmerston North, Manawatu's largest town. Lying in the centre of a broad, fertile coastal plain stretching from the Tasman Sea across to the Tararua and Ruahine ranges, the city is a major crossroad for the southern part of the North Island, with three main roads converging near it. New Zealand's second largest university, Massey University, and several colleges and research institutes are based here, giving Palmerston North a pleasant university town atmosphere.
WellingtonWellington: Cultural Capital ... Known primarily as the home of New Zealand's parliament and its public servant population, Wellington transformed itself during the 1980s and 1990s into a vibrant, culture-driven hot spot. Tucked around one of the world's most picturesque harbors, the capital city is intimate, sophisticated, arty and packed with national treasures.

It is home to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the Royal New Zealand Ballet, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the National Business Review New Zealand Opera, the Chamber Music New Zealand and the New Zealand School of Dance. The city's strong arts scene combines an international flavor with an intrinsic Pacific identity.

Wellington’s compact central business district lies between the city's foothills and its mountain-encircled harbor. Partly built on land developed during reclamation projects begun in the mid-1400s, the area today is the working environment of the country's politicians and the national government infrastructure. Foreign embassies, the Court of Appeal, National Archives, National Library, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and the head offices of local and international businesses are among the institutions and organizations in its precincts. The city is known for its stylish shops, cafe culture, restaurants and galleries, with an atmosphere that is both stimulating and unhurried.

A vibrant inner-city area bordered to the north by a green belt, central Wellington encompasses late Victorian mansions, student flats, tiny former workers' cottages, the Prime Minister's residence, an historic cemetery and the main motorway in and out of the city. At the end of the 19th century, as the number of overseas settlers increased, land near the foreshore became scarce, and steeper, less accessible land above the city was utilized for housing. Today, a walk around the suburb of Thorndon to higher points shows how a community has spread onwards and upwards from its original concentration in the port area.

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Wellington Botanic Garden ... Established in 1868, the garden is a mix of protected native forest, conifer plantings and plant collections. A major seasonal bedding program includes a massed display of 30,000 tulips in spring and early summer. The Lady Norwood Rose Garden has 106 formal beds, including recent introductions and old favorites. The Begonia House features tropical and temperate plants, a lily pond, seasonal displays of orchids, and a collection of epiphytic and carnivorous plants. The garden's information hub, the Treehouse Visitor Centre, can be accessed via a tower lift. The more hardy can get to the centre via a steep path.

HINT: If video starts/stops often, PAUSE the playback for 45-60 seconds to allow the video buffer memory to fill. To resume playback press PLAY.

Wellington City Tour
Fern Globe Palm Harbor Bridge
City Center Wellington from the top Parliament (Beehive)
Wellington Botanic Gardens
Botanic Garden Botanic Garden Botanic Garden

HINT: If video starts/stops often, PAUSE the playback for 45-60 seconds to allow the video buffer memory to fill. To resume playback press PLAY.
Text extracted from guide book "New Zealand" published by Eyewitness Travel Guides,
DK Publishing, New York, Copyright 2002, Web site ... www.dk.com
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