The Perfect Week on New Zealand’s North Island

New Zealand’s North Island is home to volcanoes, beaches, movie scene locations, stellar dining options, and cosmpolitan (but always friendly) cities. Easy to travel around in, you’ll find that you’re not far from anything including friendly North Island locals willing to personally point you in the right direction and show you what ‘secret places’ not to miss out on. Your best route: Start in Auckland, rent a car, and head south to settle in at Rotorua and Taupo. Enjoy the capital Wellington before heading home or, better idea, making your way to the South Island.

Mt. Taranaki, Taranaki 4391, New Zealand
Lesser-known ski fields are often run by clubs and have the benefit of thinner crowds and the opportunity for skiers and boarders to glide and carve where others haven’t. Rainbow Ski Area near Nelson on the South Island is great for boarders and offers lessons from novice to expert. Further south, Porters Ski Area outside Christchurch features such runs as the appropriately named Big Mama and other trails that cater to intermediate and advanced riders. In the North Island, try the Manganui Ski Area on Mount Taranaki for cheap no-frills skiing (meaning no gear rentals on-site). And on the eastern side of Mount Ruapehu, there’s the friendly club-run Tukino ski field, which is often open when the rest of the mountain is shrouded in clouds.
126 Broadway, Matamata 3400, New Zealand
Welcome to Middle Earth in the South Pacific, and an ideal stop for traveling fans of the author J.R.R. Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie trilogies. Near the rural town of Matamata—itself a destination for its LOTR-inspired visitor center and a selfie-ready statue of Gollum along the main street—the re-created sets of Hobbiton offer a detailed and fascinating glimpse of the hobbit holes, meadows, and gardens of Bilbo and Frodo. An essential conclusion to the tour is quaffing an only-available-in-Hobbiton Oatbarton Ale at the leafy lakeside Green Dragon Inn.
2 High St, Auckland, 1010, New Zealand
This funky boutique hotel on the edge of the Britomart shopping district goes way back in Auckland history. Built in 1841 as The Commercial Hotel, the DeBrett building survived two fires and two rebuilds plus a stint as a hostel before becoming the quirky place guests experience today. The Housebar has always been the center of hotel life, and today, the intimate wood-and-mint venue exudes its original art deco style and serves classic cocktails and local beers and wines alongside refined pub snacks.

In addition to restoring the bar and adding a glass-roofed atrium that houses the hotel restaurant, DeBretts Kitchen, the current owners affixed contemporary artwork and photography throughout and sheathed the entire building in candy-striped carpeting, custom designed from 100 percent New Zealand wool. Besides the carpet and small-batch minibar selections, no two rooms are the same. Each features unique furnishings from the 1930s on, and every bed has an original screenprinted throw. Two of Hotel DeBretts centerpieces, the chandelier and water sculpture in the restaurant, were crafted by Auckland artists from materials salvaged during the latest renovation. The result is a local experience from top to bottom that gives guests a real taste of New Zealand.
271 Huka Falls Rd, Taupo 3377, New Zealand
The most exclusive lodge in New Zealand, having hosted everyone from Queen Elizabeth II to the late Robin Williams, Huka Lodge feels like a refined country getaway set on the banks of the Waikato River near the North Island resort town of Taupo. Founded in 1924 by a charismatic Irishman named Alan Pye, the property was later reimagined by entrepreneur Alex van Heeren with the help of interiors specialist Virginia Fisher and famed New Zealand landscape designer Suzanne Turley. The surrounding grounds are ranked as a ‘Garden of National Significance’ by the New Zealand Gardens Trust. Whether staying in the lodge suites—which feature French doors that open up to a wooden terrace just steps from the river—or the lofty private cottages, guests will feel like royalty here.
262 Wakefield St, Te Aro, Wellington 6011, New Zealand
There’s no shortage of great eateries in the New Zealand capital—reputedly Wellington has more cafés and restaurants per person than New York City—and Field & Green is a popular option for the city’s discerning diners. With a versatile menu bylined European Soul Food, it promises ever-changing weekly dishes that could include house-made pasta with wild mushrooms and blue cheese, or baked eggs with spicy lentils and mint yogurt. These hearty but sophisticated flavors are the ideal sustenance for daytime explorations of the city’s harbor attractions, and the good-value, Wednesdays-to-Saturdays three-course supper menu can be partnered with local Wellington craft beers or New Zealand wines.
17 Grantham St, Hamilton 3204, New Zealand
Snag a shady outdoor table overlooking the slow-moving Waikato River and enjoy excellent tapas at one of regional New Zealand‘s best restaurants. Expanding from a smaller, cozier location on nearby Hood Street, Gothenburg is popular for shared plates with a global flavor, and its menu encompasses lots of vegetarian selections. Try the potato gnocchi with Kikorangi blue cheese from New Zealand’s Kapiti Dairy, or challenge your palate with the spicy kimchi-and-pork dumplings. Gothenburg is also a big supporter of the Hamilton craft-brewing fraternity, and the beverage list often includes seasonal small-batch beers from local microbreweries like Brewaucracy and Shunters Yard.
Auckland 1021, New Zealand
Just a short walk from Auckland‘s Eden Park, home of big rugby games in the city, the funky and bohemian Kingsland neighborhood is also developing a reputation as an eating and drinking destination. Some of the city’s best coffee is served at Atomic—try the Vietnamese iced coffee with coconut milk—and the savory pies at the Fridge are world-famous across Auckland. Packed with vintage furniture, the Portland Public House is a raffish live-music venue, and Citizen Park’s combination of Mexican food and robust cocktails has a strong following. Travelers seeking unique gifts should head to the Royal Jewellery Studio, with work by local artists including Maori designs crafted from pounamu (greenstone).
1234 Fenton St, Cbd, Rotorua 3010, New Zealand
Known to New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people as pounamu, jade or greenstone is treasured throughout the country, and in the North Island city of Rotorua, Rakai Jade provides travelers with the opportunity to craft a special memento of their visit. Working with local Maori artisans, a one-day Carve Your Own experience takes you through the full process from initial design to final product. Popular traditional varieties include pendants and stylized fishhooks, but if you can’t spare the time for a custom bauble, many excellent already-carved pieces are also available. (Reserving at least one day ahead is recommended for a design-and-carving session.)
Newbury Street, Manukau, Auckland 2023, New Zealand
Saturday morning and this is the place to be to get a true slice of the Pacific. The Otara Flea Markets have rows and rows of fresh fruit, clothing, bric-a-brac and of course food, but it’s the Polynesian colour and music that makes it so special. Far from the traditional shop fronts of Queen Street, this is where commerce meets culture and you can pick up a mighty decent bag of apples for $1.50.
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