Explore New Zealand Without the Crowds – 5 Hidden Gems in the North Island of New Zealand

Here I take a look at 5 of the best places to visit in the North Island, where there are no crowds.

Where to travel in the North Island?

New Zealand is an incredible place to visit. With its stunning landscapes, friendly people, and delicious food, it’s no wonder that this country attracts tourists from all over the world. The North Island is home to the majority of New Zealand’s population, and offers visitors plenty of things to see and do. With all these people, many of the main tourist attractions can get uncomfortably crowded. Here I take a look at 5 of the best places to visit in the North Island, where there are no crowds.

Great Mercury Island

Just 8 kilometres off the north-east of the Coromandel Peninsula lies the most idyllic island in the North Island of New Zealand. Rumour has it that it was the towering white cliffs of Great Mercury Island that the Maoris first saw when they arrived in New Zealand. And what a beautiful place to arrive to! The white cliffs are just as stunning as the tropical beaches, covered in squeaky white sand. I spent heaps of time here as a kid swimming with dolphins in the pristine turquoise waters, exploring the lagoon, and climbing ancient pohutukawa trees. The marine life is abundant, the beaches are stunning, and there are beautiful walks to waterfalls and lagoons. What more could you ask for? Of course you will have to have a boat, or book a day cruise to get there, but it is totally worthwhile.

Night time at Coralee Bay Great Mercury Island
A calm night in Coralee Bay

Waipu Glowworm Caves

There is no question that glowworms are uniquely beautiful creatures. Like little fairy lights lighting up the entire ceiling of a cave. While the the famous Waitomo Caves in the central North Island are a great experience, it is not the peaceful, and solitary experience I desire. Waipu Glowworm Caves are just as amazing, but they are not commercialised like Waitomo.  It is possible you could be the only person in there if you go at the right time of day. You enter through a large opening in the cave, and walk through a shallow stream and over rock formations to get to different parts of the cave. I only walked for two minutes into the cave before looking up to see hundreds of glowworms covering the ceiling of the caves, like a beautifully starry sky. Waipu is easily accessible by car, only a two hour drive from Auckland.

Waipu Glowworm Caves
Inside the Waipu Caves

Motuora Island

A tiny island just north of Whangaparoa Peninsula in Auckland, Motuora is a little known gem of the Hauraki Gulf. Home to exquisite sandy beaches, and native New Zealand birds, including the kiwi. The perfect place for relaxing, exploring or bird watching or photography. On the western shore is a beautiful white sandy beach, and water so clear, you don’t need your goggles to see the ocean floor. When I visit, I love taking the short walk over to Still Bay where you descend down into a sheltered little sandy cove that feels like your own private bay. There are some amazing rock formations there, and huge pohutukawa overhanging the beach. It is wondrous during the day, but at night you might get treated to the sight of a kiwi scurrying around in the dark. You can hear the kiwi call from all over the island at night time. Not far from Motuora is Beehive Island, which looks like a tiny deserted island surrounded by a white sandy beach. If you are going to Motuora it is well worth checking out the Beehive at the same time. To get to Motuora you can take your own boat, book a water taxi or make the short crossing in a kayak. It is one of the best places in the North Island to see kiwi in the wild.

Still Bay Motuora Island
Looking down into Still Bay on Motuora Island

Lake Tarawera

If you are after natural hot pools and lush native bush, then Lake Tarawera is for you. Not far from the bustling hub of Rotorua is this beautiful lake surrounded with thousands of punga ferns and pohutukawa trees. It feels like going back in time, to a time before humans. It is truly stunning. If you take a short boat ride, you will get to a a few natural hot springs on the edge of the lake where you can chill out with a glass of wine and watch the sunset across the lake. If you are into bush walks, there are heaps of beautiful walks through the native bush. My favourite is the walk to the Tarawera Falls. I took my family on a walk from the Tarawera Outlet to the falls. The track that follows the meandering river, which goes underground before shooting out the side of a massive cliff. Very impressive. If you are feeling adventurous, you can walk or water taxi to the DOC camp at Hot Water Beach. But if it is luxury you are looking for, there are a number of exquisite lakeside Airbnbs in the area.

Punga Tree Lake Tarawera Rotorua
Ferns surround Lake Tarawera

Mount Pirongia

If you don’t mind a decent hike, and you love native New Zealand bush and phenomenal panoramic views, this is for you. We took the Hiwikiwi track to the summit of Mount Pirongia up a rugged track that carved its way through wild native New Zealand Bush. I spotted so many sponges and plants I had never seen before, all growing like weeds. It was truly like a place where fairies and elves would live. We only saw about three other people on the track in two days, so definitely a great option if you want to avoid hiking with the crowds. When we finally reached the top, I could see all the way out to the harbour in Raglan, and out to Mount Taranaki in the other direction. It was mind blowing. And then came the sunset, setting over the vast New Zealand landscape. Painting the sky with dreamy pink, orange and the blue of twilight. It is a perfect spot to watch the sunset that’s for sure. There is a hut and tent sites at the top where you can overnight. The hut has an amazing of the sun setting behind the mountains. The track is easily accessible, and only a 30 minute drive from Hamiliton.

Mount Pirongia Waikato
View form the top of Mt Pirongia

There you go. If you want to escape the crowds and experience some of the best the North Island has to offer, check out some of these spots. I have taken sensational photos in all of these places, some of which are available to buy if you want to bring life to your living room walls.

If you are interested in going on a photo tour to any of these places, please get in touch with me to discuss options. I would love to explore with you!

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