Ultimate North Island Adventure

New Zealand

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Explore the volcanic marvels and forested beauty of New Zealand's extraordinary North Island


Auckland to Rotorua & Whirinaki

We head south to Rotorua, with a café stop at 9am for those who missed breakfast. Rotorua has thermal areas and beautiful lakes, and with a backdrop of distant volcanoes it is quite unique. The area is also rich in Maori and early European history including the tragedy of the 1886 Mount Tarawera eruption that buried a Maori village. We have a quick stop by Lake Rotorua before heading away from the beaten track, southeast into the Whirinaki. This huge park preserves a remnant of the vast forests believed to have covered the super continent of Gondwanaland more than 150 million years ago.After a picnic lunch we sort out gear and pack our backpacks for the hike into the rainforest. A further hours' drive gets us to the south end of this huge park. Our first hike is an easy one, descending 300m on a track through native beech forest, to a simple forest hut beside the stunning Whirinaki river. We either camp or stay in a nearby hut with an evening campfire and time to enjoy the surrounds.Activities: 3 hours hiking, 11kmAccommodation: Cabin or Camping

Whirinaki to Te Urewera National Park

This morning we continue down the valley track. This wilderness is off the tourist trail and we rarely see others, but we do often see rare blue ducks and robins, and hear kaka (a large bush parrot)! Lower down the valley, we hike beneath giant tree ferns and some of New Zealand’s most stunning podocarp rainforest trees.Later in the afternoon we drive east, into the rugged forest ranges of Te Urewera. This is the traditional home of the Tuhoe (Maori tribe) and one of the last places to have been reached by European settlers. After two hours winding through the most incredible rain forest, we reach the western arm of remote Lake Waikaremoana. We continue around the lake before stopping for the night at a camping area with sweet little cabins. Here we relax and cook a meal together in the communal kitchen. We usually stay in the simple cabins but occasionally camp.Activities: 5 hours hiking, 16kmAccommodation: Cabin or Camping

Lake Waikaremoana

This morning we drive 20 min to the trail-head at the south end of the lake and ready ourselves for some spectacular views. We climb up the Panekiri Range through gnarled beech and bright green tawa forest ascending to a point over 500 metres above the lake. From here, we hike along with breath-taking vistas in every direction. After enjoying a lunch stop at Bald Knob, we return back along this undulating trail, and if time permits once back at the road end, we explore the fascinating ’caves’ trail. Enjoy a second night at the cabins (occasionally we camp).Activities: 8 hours hiking, 17kmAccommodation: Cabin or Camping

Lake Waikaremoana to Taupo

Today we drive southwest to the Taupo volcanic plateau, stopping for lunch and to explore an extraordinary thermal park (entrance fee included). We stop to bathe in a natural hot river, one of those secret spots only known to locals. We also stop at Huka Falls, where we feel the spray of New Zealand's longest river, the mighty Waikato, as it plunges 11 meters into a deep circular basin.Later we arrive at Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand – a 600 sq km volcanic caldera crater created when the largest volcanic explosion known to humankind erupted in 186 AD. At Lake Taupo we either grab takeaway food (own cost) or rustle up a quick 'trailer' meal at a lovely lake-side spot on route. Here we can relax on the strange pumice beach or enjoy an evening swim. We might catch a pretty sunset before driving the last hour to our accommodation in the Tongariro National Park.Activities: 2 hours hiking, 4kmAccommodation: Cabin

Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park is the oldest National Park in New Zealand and the fourth oldest in the world. In 1993, the park became a UNESCO mixed cultural and natural World Heritage Site. Although many hikers walk the busy one-day Tongariro Alpine Crossing, few explore the more remote and drier east side of this volcanic range. Enjoy our secret side trips and short cuts but rest assured we will hike the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing – considered one of the world’s finest day walks – but at a less busy time of the day whenever possible.We sort out gear and pack our backpacks ready for our two nights away. In the late morning hike out of Whakapapa through tussock-grasslands and over the low saddle that cuts between the volcanoes Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. Late afternoon we arrive at a simple but modern hut beside a quiet stream and among patches of mountain beech forest. There are great mountain-views from the spacious common room.Activities: 6 hours hiking, 15kmAccommodation: Backcountry hut or Camping

Tongariro National Park

The trail to the next hut takes just 3 hours, so we have the morning to explore. Either amble (about an hour) to the splendid Ohineopango Springs and visit an historic hut and then return to hut for lunch, or we can negotiate an adventurous off-trail route over ash-moraine ridges and skirt lava cliffs to reach a viewpoint high above a remote lake. After lunch continue on, traversing stony deserts to an alpine hut at 1400m situated on the edge of an old lava flow.We stop to enjoy fantastic views of the Park’s three main peaks: Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. The latter starred as Mount Doom in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. It’s an extraordinary landscape of active volcanoes and lava valleys. Evening provides an opportunity to share an alpine hut with hikers from all over the world. Oturere ‘sardine tin’ Hut is small, quite busy, but still our favourite spot. We usually sleep in the hut, but sometimes we camp.Activities: 3-8 hours hiking, 8-15kmAccommodation: Backcountry hut or Camping

Tongariro National Park

We hike through a moon-like valley of lava flows and ash fields before climbing steeply to the remarkable Emerald Lakes, which have graced the covers of many guidebooks. From here we join the spectacular Tongariro Alpine Crossing.The next few hours of hiking take us through an unforgettable wonderland of lava valleys, steaming craters and brooding volcanoes before our descent through bonsai-like alpine foliage and alongside mineral-infused streams. In good conditions, we have the option of climbing high on the volcanic peaks.An evening drive takes us to a lodge in the heart of the National Park – the perfect place to relax with a beer and enjoy million-dollar volcanic views before dining in the alpine village.Activities: 6 hours hiking, 12kmAccommodation: Lodge

Tongariro National Park to Wellington

Driving south, we leave the volcanoes to descend through the beautiful river valleys of the Rangitikei and along the coast to Wellington, where we arrive mid-afternoon after a café break.Wellington is so much more than just New Zealand’s capital. It is also the nation’s stylish hub for arts, culture, cafés and politics. Enclosed by hills and a harbour, this compact city has many attractions within easy walking distance. Options include enjoying the National Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa) or watching the political shenanigans of the ‘Beehive’ (Parliament House). Many visitors immerse themselves in the vibrant café scene and the accessible downtown area.Activities: 1-2 hours hiking, 1km

Additional Information

A trip to the North Island will show you a completely different side of New Zealand when compared to the South Island. Steeped in a rich Maori heritage, the North Island is also home to many volcanic wonders and superb forests, and this week long active exploration of the North will take in the very best of them. Begin with a visit to the thermal areas in Rotorua before stretching the legs on a trek to the very best sections of the remote Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk, set deep in the remote and rugged rainforests of Te Urewera National Park. One of the highlights for any active visitor to the North Island is a visit to discover the surreal volcanic wonderland of Tongariro National Park, where you can climb volcanoes and stay high above the world in an alpine hut. This itinerary offers many shorter hikes as well as two overnight hikes which will reward you with a stay in backcountry huts set in stunning locations. Link this tour with the Ultimate South for the Ultimate New Zealand experience!

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8 Days


New Zealand

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