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New Zealand - Things to Do and See on the North Island

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New Zealand Cruises and North Island Overview
Tongariro National Park on the North Island of New Zealand

New Zealand's North Island is home to Tongariro National Park. The elegant Bayview Chateau Tongariro certainly has terrific views from its setting at the foot of Mount Ruapehu.

North Island of New Zealand (c) Linda Garrion
New Zealand is a South Pacific island about 1000 miles east of Australia, making it one of the most isolated countries in the world. However, New Zealand is also one of the world's best travel destinations, filled with amazing natural sites, friendly people, and interesting history. This small country primarily consists of two islands, simply called the North Island and the South Island. Long and narrow, New Zealand's latitude is about the same as California, and its maritime weather is very diverse. New Zealand sits on the International Date Line, reinforcing its distance from North America and Europe.

New Zealand Cruises

Several cruise ships visit New Zealand each year. Often these New Zealand cruises include stopovers in Australia, and some of the New Zealand cruises are world cruise segments. Large ship cruise lines visiting New Zealand include Cunard, Holland America, Celebrity, P&O, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. Mid-sized and small ships from Oceania, Orion Expedition, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, and Silversea also have cruises itineraries that feature ports of call in New Zealand.

New Zealand Cruise Tour Extensions

Because of the great distances from North America and Europe, most travelers will want to extend their cruise vacation to see more of the interior of New Zealand. Several tour operators offer overland tour vacations, and some cruise lines have cruise tour extensions. However, it's also possible to rent a car and explore on your own. Although driving is on the left side, most roads are not heavily traveled. In addition, due to the low population, the number of roads is much less than in other countries of comparable size. New Zealand is 103,000 square miles (268,000 square kilometers), or about the size of the state of Colorado. It's larger than the United Kingdom (244,000 square kilometers). The population statistics explain why there aren't many roads. New Zealand has about 4.4 million residents and Colorado has about 5 million; however the United Kingdom has over 62 million in less space.

Depending on time (or money) constraints, visitors might only have the opportunity to visit one island--either the North Island or the South Island. The South Island is larger (North Island is 115,000 sq km and South Island is 151,000 sq km) and has more mountainous roads, so driving is slower there. You could easily spend a month or more on each island, but many people don't want to be away from home that long, especially if they are already extending a New Zealand cruise vacation. I did a driving tour of both islands, spending five days on the North Island and nine days on the South Island, taking a three-hour car ferry between the two islands. Although I didn't see everything I wanted to on either island, I certainly saw enough to make me want to return for more exploration.

New Zealand - North Island Driving Tour

This article focuses on a five-day driving tour of the North Island. Due to time constraints, I didn't have the opportunity to tour Auckland, the Bay of Islands, Coromandel peninsula, the Bay of Plenty, the East Coast, or Taranaki National Park. I'm sure all of these were worthwhile stopovers that will require another visit to New Zealand.

Let's look at the interesting places I did visit on New Zealand's North Island:

Our first stop in New Zealand was south of Auckland at the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves.

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