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New Zealand's North Island See And Do

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Auckland Museum
Auckland Domain, Domain Drive
City Center
Auckland , North Island
New Zealand
Tel: 64 9 309 0443
www.aucklandmuseum.com

This Greek Revival museum, which sits atop the highest point of the sweeping Auckland Domain park, has the world's largest collection of Maori artifacts. Most spectacular is the 85-foot waka—a war canoe carved from a single log, which could carry up to 100 warriors. There's also a handsome assortment of tools and ornaments made from pounamu, or greenstone (a kind of jade particular to New Zealand), and the Whare Taonga, an entire Maori meetinghouse, with intricately carved columns representing different ancestors and deities. For an introduction to the famous haka—the traditional chanting dances that members of the country's rugby team, the All Blacks, still perform before every game—there are performances held three to four times a day in the museum at no extra cost.

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Beaches of the North Island
North Island
New Zealand

North Islanders are big-time beachgoers, and the island's thousands of miles of coast give them plenty of thundering stretches and sheltered bays to choose from.

Near Auckland, the two best-known beaches are the wild, black-sanded Piha and Karekare, both about a 30-minute drive west of the city. Piha has one of the island's top surf breaks; on windy days, it's breathtaking to watch wet-suited locals brave the dangerous rips. Just to the south is Karekare, bordered by dramatic cliffs, which starred in the opening scenes of Jane Campion's The Piano. While the scenery at both these beaches is fabulous, inexperienced swimmers and surfers should be warned: Lifeguards are on duty solely during summer weekends.

The island's far north (known to Kiwis as Northland) is famous for the westerly golden sweep of Ninety Mile Beach (pictured). In fact, the beach is only 60 miles long, but nobody's quibbling. It stretches all the way to Cape Reinga, the tip of the island where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific. Although driving along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway and stopping at points along the way (such as the seaside towns of Ahipara and Kerkeri) is magical if you have the time, viewing the seascapes from the air is wonderful if you don't. Salt Air runs "flight-seeing" trips from Paihia, in the Bay of Islands, which take in locales like the Karikari Peninsula and the Cavalli Islands. Prices for these trips (in Cessnas carrying about a dozen passengers) start at about NZ$365 (US$270) per person. Pricier, individually tailored helicopter rides are also available (64-9-402-8338; www.saltair.co.nz).

Big Game Fishing
North Island
New Zealand

Author and angler Zane Grey put Northland's Bay of Islands on the map with his 1926 Tales of the Angler's Eldorado: New Zealand, about the monster fish he landed off the shores of Russell. Modern-day fishing fanatics can troll the same waters with Russell-based Major Tom Charters. Skipper Geoff Stone takes up to 12 passengers at a time on Major Tom II, his state-of-the-art 40-foot fishing yacht, to hunt marlin and tuna from mid-December through May, and broadbill swordfish January through August. When the weather doesn't cooperate, Stone brings anglers closer to the coast in search of kingfish and snapper (64-9-403-8553 or 64-27-437-7844; www.majortom.co.nz).

Hiking
North Island
New Zealand

Both central North Island and Northland have stunning national parks that are perfect for hiking, or tramping, as it's called here.

The World Heritage Tongariro National Park, in the central North Island, is a 300-square-mile preserve that's home to three active volcanoes—Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe (the last had a cameo as Mount Doom in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy)—and a range of walking trails. An easy two-hour stroll through mountain-beech forest brings you to the spectacular 120-foot Taranaki Falls. More challenging is the all-day Tongariro Crossing, a seven-hour journey that crosses a saddle between Tongariro and Ngauruhoe and passes the jade-green Emerald Lakes. Scotty Barrie of Central Peaks Touring and Guides takes small groups to the summits of all three volcanoes and to Taranaki Falls. He also leads tours of locations used in the Lord of the Rings films (64-27-448-0434; www.tongariro-tours.co.nz). He picks up from Taupo, Turangi, Whakapapa, and points in between by arrangement. For more information about the park, see "Parks & Recreation" on the Department of Conservation Web site (www.doc.govt.nz) or phone the Whakapapa Visitor Center (64-7-892-3729).

Waipoua State Forest, a roughly 35-square-mile preserve on the west coast of Northland (about a three-hour drive north of Auckland), is the country's largest remaining kauri forest. Kauri are slow-growing, sometimes enormous trees—the equivalent of California's sequoias. The oldest and largest kauri on earth are in Waipoua, including the 167-foot-high, 45-foot-around Tane Mahuta, or "Lord of the Forest," thought to be 2,000 years old. You can see it, and other extraordinarily ancient and stately specimens, along walking trails that wind through the forest. For a more singular experience, Footprints-Waipoua's local Maori guides take nighttime tours through the forest, pointing out wildlife and sharing Maori legends along the way (State Highway 12, Omapere; 64-9-405-8207; www.footprintswaipoua.com). For more information about forest visits, call the Waipoua Forest Visitor Center (64-9-439-3011).

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Maori Food Tours with Charles Royal
North Island
New Zealand
Tel: 64 7 345 3122
info@maorifood.com
www.maorifood.com

Maori chef Charles Royal is the closest thing New Zealand has to an Alice Waters—a fierce advocate of sustainable local cuisine, indigenous produce, and just plain good cooking. Royal started cooking in the New Zealand Army and now wears all the laurels of a modern-day celebrity chef, with a television show, cookbook, and recipes being served by Air New Zealand. Royal offers various tours on the North Island that introduce visitors to traditional Maori ingredients and techniques (before the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand, indigenous cooking was done mostly without metal or ceramic pots; instead, food was roasted or steamed in pit ovens). Royal picks guests up from their hotel and takes them on a bushwalk to seek out native flora and fauna, such as freshwater eel, kawakawa (bush basil), horopito (Maori pepper), and pikopiko, an edible fern. That might be followed by a hangi, the traditional method of smoking meats and vegetables in an earthen oven. From Treetops Lodge in Rotorua, for instance, Royal and his guests gather herbs while hiking past the cascading Bridal Falls, 800-year-old trees, and lush ferns. The feast that follows includes kawakawa tea, flaxseed soda bread, pikopiko pesto, horopito hummus, kumara (sweet potato), and smoked venison rubbed with local spices and served with wild mushrooms. Sampled in the forest setting, with Royal talking of his ancestors from New Zealand's North Island, this is a truly special culinary and cultural experience.—Lea Lane

Sailing
North Island
New Zealand

It's no coincidence that Auckland is nicknamed "the City of Sails." Hundreds of schooners, sailboats, yachts, and megayachts dot the harbor year-round, and its Westhaven marina, with more than 1,400 dockings, is one of the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. The fervor of Auckland's yachties has only grown since New Zealand's two consecutive America's Cup victories, in 1995 and 2000 (the city hosted the regatta in 2000 and 2003). Sail NZ runs two-hour sails around Auckland Harbour on retired 12-meter America's Cup yachts. those who want to get a real taste of the Cup experience can try match racing along a course similar to the one used in the 2000 and 2003 regattas. Prices start at NZ$135—about US$100 per person (64-9-359-5987; www.sailnz.co.nz).

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Volcanic Wonders
North Island
New Zealand

Although roughly a third of the North Island rests upon a geothermal hotbed, known as the Volcanic Plateau, its most active part stretches between the central town of Rotorua in the north and the Tongariro National Park in the south. This territory encompasses more than 100 square miles of volcanic craters, mountains, and lakes; bubbling, steaming, oozing landscapes; and (unfortunate) sulfurous smells. About 17 miles south of Rotorua—smack-dab in the center of the action—is the geothermal preserve of Wai-O-Tapu, or "Sacred Waters" in Maori. Here, you can wander among 4,450 acres of simmering mud pools, surreally crayon-colored lakes and silica terraces. Be sure to see the dazzling gold-edged Champagne Pool and the daily (artificially prompted but still impressive) eruption of the Lady Knox Geyser (State Highway 5, Rotorua; 64-7-366-6333; www.geyserland.co.nz).

Wineries
North Island
New Zealand

Among the North Island's wine-growing areas, one of the oldest and best-known is Hawke's Bay, on the east coast about 140 miles from Tongariro (www.hawkesbaynz.com). The balmy climate is ideal for chardonnay and rich red Bordeaux varietals, and more than 30 wineries have cellar doors open for tastings. One of the best is Te Awa Winery, with its award-winning 2004 Syrah and a terrific lunch restaurant that pairs seasonal dishes with house vintages (2375 State Highway 50, Hastings; 64-6-879-7602; www.teawa.com).

The Martinborough region, about an hour's drive north from Wellington at the southeast edge of the island, is all about pinot, and the notable wineries are almost too numerous to mention. Look for Martinborough Vineyard (Princess St., Martinborough; 64-6-306-9955; www.martinborough-vineyard.com www.martinborough-vineyard.com), a leader in establishing the region in the 1980s; Ata Rangi (Puruatanga Rd., Martinborough; 64-6-306-9570; www.atarangi.co.nz); and Palliser Estate (Kitchener St., Martinborough; 64-6-306-9019; www.palliser.co.nz)—all producers of outstanding pinot noirs and chardonnays.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.