Concierge.com's insider take:
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).