Introduction to New Zealand Part One: North Island

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If you’re looking for a more balanced lifestyle, you’ll no doubt find New Zealand to be right up your alley. Good living in New Zealand is about balancing an honest day’s work with social fun, time together with your family and friends, and taking advantage of all the recreational opportunities and wide-open spaces you can enjoy there. With a land area the size of Great Britain and only 4.5 million inhabitants, you don't need to go far to find room to breathe. It's perhaps one of the reasons why New Zealand consistently ranks at or near the top of surveys comparing quality of life internationally, and why three-quarters of migrants decide to stay there permanently (according to an Immigration New Zealand survey).

Made up of two main islands, New Zealand has an amazing range of breath-taking scenery, from subtropical forests, beaches and offshore islands in the north to glaciers, lakes, snow-covered mountains and large flat plains in the south. There are also fjords, volcanoes, hot springs and beautiful rolling green pastures, offering a diversity that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Where else can you go surfing, skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, sailing, swimming, parachuting, horse riding and caving all within a 100-mile radius? New Zealand’s long warm summers are ideal for spending time at one of the country's many great beaches, while the winters are cold enough to provide ample snow in the south for skiers and snowboarders.

Most of the population is concentrated in five main cities (with Auckland being the largest, home to a third of the population), leaving plenty of open space in between. In the first part of our series of blogs about living and working in New Zealand, we take a look at some of the highlights of New Zealand’s North Island.

BAY OF ISLANDS AND NORTHLAND

Northland is a story of two coastlines. In the beautiful Bay of Islands you can take a boat cruise, swim with dolphins, dive, fish or just relax in the sun. Be sure to visit Waitangi Treaty Grounds, one of New Zealand's most significant historic sites. On the west coast you’ll encounter the magnificent Tane Mahuta, the biggest kauri tree in existence (and an important figure in Maori folklore). You can also venture north to the beautiful Hokianga Harbour, and take a sledge down the huge white sand dunes at Ninety-Mile Beach. At the northernmost tip of the country, Cape Reinga, you can watch the seas of the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea collide.

Northland's only city, Whangarei, has plenty of entertainment options and is an excellent place to enjoy the Northland lifestyle. Sit at a quayside café and watch the yachts or visit the farmers’ market on a Saturday morning and stock up on the freshest local food.

AUCKLAND

The largest city in New Zealand, where everyone lives within half an hour of beautiful beaches, hiking trails and dozens of enchanting holiday islands. Throw in a sunny climate, a rich background of Polynesian culture and a taste for outstanding food, wine and shopping, and you’re beginning to get an idea of what this amazing place has to offer.

More than just a city, Auckland is a whole region full of things to see and do. Best of all, with so many experiences in close proximity it’s simple to jump from one adventure to the next. There are countless opportunities to get immersed in nature. In the west, lush native rainforest plunges down the hills to meet the sea on dramatic black sand beaches, while the east’s golden sand beaches are lined with red-flowering pohutukawa trees. To the north the rolling hills of wine country meet stunning coastlines, and in the south you'll find picturesque country gardens, unspoilt forest and tranquil bays to discover at your leisure. The region is dotted with 48 volcanic cones, which provide spectacular panoramic views of the city and harbour. Many are surrounded by lush parkland, making them perfect picnic spots. Rangitoto Island, just a 25-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland, is the region's most iconic volcano and a favourite day trip destination for visitors, hikers and bird-watchers.

BAY OF PLENTY

When James Cook arrived in New Zealand in 1769, he anchored outside a bay that was, in his words, ‘a bay of plenty’, and hence the name for the area stuck. Close to Tauranga are hectares of orchards and gardens producing everything from kiwifruit and citrus fruit to avocados. Add to this the local wines and the plentiful fresh seafood and you know that this is an area where you will dine well. Mount Maunganui, a short distance from Tauranga, has spectacular beaches which are a draw for hundreds of surfers all year round. For the adventurous, there’s skydiving and for those more keen on keeping their feet on the ground, beach karting will provide some fast-paced thrills.

On White Island, a short distance from Whakatane, you can walk on an active volcano as it smoulders beneath you. The same geothermal activity provides heat for the hot pools and spas that you will find in many locations where you can relax and soak away the worries.

LAKE TAUPO

Lake Taupo, right in the middle of the North Island, was created nearly two-thousand years ago by a volcanic eruption so big it darkened the skies in Europe and China. Visit the area and you'll see evidence of the lake's birth in the geysers, steaming craters and boiling mud pools. At some of Lake Taupo's beaches, swimmers and paddlers can enjoy warm, geothermal water currents. 

Just north of Lake Taupo you'll find New Zealand's most visited attraction, the magnificent Huka Falls, where more than 220,000 litres of water thunder over the cliff face every second. Taupo is a great lake for water-skiing, sailing and kayaking. The Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay, which can only be seen from the water, make for a great boat trip or kayaking excursion. The forests surrounding the lake offer hiking and mountain biking to suit all levels of experience.

HAWKE’S BAY

Hawke’s Bay is one of New Zealand’s warmest, driest regions and this has made it one of the country’s leading producers of wine, notably cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah. The region is the first stop on the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail, and it's a popular place for bicycle wine tours. Hawke's Bay is New Zealand’s Art Deco centre, rebuilt in the 1930’s after a huge earthquake. It hosts the country’s most elaborate celebrations of Matariki (Maori New Year) and is a place where you can shop at the farmers' market for locally grown delicacies and indulge in artisan gourmet food. It’s a place where you can walk the forest trails of the Ruahine and Kaweka Forest Parks, visit the Cape Kidnappers gannet colony or relax on the glorious beaches that stretch along the coast.

Hawke's Bay, New Zealand, offers every kind of accommodation, from exclusive lodges and self-contained cottages to hotels, motels, camping grounds, bed & breakfasts and homestays. Some wineries have room for guests, providing the perfect setting for a romantic stay.

WELLINGTON

Nestled between a sparkling harbour and rolling green hills, New Zealand's capital city is renowned for its arts, heritage, culture and native beauty. Wellington is rife with delicatessens, cafes and restaurants, and is a city that enjoys gourmet food and fine wine. Known as the culinary capital of New Zealand, Wellington is famous for its hidden bars, quirky cafes, award-winning restaurants and superb coffee. Head over to Courtenay Place or Cuba Street to get amongst the heart of this ‘Coolest Little Capital’.

Relax at Oriental Bay, Wellington’s beach and visit the many museums, art galleries and theatre shows that make up the city’s pulsing cultural scene. If you’re into the outdoors, Wellington has many activities in which to partake like mountain biking and sea-water kayaking, as well as beautiful walks around the harbor and surrounding hills. Try the visually stunning Makara Peak track, as well as the City to Sea walk where you can experience the best of Wellington's expansive waterfront. Ride the cable car up the hill to Kelburn for amazing views over the city and enjoy an ice cream at the top. On the waterfront itself you’ll find Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, New Zealand’s national museum. Te Papa, as it’s known locally, means ‘our place’ and is one of the best interactive museums in the world.