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Top Winter Destinations in the North Island

Top Winter Destinations in the North Island

Whether you’re keen to swap beach towels for beanies this winter or to experience a slice of Kiwi beachside paradise minus the summer sunburn, you're in the right place. In this blog, we'll unpack the best places to visit in the North Island in winter that make you want to hire a campervan quicker than you can ask Siri for suggestions for “where to go for the snow season in NZ.” 

From discovering North Island's winter wonderland alpine regions to experiencing the solitude of the beachside beauties in the far north, we're here to guide you through the beauty of New Zealand’s North Island in its cooler months. Ready? Let's dive in.

 

Why you should explore the North Island in winter

As the cooler air sweeps through the North Island, it's not just the landscapes that undergo a stunning transformation; the entire vibe shifts. From snow-capped peaks, forests alive with shades of emerald and gold, and the kind of quiet that makes you want to whisper – this is winter in New Zealand; when the crowds thin out and the hot chocolates somehow taste more delicious. 

Overall, the North Island in winter is famed for its volcanic activity, Māori culture, award-winning wineries and for being home to a few epic ski and snowboard spots (like Ruapehu). However, its far north reaches are also the perfect place to escape the harsh chill of the south. Whether it's soaking in a hot pool while snowflakes dance around you, waking up in a snug camper to a frosty panorama, or exploring the northern beaches, there is plenty to explore on a New Zealand road trip to the North Island in winter:

 

 

What’s the best way to explore the North Island in winter

Flexibility and freedom are the names of the game when you're navigating the winter-wrapped wonders of the North Island. And what better way to be in charge of your course than behind the wheel of an Apollo campervan? Want to linger a little longer by that lakeside vista or find the perfect spot to watch the sunrise? No problem. With a campervan hire, you're the captain of your North Island winter adventure. 

Plus, it’s the best way to keep your toasty abode close by – because no one likes to be too far from their portable heater or stash of snacks when the temperature drops. Tackling a New Zealand road trip in a campervan means you've got all the comforts of home (on wheels) wherever the road may take you.

 

The top 10 winter campervan destinations in the North Island

Let’s dive into the top spots that make the North Island a winter wanderer's delight. From cities alive with culture to landscapes that whisper tales of Middle-earth, here's our pick of the best North Island activities to add to your New Zealand road trip:

 

1. Auckland

Ah, Auckland, where the winter air is crisp, and the adventures are plentiful. This city is a paradise for those who love a bit of urban exploration, with a side of nature's finest just a stone's throw away. Fancy a sail to a secluded island or a hike through ancient rainforests? Auckland deserves a spot on your New Zealand itinerary. Wine tasting with a view or beachcombing for treasures? You bet. The City of Sails shines in winter.

Where to stay: Takapuna Beach Holiday Park.

 

2. Hobbiton

Next stop: the shire. Well, Hobbiton, to be exact. Nestled in the heart of the Waikato region, this magical movie set invites you to step into the world of hobbits, elves, and perhaps a wizard or two. Whether you're a die-hard fan of the films/book or just in it for the Instagram-worthy pics, Hobbiton in winter is truly special. The rolling hills are lush, the ale at the Green Dragon Inn is just right, and the hobbit holes look even cosier against the dewy backdrop. It’s a hop, skip, and jump (about a two-hour drive in your campervan) from Auckland, making it an easy addition to your travel itinerary. 

Where to stay: Cambridge Top 10 Holiday Park

 

3. Waitomo Caves

Dive deep into the heart of the North Island in winter, and you'll find the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. In this ancient cave system, a boat ride takes you through the Glowworm Grotto, illuminated by thousands of glowworms that create a view reminiscent of a starry sky overhead. It's a surreal experience, akin to gliding through the Milky Way, making the Waitomo Caves one of the best places to visit on the North Island and an essential stop on your New Zealand road trip.

What sets Waitomo apart in winter is the ethereal quietness that accompanies the caves' natural beauty. With fewer tourists, the serenity of the caves is amplified, allowing for a more intimate connection with this 30-million-year-old natural wonder. The glowworms, unique to New Zealand, turn the cave into a living galaxy — a sight that's especially magical when the outside world is wrapped in the snowy embrace of a North Island winter. For those journeying from Auckland, the drive to Waitomo is a scenic route, taking roughly 2.5 hours – perfect for discovering the snow-capped landscapes of the North Island in winter.

Where to stay: Waitomo Top 10 Holiday Park.

 

4. Mount Maunganui

Next on our list is Mount Maunganui, a coastal paradise that shines even brighter in the winter sun. Crowned “New Zealand’s Best Beach” by TripAdvisor and ranked among the top 25 beaches worldwide, "The Mount" is the epitome of a winter escape. The majestic Mauao, an extinct volcano, watches over the town, offering walking tracks to its summit where 360-degree views span the entirety of the Bay of Plenty.

Winter here is about embracing the outdoors without the summer crowds. The beaches, with their white sand and gentle waves, are the perfect spot to soak up the winter sun with a book in hand. For the adventurous, the waters still offer the thrill of surfing, while Pilot Bay is perfect for a more tranquil swim. Best of all, you can reach this winter haven in under 3 hours from Auckland. This is a perfect addition to a New Zealand road trip for anyone looking to escape the winter chill!

Where to stay: Mount Maunganui Beachside Holiday Park.

 

5. Rotorua

Our journey of the North Island in winter continues to Rotorua, a city renowned for its geothermal wonders and rich Māori culture. In winter, Rotorua's steamy hot springs and bubbling mud pools offer a warm refuge that contrasts sharply with the cool air, creating an almost mystical atmosphere. Here, you can immerse yourself in these enchanting landscapes, soak in mineral-rich waters, and experience the warmth of Māori hospitality.

Beyond its geothermal attractions, Rotorua is a hub for outdoor activities, from mountain biking through the Whakarewarewa Forest to exploring the serene lakes that dot the region. From Auckland, the drive to Rotorua takes approximately 3 hours, offering a scenic route with plenty of places to stop off and soak up the rich beauty of the North Island's winter landscapes.  

Where to stay: Rotorua Blue Lake Top 10 Holiday Park.

 

6. Mount Ruapehu

Mount Ruapehu stands as a towering testament to the North Island's volcanic heritage, offering a unique winter experience within the Tongariro National Park. In the colder months, Ruapehu transforms into a premier ski destination, with Whakapapa and Tūroa ski areas providing slopes for all levels of skiers and snowboarders – easily the best place to visit in the North Island to see snow.

For those less inclined to hit the slopes, the Sky Waka gondola is the perfect North Island activity for breathtaking views across the Central Plateau and the unique volcanic landscape below. Dining at New Zealand's highest restaurant, Knoll Ridge Chalet, offers an experience not to be missed, combining stunning vistas with delicious cuisine. Located roughly halfway between Auckland and Wellington, Mount Ruapehu is accessible via a 4-hour drive from either city, making it a feasible weekend trip for winter sports lovers looking for the best places to visit in the North Island for a skiing New Zealand road trip.  

Where to stay: Whakapapa Holiday Park.  

 

7. Taupō

Next up on our tour of the North Island's winter gems is Taupō, a town that sits on the edge of New Zealand's largest lake, formed by one of the most significant volcanic eruptions in history. Winter in Taupō is a time of stark beauty, with the lake's misty mornings and the surrounding thermal areas offering a stark contrast to the chilly air. The Craters of the Moon and the Huka Falls are just a glimpse into the region's volcanic power and beauty. 

Whether it's fishing for trout in the crisp, clear waters of Lake Taupō or enjoying a hot soak in one of the many thermal pools, the area offers a multitude of ways to enjoy the North Island winter season. Taupō's central location also makes it an ideal stop for travellers looking to explore the central and lower parts of the North Island. The drive from Auckland to Taupō takes about 3.5 hours, making it an easy addition to any North Island winter travel itinerary.

​​Where to stay: Taupō Top 10 Holiday Park.

 

8. Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park, a UNESCO Dual World Heritage site, presents an otherworldly landscape that becomes even more captivating in winter. Here, the dramatic volcanic features and alpine flora are draped in snow, offering a stunning contrast of fire and ice. One of the must-do winter North Island activities in Tongariro is hiking the Taranaki Falls Track, where you can enjoy breathtaking alpine views without the bone-chilling cold often associated with high-altitude treks. 

The trail leads to the spectacular Taranaki Falls, cascading over an ancient lava flow from Mount Ruapehu – a sight that's especially mesmerising amidst the tranquillity of winter. Located roughly halfway between Auckland and Wellington, the park is about a 4-hour drive from either city, making it an accessible addition to any North Island winter travel itinerary.

Where to stay: Tongariro Family Holiday Park.

 

9. Napier

Napier is a city that turns tragedy into beauty, rising from the ashes of the 1931 earthquake to become a global icon of Art Deco architecture. Walking through the streets of Napier is like stepping back in time, with every building telling a story of resilience and rebirth. Winter is a fantastic time to explore Napier's architectural wonders, as the cooler weather makes for pleasant walking conditions. Take a self-guided tour or join one of the guided walks offered by the Art Deco Trust and immerse yourself in the city's rich history and unique style. Napier is a 5-hour drive from Auckland and about 4 hours from Wellington.  

Where to stay: Kennedy Park.
 

10. Wellington

Last but certainly not least, Wellington, the cultural heart of New Zealand, is a must-visit on the North Island in winter. This is a city where creativity and nature coexist. In winter, the city's vibrant arts scene, from theatre to visual arts, comes alive, offering warmth and inspiration despite the cooler temperatures. 

Whether you explore the renowned Te Papa museum, cosy up in one of the city's many cafes, or take a windswept walk along the harbour to experience the unique charm of this seaside city, Wellington is one of the best things to do in the North Island, New Zealand, in winter. Wellington is at the southern tip of the North Island, making it a longer drive from Auckland (about 8 hours) but just around the corner for those starting from this southern city. 

Where to stay: Wellington Top 10 Holiday Park.

 

Ready to explore the North Island?

The North Island of New Zealand is a winter wonderland waiting to be explored. From the magical glowworm caves of Waitomo to the Art Deco streets of Napier and the cultural buzz of Wellington, each destination offers its own unique winter charm. Ready to explore the North Island for yourself? Book your Apollo camper online today and pick it up from any Apollo branch before setting off on your unforgettable New Zealand road trip. The North Island's winter magic is calling.

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