Unique Activities To Do - North Island
Black Water Rafting in the Waitomo Glow-worm Caves
Waikato Region, North Island
"Float down underground passages lit by glow worms, go extreme caving or do a bit of both."
What a combo of treats you'll have with this experience. The majority just visit these caves for the spectacular glow worm displays that turn these already glorious limestone labyrinths into a magical underground wonderland – apparently lit by the light of thousands of stars.
But for those who like to up the adventure stakes and find simply walking in and out or an easy boat ride too sedate there are a whole host of options in the caving and rafting categories.
The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company is the only operator who can get you into the glow-worm studded adventure playground known as Ruakuri Cave. Discovered by Maori several hundred years ago, this particular area of the Waitomo cave system gives those who dare a chance to experience a whole host of underground challenges. Take your pick from the Black Odyssey, Black Abyss or Black Labyrinth to choose your level of adrenalin injection and according to whether you want a wet or dry adventure.
During your subterranean journey of crawling, wading, twisting, jumping and climbing you might experience such things as abseiling into the pitch black, hanging by your fingertips as underground streams race far below you, launching yourself into leaps of faith across waterfalls or whizzing down flying foxes. And of course there are the glow worms which are so often the highlight for many. You will get to experience this show floating down an underground stream on an inner tube, gazing up at the glowing spectacle which appears like a star sprinkled sky above you.
"One of the best experiences in my life. Rafting inside the cave. It's difficult to explain with words"
Skydive – BOI
Bay of Islands, North Island
"Race to earth at 200 kph while drinking in views as good as it gets anywhere on the planet"
There is probably not an adrenalin junkie's bucket list out there which doesn't have 'throw myself out of an aeroplane' on it. Well, here in New Zealand there are several opportunities for doing just that and because the competition is high, prices are do-able for all. You'll never get anyone to agree on which is the best place from which to do a tandem skydive in New Zealand (because the truth is all of them are amazing) but there are few who would disagree that the Bay of Islands is hard to beat.
From a choice of 9,000, 12,000 or a whopping 16,000 feet you will get to drink in every single one of the Bay of Islands 144 islands, each lapped by waters ranging from sparkling emerald, through palest turquoise to crystal clear. You’ll have to take our word for it though because it is unlikely you’ll be counting them as you experience between 20-60 seconds of freefall at terminal velocity – that’s 120 mph/200 kph to you and me. From 2 miles up (that’s just under 11,000 feet) the curvature of the Earth is well defined – an unforgettable sight – and the higher you go, the longer your freefall
experience will be. Once your parachute is opened though and you are floating serenely to Earth you are going to be able to have a good look around and enjoy your totally unimpeded views of this naturally stunning region.
Prices start at just NZ$299 with Skydive Bay of Islands for a 9,000 feet jump and then go up in price as the height of your drop options increase. You can add on a range of photo and video options to capture forever those moments where you fling yourself out of an airplane (strapped to a tandem instructor who knows exactly what he is doing of course). Complimentary pick-ups from a range of locations in the area are included (in a stretch limousine!) and keep an eye out for special deals. If you can round up a group of ten or more buddies you will each get 10% off your jump price if you dare to go with the 16,000 feet option.
"Amazing. Words can't describe the feeling of free falling through the sky. Beautiful scenery, so glad I did it here"
White Island Active Volcano
Bay of Plenty, North Island
"Don hard hat and gas mask to explore the alien landscape of a very much active volcano"
Claiming a high, high place in the list of ’extra-special spots to visit’ (in a land already full of all kinds of extra special) White Island sits huffing and puffing 50 km off the coast of Whakatane. Most days plumes of smoke can be seen rising into the New Zealand skies from this volcanic island just to remind everyone how very much alive it is. If money is no object you can fly your way by helicopter but otherwise there is only one company which has the authority to land you by boat onto the island – White Island Tours.
This is one of those places which you may have seen pictures of beforehand but nevertheless leaves you totally unprepared for what you will find. Whatever you have in your head as an image, the actual experience will be better. This fact can perhaps be explained by the whole sensory experience you will have which simply can’t be captured in a photo; the visually fantastic is all around you, the sounds of hissing punctuate the stillness and your senses of smell are completely overwhelmed with the sulphur.
On first stepping onto this other-worldly place you will be given a safety briefing and advised about emergency evacuation procedures. Listen carefully – these do sometimes take place; this is a live volcano after all. Then you will be equipped with hard hat and a gas mask (which you will almost certainly need to use occasionally) and then set off to cross a landscape which hisses steam, boils pools of mud somewhat violently at times and presents endless views of bright yellow sulphur deposits which have dripped and drizzled themselves into a thousand weird and wonderful formations.
The crater lake - both exceptionally beautiful and deadly poisonous – is a trip highlight along with an explore around the atmospheric ruins of the abandoned sulphur factory. The last people that worked here were all killed in 1914 when a volcanic event on the island claimed the lives of each and every one present on the island at the time.
"One of the best trips we have ever done - volcano, boat ride, dolphins, flying fish and very helpful staff - awesome day!"
Matamata, North Island
"See what a Hobbit Hole really looks like inside or down a pint at the Green Dragon Inn in 'Hobbiton'"
If there is anyone out there who is truly tired of the LOTR/Hobbit subject (as if!) you might want to skip this bit. Otherwise, you really should know that coming to this country without making some effort to take in at least one LOTR-themed experience is almost considered sacrilege.
There are tons and tons of adventures, experiences and tours to choose from ranging from the self-guided hour or so to check out a filming location in Wellington to full-on two week trips which will totally immerse you in all things Tolkien-esque and LOTR.
However, if you truly only have the time – or the inclination – for just one filming location then make it Hobbiton. Otherwise known as Matamata, this small community registered on the radar of few except its residents before Peter Jackson chose it as the Hobbits' village.
After the LOTR trilogy filming was complete the site was cleared of most props and really anything which distinguished it as a filming location. Visits here during that period tended to leave you feeling rather more sad and disappointed than magical. However, the whole site came to life again for the filming of the three Hobbit films and this time no dismantling took place. Bequeathed to the town as a permanent tourist attraction, even the imagination-challenged will easily touch on the magic here now and certainly all who come as LOTR fans will be hard-pressed not to see scuttling
Hobbits out of the corner of their eye. The town, which now has a permanent 'Welcome to Hobbiton' sign at its approach, certainly has all right to claim itself as one of the country's most unique attractions.
"This is the real Middle Earth! As soon as you walk into the Shire you're transported there instantly and you feel like you're in a dream."