Home » Action-packed Aotearoa: an adrenaline-junkie’s guide to New Zealand’s North Island

Action-packed Aotearoa: an adrenaline-junkie’s guide to New Zealand’s North Island

written by Mark Hewitt July 17, 2018
Traveller zip lining in Rotorua rainforest

With fresh air, open spaces and steep things aplenty, New Zealand was made for high-octane adventure. For adventure seekers, it’s one of the greatest countries in the world in which to get your heart rate pumping to elite-athlete levels.

Whether you’re a full-blown adrenaline junkie or a fair-weather outdoorsy-type looking for a little extra kick, the North Island is a bona fide theme park. (There is of course Queenstown, on the South Island, too, but that’s a story for another time.)

For now, here’s our pick of the North Island’s best, most unique, most thrilling and most eye-popping adventure activities:

Zip-lining in Rotorua

Travellers in Rotorua forest Canopy tour

Contemplating the Rotorua rainforest. Image by Damien Raggatt

There are some serious zip-line courses these days, from kilometre-long jungle gauntlets in Panama to highwire epics in the Tasmanian hinterlands. But what makes zip-lining in Rotorua so special is the quality of the forest – and what’s going on inside it. Rotorua Canopy Tours have not only decked out swathes of pristine virgin native forest with a breathtaking zip-line course – they’ve done it more than sustainably. It’s an ecotourism project that funds their ultimate conservation goal: returning the threatened Kiwi bird to the forest, by way of trapping and removing introduced predators.


So in between mind-blowing zips among the treetops, you’ll walk along forest trails and swing bridges while learning from conservation staff about their sophisticated rodent-trap system. It’s the perfect combination of adrenaline-fuelled fun and insight into cutting-edge Kiwi conservation. Two possums, one stone.

Caving in Waitomo

Travellers preparing for Waitomo Caves

Ready to rumble at Waitomo Caves. Image by Caveworld

Underground streams are a thing all over the world, from Laos to Slovenia to Mexico. But in the dairy district of Waitomo, just inland of the west coast of New Zealand’s north island, there’s a twist. Here, glow worms glitter all around you like star-studded wallpaper as you float along in the underground waterway.

Glow worms on cave wall

The glow worms of Waitomo. Image by Damien Raggatt

It’s more intense than you might expect, thanks to waterslides and drop-offs that dump you into frothing pools you didn’t even know were there. Don’t even think about doing it without a wetsuit either; the temperature is around 14-16 degrees year round, so a chilly swim in anyone’s book. Local operators like Caveworld can take you down there with all the gear you need, from headtorch to helmet to raft (tyre tube).

Jet boating in Taupo

Jet boating Huka Falls

Jet boating at the mighty Huka Falls. Image by Marja Blom

The lakeside town of Taupo is the adventure capital of the North Island, and this is only one of many out-there activities to do here. But you can go skydiving anywhere, and when there are waterfalls like Huka Falls around, you’re going to want to experience them up close rather than from afar.


Most people simply snap a photo of Huka Falls from the viewing bridge, which will not suffice if you carry the thrill-seeking gene. Enter jet boating, a kind of turbo-charged marine experience. The boat is a cross between a hovercraft and a speedboat, with the power and agility of a jet ski. Think 360 degree spins, speeds up to 80 kilometres per hour, and beautiful riverbanks with native vegetation and rocky cliffs. Good luck getting a not-blurry photo during this half-hour of power.

A scenic flight over Mt Tongariro

Tongariro National Park aerial view

The strange and wonderful Tongariro National Park. Image by kyrien

You could hike the Tongariro Crossing, the most rewarding and spectacular Kiwi hike there is. Or you could save yourself 20 kilometres of labour and fly like a bird across the whole thing instead. The volcanic Central Plateau blows minds when seen from above, with volcanic landscapes not unlike Iceland. The snow-capped peaks and coloured crater lakes are the best though. Take the northern circuit to get a glimpse of Mt Nhauruhoe (AKA Mt Doom to Lord of the Rings fans).


Kayaking in the Bay of Islands

Kayakers at Haruru Falls

Haruru Falls, Bay of Islands. Image by Damien Raggatt

Sounds leisurely, doesn’t it? But when you’ve been licked on the face by Haruru Falls on a kayaking trip, you’ll see the Bay of Islands is more than just a place to chill and soak up the sunrays. You’re paddling for a while down the Waitangi River, and them boom – a very loud and all-consuming cold shower. It can take a bit of manoeuvring, so make sure you get the how-to from your tour guide. This is a cheap thrill for those without the dough for all of that high-flying stuff, and a good chance for some quality time with a travel pal.

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