As the filming location for Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, New Zealand is renowned for its stunning scenery and ethereal landscapes.
But there’s more to the island nation than movie sets and Hobbit villages, as jet-setter and entrepreneur Thierry Mandonnaud recently discovered when he visited the North Island. He shares with us his list of top places to see, from natural wonders to cultural sites.
People usually head to Lake Taupo for the Māori rock carvings, but there are plenty of activities around the lake too. Adrenaline junkies can go skydiving for a unique perspective of the largest freshwater lake in Australasia. Afterwards, head to The Brantry, a family-run restaurant serving up a contemporary twist on local food.
Rotorua’s active geothermal zone is a must-see. It is one of several volcanically active areas within the Taupo volcanic region, and while it may not be the largest, its incredible activity is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Don't miss Te Puia in Whakarewarewa Māori village, which offers a great cultural experience, or Wai-O-Tapu for active geysers and mud pools.
The Tauranga suburb of Mount Maunganui is an amazing surf spot with a trendy little neighbourhood nearby that has an excellent selection of boutiques, galleries and restaurants. Check out the hot salt pools at the base of the extinct volcano dome, before catching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the top of The Mount.
A small town in the Bay of Islands, Paihia is a wonderland of watersports and boat tours. Swimming with wild dolphins, however, is a special kind of thrill. Be sure to pick an eco-tour company - they respect the dolphins’ natural habitat and follow strict environmental and conservation rules.
You’ll need a little R&R after all that adventure, so hop over to Waihke Island for stunning views and a more relaxed vibe. There are plenty of vineyards like Stonyridge and Tantalus, where you can taste some of New Zealand’s best wines. For food, the oysters and lamb chops at the Oyster Inn in Oneroa Bay are delicious - plus, it's right beside the beach.
Useful tips: How to make the best of a layover.