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North Island Area Guide

The North Island stretches 1,000 kilometres from remote Cape Reinga in the far north past the harbour city of Auckland down through the active volcanoes of the central plateau to the nation's capital, Wellington, on the southern coast.

More than 70 per cent of New Zealand's population of four million live in the North Island, more than a million in the country's commercial heart, Auckland, which sprawls over a narrow neck of land between two harbours, its arched harbour bridge spanning the sparkling waters of the Waitemata Harbour.

To the north of Auckland lies the beautiful Bay of Islands, with its warm climate, sandy beaches and clear blue sea. At its heart is the beach resort of Paihia and the historic site of Waitangi, where the Treaty of Waitangi, the nation's founding document, was signed in 1840.

At the northern tip of the North Island, the Cape Reinga lighthouse stands atop a green headland at the end of the wide, sandy highway of Ninety Mile Beach. At the foot of the lighthouse, the waters of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet in dramatic fashion, producing 10-metre-high waves in stormy weather.

To the east of Auckland lie the golden sand beach resorts of the Coromandel Peninsula. From here, the east coast curves around to form the Bay of Plenty, with its prosperous twin cities, the port city Tauranga and beachside Mount Maunganui. At the furthest reach of the bay is isolated Eastland and its main centre Gisborne, its far easterly location making it the first city in the world to see the sun rise each day. Further down the east coast is sunny Hawke's Bay, with its outdoor lifestyle, wineries and orchards, and its art deco cities, Napier and Hastings.

In the central North Island lies hissing, steaming sulphurous Rotorua with its volcanic landscape of bubbling mud pools, natural hot pools and geysers, while just to the south is the fishing and boating haven of Lake Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake, its tranquility belying its origins in some of the world's largest ever volcanic eruptions. Further to the south is the blasted landscape of the Tongariro National Park on the central plateau, its three volcanoes, Mounts Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe, providing the perfect location for Mordor in the filming of the Lord of the Rings. The three volcanoes are matched in the west by the snow-capped volcanic cone of Mount Taranaki, which rises in isolated splendour from the pastoral farmland surrounding it.

To the south, state highway 1 winds its way westwards to journey down the Kapiti Coast to Wellington, where houses perch on steep bush-covered hills on the edge of the harbour, the inter-island ferries plying their way back and forth to the South Island.