This article was contributed by Serena Coady, an aerial photographer and writer based in Canberra. You can follow her here.

New Zealand, the hushed corner of the Southern Hemisphere, is a place of legend. A land where trekking Mt. Doom or hoisting a beer at the rugby are both considered perfectly decent ways to spend your time.

With South Island being home to ski-towns, towering glaciers and boundless fjords, North Island often plays second fiddle during the chillier months. But with a week or two, you’ll discover that North Island embodies the most epic parts of the country: rugged scenery fused with an even fiercer culture. All only a short trans-Tasman flight away from Australia.

Being so vast, let’s focus on one part of North Island. Get set to traverse through the geothermal hub of New Zealand: Rotorua.

The Mystical Redwoods

Begin your quest to Middle Earth by exploring the Rotorua Redwoods, otherwise known as Whakarewarewa Forest. Within these hundred-year-old trees, you’ll be free to stroll the trails, taking in the storybook surrounds.

Up for exploration is the Redwood Treewalk, an elevated boardwalk adventure in the canopy. To up the ante, there are also several exhilarating mountain biking trails to experience amidst the trees.

Geothermal Wonders

Open your mind, but hold your nose! The strong smell of Rotorua’s sulphuric landscape can be overwhelming at first. Wai-O-Tapu Wonderland will show you just what I mean and more. If you think the name makes it sound like an absolute fun park, you’re not far off.

Wai-O-Tapu stuns with its electric green pools, gurgling mud, rapidly erupting geysers, and the star of the show: the champagne pool. Best of all, it’s all natural, and thousands of years in the making.

Nearby is Waimangu Volcanic Valley, another steaming, crater-filled landscape which can be explored on foot and finished up with a cruise on the stunning Lake Rotomahana.

A Muddy Experience

There are few times when covering yourself in mud is socially acceptable. Let’s see, you could be a competitor in Tough Mudder, an actual pig in a sty, or a visitor at Hell’s Gate.

Hell’s Gate is a historic place of healing, featuring geothermal muds and sulphuric spas (again, hold your breath), essentially the ideal way to end a day in the rugged landscape of Rotorua.

A Day In Taupo

An unmissable day trip from Rotorua is the tranquil lake town of Taupo.

At the entrance of the town is Huka Falls, the Waikato River’s powerful waterfall which surges through a phenomenal 220,000 litres of water per second, resplendent in its unique shade of blue.

To really get among the rapids, try your paddle at white water rafting. Tongariro River Rafting offers a unique adventure on Grade 3 rapids, followed by a plunge in hot springs to wash the day off.

Also worth a look in Taupo is the Orakei Korako Geothermal Park and Cave, or the Hidden Valley, a set of silica terraces steeped into the banks of the Waikato River.

The park thrills with surreal natural colours, 23 active geysers and an ever-evolving cyanobacteria ecosystem.