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Let’s be clear – Auckland is simply stunning and New Zealand’s ‘City of Sails’ has plenty going for it. From the nearby beaches along Tamaki Drive, through to some of the world’s best dining hotspots, there is always something to do there. There are many fun things to do in Auckland so we aren’t suggesting you leave the city straight away, but here are some day trips from Auckland that you might want to consider next time you are there.
We lived in Auckland for nearly two years, so as with all our recommendations, we have visited them all so you can definitely take our word for it. The following are in no particular order:
Top 10 day trips from Auckland
Drive time: 2 hours one way from Auckland City
One of the biggest drivers of tourist traffic to New Zealand in recent years has been the Lord of the Rings series of movies (and later the Hobbit Trilogy), directed by Peter Jackson and originally written by J R R Tolkien.
Part of the original movie set has now been preserved and is now open to the public – our Hobbiton tour guide told us that this part of the North Island (near Matamata) became ‘The Shire’ purely by chance, after Peter Jackson noticed the unusual contours of the land after flying over the area in a recce helicopter.
As well as walking around the set (fact – even the tree leaves are made of plastic), you can have a pint of specially brewed Oatbarton Brew at the Dragon Inn afterwards or Frogmorten Ginger Beer. On the day we visited, there was also a wedding party decked out all in the full Hobbiton / LOTR regalia, on a private tour with all their wedding guests. Nice – hopefully the groom remembered to bring The Ring (“precious!”).
Drive time: 1 hour one way from Auckland City
The foodie paradise of Matakana is just a short drive north of Auckland on State Highway 1. We suggest you head here on a Saturday morning to time your trip with the famed Matakana Village Farmers Market. We visited several times as the food is so good and the riverside setting is idyllic, also the oysters and champagne here are too delicious to miss (NZ oysters are huge!)
Matakana also has several hillside wineries to visit, where you can sample some of the wines fresh from the source – if you can stretch your budget a little further, many offer a several course dining experience paired with wines. We did this once at Plume Winery as a birthday treat and were not disappointed. The eponymous Matakana Village Pub also does a mighty fine burger.
Goat Island Reserve nearby is another option worthy of your time – the beach is great for photographs and long walks, plus there is a glass bottomed boat tour that allows you to get up close to the marine reserve sea creatures.
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Drive time: 2 hours 30 minutes one way from Auckland City
Do glowworm caves and black-water rafting sound like your type of activity? As New Zealand is known for its extreme sport activities, you may well be looking for a slightly more mundane mini adrenaline rush (we’ve still yet to do a bungee!).
Waitomo’s natural geography and cave systems have been utilised to create a unique underground adventure – thousands of glow-worms light up the Glowworm Caves, whilst the huge Ruakuri Cave host limestone formations (stalactites and stalagmites) and underground rivers.
Although not cheap, this is one of the most famous caving attractions in New Zealand’s North Island (even Katy Perry succumbed during one of her New Zealand tours) and ‘lit by glowworms’ dimension gives it an extra gives it an extra degree of backpacker bragging rights. If you fancy a more sedate experience, then you can also book a gentle boat ride through the caves to view the glowworms.
Ferry time: 40 minutes one way from Auckland City
A little oasis of calm, Waiheke Island is a bohemian bliss and only a short ferry ride away which makes it the perfect day trip from Auckland.
In short – we LOVE Waiheke Island and we visited oodles of times when we lived in Auckland. Whether it be the boutique wineries, beautiful sandy beaches or the charming coastal walks, we always found something to do when visiting (mainly the wineries to be honest!).
If you are not planning on spending the night on Waiheke Island, we would recommend heading there on an early ferry, purchasing an all day bus pass from the Matiatia Ferry terminal (where you arrive) and and indulging in a hearty breakfast in Oneroa. There are several cafes with alfresco dining areas looking over Oneroa Beach.
Then get back on the bus and head to the various wineries around the island – our favourites include Cable Bay, Mudbrick and Wild on Waiheke (who also brew their own beer). Then back into Oneroa for some oysters at Oyster Inn (or burgers / pizzas on the beach from Too Fat Buns / Dragonfired Pizza respectively), before taking the ferry back at sunset to Auckland City – you are most welcome!
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Ferry time: 25 minutes one way from Auckland City
Did you know Auckland is home to over 50 volcanic cones in its outlying waters? The most famous of these is Rangitoto, which is still classed as ‘dormant’. School children in Auckland to this day still receive regular training in what to do in the event of an earthquake.
Formed by an eruption almost 500 years ago, Rangitoto means ‘Bloody Sky’ in Māori and is administered and managed by the NZ Department of Conservation, meaning there are strict instructions about how to conduct yourself on the island, including ensuring bringing no other animals / pests onto the island and taking away your own rubbish – toilet facilities are also limited.
The highlight is walking to the summit of Rangitoto (a fairly easy hike – approx 1 hour one way) where you can then see unadulterated 360 degree views of the Hauraki Gulf, downtown Auckland and all the surrounding islands like Mototapu and Great Barrier.
If you are based in downtown accommodation, Rangitoto Island is an easy day trip from Auckland and can be reached by catching one of the Fuller’s Ferry that visits there several times a day.
Drive time: 40 minutes one way from Auckland City
‘Go West! It is peaceful there’. We don’t know whether the Pet Shop Boys ever did visit the Waitakeres in West Auckland but the song lyric perfectly describes a visit to this peaceful outpost, that delivers sea, sand, surf and nature in abundance.
The area comprises of 16,000 hectares (!) of native rainforest, coastline and national treasures like Piha Beach and the Karekare Falls. We’d recommend you head there for at least a day and do a walk through part of the Waitakere Ranges (a good place to start or pick up further information is the Arataki Visitor Centre).
When arriving at the Waitakere region beaches – try to time your visit to be on the headland above Piha Beach at sunset, to get some incredible pictures looking down over Lion Rock (an Auckland icon and one of the best surf beaches in the whole of New Zealand). Bethells Beach is another must-see favourite (black sand as far as the eye can see and lots of vantage points).
The Waitakeres are not accessible via public transport so if you do not have a car you can book a Waitakere Ranges Wilderness Experience Tour from Auckland.
Ferry time: 35 minutes one way from Auckland City
A little further on from Waiheke Island and also reached by Fullers ferries from downtown Auckland, Motutapu is a much less visited Hauraki Gulf island (and in our opinion, a much better way to escape the city and other tourists that usually just want to visit Rangitoto).
Over the centuries, Motutapu island has played home to Maori settlements, Victorian picnic parties and a World War II military base (the remnants of which can still be seen today). Now, the conservation island is perfect for spotting native wildlife and exploring the network of walking tracks. It is also home to one of the most unspoilt and beautiful beaches we ever encountered in Auckland – Sandy Bay beach: we had the whole place to ourselves!
A small word of warning – due to its remote nature, we wouldn’t recommend a visit to Motutapu Island if you have any health issues or aren’t too steady on your feet – on our last visit, a fellow hiker managed to lose their footing (there are lots of holes around the old military installations) and sprained their ankle so badly that they had to call an air ambulance to get off the island, as it was too far and hilly to get back to the ferry jetty.
Drive time: 35 minutes one way from Auckland City
Mention Puhoi to most Kiwis and the first thing they’ll likely think of is ‘cheese’, as it is a famous dairy brand in New Zealand supermarkets, produced near to this small backwater town.
Very small but perfectly formed, Puhoi (the name is Maori for ‘slow water’) has several mini attractions including a cute church library, rustic general stores and a local watering hole – due to its small size, it won’t take more than 30 mins or so to explore so we’d recommend coupling this with another nearby town on the same day trip (e.g. on the way to Matakana).
Random fact – several movies and TV commercials have been filmed here, included the late 90s TV series Steven King’s ‘The Tommyknockers’, where it stood in for small town America.
Drive time: 1 hour 40 minutes one way from Auckland City
Hamilton (or The ‘Tron’ as it is affectionately known) is often overlooked on the New Zealand tourist map, but it has several attractions worthy of your time – particularly Hamilton Gardens, the Rocky Horror Show Riff Raff Statue and the Mighty Waikato River. Plus Hamilton had some of the best selection of bars and restaurants you’ll find in the North Island, outside of Auckland.
Drive time: 3 hours one way from Auckland City
Follow your nose to find Rotorua. Renowned for its geothermal activity, the downside to this is that the city has a lingering smell of sulphur / rotten eggs currently wafting through it but the upside is that it is home to some of the best thermal spas in the whole of New Zealand, as well as several geothermal parks.
One of our highlights was looking out over Rotorua Lake whilst soaking in the hot pools at the famous Polynesian Spa – we also took tea on the lawn at the Rotorua Museum (how very English).
We’ve visited Wai O Tapu and Hell’s Gate on previous visits and the former is better for the nature side whilst Hell’s Gate has a better spa offering. If you don’t want to pay admission to see thermal pools and geysers, there is a smaller free to visit geothermal park smack bang in the centre of downtown Rotorua.
Although this can easily be done as a day trip from Auckland, we would recommend staying here for at least a night so you can indulge in some spa activity and explore some of the thermal parks a little further out of town (hot stuff!). If you do not have a car then you can book an Auckland to Rotorua Small Group Tour.
The Coromandel Peninsula
We also considered including the Coromandel in this day trips from Auckland list but to be honest, it is worthy of more than just a short visit. The Coromandel is a favourite city escape for most Aucklanders, many of whom have holiday homes (baches) there, especially near Cathedral Cove and Hahei / Hot Water Beach.
Did we miss anything? Want any advice about particular day trips from Auckland? Or just discuss WTF pineapple lumps are? Then please do contact us via the comments section.
Day trips from Auckland – car hire
Public transport to many of the above places such as Matakana and the Waitakeres are pretty much non existent – so car hire is definitely the best option!
There are several car rental places at Auckland Airport and in downtown Auckland to suit all budgets. During the 2 years we lived in Auckland we rented our cars from JUCY rentals and from Apex rentals, and never had any problems with them. Alternatively use rentalcars.com to compare different prices from all the rental car companies.
If you are visiting during high season (November to March) then make sure you book your car hire online well in advance to secure the best prices.
Here are some recommendations for highly rated accommodation in central Auckland:
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Blog post by Neil Hassall, photography by Neil Hassall and Caroline Keyzor and is copyrighted. Please do not use without permission.