Though not the capital, Auckland is New Zealand’s most populated city. It spans a land area twice the size of London and acts as the first port of call for most international tourists. Getting around the country by rental car, bus or boat is pretty easy, making the following 10 Auckland day trips a pleasurable experience from start to finish.
TOP 10 AUCKLAND DAY TRIPS
1. WAIHEKE ISLAND
Waiheke Island is most famous for its wineries. Visitors head over on one of the regular Fullers and Sealink ferries from central Auckland. The journey takes less than an hour. On arrival, it’s worth hiking for a few hours along the path that leads to Church Bay. The coastal scenery is stunning and you’ll feel like you’ve really earned a wine tasting session by the time you head inland. Alternatively, there are plenty of organised tours, taxis, buses and rentals, in addition to scenic flights if you really want to push the boat out. Mudbrick and Cable Bay are two top choices of winery. The latter has a huge open area of grass where you can lounge on bean bags overlooking the bay. Work up an appetite and you’ll really enjoy the takeaway fish and chips in Oneroa.
2. PUKEMATEKEO LOOKOUT
On the road between Auckland and the west coast lie the Waitakere Ranges. With a network of hillside tracks covering 250 km, this area is especially popular with hikers and bird watchers. Don’t miss the Arataki visitor centre and lookout point. This is the gateway to the national park. It’s pretty much obligatory to have your photo taken inside the huge picture frame, and a wander around the free museum will give you some insight into the local flora and fauna.
3. PIHA BEACH
Piha is a popular surf beach about an hour’s drive west of Auckland on the other side of the Waitakere Ranges. It’s a beautiful place, but don’t be fooled. There are some nasty rips and currents. In fact, Kiwi TV has it’s own reality show ‘Piha Rescue’. Most visitors pair an afternoon on Piha beach with a short morning walk through the forest to Kitekite waterfall. For the more adventurous, there’s also the chance to try canyoning in Piha. AWOL offer full- and half-day excursions incorporating narrow canyon abseiling, pool jumps, caves and rock pools.
4. MURIWAI BEACH GANNET COLONY
A little north of Piha lies another surf beach – Muriwai. Longer and wider than Piha, it’s common to see kite- and windsurfers there too. A free carpark caters to the many sports enthusiasts, while day trippers can leave their vehicle and head up to the cliffs on a purpose-built boardwalk. This leads to a colony of around 2000 gannets, which in January can be seen to be rearing fluffy white chicks. The weathered rock formations along this coastline are an impressive sight too.
The rather expensive price tag of Hobbiton seems to do nothing to deter visitors. Tours of this 12-acre Matamata farm and film set run every 30 minutes from 8:30 am. In addition to visiting some of the Hobbit holes, you’ll learn tricks of the trade and interesting facts about the Peter Jackson franchise, as well as enjoying a specially brewed beverage at the Green Dragon Inn.
6. WAITOMO CAVES
The Waitomo Caves are often listed as one of the world’s most impressive natural sights and this is thanks to one inhabitant in particular – the glowworm. People travel far and wide to venture underground and to witness these tiny larvae twinkling like stars overhead. While it’s common practice to take a guided walk and boat ride, it’s far more exciting to join one of the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Company’s adventures. They’ve transformed these tunnels into an assault course of abseils, zip lines, rope bridges, swings, slides and rapids, and their guides are trained to deliver comedy moments and special surprises.
Taupo’s volcanic mountains, forests and Great Lake make it a mecca for adrenaline seekers. It’s a good base for the world-famous Tongariro Crossing, a summit of Ngauruhoe (known to some as Mount Doom) and a whole host of adventure sports including sky diving, bungy jumping, snow sports, mountain biking and jet boating. The latter can be combined with a visit to the beautiful Huka Falls. For a slower pace, you could also try sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding, golf or a trip to some thermal baths. While it’s possible to visit Taupo in one day from Auckland, it is over three hours’ drive away, so some might prefer to add it to a loop itinerary instead.
8. ROTORUA THERMALS
Thermals are a key attraction in nearby Rotorua. In addition to the kind you bathe in, you can choose between two national parks – Wai-O-Tapu or Waimangu – where bubbling mud, huge geysers, sulphurous gases, iridescent mineral deposits and scenic walks are the order of the day. Many tour companies combine the two or visit one or the other in addition to Hobbiton. This is also a great place to book a white water rafting or sledging experience.
9. RIVERHEAD TAVERN
The Riverhead Tavern is the oldest riverside tavern in New Zealand and a popular spot for weekend afternoon drinks in the sun. It has four separate restaurants and plenty of outdoor seating so you can choose a menu to suit you best. If you’re a fan of craft beers, you might also enjoy a trip to the nearby Hallertau brewery. To avoid the designated driver debate, why not catch a return ferry all the way from downtown Auckland with the Riverhead Cruiser? You’ll pass under the Harbour Bridge, and beside the Chelsea Sugar Refinery, Kauri Point, and Hearald Island, before mooring in the Upper Harbour Estuary just below the pub.
10. BETHELLS BEACH GIANT DUNES
For a fun-packed day out from Auckland, pop along to your local Warehouse store, pick up a bodyboard and head on over to Bethells Beach. On the west coast between Piha and Muriwai, this coastal attraction still hasn’t really made it onto the tourist map, but locals flock there on sunny days. Behind the beach are some super huge sand dunes and they’re perfect for adventure. Some of the slopes lead directly into a picturesque lake. To get there, you need to paddle along a sandy-bottomed stream, which is a delight in itself. Then, it’s up to you if you prefer to sunbathe, picnic, sand board, toboggan, jump into the lake from the treetops or line your boards up and see how far you can run over them on the water. Boards with a smooth bottom work far better so avoid scrimping.
Of course, one of the best Auckland day trips – and certainly the easiest to arrange – is a stay in the city. There’s plenty to see and do, including a SkyJump or SkyWalk, the Auckland Harbour Bridge Bungy, Auckland Zoo, Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium, America’s Cup Sailing, the Domain, Auckland Art Gallery, shopping on Queen’s Street or dining by the water’s edge in the Wynyard Quarter. The North Shore has some wonderful beaches, such as Takapuna, where you can often rent a paddle board. Waters here tend to be much calmer than on the west coast so you can enjoy a swim as well.
Beach Road, on the way out to Parnell from the CBD is the best place in which to search for a rental car. You can literally go door to door until you find the best deal. Auckland Airport has a decent selection too, but you’ll probably end up paying for the convenience. Getting from the airport to the CBD is easy with the 24-hour SkyBus service. Other options are to book day trips or to find an activity you fancy doing and see if it includes transport. InterCity Buses do multi-journey passes, sightseeing trips and activities. To search for a specific journey or click through to their website, use the tool below.