Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, has many things going for it. It’s home to the world’s largest Polynesian population. It’s built on an active basaltic volcanic field – the only such city in the world. It’s got great museums, the southern hemisphere’s largest marina, and a fabulous aquarium.
Still, there’s a lot to appreciate outside the city limits. Great black sand beaches and rainforests are easily accessible on day trips from Auckland. You can also drift down an underground river illuminated by glow worms. Oh, the scenery outside of Auckland is pretty spectacular, too.
Map of day trips from Auckland
New Zealand produces some nice wines and what better place to sample them than the vineyard. Matakana is home to more than 30 wineries where you can taste the fruits of the vine. Matakana also is a good place to sample local produce, perhaps buying the fixings for a picnic on a nearby beach.
At the Saturday farmer’s market you can buy foods, including local cheeses and fresh baked breads, direct from the farmers, as well as pick up locally made handicrafts. You’ll also find quaint villages on your day exploring the Matakana coast.
Getting to Matakana
- Just under an hour’s drive north of Auckland, Matakana is very easy to visit by car. Simply hop on State Highway 1 and follow it to Warkworth, where you turn off and follow signs to Matakana. From here, there are a number of nice beaches worth visiting, such as Tawharanui and Snells; these are only a short drive away.
- As the area produces a lot of great wines and local foods, an excellent way to see Matakana is to take a guided tour of its wineries and chocolate factory, where you’ll get to taste some delicious samples. In addition to this, tours also take you to the impressive Brick Bay Sculpture Park and to a honey center, where you can sample honey wine. See trip reviews & prices.
8. Coromandel Peninsula
On a clear day, you can see the Coromandel Peninsula from Auckland 55 km (34 miles) away, but a day trip there will be a lot more fun. The picturesque peninsula is named after the British navy ship that stopped there in 1820 for supplies. Today, it’s one of New Zealand’s hottest travel destinations, especially if you’re an ecotourist, yachter or scuba diver.
A popular destination is Cathedral Cove (an arch through a limestone cliff looks like a cathedral), but it’s only accessible by foot or boat. You can also go offshore canoeing, walk through a rainforest or on white sand beaches.
Getting to the Coromandel Peninsula
- Jutting out into the Hauraki Gulf, Coromandel Peninsula is about a two and a half hour drive from the center of Auckland. First, head south on State Highway 1 to Pokeno, where you turn off onto the 2. After following this for a while, continue on to the 25 and follow it to Kopu. From here, you can either drive up the west coast of the peninsula or continue on past Coromandel Forest Park to the east coast and Cathedral Cove – one of the most popular places to visit on the peninsula. The scenery is beautiful wherever you go; by car, you can stop off at any of the lovely sights you come across on your drive, with Hot Water Beach being another popular spot to head to.
- To see as much in one day as possible, many people decide to take a guided tour to the peninsula. Along with visits to Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach, tours also take you on a lovely railway ride to a viewing platform, which offers up stunning panoramas of the Hauraki Gulf. See trip reviews & prices.
7. Bay of Islands
If you come to see spectacular scenery in New Zealand, the Bay of Islands won’t disappoint you. With 141 islands, it’s easy to see why Captain Cook, the bay’s first European visitor, named the islands Bay of Islands in 1769. It’s one of the most popular sailing and fishing destinations in New Zealand.
If you have time, take a boat ride out into the bay following the historical “cream” route that brought cream from the islands to town. Russell, a quick ferry ride from Pahia, is worth a side trip, if only to visit the cemetery with its quaint tombstones.
Getting to the Bay of Islands
- As it is quite a distance away, the best way to visit the Bay of Islands is by taking a guided tour; this will help you make the most of your time there. After a scenic three-hour bus journey to Paihia, you’ll visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, see a Maori war canoe and a beautiful meeting house, before exploring the charming town of Russell. With a professional guide on hand, you’ll learn a lot about the fascinating Maori history and culture, as well as how New Zealand was founded. See trip reviews & prices.
With its 50 km (30 miles) of unbroken beach, this black sand beach is one of the most popular beaches near Auckland, extending up to the Tasman Sea coast. Surfing is the most popular activity here, but you can also go hang gliding, fishing, “bush hiking” on a boardwalk or paragliding.
Because the sand is so firm, you can also drive on the beach. You’ll also not want to miss the gannet colony on the steep cliffs at the southern end of the beach.
Getting to Muriwai
- Located on the west coast of North Island, Muriwai is a 45-minute drive from the center of Auckland; in no time at all, you’ll find yourself overlooking the glorious coastline that borders the Tasman Sea. Simply head west on State Highway 16 and turn off at Waimaku, where you’ll see signs pointing you to Muriwai. On the drive back to Auckland, you could stop off at one of the area’s fantastic vineyards to sample some local produce.
- Many people who visit Muriwai opt to take a guided tour. These enable you to taste and learn about some of the surrounding area’s delicious wines, while also visiting the landscapes’ many impressive viewpoints. Walking along Black Sand Beach is just one of the many highlights that the tour offers. See trip reviews & prices.
5. Waitakere Ranges
Waitakere Ranges is a good place to savor the outdoors while breathing in some fresh Kiwi air. Administered by the Auckland Council, this regional park has much to tempt the recreationalist in you. There are plenty of rainforest walking and hiking trails, including the Hillary Trail for the more adventuresome.
Some walks, like Kitekite Track, are suitable for the whole family. You can also swim in a pond underneath one of the park’s pretty waterfalls, go fishing, or tramp along the black sand beaches. The waves are good for surfing.
Getting to the Waitakere Ranges
- Lying to the southwest of Auckland, the beautiful Waitakere Ranges are just a half hour drive from the city. From the center of town, head west on State Highway 16 before turning off onto Ash St and following it as it turns into Titirangi Road. After a while, this turns into the aptly named Scenic Drive, which will take you all the way to the Arataki Visitor Centre – the gateway to the park. After exploring the spectacular Waitakere Ranges, you could drive 20 minutes further on to Karekare Beach – one of the most beautiful beaches in the region.
- To gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the area’s diverse fauna and flora and incredible landscapes, many visitors take an eco-tour with a professional guide. As well as exploring the wonders of Waitakere Ranges, tours also take you to the majestic Black Sand Beach. See trip reviews & prices.
4. Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island, the second largest and most populated island in the Gulf of New Zealand, has been getting a lot of media attention in recent years. In 2016, Lonely Planet named it the world’s fifth best travel destination while Conde Nast named it the world’s fourth best island to visit.
Accessible by ferry from Auckland, Waiheke Island has several nice beaches, including Oneroa and Cactus. Should you tire of beach activities, you might want to visit Stony Batter, World War II fortifications or an outdoor sculpture display known as Heartland: Sculpture on the Gulf.
Getting to Waiheke Islamd
- From the Downtown Ferry Terminal in Auckland, there are a number of ferries that you can catch to Waiheke Island; the journey should only take around 40 minutes. It is a very scenic ride through the Tamaki Strait, and once you arrive on the island, you can take a bus or taxi.
- If you want to sample Waiheke’s culinary delights, you may want to take a food and wine tour to the island. Alongside the fantastic wine and oil tastings and lunch that take place at various picturesque estates and vineyards, a bus pass is also included, so you can explore the rest of the island’s delights at your own leisure. See trip reviews & prices.
3. Waitomo Caves
Drifting down an underground river through limestone caves is an adventure not to be missed, especially if it’s the Waitomo Caves. This is how most tourists will visit the caves. Don’t like black water rafting? You can also walk through parts of the cave system; extreme sports enthusiasts can cave crawl through more difficult caves.
What makes Waitomo Caves so special is the lighting system: gazillions of glow worms. You’ll also see stalactites and stalagmites, but it’s the glow worms that will grab your attention.
Getting to the Waitomo Caves
- Lying almost 200 kilometers to the south of Auckland, the amazing Waitomo Caves are very easy to get to by public transport. Buses departing from Auckland Central take just under three hours to get to the caves. The bus passes through some lovely countryside, and on the way, you’ll learn a lot about the history and culture of New Zealand thanks to the informative commentary.
- It is just as easy to reach the caves by car; all you need to do is drive in a straight line south. Head out of the city on State Highway 1 and keep going until you reach Taupiri, where you then continue on the 39. Just after Otorohanga, you should see signs pointing you to the spectacular glowworm caves. All in all, this should take around two and a half hours. The nearby Marokopa Falls and Mangapohue Natural Bridge are well worth visiting when you’re in the area.
- Yet another option to visit Waitomo Caves is to take a guided tour. With stops at a working farm and a local arts and crafts institute included, alongside a visit to the geysers and hot springs of Rotorua, it is a great way to see as much of this beautiful part of New Zealand as is possible in one day. See trip reviews & prices.
Drive three hours southeast of Auckland, and you’ll approach Rotorua. Settled by Maoris in the 14th century, Rotorua is a major tourist draw in North Island. It’s best known for its Maori culture and geothermal activity, including geysers and hot mud pools, since it’s on a caldera. (Some of the hot springs smell pretty bad because of high sulfur content.)
It gets its name from nearby Lake Rotorua, one of 17 lakes in the region. Rotorua has been a tourist spa since the 1800s because of the curative powers of its natural hot springs. Government Gardens is also worth a visit.
Getting to Rotorua
- Although Rotorua is a three-hour drive away, the journey will pass by in no time at all as you marvel at all the amazing landscapes you pass on the way. To get there, head south out of Queensland on State Highway 1 before turning off onto the 2. When this merges into the 27, simply keep going straight and follow it until Matamata, where you turn off onto the 28. The final stretch of the journey is completed on State Highway 5; this takes you straight to the awe-inspiring Rotorua.
- A great way to see both Rotorua and the glittering glowworms of Waitomo Caves in just one day is to take a guided tour; these often combine the two together. In addition to this, guests also get to visit a working farm and a Maori Arts and Crafts Institute to learn more about life in the country. See trip reviews & prices.
1. Hobbiton Movie Set
If you’re a fan of J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit, you’ll definitely want to take a day trip from Auckland to the Home of Middle-earth at Hobbiton Movie Set. More than 150 locations in New Zealand were used to film the two movie series, but a significant number were filmed at Hobbiton Movie Set on a family farm near Hamilton.
Movie officials picked this site because it reminded them of ancient England. The set is available through guided tours, which must be booked in advance. You’ll visit sets such as hobbit holes and Bagshot Row.
Getting to the Hobbiton Movie Set
- Just over two hours away by car, the Hobbiton Movie Set is very simple to drive to. On the way, you’ll pass through some lovely scenery. To start off, head south out of Auckland on State Highway 1. Just before Pokeno, turn off onto the 2. After a while, this turns into State Highway 27, then you merely have to follow this all the way south until you see signs directing you to the Hobbiton Movie Set just past Matamata. Make sure you book a tour beforehand, as only visitors on a guided tour are allowed to visit.
- As you have to take a tour to visit Hobbiton, many people opt to take a combi tour and combine it with a trip to the Waitomo Caves to see the glittering glowworms. With a professional guide on hand, you’ll learn about the countryside you travel through as well as the history and culture of New Zealand. See trip reviews & prices.