Auckland, a sprawling metropolis, doesn’t boast many world-famous attractions, but it’s a great base for excellent day trips showcasing New Zealand’s breath-taking nature, vibrant dining scene and famous laidback lifestyle. Here is the list of the best day trips from Auckland, from remote beaches and stunning hiking trails to nearby islands and famous movie sets.
Day Trips From Auckland – Up To 1 Hour One Way
Although Waiheke is technically part of Auckland, it feels like it’s a world away from its busy neighbour. Just a 40-minute ferry ride from the city centre, the bohemian island is famous for its numerous wineries. With its tranquil scenery, quirky art galleries and picturesque beaches, there is also plenty to do in between wine tastings.
Thanks to the regular ferry service, getting to Waiheke is relatively easy. However, getting around the island is less straightforward. You can bring your car over, but this option is pricey and probably not the best if you’re planning on visiting the wineries and don’t have a designated sober driver. There are also taxis, but they can be quite expensive.
There is a bus network that connects the main ferry terminal with the main towns like Oneroa, Surfdale and Ostend. Some bus routes will also take you to a few popular wineries. You can use the pre-loaded AT Hop Card that you would normally use in Auckland. Just make sure you check the bus schedule beforehand as some services are not the most regular.
One way of taking the hassle out of getting around Waiheke is to join a guided tour. For example, this half-day tour of Waiheke features a visit to three vineyards, lunch and a stop at the beautiful Onetangi beach.
Another popular destination for day trips from Auckland is the Waitakere Ranges. A playground for nature lovers, this region is home to a lush forest, unique wildlife, beautiful waterfalls and incredible black sand beaches.
If you’re after a relaxing day out, head to Piha or Muriwai beach where you can enjoy a swim or even a surfing session. If you’d like to be more active, hit one of the many walking trails available in the region. From short scenic strolls to challenging hikes, there is something for every level of fitness.
Getting to the Waitakere Ranges can be a little challenging if you don’t have a car as the public transport network is limited there. Renting a car for the day will give you the most flexibility. Alternatively, there are some day tours with pick-up from central Auckland. For example, on this Waitakere Ranges Wilderness Experience tour you’ll be able to see the highlights of the region and enjoy a kiwi-style afternoon tea.
Another spot that’s technically in Auckland, but does require at least half a day for exploration, is Rangitoto Island. Just a short ferry ride away from the city, its distinctive symmetrical cone is actually the youngest and largest volcano in the Auckland volcanic field. It is perfect for hiking and scenic views over the city and Hauraki Gulf.
The most popular walking trail leading to Rangitoto’s summit will take about an hour one way. You can also explore the coast of Rangitoto or walk to the adjoining Motutapu Island. Guided walks are available in case you’d like to learn more about the history and unique nature of this beautiful day trip destination.
You can book your Rangitoto Island round trip ferry pass on the Fullers website (the official ferry service).
Although this small town may technically be within Auckland’s ever expanding boundaries, it definitely feels like it’s a world away. Just an hour’s drive north of the city centre, Matakana should be on every foodie’s list.
Matakana is famous for its Farmers’ Market. Open every Saturday between 8am–1pm, this is the place to stock up on fresh produce, artisan pastries, organic olive oil, wine and more. It is also a popular brunch spot with excellent coffee. Aside from the Farmers Market, Matakana is a great place for antique and art shopping with plenty of little galleries and quirky shops to check out.
The town is also a great starting point for exploring local vineyards. The Matakana region is famous for its wine, so you’ll be spoilt for choice if you decide to spend an afternoon wine tasting. One of my favourite vineyards in the area is Brick Bay which features an architecturally-designed restaurant and a sculpture trail.
The easiest way to reach Matakana is by car. Another option is to join a guided tour. This Horse Riding and Wine Tasting Tour offers a different way to experience the region and includes a visit to a local winery.
Day Trips From Auckland – 2 Hours and Under One Way
Another beautiful Hauraki Gulf island perfect for a day trip is Tiritiri Matangi. Just a 75 minute ferry trip away from central Auckland, it is a great spot for nature lovers and bird-watchers.
Tiritiri Matangi is one of New Zealand’s most successful conservation projects. It is a wildlife sanctuary that is home to many rare bird species, many of which can only be found in New Zealand. Aside from wildlife, you can also check out various walking trails, pristine beaches and New Zealand’s oldest operating lighthouse.
Visitors to the island can also join a guided walk with a local volunteer that starts right at the wharf. The tours will help you to learn about the island’s unique flora and fauna as well as its history. As a person with limited knowledge of birds and plants, I really appreciated the information on what I was seeing and hearing. So I highly recommend joining these, especially if you’ve visiting Tiritiri Matangi for the first time.
You can purchase the tickets to the island on the ferry operator’s website. Adult tickets are $82 (53 USD) per person. Guided tours are an additional $10 (6 USD) per person.
Hobbiton Movie Set
A visit to the Hobbiton movie set is probably on many travelers’ New Zealand bucket lists. Located on the outskirts of a sleepy town called Matamata, a two hours drive south from Auckland, Hobbiton can be easily done on a day trip.
The only way to visit the set is by joining a guided tour. The standard Hobbiton Movie Set guided tour takes about two hours and includes a walk around the set accompanied by behind-the-scenes stories. There are lots of photo opportunities to capture the memories of the visit.
There are other Hobbiton experiences that will allow you to spend more time on the set. For example, you can add on a lunch or a dinner banquet after the guided tour itself. I imagine if you’re a big fan of the Lord of the Rings universe, these options might be a great way to make your experience even more special.
To be honest, I initially had mixed feelings about this experience. I enjoyed Peter Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings movies as they still contained the spirit of Tolkien’s books. I did not enjoy the Hobbit trilogy that much though and thought it was a mess only driven by a desire to make more money. That’s why I was worried the Hobbiton would be a tacky let down.
However, it was actually a fun day out. Our guide was enthusiastic and the place felt quite lived in. It seemed like the characters were about to step out of their homes to greet the tourist crowds. I especially enjoyed a drink at the atmospheric Green Dragon Inn, which was included in the tour.
Another great day trip from Auckland for those who are after a more laid back pace of life is Raglan. This bohemian surf town is situated on the West Coast of North Island, just a two-hour drive from the city. It is famous for its black sand beaches, stunning natural landscape and vibrant art scene.
Raglan has great options for both seasoned surfers and newbies. There are Surf lessons for those who would like to try this sport out for the first time. Water based activities are not limited to surfing though. Kayaking, paddle boarding and cruises are also available and are a great way to experience Raglan’s beautiful surroundings.
If you prefer to stay on dry land, Raglan offers many hiking trails, with something for every fitness level. When you need to refuel, the town has a great selection of dining options, from café classics to excellent seafood.
Day Trips From Auckland – Under 3 Hours One Way
Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
Just a two and a half hour drive away from the city, Waitomo is a unique natural attraction that is a popular destination for day trips from Auckland. It is a network of caves featuring fascinating limestone formations, underground rivers and grottos with luminescent glow worms.
The easiest way to experience Waitomo is by joining a guided tour. There are actually three caves you can visit. The most popular option is the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. It consists of two levels. The upper level is dry so you will get to explore it by foot. On the lower level you will take a boat which will take you through the magical glow worm grotto. You can book this tour in advance on GetYourGuide.
The other cave that is open to visitors is Ruakuri Cave, the largest in the Waitomo area. Although Ruakuri doesn’t have as many glow worms as the Waitomo Glow Worm Cave, it is spectacular in its own right. To access the cave, you will descend through a stunning man-made spiral entrance. You will then walk through its network of caverns and passages, marvelling at the unique limestone formations. Ruakuri Cave tours need to be booked separately from the Waitomo Caves experiences.
The third cave you can visit is Aranui Cave. As it doesn’t have any water, there are no glow worms there. However, it features spectacular pale brown, pink and white stalactites and stalagmites that will delight those who appreciate geology. Aranui Cave tours also need to be booked separately from the other cave visits.
If you’re short on time, you can even combine visits to Hobbiton and Waitomo with this full-day trip that departs from Auckland.
Another popular destination for day trips from Auckland is the Coromandel peninsula. A two hour drive away from the city, this area is famous for its stunning beaches, lush forests and an all-round chilled vibe. It’s popular with both kiwis and international visitors.
To be honest, I’m not sure if a day trip will do the Coromandel justice. However, if you are strapped for time, there are a few spectacular spots that are close to each other and can easily be visited in just one day. If you’re not keen on a long drive, you can instead join a full day guided tour that will take you to most of these locations.
Start the day by visiting the popular Hot Water Beach located on the east coast of the peninsula. There you can enjoy an area of thermal water just underneath the sand. Please note, it is only accessible at low tide. It is a popular spot, so expect to be surrounded by a few people.
Then head to the Hahei village which is a 10-minute drive away from the Hot Water Beach. Hahei has a beautiful beach of its own, but It is also a starting point for walks and boat tours to the famous Cathedral Cove beach that was featured in the Narnia films. The nearby town of Whitianga is perfect for a lunch stop or even a relaxing session at the Lost Spring thermal spa.
You can probably include a couple of other stops on the day, but driving in the Coromandel might be challenging due to its winding country roads. For a day trip, I would focus on the quality rather than quantity of experiences.
Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway
The Coromandel is also a great destination for day hikes and Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway is one of my personal favourites. It is situated at the southern end of the peninsula, a one and a half hour’s drive from central Auckland. You can easily combine the gorge and a Coromandel beach on a day trip from Auckland.
The walkway follows the old railway line between the towns of Paeroa and Waihi. Along the way, you can spot old mining and railway relics while enjoying the beautiful natural setting. The main track is easy and will take about 4 hours (return).
For more information about the track, check out the Karangahake Gorge page of the Department of Conservation’s website.
Another great place to add to your list of possible day trips from Auckland is Rotorua, a small town that lies on the shores of a tranquil lake of the same name. A two and a half hour drive from the city, it is famous for its geothermal activity, beautiful landscapes and Māori culture.
You can experience the geothermal wonders of the area by visiting attractions such as Wai-O-Tapu or Te Puia. These geothermal parks feature otherworldly landscapes, bubbling mud pools and powerful geysers. Te Puia is also a great place to experience traditional Māori arts and crafts.
Another way to enjoy Rotorua’s geothermal waters and mud is to book yourself into one of the many spas. The most famous ones are the Polynesian Spa and Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park & Mud Spa. I’m not sure if the mud and waters truly have the health benefits the spas claim they do. Even if they don’t, an afternoon at one of these spas is a great way to unwind after all the adventuring.
If you have the option of staying there for a few days, there is more than enough to see and do in Rotorua. However, you will still be able to experience the highlights of the area on a day trip. If you don’t want to do the long drive to Rotorua yourself, there are full-day guided tours that depart from Auckland.
This Get Your Guide tour allows you to tailor your itinerary with different activities so you can see the attractions that you’re most interested in. You can actually visit Rotorua, Hobbiton and Waitomo Caves on a full-day guided tour. It’s a long day, but could be a good option if you don’t have much time on the North Island.
As you can see, Auckland is a great starting point for exploring many beautiful parts of New Zealand. My personal favourites from this list of the best day trips from Auckland are Tiritiri Matangi, Waiheke and Waitomo Caves. I visited Waitomo Glow Worm and Ruakuri Caves on the same day and, although pricey, it was a memorable experience.
Have you been to any of these destinations? What’s been your favourite? Let me know in the comment section.
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