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Head out on one of these day trips from Auckland
Welcome to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. This modern metropolis is a haven for nature-lovers, surrounded by volcanic cones, rainforests, vineyards and a coastline fringed with black-and-white-sand beaches. Discover Auckland’s Polynesian roots, lively harbour and use the city as a base to explore the North Island’s treasures. Here are some of the top day trips from Auckland, from volcanic islands and beaches to gorges and Hobbit villages.
What's in this day trip guide?
All of these destinations can be visited on a day trip from Auckland, or you can use them as stop-overs on a self-drive trip heading north. It’s just three hours to Paihia, the jumping-off point for the pristine Bay of Islands, which you can see on an overnight boat trip. Learn more by checking out our Winterless North Luxury Self-Drive itinerary.
Drive two hours north of Auckland to the Northland’s capital, Whangarei. Stroll around the town basin, which has a charming marina and streets lined with shops and cafes. The trip is well worth it for a visit to nearby 26-metre-high Whangarei Falls, which you can reach via a 30-minute loop trail through wildflower fields and bushland. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, check out Mt Parihaka, which has a 241-metre-high summit.
You don’t have to go far to reach historic Devonport, it’s just a 15-minute ferry ride from Auckland’s central business district. Wander perfectly-preserved streets lined with wooden, colonial houses from the 1800s and 1900s. Devonport is also home to the Royal New Zealand Navy and has a museum where you can learn all about the country’s naval history. At North Head, a prime defence position perched on top of a volcanic mountain, you can see old cannons and underground tunnels used in WWII. Head over to Mount Victoria for supreme sunset views of Auckland.
Wenderholm Regional Park
Wenderholm is the first and one of the most beautiful regional parks in the Auckland area. Nestled between the Waiwera and Puhoi Rivers, the headland is covered in native forest and pretty pohutukawa trees. There’s a quiet, sandy beach, as well as Couldrey House and Gardens, which dates back to 1857. From the house, you can take scenic walks for views of the Puhoi river valley and islands in the Hauraki Gulf, try the 90-minute Maungatauhoro Te Hikoi loop. Wenderholm is also great for kayakers and campers and lies just a 35-minute drive up the east coast from Auckland.
Visit New Zealand’s first marine reserve, Cape Rodney-Okakari Point, locally known as Goat Island. Located an hour from Auckland, the area was designated a reserve in 1975 due to severe overfishing. Today, the sea has recovered and is home to a diverse variety of marine life. Snorkel or dive to spot all kinds of fish in colourful reefs. Back on land, there are two coastal walkways that will take you from Goat Island Bay through rich forest with staggering sea views.
Kai Iwi Lakes
The Kai Iwi Lakes are a two-hour-45-minute drive from Auckland, making for a longer day trip. The journey is worth it though for the spectacular trio of freshwater dune lakes, created over 1.8 million years ago. Each one is fringed with white sand and surrounded by fragrant pine forest teeming with hiking trails. The topaz lakes are ideal for swimming in the calm shallows, as well as kayaking, fishing and paddle boarding.
Drive an hour and 20 minutes up the east coast from Auckland to this lesser-visited gem. You’ll find quiet beaches boasting huge waves for surfers, as well as windswept clifftop walks with views over the sea all the way to Coromandel. Walk through large sand dunes and enjoy a gentle swim in the estuary if you don’t want to take on the waves. Mangawhai itself is a cute town with art shops, restaurants and a Saturday morning market brimming with artisan produce.
The stunning Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, formed by the Auckland volcanic fault, lies around half an hour west of Auckland. Come for the wild, rugged scenery, including 16,000 hectares of rainforest with Giant Kauri trees hugging the coastline. Stop in at the Arataki Visitor Centre to lean about the area and then pick one of the walking trails through native bushland for the best views. The Fairy Falls Trail is a favourite, looping through the forest with views over black-sand beaches to a crashing waterfall.
Tour the west coast volcanic beaches
You can find some of New Zealand’s most dramatic beaches just 30 minutes to an hour west of Auckland. Discover black sands, choppy seas popular with surfers and unspoiled coastline carpeted with wildlife-filled forests. Here are some of the best west coast beaches:
- Piha – this black-sand beach is a top spot for surfers, bordered by jagged cliffs and home to the famous Piha Surf Club. The relaxed seaside village boasts forest walks in the surrounding hills to thunderous waterfalls. Check out Lions Head for panoramic views
- Bethells – also known as Te Henga, Bethells is a small town with a peaceful beach offering superb surf. The clifftop walk from Bethells gives fantastic views of the west coast and stretches to Muriwai beach
- Muriwai – another black-sand surf beach with a coastline that stretches for 60 kilometres. One of the highlights is a walk that takes you to a gannet colony, complete with viewing platforms to watch the birds
- KareKare – part of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, this wide black-sand beach is backed by towering cliffs and lapped by turquoise waters. Walk the easy Taraire Trail to see the 30-metre-high KareKare falls
- Whatipu – this isolated beach features massive sand dunes and the Great Cave, which is so big it once held ballroom dances
While the following southern sites make good day trips from Auckland, they’re also perfect stopping-off points if you’re heading down to Wellington and the South Island. Get some route suggestions from our North Island Highlights With Scenic Train Journey, Grand New Zealand Self-Drive and North to South Explorer Self-Drive itineraries.
Raglan is New Zealand’s surfing capital, situated two hours south of Auckland. Bordered by beaches and the Tasman Sea on one side and countryside on the other, the town is known for its independent vibe. Peruse the cafes, shops and second-hand bookstores.
Manu Bay, also known as The Point, is the main surfing spot in Raglan, with a world-renowned left-hand break. Beginners can take surfing lessons at Ocean Beach, while Ngarunui Beach has striking black sands. Don’t miss nearby Bridal Veil Falls, an impressive forested waterfall that crashes from 55 metres.
Hunua Ranges Regional Park is the biggest forest in the Auckland area, covering 400 square kilometres of land. Set just 45 minutes from Auckland, you can experience hiking tracks through thick forest filled with flora and fauna, as well as Kiwi wildlife. Head to Hunua Falls via the Upper Lookout Walk along the Wairoa River for a picnic, or cycle along one of the bike trails. The Wairoa Reservoir is another popular site for visitors, as well as the daring Suspension Bridge Loop.
Matamata is a must for Lord of the Rings fans. Visit the iconic Hobbiton movie set, home of The Shire, located two hours south of Auckland. Take an official tour of the set or explore independently, taking in sights such as the Green Dragon Inn, party tree and hobbit holes in Bag End. Visit the homes of Bilbo and Frodo and if you’re really keen, sign up for an evening tour with authentic hobbit feast.
Uncover gold mining history at the Karangahake Gorge, located two hours’ drive from Auckland. The magnificent Ohinemuri River runs through the bottom of this steep gorge, which is steeped in bushland, waterfalls and history. Tackle the Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway to see the site of the most lucrative gold strike in New Zealand and spot mining machinery as you walk along the old railway line. Bring a torch to venture into the Windows Walkway, which features original tunnels with windows blasted into the sides.
This purpose-built city lies on the Waikato River, an hour and a half from Auckland, and makes a relaxing day trip. Visit the Hamilton Gardens, a 58-hectare paradise that has five collections from different civilisations, including Maori, Japanese, Renaissance and Fantasy gardens. Take a riverside walk in town, meander along the cycle paths or take a riverboat cruise. Hamilton is also known for its zoo, trendy restaurants and bars and the fascinating Waikato Museum.
Mount Maunganui is a top holiday spot, a town set on a peninsula in the Bay of Plenty, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. Its main beach is regularly listed as one of the best in the world, with soft, pale sand. The town is shadowed by mighty Mauao, which towers 323 metres above sea level and is a sacred site for Maori people. Walking the track to the summit will reward you with incredible views across the harbour to Tauranga. For some relaxation afterwards, soak in the healing waters of the Hot Salt Water Pools. Mount Maunganui is a three-hour drive from Auckland.
Catch a 40-minute car and passenger ferry to paradisical Waiheke Island, home to wineries and top-notch restaurants. Positioned on the Hauraki Gulf, this lush island has 100 kilometres of walking trails that showcase its natural beauty. After a walk, head to one of the 30 wineries on Waiheke, including famous Cable Bay and Man O’ War for tasting sessions. Waiheke Island also offers clean, white-sand beaches like Oneroa and Palm Beach and an exciting eco-zipline. Sample Pacific Rim cuisine in a high-class restaurant, peruse art galleries and craft boutiques and soak up the chilled atmosphere.
The Auckland region is home to 48 volcanic cones, including Rangitoto. The now-dormant volcano rose from the sea 6,000 years ago, formed by a number of eruptions, and is home to the world’s largest pohutukawa forest. Take a 25-minute ferry from downtown Auckland and walk the summit trail, a two-hour roundtrip. Stop to see black lava caves on the way up, then marvel at the views over Auckland to the Waitakere Ranges and the Hauraki Gulf. If you don’t want to walk, you can take a four-wheel-drive trip instead.
Great Barrier Island
This far-flung island in the Hauraki Gulf is a two-and-a-half-hour express boat trip from Auckland. The Island features 100 kilometres of walking trails through forests dotted with natural hot springs and unusual flora and wildlife, including native birds. Great Barrier Island is part of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park and one of its crowing glories is Hirakimata (Mount Hobson), which has a 627-metre peak.
Stopover suggestions heading south from Auckland to Wellington
If you’re heading south from Auckland to Wellington, here are a few essential North Island destinations to stop off at for a few days along the way.
- Rotorua – visit New Zealand’s remarkable geothermal landscapes at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, including green and orange sulphur pools, bubbling mud baths and Lady Knox Geyser. You can also soak in thermal springs at the Polynesian Spa in town. Rotorua lies nearly three hours from Auckland in the Bay of Plenty
- Lake Taupo – is the largest lake in Australasia at 616 square kilometres and a serene place for a stop-over. Dine with lake views, go hiking or biking, visit geothermal attractions or shop in the quaint town
- Tongariro National Park – imposing Mount Ngauruhoe, which featured as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings, is one of the park’s top attractions. If you’re up for a challenge, try the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This day trek takes you up Tongariro, an active volcano, for views of Ngauruhoe and the sparkling emerald lakes
- Waitomo Glowworm Caves – float in a boat through these astounding caves, formed over 30 million years ago, which are lit by thousands of glowworms. You can even try some black water rafting through the caves
Looking for more New Zealand holiday ideas? Take a look at our popular tours and self-drive trips.