Best day trips from Auckland

The Best Day Trips from Auckland

There are many great day trips from Auckland, all offering a lot of variety for those of us who work in the city and are in need of a break. From coastal day trips to countryside hikes and unique attractions, Auckland has a lot of amazing sights just a stone’s throw away.

I have split this post into 3 simple categories:

  • Day trips within 1 hour of Auckland
  • Day trips within 2 hours of Auckland
  • Day trips within 3 hours of Auckland

I still live in Auckland, New Zealand, so I will be adding to this list of day trips throughout the next few months. You can also find out what I’m up to on instagram.

DAY TRIPS WITHIN 1 HOUR OF AUCKLAND:

DUDER REGIONAL PARK

Countryside-lovers will adore the walk around Duder Regional Park, only a 50-minute drive from Auckland. You can choose the coastal walk, the 2.5 hour Farm Loop Walk, or one of the several others. Take a detour to the deserted beaches here to relax too. I meant to choose the Farm Loop walk, but completed my hike in an hour, so I’m guessing I went the wrong way? Either way, it was wonderful. The scenery here is unbeatable on a sunny day. I enjoyed seeing all the sheep too haha.

Could also go further South to Waitawa Regional Park, which has even more walks to choose from and stunning ocean views. and the black-sand Kawakawa Beach. You can also combine a Duder Regional Park day trip with Hunua Ranges below, since they are both close to each other.

HUNUA RANGES

Hunua Ranges Regional Park makes for an easy day trip from Auckland since it’s just a 50-minute drive from the city. The ‘must-see’ is Hunua Falls, which is only a 2-minute walk from the carpark. Although, you can also do the longer 20-minute Falls Track to the top platform for a great view of the Falls as well. This walk follows along the Wairoa River under the cover of forest as you approach the viewpoint. 

The Cossey-Massey hike is one of the best known trails in the Hunua Ranges, winding 8.0km through the native forest from Cosseys Gorge to Masseys Road. This loop walk also starts from the Hunua Falls car park, and begins with an uphill climb but eventually evens out. Though the first hour feels deep within the forest, eventually you’ll reach the view over the Cossey Dam about an hour in. You’ll also see the Cosseys Reservoir, the Wairoa stream, though this hike has less open views than some of the alternative day trips. 

An alternative is the Wairoa Dam Lookout Loop – both these hikes take just under three hours to complete. The Suspension Bridge Loop Walk is a good 90-minute alternative.

RANGITOTO ISLAND

At a dainty 600-years of age, Rangitoto is the youngest volcano out of Auckland’s 47 volcanic centres. However, it’s also the largest – Rangitoto’s low cone shape is the backdrop to many views from Auckland, so it’s great when you finally visit the island for yourself.

Take the 25-minute ferry from Britomart – and make sure you arrive early since there are only three or four ferries a day so you won’t want to miss the boat! This especially goes for your departure from Rangitoto, since there are no facilities on the island and you don’t want to get stuck there. Take your own lunch, snacks, water and sunscreen too.

Once you’ve arrived at the island, you can choose from one of the many hiking trails, with the Summit Track being the most popular. After looking over the volcanic crater, you have amazing views over Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf from the Summit Lookout. 

It’s definitely worth taking a detour to the Lava Caves – which you can read more about here in my Rangitoto Day trip post. I also go into more detail about the Beacon Lighthouse, Historic Baches, and alternative trails which I enjoyed on my own visit to Rangitoto. 

PIHA

Piha is perhaps the most famous day trip within the Auckland region itself, and even tourists who generally don’t spend long in Auckland on their road trips have often taken an excursion to Piha’s black sand beaches.

Piha is a must-do for surfers, with its great waves, but anyone can have an awesome day trip here. If you want to try surfing for the first time, you can try a group surfing lesson with Piha Surf Academy. They also offer private surf lessons for a slightly higher price.

 Whether you just want to relax on the beach and do the 5-minute walk up Lion’s Rock, or do a detour to Kitekite Falls, it’s a perfect day out that feels miles away from Auckland. 

My personal favourite thing to do in Piha was the Mercer Bay Loop trail, a 40-minute walk that has simply breathtaking coastal scenery all around. 

Discover more things to do in Piha here.

MORE DAY TRIPS IN THE WAITAKERES AND WEST COAST BEACHES:

There are many more things to do in the greater area around Piha!

BETHELLS BEACH

  • Relax on Bethells Beach and see Bethells Cave
  • Walk up the huge sand dunes (or sand board down them!)
  • Walk through the stream to Lake Wainamu
  • Walk from Bethell Beaches to Muriwai Beach along the Te Henga Walkway

MORE WAITAKERE RANGES DAY HIKES

Outside of the stunning Kitekite Falls hike or the coastal scenery of the Mercer Bay Loop, which I visited on Piha day trip, there are many more hikes to consider in the Waitakeres.

  • Nihotupu Dam Track – a 2.5km track passing the Nihotupu Dam and two small waterfalls
  • The easy 0.8km walk to Karekare Falls
  • Fairy Falls Track – a 5km, return track from the Atataki visitor centre, involves crossing streams and following a partially maintained track through the native forest before eventually arriving at Fairy Falls.

MURIWAI

  • Walk along the huge Muriwai Beach, which stretches along for 60km, or go surfing
  • Visit the Muriwai Gannet Colony (from August to March you could see over 2000 gannets here!)

WAIHEKE ISLAND

Waiheke Island is a 50-minute ferry away from Auckland. I’m actually heading to Waiheke Island soon, so rest-assured I’ll be updating this post soon with some new tips, and my honest feelings about this day trip.

I’m planning to enjoy the beaches, go hiking in Whakanewha National Park, and finish by day enjoying a drink at one of Waiheke’s wineries! I’d also love to go diving here one day. You can also visit art galleries, a sculpture park, or even go on the ziplines here if you’re feeling adventurous. 

DAY TRIPS WITHIN 2 HOURS OF AUCKLAND:

MANGAWHAI

Mangawhai is one of my personal favourite day trips from Auckland. A two-hour drive North of the city, Mangawhai is a spectacular coastal haven for hiking enthusiasts or beach lovers. 

Whilst enjoying a relaxing stop at Mangawhai Heads Beach, you have to do the 9km-return Mangawhai Cliff Walk – or at least the first 20-minutes to the first lookout! The views over the coast here are absolutely stunning. For more hiking, take on the Tanekaha Walking Tracks. This hike winds through luscious greenery, towering trees, and several small waterfalls. It’s not the easiest track, so grab your hiking boots and take water along.

If you have time, you can also visit the nearby Te Arai Beach Reserve. The rock formations here make for a spectacular sunset spot and the waves are great for surfing too. 

Read more information about planning a trip to Mangawhai here.

HAMILTON

While many day trips on this list will get left out by non-locals, Hamilton is home to a couple of unique spots that even brief holiday-goers will want to squeeze into their New Zealand itinerary.

Firstly, Hamilton Gardens is a worthwhile stop for everyone! Far from a traditional garden visit, Hamilton Gardens is made up of many different ‘themed gardens’ that make you feel as if you’re both travelling the world and visiting diverse movie sets all in one day! From the Alice in Wonderland-esque Surrealist Garden, to the peaceful Chinese Scholar’s Garden and the fantastic Italian Renaissance Garden, it’s hard to choose my favourite spot here!

You can also enjoy a Waitomo River Cruise, visit several walking trails or hunt for Hamilton’s vibrant street art while in the area. 

I also really recommend a detour to Bridal Veil Falls, a 55-metre high waterfall with four spectacular viewing platforms. If you’ve got time to make it a weekend trip, drive a little further into Raglan, a charming surfing town with spectacular coastal scenery.

Read more information about my Hamilton day trip.

AWHITU PENINSULA

Depending on where you visit in the Awhitu Peninsula, the driving time could vary from between 55 to 90 minutes. But realistically, it’ll end up being the latter, since the Manukau Lighthouse is the must-see at the tip of the peninsula. This 140-year old attraction has displays describing its history, as well as fantastic views from the lighthouse balcony.

At the other end of the peninsula, is Waiuku, a historic town, where you can visit the Glenbrook Vintage railway and take a 15-km steam train ride. Don’t miss Kariotahi black-sand Beach and the 4km Awhitu Regional Park Walk on your way to the lighthouse too. 

THE COROMANDEL PENINSULA

At just two-hours from Auckland by car or ferry, The Coromandel Peninsula is another great spot for Aucklanders craving coastal scenery. The best known thing to do here is Cathedral Cove – I recommend the walk from Hahei Beach to enjoy the ocean views along the way. Cathedral Cove itself is a picturesque natural archway, surrounded by several other unique rock formations which appear to balance precariously as they jut out from the ocean.

Hot Water Beach is the other star-attraction here, since the thermal water beneath this sandy beach actually reaches up to 64 degrees Celcius! Humans have thus put the beach to another use, and dig holes in the sand to create natural hot tubs! Visit in low tide to join in.

I personally finished my Coromandel Peninsula day trip with a walk up Paku Hill Summit, which has awesome views over the region. Other things to do here include snorkelling or diving, relaxing at New Chums beach, or hiking along the Coromandel Coastal Walkway or the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail through the distinctive Pinnacles.

DAY TRIPS WITHIN 3.5 HOURS FROM AUCKLAND:

TAURANGA

A 2.5 drive from Auckland, Tauranga is a lovely beach town. You may have seen photos of the view from Mt Maunganui back over the coastline. This hike is just a 30-minute walk to the summit, and a fab sunrise location. From Mt Maunganui’s main beach, you can also walk across the footpath to Leisure Island and follow the 10-minute track to see the blowholes. For an alternative hike, take on the Papamoa Hills Walk (the views look wonderful). 

Aside from the beach, you can visit mcLaren Falls and Kaiate Pools, or if you’re looking to treat yourself visit one of the hot pools. Mount Hot Pools is just $14 entry, or Mount Hot Pools is $13.

Within the city itself, you can visit the Tauranga Art Gallery, spot the city street art, and stroll through the historic village. For something unique, take a detour to Te Puna Quarry Park or do an evening glow worm kayak around Waimarino! 

But best of all? Tauranga’s beaches are gorgeous – so if all that sounds to hectic for you, just sit back and relax!

BAY OF ISLANDS

A fantastic coastal getaway, the Bay of Islands is the perfect retreat for anyone needing some rest outside the big city. Admittedly, this option is better as a weekend trip if you’re hoping to relax since it is over a 3-hour drive from Auckland to get here.

Snorkelling, diving, dolphin spotting and island hopping are great ways to enjoy the coastline, though they can be a bit pricey. Thankfully, during my trip, I found plenty of free activities and enjoyed my budget-friendly stay at Pagoda Lodge campsite. (They also have glamping facilities.) The site is based in Kerikeri, which is home to some historic sites such as the Stone Store and Kent House. I also walked from my tent to Rainbow Falls (a 3-hour round trip).

While the Bay of Islands is heaven for beach lovers, the sheer amount of both natural attractions and historical places (did you know that Russell was the first capital of New Zealand?!) makes it a really well-rounded destination.

My highlights were seeing the amazing coastal scenery, such as during my visit to Tauranga Bay and Matouri Bay. I also spent a day exploring the next town along, which is also home to the important Waitangi Treaty Grounds… I’ll be updating this post shortly with more information on the Bay of Islands – as well as a dedicated blog post – to give you the full scoop on the area!

Between Auckland and the Bay of Islands, there are some great stops on the way, such as Matakana (which can also be done as a Matakana day trip), Mangawhai (above) and Whangarei.

WHANGAREI

The beautiful subtropical destination of Whangarei is home to more of the Northland’s gorgeous coastlines. It lies just 40-minutes south of the Bay of Islands, making it a great stop along the way.

In the heart of the main town are the beautiful Whangarei Falls, but for the best of this region’s natural attractions, head further down to the Whangarei Heads Peninsula. Here you’ll find some truly breathtaking coastal hikes with views over the bays on one side, and the South Pacific Ocean on the other. You can explore the Abbey Caves – where you might spot glow worms – and can climb Mt Manaia for more peak panoramas.

Back in the main town, there are lots of family-friendly activities such as a kiwi house and glow-in-the-dark mini-golf. For something unique, I recommend the Whangarei Quarry Gardens. I respected how they had turned a disused quarry into an absolutely gorgeous garden, with many paths to choose from and a huge variety of plants and trees.

HOBBITON & WAITOMO

Hobbiton is around a 2 to 2.5 hour drive from Auckland. As a huge ‘the Lord of the Rings’ fan, the idea of visiting Hobbiton terrifies me. What if it doesn’t live up to expectations? What if the other visitors there aren’t big fans? But truthfully, the idea of visiting without a good friend to enjoy the experience with is what’s stumped me for now.

But alas, that shouldn’t stop you! 

Waitomo is often combined on a day trip with Hobbiton, since it’s only an 80-minute drive away, though alternatively it’s under three hours away from Auckland.

The most famous thing to do here is the Waitomo glow worm caves, although they do get notoriously touristy. You can also see the limestone cliffs which make up these caves on the 45-minute Ruakuri Bush Walk. Alternatively, the Mangapohue Natural Bridge Walk or Marokioa Falls walk make for a great Waitomo day trip surrounded by the great outdoors.

There are actually so many hikes and waterfalls to visit in Waitomo, so once you’ve had enough of the glistening glowworms, don’t hurry away from Waitomo too quickly.


ROTORUA

Around a 3-hour drive, Rotorua is another one best enjoyed as a weekend trip from Auckland. Rotorua is best-known for its unique natural attractions, such as the giant redwood forest and the vibrant geothermal hot pools. Kuirau Park is an amazing way to explore the crater lake, mud pools and unique natural hot springs. More fun and free activities include the Skyline Nature History Walk, the Kerosene Creek and Okere Falls. 

If your budget isn’t so tight, visit Waimangu Volcanic Valley with its amazing views, crater lake and mesmerising rock formations – is likely worth the $45 entry fee (or just 14$ for children). If you want to take a dip in some of the area’s famous hot springs, adult tickets to Waikite Valley Thermal Pools begin at $20. 

I have to admit… I can’t wait to visit Rotorua and hope I can give you a personal overview of the area before too long. I’d probably combine it with Lake Taupo too!

17 Comments

  1. The pictures are so gorgeous! I really wish I get to visit Auckland and the day trips mentioned in your post someday. 🙂

  2. Ahhh I’m tormenting myself with places I missed in New Zealand and this has made me want to plan my revisit right now! Hamilton Gardens sound incredible, I totally missed this.

  3. Love this. So many amazing places I’ve never heard of but of course I would NEED to visit Hobbits. Great post!

  4. I loved the fact you’ve divided the post into the length of trip – super helpful when I need to plan. I’ve been to a few other places in NZ, but never Auckland and now I definitely want to go back!!

  5. Waitomo & Hobbiton were BOTH on my NZ area bucket list… but I had no idea they were kind of close to one another!! How cool! I’m using your blog as a planning guide for the Auckland trip I’m hoping to take in 2021.

    1. Waitomo and Hobbiton look so much fun! Hopefully I make it some day. The other easiest day trips closer to Auckland are really underrated I think – I’ve really loved exploring around here!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *