Alright, so you’ve booked your tickets, you’re getting ready to pack & then it’s off to New Zealand! Most people inevitably fly into the countries major city of Auckland to begin their adventures in Middle Earth.
The city of sails as it’s nicknamed is home to some of the best eateries, museums, and views in the country, and is easily accessible by public transit as well.
What you may not know about Auckland is that it is also a perfect home base, there are some pretty epic day trips from Auckland. For adventure junkies into rafting, to those interested in getting out and experiencing the infamous walking tracks that exist in New Zealand.
There is truly something for everyone so I’m breaking down some of the best day trips from Auckland to make the most of your Kiwi holiday!
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1. Waiheke Island
20 km outside of Auckland city center you’ll find an island covered in vineyards, beaches verging on tropical, and a vibe that will have you never wanting to leave. Where is this paradise? Waiheke Island of course! One of the most populated islands in the Hauraki Gulf and home to some of New Zealand’s most famous wineries including Cable Bay, Mudbrick, Man O’ War and Te Motu just to name a few.
As the most accessible island from Auckland, you have several options to explore the incredible wine region of the country. There are tours which can be booked online and will collect you from the ferry terminal on Waiheke Island, you can put yourself and your vehicle on the ferry and tour yourself around choosing wineries as you go, and you can even rent bikes and tour the wineries & the island that way.
There are several different wine tours available some that mix in biking, zip-lining, beer, oysters, and more click here to view tours. Whatever you decide a day will give you plenty of time to taste some incredible wine, experience some of the best views of the Hauraki Gulf and explore the stunning beaches & incredible houses that exist on the island.
Have you ever had the chance to stand on a volcano before? If the answer is no, then get your day pack together and buy a ferry ticket to Rangitoto. And if the answer is yes, well then get your day pack together and buy a ferry ticket to Rangitoto.
Less than 30 minutes from the hustle and bustle of Auckland’s city center and you’ll find yourself on a somewhat deserted island, with the lushness that is known in New Zealand ready & waiting to be explored.
This 5.5 km wide island is visible from the city shoreline with its iconic cone volcano rising nearly 900 ft high and was formed due to numerous eruptions about 6,000 years ago. Although it hasn’t erupted in over 550 years, scientists still monitor Rangitoto for any activity but it is still safe for people to visit the island.
There are numerous walking trails around the island, the most popular being the hike to the summit where you’ll get stunning panoramic views back towards the city & the entire Hauraki Gulf as well. We suggest this Rangitoto day tour for under $50, it includes your ferry ticket and a half-day tour of the island learning about its history and exploring it in a 4WD vehicle.
Regular ferry services will run between Auckland and Rangitoto, but you can also access the island with Auckland Sea Kayaks on a sunset tour or daytime tour if you want a bit more challenging day out.
Peter Jackson hired location scouts when he was in the process of getting ready to film The Hobbit. These scouts scoured the country to find the most magical of locations to film this epic fantasy for the big screen. One, in particular, was up in a small plane when he spotted what he believed would be the perfect location for what would end up being The Shire.
Fast forward to post Hobbit/Lord of the Rings series and you now have one of the most sought-after tourist attractions in New Zealand and one that is so worth the visit. Located in the town of Matamata, a 2-hour drive or bus ride on Intercity bus lines from Auckland, the town fully puts on the Hobbiton vibe from the moment you arrive.
You can pay for a Hobbiton tour (to include transport) or self-drive there, but you will get guided around the grounds by some incredibly knowledgeable staff members who will give you the lowdown on all things Hobbit & The Shire. There is a multitude of tour options depending on your budget and your love of all things Hobbit.
With the classic tour, you’ll be toured around The Shire and Bag End where you’ll get to see the homes of Bilbo and Frodo, the iconic spots where Gandalf arrives and end off the tour at the Green Dragon where you can have a pint of beer breweries specifically for the site. Take in the lush views before heading out into the townsite to spot the other Lord of the Rings characters dotted around the town.
Be sure to stop by the Matamata visitors center to see how committed the town has become in giving you the full Hobbiton experience.
4. Whangarei Falls
If you’re craving a bit of solitude right in the middle of nature then Whangarei is the best place to take a day trip out of the city. Located 2.5 hours from Auckland and easily accessible by car or intercity bus, the northernmost city is home to some seriously lush walking tracks and a stunning waterfall that you won’t want to miss out on.
Over 85 ft high, Whangarei Falls are some of the most popular, and the walk itself will take you about 30 minutes one way from the signposted parking lot. You’ll cross through gorgeous fields of wildflowers and native bush along the way, as well as multiple bridges over the river which give you a great viewing platform to take in these curtain falls that rush over basalt cliffs.
High on the Hate River, you’ll also have the opportunity to walk up to the top of the falls on a trail that will give you a view from up top where you’ll get a whole new perspective on this spot. In the summer months, the pool below the falls is a local swimming spot so pack up a picnic, bring your swimmers & jump right in!
5. Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
When it comes to adventure sports New Zealand isn’t lacking for options. And while the South Island may boast some incredible experiences (Bungee Jumping, Paragliding, etc) the North Island isn’t without their own gems.
What could be more adventurous than strapping on a helmet, getting into an inner tub and rafting down in some incredible caves to see a natural phenomenon that feels magical? If that has your name all over it, then be sure to get down to the Waitomo glow worm caves, a 2.5-hour drive from Auckland.
Using any number of specialized tour companies. The bioluminescent effect you’ll experience down in the caves are from a species of glow worm only found in these exact caves in New Zealand, additionally, you’ll get the chance to raft through the caverns, climb up/down & if you’re feeling super adventurous do some abseiling!
6. Waitakere Ranges
Less than 30km from Auckland city center you can find the perfect spot to get your tramp on. Lace-up your hiking boots, pack the camera (a travel drone if you have one),+ some snacks and head off towards one of the countries natural treasure, the Waitakere Ranges.
A chain of hills west of the city starts off with a great visitor/information center where knowledgeable rangers and staff will be able to give you some excellent suggestions on which trails are best suited to you. 250 km of trails, waterfalls, viewpoints of the most stunning flora in the area and even a chance to spot some local wildlife, this is one of best places in Auckland that will make you forget how close you are to an actual city, the perfect place to escape the hostel and bustle and get lost for a day.
One of the most incredible sites you’ll take in on these trails are the giants, giant Kauri trees to be exact. Trees hundreds of thousands of years old reaching up towards the clouds will have your eyes going up and up and up…
7. West Coast Beaches
Black sand beaches are a thing of sheer beauty and yet another natural beauty that New Zealand is not lacking in. Just a little further from the Waitakere Ranges Info center you’ll find yourself in the perfect position to check out the triple threat of beaches west of Auckland.
Piha Beach in one of Auckland’s most famous black sand beaches and for good reason, the views stretch on for miles of almost sparkling black sand, and Lions Head is an epic viewpoint from beach level or if you’re feeling brave enough you can climb to the top.
Whether you’re after a chilled out afternoon on the beach or maybe some surfing lessons, this spot is a must not miss before heading a little further up the west coast and hitting up Muriwai. If you have a bird lover in your group this spot will be one for them with a colony of 1200+ gannets calling this spot home, and even if you’re not the views are amazing and the walking trails give way to stunning panoramic views of the coastline.
A 4-hour walk or a short drive in the car will have you arriving at Te Henga (Bethells Beach) a more sheltered location and the perfect place for a day out with a group. This beach seems to stretch on for miles and could be the perfect location for that pickup rugby match you’ve been talking about between yourselves the whole trip.
If you want to continue on the beach hopping check out https://www.aucklandnz.com/visit/destinations/auckland-west/west-coast-beaches for more stops along the west coast
Auckland City Favourites
If time isn’t on your side, maybe you’ve got a long layover flying across the world or just stopping over for 48 hours and a day trip out of the city isn’t possible, fear not! The city itself has so much on offer from incredible beaches to stunning views make sure to check out my best of Auckland guide.
Check out one of the many bike rental companies in the city, strap on that helmet and cruise out to Mission Bay – the seaside suburb barely a 30-minute ride from the center of the city. Countless restaurants and pubs line the street facing the beach and there is plenty of grass space to set up a picnic or get in on some volleyball with the city installed courts on the beach.
If you want a great spot to soak in the sun & then catch a great sunset then this is it. St-Heliers is a quick cycle past Mission Bay and the views just get better with each stretch of beach you pass.
If you prefer a stroll and a scenic viewpoint be sure to head up to Mt Eden Domain, a dormant volcano with a summit that is the highest natural point in Auckland. As you stroll through the park keep your eyes peeled for lots of sheep (no trip to New Zealand is complete without a sheep sighting or 10) grazing in and around the crater, and as you make your way up the steep side of the crate you’ll see the monument that is One Tree Hill.
The obelisk you’ll see sitting proudly atop the summit is a memorial to a Maori warrior and beneath it is the grave of Sir John Logan Campbell who had donated $10, 000 for the memorial. Some of the most incredible views of Auckland can be seen from the top and the best place for sunset in Auckland.
My final must-see suggestion would be Devonport, which can be reached by ferry although it is technically landlocked the ferry is the quickest way to get over there. In less than 15 minutes from the Auckland ferry terminal, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a completely different place.
A slow relaxed vibe emirates from Devonport and you’ll feel it the minute you start strolling the small streets taking in the local shops and adorable cafes that line those streets. Home to the base of the Royal New Zealand Navy there are lots of leftover military tunnels and canons at North Head that are definitely worth checking out.
And what I would say is the absolute best sunset viewing spot in all of Auckland; Mount Victoria. You’ll be greeted with panoramic views back to Auckland and the surrounding waterfront suburbs and watching the sunset here is the perfect way to end an amazing trip to the North Island.
A diverse country like New Zealand obviously houses diverse cities & town, and Auckland is one of them. From stunning white black beaches to the chilled out harbourside suburbs. Rafting in incredible caves, hiking some of the most infamous trails, and of course experiencing real-life Middle Earth for yourself.
Whatever it is you’re searching for on your next Kiwi Adventure don’t write off Auckland as “just another city”, she’s so much more than that. While the city has so much to offer, there are some unreal spots worth checking out within a few hours of the city making for epic day trips to throw your trip over the edge (in the best way possible). So when it comes to planning your next adventure to New Zealand be sure to add Auckland to the top of that list!
Author Bio: A born & bred Montrealer, Laura of She Who Wanders made her first solo adventure to the West Coast of Canada 8 years ago and she hasn’t looked back. From living in the Canadian Rockies, Australia, New Zealand and now England she truly immerses herself in the places she visits and thrives on the unknown adventures that lay ahead. She is never lost, but always happy to be wandering in this great big World (even if her sense of direction fails her from time to time)”