As a former New Zealand resident, I often talk about the incredible scenery, the hospitality, and the unique culture. If you really get me going, I’ll talk about the wine, the food, the adrenaline-pumping activities, and how to make the most out of your trip. Auckland, New Zealand is the largest city in the country and the gateway to Middle Earth. It’s also at the apex of a vast region, with plenty to see and do. Film fanatics can even access some of the Lord of the Rings famous movie sets, including the hobbit houses, within a short drive.
While there are plenty of things to do in Auckland, some of the North Island’s most dramatic landscapes are only a short drive away. Several of the below day trip destinations are within the Hauraki Gulf, the body of water between Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula, and are accessible by ferry. Others require a car but are well worth the time and effort. Here are some of the best day trips from Auckland, New Zealand.
Day Trips From Auckland, New Zealand
Auckland is one of the few cities in the world to lie between two natural harbors and two different oceans. It’s a vast metropolis and, at over 1.6 million people, is the largest city in New Zealand. It isn’t the capital – that honor goes to Wellington, the world’s coolest little capital – but it’s a vibrant city with a diverse population.
Getting to New Zealand from just about anywhere other than Australia requires quite a haul. It’s prime pickings for a points-fueled business class flight, if possible. United MileagePlus, a Chase Transfer Partner, and Air Canada Aeroplan, an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner, are the best bets for redeeming credit card points here, as Air New Zealand is part of the Star Alliance group.
All nonstop flights from the U.S. land at Auckland International Airport. As I always suggest that my clients remain in the city for a few days to recover from the jet lag, there’s plenty of time to tackle one or more of these day trips from Auckland.
Waiheke made a name for itself as one of New Zealand’s best wine regions. Known for Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc, the island also produces exceptional Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Merlot. Waiheke Island also has wonderful beaches and great hiking (you’ll need to walk off all the amazing food and wine you’ll eat here). In addition, Oneroa, Surfdale, and Ostend have excellent boutique shopping – everything from clothes to fine art, jewelry and local delicacies.
While there’s plenty of great places to stay overnight on Waiheke Island, most visitors come for the day. Fullers operates passenger ferries out of Auckland’s main ferry terminal, located at the bottom of Queen Street. Passenger ferries arrive into Matiatia Wharf on Waiheke’s west side; all tours and public buses stop here. Even if you’re staying longer, the island is compact enough that having a car doesn’t make a big difference.
Dormant volcanos might not strike you as the best place to build a sprawling city, but that’s precisely where Auckland lies. There are multiple volcanoes in the area, including Rangitoto, which is a short 20-minute ferry ride from downtown.
Once on the island, which is a pest-free nature preserve, visitors can hike up to the crater rim, where a boardwalk offers exceptional views of the city and gulf. Unfortunately, there is no overnight accommodation on the island; the last ferry departs in the late afternoon. However, if you take the morning ferry, there’s more than enough time to hike to the crater rim, swim in the salt baths, wade in the tide pools, and explore the lava caves before catching the last ferry.
Experienced kayakers can reach the island by kayaking; it takes about two hours from the North Shore.
Piha and Karekare
Piha and Karekare, which are just west of the city on the other side of the dramatic Waitakere Range, are two of the world’s most dangerous beaches. Not for any other reason except the current, swell, and rip. However, they are also as dramatic as the route to get there. The dark green forest rises up from the sea all around the beaches, while black sand stretches for miles in either direction. Piha is more popular and much easier to get to than Karekare, but Karekare is a popular local surf spot.
Piha town has a few hotels as well as some stores and cafes. It is a summer getaway for Aucklanders and can get busy in high season. Both beaches are popular day trips from Auckland for surfers. You definitely need a car to get here; there is no public transport to either Piha or Karekare.
While the drive takes just under an hour, there’s plenty to see and do along the way in the Waitakere Range. Hiking trails, waterfalls, and charming small towns top the list of things to see.
At just under two hours around the foot of the gulf from Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula is a fantastic long day trip full of secluded beaches and lush landscapes. You definitely need a car to get here, but once here you can visit Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach, as well as a few breweries, before hitting the road back to Auckland.
If you have more time, I suggest staying on the peninsula for a few days to reach the remote reaches of the northern peninsula and the epic hiking trail between Fletcher Bay and Stony Bay. The Coro happens to be one of my favourite places in NZ.
Saving the best for last, right? Hobbiton is the most-visited attraction in New Zealand, although you’d never know it was there just driving past. It is located on a farm in Matamata, about an hour east of Hamilton or two hours south of Auckland.
Hobbiton is one of New Zealand’s most popular day trips from Auckland; there are multiple tours a day. They offer coach pick up from Auckland, Rotorua, and Hamilton, or visitors can self-drive and join a tour on site. Hiring a car is definitely the best way to get around New Zealand, and this means that you can travel to Hobbiton on your schedule.
As you can’t even see the hobbit houses on the main road, all guests must join a tour. Private tours are available, and the site can be rented for a private function or wedding.
A note from Sarah
If you google “day trips from Auckland” chances are you’ll see a lot of other destinations listed. Because New Zealand’s roads are narrower and windier than Americans are used to, traveling between two places can take longer than anticipated. For places like Rotorua (3 hours one way), Taupo (3.5 hours one way), Bay of Islands (3 hours one way), I highly suggest spending two or three days rather than trying to make it for just a day.
Sarah is a luxury travel advisor and avid traveller. When she isn’t writing for Point Me To The Plane you can find her crafting custom itineraries for clients or exploring the far reaches of our wonderful planet. Read more about her adventures at The Girl With the Map Tattoo.