Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city with a population of over 1 million people from a diverse mix of cultures with the city offering plenty of things to see and do. In saying this, New Zealand is one of those countries that’s great to explore and Auckland makes a great base for doing so with a good number of awesome day trips to consider, all within comfortable driving distance from the city.
The list below contains the 10 best day trips from Auckland (in our opinion) that we have no hesitation in recommending as fun and memorable ways to spend your time.
1. Awhitu Peninsula (80 minutes from Auckland)
The Awhitu Peninsula is a bit of a hidden gem with respect to day trips from Auckland and is often overlooked but actually has a lot going for it.
The main star of the show on the peninsula is undoubtedly the Manukau Heads Lighthouse, one of the few visitor accessible lighthouses in New Zealand. From its balcony you’ll get breath-taking views of the Manukau Bar and if you’re lucky you may even spot a few Maui’s Dolphins that call the waters home.
Awhitu Peninsula also has the old historical settlement of Waiuku with the famous Kentish Hotel, New Zealand’s longest continuously licensed hotel and a great place for a bite and drink. Nearby you’ll also find Tamakae Reserve with its own small historical village.
If your trip happens to fall on the last Sunday of the month then you’ll also be able to experience the Awhitu Country Markets at the Matakawau Hall featuring produce, plants, coffee, food, arts, crafts and more.
On top of all this you have the Awhitu Regional Park with walking trails, bike trails and picnic spots and on the west coast, you’ll find the stunning black sand Kariotahi Beach which is great for swimming and surfing as well as a few other off-water activities like hand gliding and paragliding.
2. Coromandel Peninsula (2 hour ferry ride from Auckland)
From one peninsula to another as we turn to the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula which you can get to via a pleasant 2-hour ferry from Auckland.
Coromandel is a historic town in New Zealand that used to be a thriving port for the gold mining and kauri industries in the 1800’s. These days it’s a thriving tourism destination, known for its arts, crafts, alternate lifestyles, mussels and scenic beauty.
It’s easy to experience a bit of all these things in a day trip when visiting the area. The township itself has some fascinating historical buildings dating back to the 1850s. The Waiau Falls and Kauri Grove gives you the opportunity to see some great scenery and amazing kauri trees (one of the largest tree species in the world).
A real crowd-pleaser attraction is the Driving Creek Railway and Potteries, New Zealand’s only narrow-gauge (and very steep) mountain railway that goes through some incredible regenerating forest with pottery sculptures lining the track.
Then of course, you have Coromandel Peninsula’s many beaches including the amazing New Chums Beach and renowned Hot Water Beach, a great geothermal attraction.
The most famous attraction however, is probably Cathedral Cove, a small idyllic enclosed beach only accessible by foot or boat, and was used for the Chronicles of Narnia film, Prince Caspian. A visit by sunset will guarantee one of the most marvellous sights you’ve ever seen.
3. Hobbiton (2 hour drive)
You can’t do a trip to New Zealand without including a Lord of the Rings experience and a trip to Hobbiton is the ultimate Middle Earth encounter.
A 2-hour drive south from Auckland near the rural town of Matamata, you’ll find the Hobbiton Movie Set tour, with a recreated Shire, just as you remember from the films.
You’ll be totally taken in by the magic and imagination on display here and be amazed by the craftsmanship of the Hobbit Holes as you wander through.
One of the highlights of the tour has to be the stop at the famous Green Dragon Inn, fully reconstructed both inside and out with immaculate detail where you can choose from one of the many Hobbit ales in an armchair by a roaring fire or in the Hobbit beer garden overlooking the entire village.
For a totally immersive experience, you might consider the Evening Banquet Tour which includes an indulgent banquet feast (something like this) and a chance to see the Shire beautifully illuminated under the stars.
4. Karangahake Gorge Walkway (90 minute drive)
The Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway is a great way to experience the untouched New Zealand wilderness at its pristine best.
The walkway follows an old railway line between Paeroa and Waihi used in the period of the great gold rush. Along the way you’ll see relics from that bygone era, pass through railway tunnels, cross over steel truss bridges and enjoy the natural open beauty alongside the Ohinemuri River.
Also along the walkway is the impressive Owharoa Falls which is a great place to rest, have a snack and take it all in. Another highlight is the old Victoria Battery site, built in 1897 to crush quartz and was considered the largest facility of its kind until its closure in 1955. It’s now the site of a historic museum with tramway rides available as well as underground tours or the roasting ore kilns’ tunnel.
It’s a fascinating and unique experience that captures an interesting period of important history for our country.
5. Kawau Island (1 hour drive)
Kawau Island is affectionately known as one of the jewels of the Hauraki Gulf and is a unique island experience to consider for a day trip from Auckland. It is also one of the largest islands in the Hauraki Gulf and is one that is rich with history.
Kawau Island was admired by early Maori for its beautiful waters before it became a small mining colony for copper in the 1840s. It was privately purchased by Sir George Grey in the 1860s who built the impressive Mansion House and turned the area into a botanical and zoological park.
It’s now under public ownership accepting visitors via ferry from Sandspit Wharf, an hour’s drive north of Auckland.
Kawau Island has much to offer including access to Mansion House which has been fully restored to original condition with furnishings and artefacts. You can explore the gardens and see the tropical plants and animals that were introduced to the island including wallabies and peacocks. There are walking tracks around the island including a 2.5-hour track to the old Coppermine. You can even join a cruise or charter a boat to explore the pristine waters around the island itself.
It’s also a great spot for birdwatching with gannets, weka, shags, owls and kiwi calling the island home and if you’re into fishing you’ll find kingfish, kahawai, snapper and John Dory.
6. Matakana (1 hour drive)
Not far from Kawau Island is the small township of Matakana and is fast becoming the first-choice destination for a great day out from Auckland. There’s good reason for this, as the town has developed several fantastic assets that attract people from all around the region.
One of these is the Matakana Village Farmers’ Market which takes place every Saturday with all sorts of fresh produce, food, arts, crafts and other supplies. Matakana is also home to a number of fine breweries and vineyards like Sawmill Brewery (with tours and tastings) and Brick Bay (with its very own sculpture trail!).
Matakana is also a great spot for foodies with some fantastic restaurants, cafes and ice cream parlours and they also have the Matakana Cinemas, one of the most unique boutique cinemas in New Zealand with a beautiful domed roof.
Matakana is also close to Tawharanui Regional Park which has the beautiful white sand beach of Anchor Bay, tracks of native bush to walk, picnic spots, camping facilities and more!
Plenty to keep you busy for the day for people of all ages and interests.
7. Muriwai (40 minute drive)
Muriwai on Auckland’s west coast is a beach with a difference. Not only does the beach have an amazing stretch of long black sand as far as the eye can see, but it also has its own Gannet Colony that nests on the cliffs between August – March every year. Visitors can use the walkways to get great views above the colony against the backdrop of the picturesque Tasman Sea. It’s an incredibly mesmerising up close and personal encounter that visitors (especially bird lovers) appreciate.
Besides this, there are all sorts of on-water and off-water activities to be enjoyed on Muriwai. Swimming and surfing are understandably popular, but you can also hire blokarts and kites, go horse trekking, paragliding, landsailing or take in a round of golf at the nearby golf course.
There are also walking tracks including a great one south to Bethels Beach, picnic spots, a skate park, the Woodhill Mountain Bike track, and a fantastic café called the Tasting Shed.
There are good roads leading up to Muriwai Beach, a 40-minute drive from the city.
8. Piha and Kitekite Falls (50 minute drive)
Another great West Coach beach and perhaps the most well-known is the magnificent Piha beach. Piha is known for its wild and rugged natural beauty. It’s also infamous for its challenging and immense surf, which even led to the beach getting its own reality TV show called ‘Piha Rescue’ based on the everyday work of the beach’s surf lifesavers.
The beach also has a unique geographical feature known as Lion’s Rock, a 16-million-year-old volcanic formation that got its name because of its resemblance to a resting male lion from the shore. Against the fierce surf, black sand beach, surrounding dunes and cliffs, it makes for an impressive sight indeed.
Another thing to do whilst visiting Piha is to follow the 2km walking track to Kitekite Falls, an idyllic multi-tier waterfall that has swimming holes you can take a dip in all year round. There’s some great local flora and fauna including young kauri and nikau palms to appreciate in and around. You might even get lucky and see some tui or kereru flying between the trees.
Piha is a 50-minute drive from the city.
9. Puhoi (35 minute drive)
For a pleasant and quiet getaway, a good place to consider is Puhoi, a small historic settlement 50km north of Auckland.
Puhoi has a unique history and was settled by Europeans in the 1860s who were Roman Catholics and one of the first things they did was construct a wooden church that was completed in 1881 and still stands to this day. It’s architecturally impressive with 22 stained glass windows and an altar painting that’s an exact copy of the one from the settlers’ home church in Bohemia.
There are other historical sites that can be visited too like the Puhoi Heritage Museum which has some nice treasures like costumes and clothing, home-life articles, photographs dating from the 1880s, textual guides about the war, working the land, music and faith and more.
Puhoi itself is named after the river that runs through it with its Maori translation meaning “slow water”. You can take advantage of these slow waters with some kayaking from the village all the way down to Wenderholm Regional Park 8kms away. During the journey, you’ll be able to take in the sights of the mangrove forest, the herons, pukekos, kingfishers and kookaburras.
There are some great hikes and walks including the Puhoi Lookout Track which rises 100 metres above the village with great views of the surrounding areas.
For dining, the Puhoi Cottage and Tea Rooms serve indulgent Devonshire Cream Teas as part of their High Tea menu. Another option is the Puhoi Pub which was established in 1879 with an amazing collection of memorabilia from past and present adorning its walls. They’ve some great craft beer to choose from and a delicious little bistro menu as well.
10. Riverhead (30 minute drive)
Another little hidden gem that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is Riverhead, a small little town 40 minutes’ drive from Auckland.
Riverhead is again a historical town that has a number of great options to easily fill up a day’s schedule. One of these is the Riverhead Tavern which is said to be the oldest riverside tavern in the country at over 160 years old. Beautifully refurbished, it’s a great place to enjoy some warm hospitality with fresh New Zealand food and beer.
Riverhead is also close to some highly decorated vineyards including Soljans Estate Winery, West Brook Wines, Kumeu River, The Hunting Lodge Winery and more. For enthusiasts, a wine tour around the area is a must for the ultimate cellar door experiences.
If you’re more of a beer enthusiast a visit to the Hallertau Brewery (a Kiwi success story of the craft beer boom) is a fine option with tours and tastings offered as well as a lovely Biergarten and restaurant to enjoy.
As you can see, there’s plenty of great day trip options from Auckland that you can consider when planning your next trip to the City of Sails. Be sure that you give yourself enough time to include these in your schedule along with all the other great sights to see within the city.