I think we need to spread a little Auckland love around here. Okay, I admit that if I had my choice of places to live in New Zealand, Auckland probably wouldn’t be it. It doesn’t quite compare to the cool, quirkiness of Wellington or the alpine setting and lively vibe of Queenstown. But its where the jobs are and so it follows that its the place I have spent the last 10 months of my life. And whilst I can completely understand travellers’ ambivalence towards it, I think that its vastly underrated.
So even if all you do is use Auckland as a base for exploring some of the surrounding area, here are my 5 favourite easy day trips to hopefully encourage you to stay for at least a little while.
Not only is Waiheke one of my favourite places in Auckland, its one of my favourite places in the whole of New Zealand. Yep, that might seem a pretty bold statement to make but its true. I was relatively fresh to New Zealand on my first visit to Waiheke, turning up to find a beautiful green island with a relaxed seaside vibe, excellent restaurants and panoramic views over the sea.
There’s a ton of things to do on the island from hiking, ziplining or wandering around art galleries but the main reason people visit is the wine. With nearly 30 vineyards scattered across the island its a wine-lovers paradise. And the wine is good. My absolute favourite vineyard is Casita Miro, a tiny Spanish-themed vineyard in the middle of the island serving excellent tapas and great wines. For $15 try one of its wine tastings – 5 different wines each paired with a little snack. As an added bonus they make their own olive oil and it is incredible.
How to get to Waiheke
The ferry from Auckland’s downtown terminal takes 35 minutes to get to Waiheke and costs $35 return. From the Waiheke ferry terminal either take the hiking route into Oneroa town, jump on a bus or grab a taxi to take you to your vineyard of choice.
Piha and Karekare Beaches
Piha and Karekare give a taste of New Zealand’s wilder side with sparkling black sand, crashing waves and rugged cliffs. Its less than 40 kilometres from Auckland and yet it feels like a World away.
The two beaches are located 7km away from each other, each one sporting the same streak of black sand but each different in its own way. Piha is a small, rugged beach whilst Karekare is characterised by a long flat expanse of sand stretching so far that you can barely see the sea itself until you are right up close.
Unless you are planning to hike the Waitakere Ranges there isn’t a huge amount to do here except relax on the sand soaking up the sun and the great views. On Piha climb the iconic Lion Rock for a great view over the beach and surrounding area and after spending a bit of time relaxing on Karekare beach head to the nearby Karakare Falls to cool off in the clear pool at the bottom of the waterfall.
How to get to Piha and Karakare
The beaches are about an hour’s drive from Auckland, through the Waitakere Ranges. About 30 minutes after leaving the city, you emerge from Auckland’s sprawling suburbs into dramatically changing scenery. The roads narrow, becoming more winding and lined with green trees and plants and as you begin to descend into Piha you are rewarded with sweeping panoramic views over the beach and sea.
Matakana is a 50 minute drive from Auckland and, as another of the area’s renowned wine regions, boasts fantastic vineyards, farmers markets and boutique shops. But if spending the day wandering around art galleries and sipping wine isn’t for you then try exploring the coast and its many small, picturesque bays.
How to get to Matakana
Matakana is located 67km from Auckland, an easy 50 minute drive.
Hobbiton Movie Set
Here’s one for all you Lord of the Rings fans out there. But you don’t have to be a fan of the films to enjoy Hobbiton. Its fascinating in itself to see the movie set up close and admire the incredible craftsmanship that went into creating this little World.
The drive to Hobbiton is a bit further than any of the above trips but easily doable in a day and worth the detour. Although I didn’t like the fact that the only way to explore Hobbiton was by tour, the guide did give us so many interesting facts about the making of the movies (did you know that the synthetic leaves on the famous Bagend Tree were imported from Taiwan and, after deciding they were the wrong shade of green, Peter Jackson ordered all 200,000 of them to be spray painted by hand?). And to top it all off, you get to have a drink in the Green Dragon pub at the end of it.
How to get to Hobbiton
Hobbiton is located in Matamata, about 170km from Auckland, taking around 2 hours to drive. The drive itself takes you through rolling green countryside and some of New Zealand’s renowned beautiful landscapes so make sure you leave enough time for photo stops. And buy your Hobbiton tickets in advance as it often gets busy.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
I had seen so many pictures of this amazing place over the years so it was top of my priority list when arriving in New Zealand and the first trip I ever took from Auckland. The walls of the cave are entirely covered in thousands of glow worms, lighting the cave bright blue. The main tour takes you through the cave by boat but there are tour options that include cave hikes and ‘black water rafting’ (abseiling and climbing through the caves).
How to get to the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
The drive to the Waitomo Caves from Auckland takes about 2 and a half hours (190 kilometres). Unfortunately the drive itself is pretty long and isn’t particularly scenic, most of it being on motorway, but the destination makes it all worth it (and we did this in a day too).
Where to Rent a Car in Auckland
Unless you’re resident here and own your own car, then most of the above trips will involve you renting one. The most convenient and cheapest place to rent a car in Auckland is Jucy Rentals with cars starting at around $35 per day (although its campervans are quite expensive). It has a depot in the city centre and allows free after hours drop off.
Thanks for reading! 🙂 If you liked this post then stay tuned for more from Auckland, including a rundown of my favourite vineyards on Waiheke.
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