Squeezed out some extra time on your New Zealand North Island itinerary? Set your sights on the best day trips from Auckland!
As New Zealand’s largest city and one of the world’s most livable places, Auckland is never accused of being dull. And as much as there is to experience in the city itself, staying for more than one day in Auckland will give you opportunities to travel to and experience some of coolest destinations on New Zealand’s North Island.
Ready to kick your Auckland travel plans into high gear? Explore the Auckland region in depth with this guide to the absolute best Auckland day trips including tips & ideas for the best activities, tours, and most interesting things to see in the area…
If you’ve only got time for a single day trip from Auckland, Waiheke Island’s not a bad place to start. Located 35 minutes east of the Auckland Central Business District by ferry, Waiheke Island is a paradise for beach-goers, hikers, and, most importantly, food & drink aficionados.
The most difficult part about planning a day trip to Waiheke Island is filtering out what to do. You won’t be able to see all of the 92-square-kilometre island in a day. But that doesn’t mean you won’t make a dent in this blissful New Zealand island.
Craving seaside pleasures? They’re plentiful in Waiheke.
From the ferry wharf, it’s a quick ride to lovely Oneroa Beach, located on the island’s northern shore in the town of the same name. If the buzz at this popular Waiheke Beach is too much to handle, it’s less than a 10-minute drive to Palm Beach and about 15 minutes to Onetangi Beach, two of the most popular beaches near Auckland.
Of course, no visit to Waiheke Island is complete without a vineyard visit. Waiheke Island is one of the most popular wine-growing areas in New Zealand as it’s award-winning vineyards and wines would hint.
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Sprouting up on seemingly every corner of the island, the options can make your head spin. You can’t go wrong, however, with a visit to the Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant. This classy winery is a favourite among celebrities visiting New Zealand for its delicious food, award-winning wines, and fantastic views.
Time your visit to Mudbrick with the sunset for a truly magical & memorable evening.
Even closer to the city than Waiheke, Rangitoto Island is another Auckland day-tripper’s dream. In just 25 minutes from downtown Auckland, you’ll sail over the Hauraki Gulf by ferry to this volcanic island that’s become one of the most iconic natural landmarks in the city.
The best way to kick-start any day trip to Rangitoto Island is with a walk to the top of the 260-metre-high volcano on the Rangitoto Summit Walk. It’s become one of the best places to hike around Auckland thanks to its relative ease and the fantastic vistas atop.
From the summit of Rangitoto, you’ll catch incredible views to central Auckland over the Hauraki Gulf and even as far as the Waitakere Ranges in the west and the Hunua Ranges to the southeast.
The walk to the summit should take about 45 minutes to 1 hour each way.
If you’ve still got time (and little more energy in the tank), take the alternative northern route on the way down and connected to the unsealed roads leading to Islington Bay.
From Islington Bay, you’ll have a choice: continue back to the wharf via the Coastal Track or head east over the causeway to Motutapu Island.
Keep in mind that the ferry service to Rangitoto Island is limited to 2-3 trips a day through most of the year. At the time of writing (October 2020), the latest ferry back to central Auckland depart the island from the main wharf at 3:30pm. You can check the latest ferry times here.
There’s no accommodation on Rangitoto and limited facilities. If you miss the last ferry, you will get stuck on the island. You’ll also need to bring your own water and snacks for the full day. Make sure to plan your trip carefully!
Not just one of the best Auckland day trips but a must for any New Zealand travel plan, Rotorua is a fan favourite for its glorious natural beauty and truly one of the world’s most unique destinations.
Set upon the shores of Lake Rotorua and above a hotbed of geothermal activity under the Whakarewarewa Valley in Te Puia, the best things to do in Rotorua span everything from mystical redwoods forests and Maori cultural villages to natural hot springs and bubbling mud pools.
If you’ve got just one day in Rotorua, get started with a visit to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Located 30 kilometres south of the city, Wai-O-Tapu (Sacred Waters in Maori) is New Zealand’s most colourful geothermal area and considered one of the most surreal places on earth.
Three great walks await in the Waiotapu area, ranging between 45 minutes and 90 minutes that’ll whisk you away to its steaming mud pools, volcanic craters, and technicolour hot springs including the famous Champagne Pool and Devil’s Bath.
Start the approximately 3-hour drive from Auckland early enough and you’ll get to catch the area’s magnificent Lady Knox Geyser in action. The geyser erupts at 10:15am daily, spewing its hot waters up to 20 metres into the air to the awe-struck faces of its onlookers.
Unfortunately, a quick and rushed Rotorua day trip is likely bound to leave you craving more. To enjoy more of Rotorua’s eclectic attractions such as the Redwoods Treewalk, Tamaki Maori Village, and Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, we’d be remiss to not recommend that you stay in Rotorua for a few nights to take in all the sights at a more languid pace.
Set in the shadow of the Kaimai Ranges just two short hours south of Auckland, Matamata was once little more than sleepy rural farming town. These days, it’s a far different story.
With the release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Matamata catapulted to international fame for its role as The Shire, the Middle-earth homeland of the hobbits. Even if you’re not a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, you’ll love the chance to visit Matamata on a day trip from Auckland.
There’s a surprising variety of things to do in Matamata, but if you’re looking for the granddaddy of them all, set your compass southwest of town to explore the Hobbiton Movie Set.
Wandering about the Hobbiton Movie Set, you’ll stroll past some of The Shire’s most iconic settings including Bag End (the home of Bilbo Baggins), the old mill, the double-arched bridge, almost four dozen hobbit holes, and the Party Tree.
If you’ve got a little extra time during your visit to Matamata, head northeast of the town to stroll along the Wairere Falls Walking Track and enjoy the epic panoramic views across the lush Waikato Plains at its apex.
If it weren’t home to one of New Zealand’s star attractions, you might pass by the unassuming village of Waitomo without a thought. But with its famous glow-worms and extensive underground cave systems, Waitomo’s become a must-stop destination for any ultimate New Zealand road trip.
Of all things to do in Waitomo, none is worth your time more than the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. This world-famous subterranean attraction is among the world’s most dreamlike places to visit, lit up by thousands of luminescent glow worms that twinkle like stars in the night’s sky.
While visiting Waitomo in a day, be sure to also take the short drive to the nearby Ruakuri Cave. Like its neighbour, Ruakuri sits among the coolest caves to see in New Zealand, featuring the area’s famous glowworms along with waterfalls and interesting limestone formations.
Among the most adventurous and memorable ways to experience Ruakuri Cave is on a Black Water Rafting Tour. On this fun-filled tour, you’ll get to navigate the caves on a rubber tube that floats you through the darkness under the light of the glowworms. The same outfitter also offers abseiling and zip-lining adventures through Waitomo’s caves.
If above-ground activities & attractions are more to your liking, the Waitomo area won’t disappoint either.
There’s a handful of great walks in & around Waitomo including the short-but-sweet Ruakuri Bush Walk. Other popular trails further afoot (roughly 25 to 30 kilometres west of town) include the trail to the 35-metre-high Marokopa Falls and to the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, an impressive 17-metre-high limestone arch.
Sprawling out over the west coast of North Island just 30 minutes west of Auckland City, Waitakere Ranges might well be the best of all these top Auckland day trips for outdoor adventures.
The Waitakere Ranges cover more than 16,000 hectares of native New Zealand rainforest and Tasman Sea coastline. Exploring the region, you’ll discover over 250 kilometres of hiking trails whisking you between waterfalls, black-sand beaches, and hot pools.
While there’s far more to see & do in Waitakere Ranges Regional Park than you can tackle in a day, a good place to start is at Piha Beach. Located in the seaside village of the same name, this black-sand surfing beach is among the most popular beaches around Auckland thanks to its strong waves and its dramatic cliffs & interesting rock formations.
For walking adventures, set your sights on the Kitekite Track leading to the beautiful Kitekite Falls, the 1.6-kilometre-long Mercer Bay Loop, or the short walk from the dramatic Karekare Beach to Karekare Falls. The 10-kilometre-long point-to-point Te Henga Walkway between Bethells Beach and Muriwai is another great choice.
Spiking 85 kilometres north from the Bay of Plenty in the centre of North Island, the Coromandel Peninsula is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. This stunning slice of nature is famous among New Zealanders for its misty rainforest trails and the more than 400 kilometres of picture-perfect white-sand beaches dotting its coastline.
With least a two-hour drive from Auckland ahead, exploring The Coromandel in a day often proves difficult. Among the best places to start, however, is with Cathedral Cove, the peninsula’s outdoor sightseeing hotspot.
Located on the mid-peninsula western shores near the small town of Hahei, the Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve (Te Whanganui-A-Hei in Maori) spreads out over 9 square kilometres of shimmering sea and white-sand coast. This sacred reserve, once the site of an ancient Maori village, is accessible only by foot, kayak or boat ride, allowing you to fully engulf yourself in its charms.
And we’re just getting started. There are plenty of other amazing things to do in Coromandel! Elsewhere, you’ll enjoy a wide range of other awesome outdoor activities and attractions. Adventurers may wish to spend their day, instead, tackling some the best Coromandel walks like the Coromandel Coastal Walkway or the Pinnacles, cycling the Hauraki Rail Trail, or joining a guided sea kayaking tour along the beautiful coastline.
For a lazier yet unique Coromandel Peninsula experience, head to Hot Water Beach just 8 kilometres south of Hahei. Time your visit to Hot Water Beach two hours before or after low tide to dig yourself your own private white-sand spa.
Bay of Islands
At three hours driving time minimum, it’s a stretch throwing Bay of Islands into a list of top Auckland day trips. Nonetheless, we’d be remiss to leave this stunning region out of our recommendations.
Holding more than 140 subtropical islands in its midst along the north east shore of North Island, the Bay of Islands is a unique New Zealand destination known for its pristine beaches, windswept coastlines, and historic fishing towns.
Since you’ll be mega-crunched for time, it’s best to start your mini Bay of Islands adventure off in Paihia, one of the region’s main tourist centres.
If you plan to arrive in Paihia before 10:00am, book yourself onto the 5-hour Bay of Islands Day Cruise and Island Getaway Tour. The cruise stops at Roberton Island for a native bush walk and at a quiet secluded island where you can go snorkelling, swimming or paddleboarding.
Otherwise, meet up with the 1:30pm sailing of the Hole in the Rock Dolphin Cruise. On this exciting 3- to 4-hour marine adventure, you’ll hop aboard a luxury catamaran to cruise along the Rakaumangamanga Peninsula toward Cape Brett on route to the famous Hole in the Rock at Motukokako Island. Along the way, you’ll enjoy plenty of opportunities to spot dolphins and whales along with other colourful marine life & birds.