Squeezed out 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. There’s a ton to experience in the city itself. But stay for more than one day in Auckland. That’s when the real magic begins. With a few extra days in Auckland, you’ll get to experience some of coolest travel destinations on New Zealand 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. In the guide, we’ve included tips & ideas for the best activities, tours, and the most interesting things to see in the Auckland area.
Top-rated Auckland side trips
If you’ve only got time for a single day trip from Auckland, Waiheke Island’s not a bad place to start. Waiheke Island is 35 minutes east of the Auckland Central Business District by ferry. Waiheke is a paradise for beach-goers and 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 the entire 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. The beach is located on the island’s northern shore in the town of the same name. Is 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. It’s home to several award-winning vineyards and wines.
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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 with a visit to the Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant. This classy winery is a favourite among celebrities visiting New Zealand. It’s popular for its delicious food, award-winning wines, and fantastic views.
Time your visit to Mudbrick with the sunset for a magical & memorable evening.
Even closer to the city than Waiheke, Rangitoto Island is another Auckland day-tripper’s dream. In 25 minutes from downtown Auckland, you’ll sail over the Hauraki Gulf by ferry to this volcanic island. With its distinctive cove, it’s become one of the most iconic natural landmarks in the city.
Kick-start your day trip to Rangitoto Island with the Rangitoto Summit Walk. The hike will take you to the top of the 260-metre-high volcano at the island’s centre. The trail is 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. You’ll even see 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 more energy), take the alternative northern route on the way down. It connects to the unsealed roads leading to Islington Bay. From Islington Bay, you’ll have a choice. You can continue back to the wharf via the Coastal Track or you can 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 departs 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!
Rotorua is not just one of the best Auckland day trips but a must for any New Zealand travel plan. For its glorious natural beauty, Rotorua is a fan favourite. It’s truly one of the world’s most unique destinations.
Rotorua is set upon the shores of Lake Rotorua. The area is perched upon a hotbed of geothermal activity under the Whakarewarewa Valley in Te Puia. The best things to do in Rotorua showcase the area in all its glory. In Rotorua, you’ll find mystical redwoods forests and Maori cultural villages. You also watch the earth’s core come to life in its 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. The park is considered one of the most surreal places on earth.
Three great walks await in the Waiotapu area, ranging between 45 minutes and 90 minutes. They whisk you away to its steaming mud pools, volcanic craters. You’ll also get to spot its technicolour hot springs, including the famous Champagne Pool and Devil’s Bath.
The trip between Auckland Rotorua is about 3 hours by car. If you start it early enough, you’ll get to catch the area’s magnificent Lady Knox Geyser in action. The geyser erupts at 10:15am daily. It spews its hot waters up to 20 metres into the air to the awe-struck faces of its onlookers.
Unfortunately, a quick & rushed Rotorua day trip is bound to leave you craving more. Rotorua’s eclectic attractions don’t end there. To enjoy the Redwoods Treewalk, Tamaki Maori Village, and Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, you’ll need more time. 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, 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. The town had a starring 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. If you’re looking for the granddaddy of them all, set your compass to explore the Hobbiton Movie Set. It’s located just southwest of Matamata.
On the Hobbiton Movie Set, you’ll stroll past some of The Shire’s most iconic settings. Keep your eyes peeled for Bag End (the home of Bilbo Baggins), the old mill, and the double-arched bridge. You’ll also spot almost four dozen hobbit holes and the Party Tree.
Got a little extra time during your visit to Matamata? Head northeast of town to stroll along the Wairere Falls Walking Track. At its apex, you’ll enjoy epic panoramic views across the lush Waikato Plains.
If it weren’t home to one of New Zealand’s star attractions, you might pass by Waitomo without a thought. Don’t let the the unassuming village fool you. With its glow-worms and underground cave system, Waitomo is a must-stop destination on 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. It’s 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. It features the area’s famous glowworms along with waterfalls and interesting limestone formations.
The most adventurous & memorable way to experience Ruakuri Cave is on a Black Water Rafting Tour. On this fun-filled tour, you’ll navigate the caves on a rubber tube. You’ll float 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. There are also other popular trails further afoot, roughly 25 to 30 kilometres west of town. Try out the trail to the 35-metre-high Marokopa Falls. It also leads to the Mangapohue Natural Bridge, an impressive 17-metre-high limestone arch.
The Waitakere Ranges sprawl out over the west coast of North Island 30 minutes west of Auckland City. For outdoor adventure, Waitakere Ranges might be the best of these top Auckland day trips.
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. They’ll whisk you between waterfalls, black-sand beaches, and hot pools.
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. Piha Beach is famous for its strong waves, dramatic cliffs & interesting rock formations.
For walking adventures, set your sights on the Kitekite Track. The trail leads to the beautiful Kitekite Falls. The 1.6-kilometre-long Mercer Bay Loop and the short walk from tKarekare Beach to Karekare Falls are also worthwhile. Need something more epic? Go for the 10-kilometre-long point-to-point Te Henga Walkway. It runs between Bethells Beach and Muriwai.
The Coromandel Peninsula spikes 85 kilometres north from the Bay of Plenty in the centre of North Island. This outdoor adventurer’s paradise is one stunning slice of nature. It’s most famous among New Zealanders for its misty rainforest trails. There’s also 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 will prove difficult. Among the best places to start is with Cathedral Cove. The marine reserve is the peninsula’s outdoor sightseeing hotspot.
The Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve (Te Whanganui-A-Hei in Maori) is on the mid-peninsula western shores. It’s located near the small town of Hahei. The reserve spreads out over 9 square kilometres of shimmering sea and white-sand coast. This sacred reserve was once the site of an ancient Maori village. It’s accessible only by foot, kayak or boat ride. You’ll have no problem fully engulfing 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. The Coromandel Coastal Walkway or the Pinnacles are good places to start. You can also spend the day 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. It’s just 8 kilometres south of Hahei. Time your visit to Hot Water Beach two hours before or after low tide. You’ll be able dig yourself your own private white-sand spa!
Located in the Waikato region, Raglan is a favourite Auckland day trip destination. The small coastal town is famous for its Ngarunui Beach. On Manu Bay, the black-sand beach is a popular NZ surfing destination. The conditions are fit for all skill levels, beginner to advanced. If you’re interested in learning how to surf, this might even be one of the best places in New Zealand to do it!
Aside from its coastal charms, the area around Raglan teems with other outdoor adventures. South of town, you can enjoy several great walks in the native forest. If you’re tight for time on your visit, Bridal Veil Falls is a fantastic option. It’ll only take about 10 minutes to get to the top of the 55-metre-high waterfalls. From the viewing platforms, you’ll marvel at incredible views of the surrounding countryside.
For a more challenging hike in Raglan, tackle Mount Karioi. The Mt Karioi Track start at Te Toto Gorge about 13 kilometres from town. The challenge trek to the 756-metre-high summit will take about 3 to 3.5 hours one way. Once atop, you’ll enjoy spectacular mountain and sea views. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see as far south as Mt Taranaki, the second-highest point on North Island.
To get to Raglan, expect about a two-hour drive from central Auckland.
Looking to experience North Island’s distinct nature? Taupo can’t be beat. Perched upon the shores of Lake Taupo, the town of Taupo is a paradise for nature lovers. And while the 3.5-hour drive doesn’t make Taupo a prime Auckland day trip destination, adventurers won’t regret taking the plunge. (And, besides, you could always stay in Taupo should the mood strike.)
Travellers who love the water should set their sights on Lake Taupo. One of the best things to do in Taupo is to float around Lake Taupo with its spectacular mountain scenery in view. Peer across the lake to the south. You’ll catch the snow-capped peaks of Tongariro National Park forming the backdrop.
If the lake isn’t beckoning, the trails might. There’s a ton of great hiking & walking trails near Taupo. One of the easiest and most accessible is to Huka Falls. Located about five kilometres north of Taupo, Huka Falls is just 8 metres high. The powerful waters of the Waikato River create quite the scene though. You’ll marvel at the sheer volume of water gushing through the falls.
Still got some time to kill in Taupo? Don’t forget its geothermal parks! Like Rotorua, Taupo is a hotbed of geothermal activities. Squeeze in a visit to the Wairakei Terraces or Craters of the Moon to catch it in action.
Tauranga pushes the limits for what you can accomplish on a day trip from Auckland. If you’ve got your own wheels and love road tripping, the 2.5-hour drive to New Zealand’s fifth-biggest city will feel like a gentle sea breeze.
While there are plenty of things to see & do in Tauranga, the real reason to visit is for its coastal attractions. On a Tauranga day trip, there’s no better place to start than Mount Maunganui. Called “The Mount” by locals, this area is home to some of New Zealand’s most popular beaches. Before settling down on its white sands, check them out from above with a trek up the mountain. There’s a variety of easy-to-walk paths to the summit. Once atop, the views over Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty are fantastic.
The Mount Maunganui area is also a great place to launch a shore excursion. From here, you’ll have no problem arranging kayaking, fishing or scuba diving adventures. If the sea doesn’t appeal, you call also take to the air. Book a skydiving adventure, scenic flight, or gyrocopter lesson to test your fear of heights.
Tiritri Matangi Island
Twitchers & nature lovers shouldn’t miss out Tiritiri Matangi Island. The 220-hectare wildlife sanctuary island sprouts out from the Hauraki Gulf. It’s just 30 kilometres northeast of Auckland, making it easily accessible as a day trip.
Tiritiri Matangi Island wasn’t always so pristine. Prior to 1984, the island’s habitats felt doomed by aggressive agriculture and predators. In the decades that followed, New Zealand set upon an ambitious conservation program to recover its native species. Today, Tiritiri once again teems with nature wildlife & flora. Most famous is the island’s flightless South Island takahe. It’s considered one of the world’s rarest birds.
Regular ferries run between Auckland and Tiritiri Mantangi Island. The ferry takes about 75 minutes from Auckland Central. To eliminate hassle, you can also book a Tiritiri Mantangi guided tour.
Goat Island Marine Reserve
Craving North Island’s seaside charms? Goat Island Marine Reserve is a fantastic escape from Auckland. Established in 1975, Goat Island was the first marine reserve in New Zealand. And thanks to its location, just an hour from Auckland, it’s still one of the country’s most popular.
Also known as Cape Rodney/Okakari Point Marine Reserve, Goat Island is a hotspot for snorkelling and scuba. The marine reserve teems colourful marine life, spread among an array of underwater habitats.
Even if you’re not interested in dipping in, you can enjoy two great coastal walks onshore. Along the way, you’ll marvel at spectacular views over the Hauraki Gulf.
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.
The Bay of Islands holds more than 140 subtropical islands in its midst. This unique New Zealand destination is located along the north east shore of North Island. It’s most known for its pristine beaches, windswept coastlines, and historic fishing towns.
Since you’ll be mega-crunched for time, start your mini Bay of Islands adventure off in Paihia. The town is the region’s main tourist centre.
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. You’ll also enjoy a stop 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. You’ll cruise along the Rakaumangamanga Peninsula toward Cape Brett. The cruise peaks at the famous Hole in the Rock at Motukokako Island. Along the way, you’ll also spot dolphins, whales, and other colourful marine life & birds.