The one word that always comes to mind when I describe New Zealand is stunning. It’s quite simply one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited.
There is so much to do in the country that you will never get bored.
Day trips from Auckland, for example, are plentiful. All you need is a car and a couple of hours to drive through some beautiful scenery and you’ll end up in another beautiful destination.
New Zealand consists of two major islands – the North Island and the South Island – and many smaller islands. While the South Island is more known for its tectonic activity, the North Island is more known for its geothermal activity.
No matter where you go, both tectonic and geothermal activity have made for some awe inspiring landscapes.
Someone told me that everywhere in New Zealand is a postcard. I agree. No matter where you point your camera, you’ll get a postcard quality shot.
If you want to do day trips from Auckland, just about anywhere on the northern part of the North Island is doable.
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Budgeting for New Zealand
One thing you’ll quickly notice about New Zealand is that it is not cheap. It’s one of the more expensive countries I’ve ever been to. Yes, I had a budget when I started the trip.
Within a few days of getting there though, I threw all pretense of trying to keep a budget out the window and decided to just do whatever I wanted.
The reason for this is that I made the personal decision that I’d traveled halfway around the world and sat on airplanes for nearly 20 hours. There is so much to do here and so much beauty in the country.
It would have been a shame to go all that way and limit myself.
That said, I couldn’t do everything.
So while I did a lot there, we decided to reach out to several travel bloggers to get their thoughts on what they think are the top day trips from Auckland.
Here are some of the things we, and they, recommend:
by Elisa from World in Paris
Rangitoto is a small island located along the Auckland coast. It erupted from the sea in a series of dramatic explosions around 600 years ago becoming the youngest island in the Hauraki Gulf.
It is also the last and largest volcano in the Auckland volcanic field. The island’s 259m volcanic cone is a distinctive landmark just off the Auckland coast.
The island is very easy to reach by ferry (30 min ride, one way) making it one of the easiest day trips from Auckland to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. You go to Rangitoto for its nature and to see the world’s largest pohutukawa forest. You also go to explore its fascinating landscapes of rugged lava crops and lush native bush.
Also, it is possible to climb up to the top of Rangitoto volcano. This is an easy hike (5 km one way) which takes about an hour. The views from the top are amazing – the Hauraky Gulf and Auckland’s skyline.
Today, Rangitoto has no population, but in the past, it was a summer destination for some families who built nice “Baches” (small holiday houses) in the 1920s and 1930s. Visitors can still see some of these baches, usually located not far from the beach.
For a unique Rangitoto experience: Take a Rangitoto guided tour by 4WD road-train and learn about the unique ecosystem of the volcanic island.
Auckland Coast-to-Coast Trail
by Jordan from Touring Kiwi
The Coast to Coast walk is a 16 km route that takes you from Waitemata Harbour to Manukau Harbour (or vice-versa), taking in a bunch of the key sites you’ll want to see in Auckland.
If you were really hustling, you could complete this in just over three hours, but there are lots of photo opportunities. By the time you stop for a bite, it’ll be close to six, maybe even seven or eight hours by the time you get back to the city.
I like starting at the Waitemata Harbour, on the viaduct, so you can relax on the train back from Onehunga after you’ve finished. Along the walkway, you’ll pass through the Auckland Domain (go to the Auckland Museum while here).
Then, walk up Mount Eden, through a University campus, Melville Park, and Cornwall Park on the way to One Tree Hill. After One Tree Hill, you’re close to the end as you walk through Royal Oak before ending at the start of Onehunga bordering Manukau Harbour.
Cornwall Park is gorgeous with all its trees and makes for a great picnic spot. And this walk does give you a chance to have the ultimate kiwi experience of getting up close to the sheep grazing around the base of One Tree Hill.
As part of the country long Te Araroa Trail, this is a magnificent walk. There are signs along the way, but I recommend downloading the walking route from the website as there are some parts where you don’t see a sign for a while.
Kai Iwi Lakes
by Kylie from Our Overseas Adventures
Kai Iwi Lakes is located at the Taharoa Domain in the Kaipara District in Northland. It’s one of the perfect day trips from Auckland. Thought to have originated 1.8 million years ago, these three pristine, freshwater lakes are colored the most incredible turquoise blue.
The shores of the lake have a fine white sand. You could be forgiven for thinking you were on a tropical island!
The lakes are set among over 500 hectares of protected parkland. They’re a great place for swimming, picnicking, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, boating and jet skiing. The lakes area also has a number of walking tracks. So if you’re feeling energetic you can hike or cycle around them through native forest to get some beautiful views.
The wild West Coast beaches are also located only 2 kilometres from Kai Iwi Lakes, and there is a trail accessible through farmland to get there.
If you’re visiting during the summer months, you’ll want to leave Auckland early for the three-hour drive. This helps you avoid traffic and make the most of your day. The roads on summer weekends can get very congested. Ideally, you should visit during the week when it will be quieter.
There’s little in the way of shops at the lakes. So if you want a picnic when you get there, you’ll want to grab provisions before you arrive.
More than a day trip: Experience three days of magic in the Bay of Islands, including the Kai Iwi lakes. Explore the beautiful beaches, see native kauri trees and go sandboarding. Stay in the seaside town of Paihia.
Devonport – climb Mount Victoria
If you are up for a real treat, make your plan to spend a day in Devonport, one of the prettiest villages in the region.
While there are many restaurants, cozy cafes, boutiques, and museums in Devonport to keep you occupied, the one thing that you have to do is to climb to the summit of Mount Victoria. Mount Victoria is an ancient, dormant volcano, and it is one of the highest peaks on Auckland’s North Shore. The landscape itself is simply stunning – Mt. Victoria maintains its green conical shape.
The village of Devonport surrounds it.
The quick 10-20 min hike to the summit of Mount Victoria reveals the best view of Auckland’s skyline across Waitemata Harbor. There is no other view like this – you can get the perfect postcard shot from here.
To get to Devonport, hop on a short ferry ride from Auckland CDB across the harbor. The ride is about 12 minutes and is one of the best and affordable ferry rides you can take around Auckland.
Auckland Sailing Tours
Auckland prides itself as a world’s class sailing city. It even has the honorary nickname, the “City of Sails.” So, it’s not surprising to learn that Auckland has the world’s highest ratio of boats to residents.
If you are looking for an unforgettable experience in Auckland, consider a sailing tour that takes you around Waitemata Harbor and beyond.
There are several companies that offer different sailing packages. The America’s Cup Racing Cruise, for example, will even give you a quick sailing lesson.
You will learn a basic and important sailing skills from a professional crew, making this one of the most fun day trips from Auckland.
For a shorter sailing experience, you can board the Pride of Auckland. This more laid back sailing evening lets you enjoy the beautiful harbor with a cup of coffee or tea in hand.
Sail – America’s Cup style: Climb aboard a genuine America’s Cup yacht and set sail on the sparkling waters of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbor. Take an active part or just enjoy the journey! No experience required.
by Thais from World Trip Diaries
Mount Maunganui, or the Mount, as it’s called by the locals, is one of the most beautiful places on the North Island of New Zealand. Just a 3-hour-drive away from the city and you’re there. And, being a small town, that makes it one of the perfect day trips from Auckland.
Although it’s better to visit on a summer day (well, beaches, everyone!), it’s lovely all year round. It can get quite crowded during the summer, making it hard to find accommodation. But for a day trip, it’s just fine!
While you’re there, hike up to the top of Mauao (the mountain). Take in the stunning views of the already stunning town. It’s a short walk of around 30-40 minutes but it’s uphill, so you may need a few rest stops.
Don’t miss Moturiki Island – it’s reachable on foot and it’s oh so beautiful! We loved the blowhole! Have a real-fruit ice cream in one of the beach-front shops while you take in all the beauty.
Walk around the pretty and very kiwi center and enjoy the laid-back time while you can. It’s one of my favorite places on the North Island!
Grab an audio guide: Do your hike at your own pace with a downloadable audio guide to Mount Maunganui.
Matamata and Hobbiton
by Jackie & Justin from Life Of Doing
New Zealand is known for the filming of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.” What better way to see a filming location than to visit Matamata for the Hobbiton Movie Set?
It’s not that far away either, making it one of the more doable day trips from Auckland. Matamata is 180km south of Auckland. It takes roughly 2 hours to drive there.
Even if you aren’t a fan of the series, the Hobbiton Movie Set is wonderful to see. The rolling green hills, farm animals, and the scenery is picturesque.
Everyone participates in a 2 hour guided tour where you’ll learn about the movie set, walk through the Shire, and see various Hobbit holes, including Bilbo’s house at Bag End and Sam Gamgee’s house.
You’ll end your guided tour at the Green Dragon Inn. There, you’ll get a complimentary beverage – your choice of beer, cider, or non-alcoholic ginger beer.
For a unique experience, consider taking an evening tour of the Shire and enjoy a banquet feast at the Green Dragon Inn. Don’t forget to reserve your tickets in advance for any of the tours.
It’s worth the journey to visit here.
Recommended day trip from Auckland: Enjoy an express bus service from Auckland to tour the amazing movie set from the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Piha Beach is New Zealand’s most famous surfing destination. It’s about 45 minutes outside of Auckland on the West coast of the North Island. This place is infamous – not just for its fantastic surfing – but for the danger associated with the waves and water.
Rip currents are common here and very unpredictable and deceptive. Swim only in the areas marked off by the lifeguards.
So many people have gotten themselves into trouble here that this black sand volcanic beach inspired a popular television show called Piha Rescue. People die here. That includes tourists who try to get out onto the rocks for the perfect Instagram photo to novice surfers who try things beyond their experience level.
But don’t let all that gloom and doom keep you from coming. Piha Beach will be one of the most awe-inspiring and best day trips from Auckland that you’ll take. If you stick to a picnic on the beach and safe swimming, you’ll love it here.
And don’t forget to bring a camera because, like me, you’ll constantly be taking photos!
Spend the whole day here: Enjoy a fully-guided day trip to Piha Beach from Auckland. Get a guided tour of Piha then enjoy six to eight hours of free time to explore in this bestselling tour!
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Day trips from Auckland to Rotorua
Rotorua is probably one of the most popular day trips from Auckland because there are so many things to do there. The problem is that there is so much to see and do that most people end up spending a few days there.
Having said that, if you just want to do a day trip, then here are a few recommendations. If you have to get back to Auckland by nighttime, then you’ll only be able to do a couple of these.
The drive from Auckland to Roturua takes between 2.5 and 3 hours. So figure that time into your day if you decide not to stay the night.
Here are some of the wonderful things you can do in Rotorua:
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
by Christina from Explore Now or Never
In just a two and a half hour drive from Auckland, you can be inside the incredible Waitomo Glowworm Caves. There, you’ll float on a stunning boat ride through a deep cave.
Look up and you’ll be mesmerized by what appears to be a starry wonderland of a night sky. But it’s actually the larvae of glowworms that use their glow to attract a food source.
Count on your guide for a Glowworm 101 introduction. He or she will give also you a detailed primer on the many fascinating stalactites and stalagmites you’ll see.
Feeling adventurous? If you have more time, sign up for an underground caving and rafting adventure that includes subterranean waterfall jumping (!) or ziplining.
Or, visit nearby Ruakuri Cave for a longer underground walking tour. There’s also Aranui Cave—just five minutes away‚ which is the smallest and most delicate of the caves.
Here, you can get close up views and learn why this special cave is the stuff of Maori legends. Interested in other North Island adventures and other day trips from Auckland?
Visit Explore Now or Never for details!
Glowworm eco-tour: Explore Waitomo’s amazing glowworms and natural wonders away from the crowds. Wander through native New Zealand forest with a small group and an expert guide.
Go Zorbing in Rotorua
Unlike a lot of experiences in Rotorua, you will learn absolutely nothing here. There’s nothing cultural about it. There’s no history behind it. Your brain cells will not be enhanced by this experience. No useful neural connections will happen – except in the excitement sections!
Zorbing is about fun. Nothing more. Jump inside and tumble down a large hill – all while getting thrown around inside a ball full of water.
While Halef did this several years ago, I decided not to. It was pretty cold out when I was there. And I am wimpy that way!
Be a kid again: Experience one or multiple wild and wacky downhill rides in a ZORB. Rotorua is the only location in New Zealand where you can take on this amazingly fun and bizarre activity.
Mitai Maori Village and Hangi dinner
Everyone who goes to Rotorua should take part in a Maori cultural experience. And there are several places available for this. Our experience was at the Mitai Maori Village.
If you’re reasonably close, a van from the village will pick you up at your hotel. Our hotel clerk insisted on calling for this service for us.
Your night will start with a tour of the village, including seeing an actual waka (war canoe) and the cooking of the hangi dinner in a pit. You’ll then go down to the river and watch a demonstration of Maori men paddling down a river in a war canoe.
The dinner includes roasted potatoes, lamb, chicken, other vegetables, salads, and desserts. While much of it is traditional food, there are options for guests with different tastes.
After dinner, our host made himself available to answer any questions we had about Maori life – both past and present. There were many pointed questions, I’d say even some sensitive questions. He answered every one of them honestly. It was very interesting and worthwhile.
Finally, we got to see the glow worms. Yep. Mitai Village has glow worms!
The Mitai Experience: Visit a traditional Maori village and learn more about their customs and rituals at an amazing 3-hour cultural experience, including a tasty hangi feast.
(We’ve also heard that this experience is just as awesome.)
Te Puia in Rotorua was, personally, my very first geothermal attraction. From bubbling mud pits to the world-famous Pohutu Geyser, Te Puia is quite an experience.
One attraction here that you shouldn’t miss is the Kiwi house. It may be your only opportunity while in New Zealand to see a Kiwi bird. The Kiwi house is extremely dark, lit only by a very dim red light.
You can’t take photos or videos here. And really, you probably wouldn’t get anything if you tried. It’s very difficult to see. In fact, we didn’t see a kiwi here, though others are lucky and do.
Allow for at least a couple of hours here. If you want to do a guided tour, they leave hourly starting at 9 AM and ending at 4 PM. The tours last between 60-90 minutes. Maori cultural performances also occur here at 10:15 AM, 12:15 PM, and 3:15 PM.
Tour and dinner: Make it a combo with this Te Puia tour and Maori cultural experience.
Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Valley
Aside from the great Q & A session at the Mitai Maori village, this was easily my favorite part of the trip to Rotorua. And if you come here, expect to spend several hours wandering the various trails that wind their way through Wai-o-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland.
My favorite part of Wai-o-Tapu was the Devil’s Bath – pictured above. It completely took me by surprise as I rounded the trail to see it. For years, I’ve seen photos of Kelimutu in Indonesia, a group of three multi-colored crater lakes.
They’ve always astonished me and I’ve longed to see them for real. Well, this is not Kelimutu, but it’s the next best thing!
Want to see a geyser that blows its top at precisely 10:15 every day? Then check out the Lady Knox Geyser. The precision of the geyser comes with a touch of human intervention, as a park ranger pours a catalyst into the geyser’s opening that causes a reaction that makes it work.
But, she said, it would go off every three days on its own. She’s just there to help it along so visitors can see it every day. There’s so much visual stimulation here that Wai-o-Tapu will blow your mind. And, as is always the case in New Zealand, it will put a strain on your camera’s SD card!
Wai-O-Tapu and more: Join a small tour to visit Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley from central Rotorua. Discover the hot springs, geysers, mud pools, volcanoes and native forest.
More Day Trips from Auckland?
We know there’s a lot more to do. Do you have recommendations for day trips from Auckland?
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Michael is originally from Canada but now resides in Atlanta, GA with his husband, Halef, who also writes here. He is a Couchsurfing expert. Michael has traveled to over 50 countries learning how to experience more for less as he travels.