Just a 45-minute drive north of downtown Auckland, Matakana is one of the most popular getaways for holidaying locals and passing tourists. There’s a very good reason for it too: the area is lined with beautiful beaches, river valleys, and vineyards. Enjoy the scenic drive and make sure to make the most of the local community – the village’s weekend farmers’ markets are a favourite among Matakana’s dwellers as well as the travelling crowds.
Day trippers shouldn’t discount the more isolated treasures nestled in the Auckland region itself. Located on Auckland’s west coast, approximately 40 minutes away from the city, the Waitakere Ranges packs all of the best landscape features into one idyllic location. There are more than 16,000 hectares of rainforests and coastlines for visitors to play with, making this a popular spot for hiking as well as soaking up the sun. The wonderful waterfalls in its vicinity, including the Karekare, Kitekite, and Fairy Falls, are also worth seeing from up close.
This underrated destination on the Hauraki Gulf is almost an Auckland-based secret. Take the ferry from downtown to Great Barrier Island, and prepare for a marvelous treat. The island is perfect for diving, fishing, mountain biking, hiking, surfing, or simply chilling out by the beach. You’ll be able to immerse yourself in 100-kilometres (62.1-miles) of walking tracks, pristine beaches, and an all-round breathtaking scenery.
While we’re on the subject of the Hauraki Gulf, we can’t pass up a day trip to Waiheke Island. Again, a ferry ride is all that’s needed to start on your journey. From there, you can explore the various wineries, lovely beaches and bush-walking tracks. If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, try one of the local zip-lining tours – that’s guaranteed to give you a unique, and highly memorable, perspective of your surroundings.
Venture a little further afield from Matakana to get to Puhoi. The town’s remarkable Bohemian heritage makes this a must-visit destination for history buffs. Hikers can enjoy a series of tracks, including the Puhoi section of the 3000-kilometre (1864-mile) Te Araroa Trail. The serene Puhoi River is great for kayaking, giving you the opportunity to soak up the countryside scenery as you paddle along the waters. If you want to extend your visit, there’s a hotel nearby too.
Situated within an hour and half drive east of Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula is a treasure trove of scenic beauty that all travellers, local and international, are guaranteed to fall in love with. Major highlights include the Hot Water Beach, with its golden sands and bubbling waters, and the breath-taking Cathedral Cove – which is best explored via guided boat or kayaking tours, as you’ll get more insight into the area’s geological and historical significance.
New Zealand’s best renowned caving destination, Waitomo, is located just under 200 kilometres (125 miles) from Auckland. Adrenaline junkies can abseil down the subterranean caverns to do some black water rafting along the Ruakuri Cave. For the less sporty among us, there’s always the option of a guided tour along the stunning glow-worm lined limestone formations.
Geysers, hot springs, geothermal pools, and a rich Maori history are some of Rotorua’s primary attractions. Located in the Bay of Plenty, just a couple of hours’ drive from Auckland, the town offers a great showcase of New Zealand’s natural landscapes. Marvel at the sparkling Lake Rotorua, or head further afield: Mokoia Island is one of the area’s most unique heritage attractions, and the Whakarewarewa Forest is a wonder of native plant life that everyone should experience.
Speaking of must-do experiences, no visit to the North Island would ever be complete without stopping by the exquisite Bay of Islands. This subtropical region, just north of Auckland, is renowned for its incredible beauty and remarkable history. The Waitangi treaty grounds are part of the Bay of Islands, and there are a wide range of pristine beaches running along the coastal towns of Paihia, Russell, Opua, and Kerikeri.
Tolkien fans, rejoice: the Hobbiton Film Set is just a couple of hours away. You’ll find it in Matamata, approximately 160 kilometres (99 miles) from Auckland. This is one major tourist destination that is bound to put a smile on everyone’s faces. Spend a day touring the hobbit holes, the Shire’s nest, and Bilbo Baggins’ house – by the end of the trip, you’ll feel like you’ve truly seen a bit of Middle-earth in its finest form.
Lake Taupo and its namesake town are within close quarters of the Auckland region. A popular place for a family outing, Taupo brings all the best New Zealand activities into a single place: geothermal springs, an abundance of waterborne activities, Maori rock carvings, and stunning waterfalls are all part of the Taupo experience. Take a boat tour of Mine Bay, spend some time admiring the thundering Huka Falls, or marvel at the dazzling beauty of the Orakei Korako springs.