Sometimes it is fun to jump in the car and go exploring – the good news is – Auckland is one of the best places in New Zealand to do that from! You can go up into Northland and discover its beautiful beaches and remote bays or down deep into North Island farming country and maybe spot a Hobbit hole along the way!
Whether you are short on time, or want to spend the day exploring well beyond the Auckland region, we have assembled this comprehensive guide to the best day trip options for all! Here are our top 20 day trips from Auckland ranked according to drive times so you can find the ones that will fit your plans.
1. Ambury Regional Park
Drive time 20 minutes
Located just 15km from Auckland Central, the Ambury Regional Park is a short drive towards the shores of the beautiful Manukau Harbour. A working farm as well as Education Centre, Ambury Regional Park has a wide selection of farm animals to view such as sheep, goats, chicken, rabbits and even peacocks strutting their stuff across the open farmland.
There are plenty of coastal walks with amazing views across the harbour at Ambury, the area is also a favourite spot for bird watchers. Try the ‘Family Farm Walk’ for something easy (45 mins), the Foreshore Walk along the coastline or the Lost Gardens Walk for a short stroll (30 mins).
Camping is available within the park – always book in advance though as spaces are limited. You will need a tent or self contained vehicle, prices are currently set at $16 per adult and $6.50 per child. Se here for more information on camping at Ambury Regional Park.
The Park is open 24/7 to those on foot, with restricted hours for vehicle entry. Picnic tables and BBQ’s are located on site and are free to use. Remember to take all rubbish and recycling with you when you leave.
2. Hobsonville Point
Drive time 20 minutes
Short on time and need something a close to home? Hobsonville Point is great suburban destination for the whole family. This historical airbase still has many of its original buildings still intact and an hour long walk leads you around the main features, including a row of houses once occupied by officers, barracks and a hangar.
Many of the original buildings at Hobsonville Point date between 1925-1937, and are a great portrayal of New Zealand architecture of that time period. These building have been lovingly restored and integrated into the new community development.
For something a little different there is a popular Farmers’ Market every weekend (Friday to Sunday) selling fresh local produce, handmade treats and baked goods. The Catalina Bay Farmers Market is well known with the locals and well worth a look if you have the time.
Situated roughly halfway between Albany and Westgate on State Highway 18, it takes about 20 minutes to drive to Hobsonville Point from the CBD heading north out of the city.
3. Whangaparaoa Peninsula
Drive time 35 minutes
Jutting prominently out into the sparkling waters of the Hauraki Gulf, the Whangaparaoa Peninsula is just a short drive from Auckland heading north along State Highway 1. The Peninsula is home to the Stanmore Bay beach settlement, the Gulf Harbour development and Shakespear Regional Park.
Spend some time enjoying a coffee and brunch at L&G’s Kitchen café at Stanmore Bay before taking a stroll along the quiet beachfront reserve. There is a playground at the eastern end along with Stanmore Bay Park and Rata Reserve. Rent an E-bike and venture a little further afield exploring the small settlement nearby beaches and bays.
Further on from Stanmore Bay, from the Gulf Harbour Marina at the Hobbs Bay inlet you can go fishing by charter, catch a ferry to the remote Tiritiri Matangi Island or even back to the Queens Wharf in Auckland central.
The Shakespear Regional Park (no that’s not a typo it is actually spelt minus the ‘e’), takes up most of the tip of the Peninsula with three great walkways amongst its lush green borders – the Heritage Trail, Lookout Track and Tiri Tiri Track. The small beach by the same name is a sheltered spot great for camping (at the nearby camp ground).
Drive time 40 minutes
Situated to the northwest of Auckland on the West Coast, Muriwai is popular for its great surf and is home to its very own Gannet Colony. This fairly long straight beach is flanked by the Muriwai Regional Park for most of its northern end with the Gannet Colony at its southern tip located on the rocky outcrop near the Muriwai settlement.
The Muriwai Regional Park has a number of walking tracks both along the beach, and out around the Gannet Colony point. There is also a playground and two scenic lookouts to discover as you go. Turn your day trip into an overnighter at the Muriwai Camping ground where you can even hire a tent if you don’t already have one!
Horse riding at Muriwai is another popular pastime – look out for the Muriwai Horse Park at the turn off for Coast Road as it heads towards the main vehicle entrance to the beach. Horse treks vary from 1 to 3 hours and are priced between $75 to $230.
If its surfing and surfing only that you have come to Muriwai for then here’s the low down; surf boards are available for hire at the Surf School along with surfing lessons (and blokarts if you want to mix it up). Check out the surf conditions at Muriwai here, the swells here, and the tides and a little lesson on surf etiquette at Muriwai here.
5. Hunua Ranges Regional Park
Drive time 45 minutes
Taking it to the south this time, a visit to the Hunua Ranges is a must-do when visiting Auckland. Take a packed lunch and spend you day exploring best of the 14,000 hectares of native forest in the Park on foot or by bike and enjoy taking some time off the grid.
The Hunua Ranges is home to a large variety of plants and wildlife – some of which are quite rare. An unusual frog species calls the Ranges home, known as the ‘Hochsetter’, this frog makes none of the usual croaking noises you would expect from a frog and does not have webbed feet. Some of the birdlife you ca expect to see are one of NZ’s rarest birds, the kokako and also the tui, kiwi, kaka, bellbirds, and Kereru.
If you are a mountain biker then bring along your bikes for this one, there are several great bike tracks to choose from, the Mangatawhiri Challenge Track (15km), the Moumoukai Farm Track (15km), the River Track (2.6km) and the Valley Loop Track (14km). There is even a Mountain Bike Skills area f or those who just want to practice.
The Hunua Ranges are a short 45 minute drive from Auckland making it an easy day trip option for all. Don’t miss getting a pic of the well-known Hunua Falls – just a ten minute walk from the main carpark. Standing at approximately 30 metres high, the picturesque Hunua Falls are the perfect spot for that picnic lunch!
Drive time 50 minutes
The seaside village of Piha is situated on the rugged west coast and comes complete with a black sandy beach and that ‘world away from anywhere’ feeling. Popular with surfers the beach offers up some excellent surf (weather permitting) with strong swells and good breaks.
Look out for the prominent ‘Lions Rock’ situated mid-way along the beach (you cant miss it!), those who wish, can scale its steep slopes for some amazing views out over the beach on a clear day. The climb to near the top is well worth the effort but the track is steep with steps only some of the way and the track can be slippery when wet.
The nearby Waitakere Ranges Regional Park has subtropical native rainforest and trails to waterfalls such as Kitekite and Fairy falls and Karekare, to the south, also has a fantastic black sand beach.
Located to the north west of Auckland, Piha is roughly 50 minutes’ drive away from the city, however be warned, the road is narrow and windy at times and a careful pace in necessary.
7. Duder Regional Park
Drive time 1 hour
Duder Regional Park is a large farm park beside the sea, offering spectacular views of the Hauraki Gulf. There are a number of gentle and more strenuous walks you can do to fully explore the area, including the foundations of an old Maori settlement. In addition to the farmland you’ll find pockets of native bush including kauri trees and wildlife including rare native bird species.
The park also has a great pre-set orientation course with forty different markers to find, look for the map at the noticeboard by the main entrance and make your own way around – time yourself as you go!
On the return trip swing by the Hunua Ranges Regional Park and check out the scenic Hunua Falls. At 30 metres the Falls are a lovely place for a picnic or just to stretch the legs. See above (number 5 for more information on what to do at the Hunua Ranges).
Access to Duder Regional Park is via the Southern Motorway, turning off near the Botanic Gardens and heading out towards the coast to 933 North Road, Clevedon – only an hour’s drive from Auckland City.
Drive time 1 hour
At just under an hour’s drive from the city, Matakana is a popular destination for Aucklanders looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a day. Known for its beautiful natural environment complete with rivers, forests and beaches, but also its quaint local culture and boutique shops, Matakana is the perfect day trip destination for all ages.
Seek out the popular Farmers’ Market, quirky cafes and wonderful boutique wine stores – all part of the attraction. There is also the Matakana Cinema – perfect for those rainy days – check out what currently showing at the Matakana theatre here.
On your way home from Matakana stop for a coffee at Puhoi and check out the historic colonial buildings, a famous pub and cheese factory. Matakana is 50 minutes’ drive from Auckland, heading north across the Harbour Bridge and east up the coast.
9. Anawhata Beach
Drive time 1 hour
Anawhata Beach is a remote West Coast surfing, swimming and fishing beach that is great for those wanting to escape the crowds of neighbouring beaches. You will find it is a relatively small beach nestled between rocky outcrops with a large rock formation in the centre.
The forest you walk through on the way is filled with fantail, tui, morepork and kereru which will be chiming out all year long. The beach itself is not safe for swimming, so enjoy it from the sand and just go for a paddle if you get too hot.
Head to Titirangi Village, and follow Scenic Drive until you read Piha Road then Anawhata Road – this is about 40km from Auckland City. You’ll also need to walk around 30 minutes to reach the beach, you cannot drive to it but the reward for this is an extremely sheltered and private beach experience.
10. Awhitu Peninsula
Drive time 1 hour 15 minutes
Taking it to the wilderness lovers today, the Awhitu Peninsula juts out between the Manukau Harbour and the Tasman Sea. This bracing and rugged location is home to the small Awhitu Regional Park where you can explore parkland pastures and wetlands, and enjoy the safe, sandy beaches and sheltered picnic areas.
Drive out to the Manukau Heads Lighthouse along Manukau Heads Road and visit one of the very few accessible lighthouses in New Zealand. Make your way up the 120 steps into the wooden lighthouse and take in the spectacular ocean views – keep an eye out for some rare wildlife while you’re there.
Roughly 95km from Auckland, the drive to Awhitu takes about an hour and 15 minutes heading south on the southern motorway turning off at Drury to head towards the west coast, the route is signposted from Waiuku. The lighthouse is another 15 minutes further on.
Drive time 2 hours
The little gem of the Waikato, Raglan is situated on the west coast of the North Island. Its rugged windswept beach and rough and rugged coastline provide a picturesque backdrop to the small and sheltered township. You will find this cute little seaside town has everything you need, from cafes and restaurants to camping grounds, surf lessons, fishing expeditions and more.
The nearby Pirongia Forest Park is the perfect choice for hiking, mountain biking and just generally exploring. Within the Park seek out the Kaniwhaniwha Caves for some underground action – but be sure to take a torch with you! Remember when entering New Zealand’s forest always be prepared, tell someone where you are going and when you’ll be back and always take emergency supplies and warm clothing.
Grab a surfing lesson down on the beach or take a dip in the wild waves to refresh the mind and body. Feeling adventurous? Why not try your hand at rock climbing, caving or kayaking? Or if you are after a slower pace check out the great walking tracks in the area.
Raglan is approximately 2 hours’ drive from Auckland taking State Highway 1 south, turning off just before reaching Hamilton. There are plenty of cafes, shops and places to stay in Raglan.
Drive Time 2 hours
Go for gold on this one – Waihi was built on the back of its gold way back in 1978, and getting to know this little town won’t disappoint! Travelling to Waihi means heading south out of Auckland then taking the Statehighway 2 turn off at Pokeno, then stay on SH 2 and follow your noes as they say – you can’t miss it!
The Waihi Gold Discovery Centre is a great place to immerse yourself in the gold rush era and learn a little along the way. There is even a gold mine tour of the currently operating gold mine – see how it’s done in the 21st Century! Or take a walk around the open-air Martha Mine Pit for a different perspective.
Another great reason people come to Waihi is the beach – think beautiful white sands, and picturesque waves! Waihi Beach is a very popular holiday spot for many over the summer months and the town enjoys a low-key beach type of vibe. The beach is great for swimming and surfing for all levels.
Exploring the Karangahake Gorge is also a good choice when in Waihi, in fact you pasted it on the way in – just a few minutes back along State Highway 2 you will find the Karangahake Gorge, Mount Karangahake, the Karangahake Lookout, the Karangahake Tunnel (The Hauraki Rail Trail passes through here) and a variety of walks around the area. Look out for the Owharoa Falls on the way it’s a great little stop for a photo – the falls are just a short walk from the road.
13. The Pinnacles (The Kauaeranga Kauri Trail)
Drive time 2 hours
While visiting the Coromandel (see below) is a destination in itself, we just felt this one deserved a mention of its own! ‘The Pinnacles’ are located in the middle of the Coromandel Forest Park and is one of the best walking tracks in the North Island. The track is aimed at intermediate to advanced hikers and walking all the way and back in one day will take 6 to 8 hours depending on the route taken.
Getting to the Pinnacles track will mean taking State Highway 1 out of Auckland, turning on to SH 2 at Pokeno and then SH 25 and on through Thames. From Thames it’s a slow and windy trip in the car all the way along Kauaeranga Valley Road until it ends – that’s when you know you’ve arrived!
You will find a number of DOC camping sites along the way which provide very basic tent sites and facilities – these are great if you are planning on walking the entire Pinnacles Track in one and but don’t wish to drive home afterwards.
Of course you don’t have to do the track all in one day, there is a DOC hut (The Pinnacles Hut) part way in that provides comfortable back country accommodations allowing you to spend a night surrounded by the beautiful Coromandel Forest and birdsong. The hut contains bunks beds for up to 80 people and has gas cooking facilities, heating, cold showers and non-flush toilets. Booking ahead is essential.
Drive time 2 hours 30 minutes
This one is a favourite for families and beach goers who love the great outdoors. Travelling to Kawhia from Auckland is an easy drive taking you south past Hamilton, skirting the edges of the Pirongia Forest and out towards the coast.
No trip to Kawhia is complete without a visit to ‘Ocean Beach’ and the Te Puia hot water springs – at low tide you can dig your very own ‘hot pool’ from the glistening black sand and enjoy the stunning views. Check the Kawhia tidal information here before you go. The warm water from the Te Puia Springs is accessible two hours either side of low tide.
Fishing is big in Kawhia – and so are the fish! Fishing from the shoreline, and in both the harbour and ocean are popular past times. The sheltered harbour provides good Flounder fishing, or at low tide you can collect Pipi, Oysters, Mussels and Cockles. Crossing the ‘Bar’ by boat will open up access to excellent deep sea fishing such as Snapper, Trevally or Kahawai. Local operators Dove Charters are a good place to start your fishing adventures, or at least point you in the right direction.
Prefer to keep your feet on solid ground? Then take a stroll through the Kawhia Regional Museum down at the waterfront. Located in the old waterfront offices of the former Kawhia County Council, the Kawhia Museum showcases some of the European and Maori history of the area and its fish! There are also plenty of nature walks, horse riding, harbour cruises, an offshore Gannet Colony and many more great things to do in Kawhia!
15. Coromandel Peninsula
Drive time 2 hours 45 minutes
With the Coromandel Forest Park on one side and the oceanic Firth of Thames on the other this drive following the edge of the Coromandel Peninsula is easily one of them most scenic coastal drives in New Zealand. For most, a complete loop of the peninsula is the way to go affording the best views and allowing a complete peak into this rugged and remote paradise.
Thames is the first (and last) township of size you will encounter and its conveniently at the start of your journey so do stop to fill up and fuel up before continuing on. As you make your way around the peninsula you will encounter the famous Hot Water Beach where you can dig your own spa pool for the day, choose to visit the stunning rock formation Cathedral Cove, the chance to take a railway tour on New Zealand’s steepest railway with the Driving Creek Railway team and many many opportunities to go mountain biking so don’t forget to pack the bikes!
You can also give kayaking a try or tackle the epic Coromandel Coastal Walkway – the Coromandel is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise! Hahei is the place to be for kayaking tours of Cathedral Cove, Te Horo Rock and the Smiling Sphinx Rock along with boat tours.
There are also a number of accommodation options at Hahei. Returning via Tairua and Hikuai will complete the Coromandel loop however you can continue on down the coast a little further returning via Waihi and Paeroa. The drive to Coromandel takes around 2.45 hours.
16. Mount Maunganui
Drive time 2 hours 45 minutes
The perfect summer paradise, Mount Maunganui offers up a ‘remote beach resort’ feel with the added bonus of great shopping, restaurants and cafes just across the water in Tauranga nearby. You will find there is plenty to do in this seaside town including taking a relaxing dip in the hot pools, stand up paddle boarding, surf lessons, jet skiing, fishing and seeking out the very best ice-cream shop!
Tauranga and the Mount are full of great cafes and restaurants, boutique shopping and main stream malls all surrounded by beautiful coastline and stunning views. Taking a scenic flight over the Mount, the harbour and the ocean is one of the best things to do in Mount Maunganui, its difficult to describe the beauty of this place – you’ll just have to go see it for yourself!
The beautiful beach at ‘The Mount’ as it’s known by the locals (named after the nearby prominent volcanic cone), is perfect for swimming, surfing, sea kayaking and sun bathing. Join in a game of beach volley ball, take a stroll along the boardwalk and grab a real fruit ice cream in the heat of the day. Don’t miss the opportunity to climb right to the top of the Mount for the very best views – trust me its well worth the effort!
At just over two and half two and a half hours drive from Auckland, Mount Maunganui is the ultimate day trip destination and a popular weekend destination for many Auckland locals. Just FYI there is plenty of beach-side accommodation too if you feel like turning your day trip into an overnighter… a weekender or and entire week away!
Drive time 3 hours
Known as the gateway to the beautiful Bay of Islands, Paihia offers up plenty to see and do for all ages and abilities. Perhaps the most famous reason people visit Paihia is to see the Waitangi Treaty Grounds (the birthplace of New Zealand’s founding settlement document). On this historic site you can take a guided tour, chat with the local wood carvers, enjoy a cultural performance and get up close to a giant Maori war canoe. See here for an in-depth look into the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
Swimming with dolphins or enjoying a sailing tour around the Islands are also big draw-cards for visitors to Paihia, along with viewing the interesting ‘Hole in the Rock’ formation either via ocean cruise. You will find plenty of local operators offering guided tours and unique experiences for all.
Oh and did we mention fishing? Yes well, in Paihia fishing is just a regular part of their day! Get in there and try it first hand with a fishing charter or just head to the nearest cafe or restaurant for some of the delicious locally caught seafood.
Or if you prefer something a little more relaxing, take the ferry across to Russell and grab some lunch in one of the many cafes, wander the streets and admire the iconic history of the place or just hit the beach and soak up some sun. The very scenic drive to Paihia is roughly 3 hours by car, heading north out of Auckland on State Highway 1 you will pass through the three big ‘W’s’ – Warkworth, Wellsford and Whangarei before finding yourself in this tiny little New Zealand town that packs a punch when it comes to fun in the sun!
Drive time 3 hours
Boiling mud pools any one? Rotorua is the best place to experience New Zealand’s geothermal wonders without having to get too far off the beaten track. Experience the best of the steaming geysers and boiling mud pools while immersing yourself in the local Maori culture.
Rotorua is also famous for being the tourism mecca of the North Island. Take on Zorbing, Whitewater Rafting, Jet Boating, ride the Gondola, hit the Luge, Parasailing, Ziplining and much much more. The Redwoods forest (as visited by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle) are also a popular spot, along with the tranquil Government Gardens, Kuirau Park and the many Lakes and waterways around the area.
Just 3 hours from Auckland, Rotorua is an extremely popular road trip destination for travellers from all around New Zealand. The cultural and tourism mix found in Rotorua is unique to New Zealand, and one not to be missed!
Drive time 3 hours 20 minutes
We’re going full roadie on this one it’s off to Taupo in the Central North Island. Taupo is a good three and a half hour drive from Auckland so you’ll want to get an early start on this one. Heading south out of Auckland and down through Pokeno and Hamilton and Cambridge.
Take this opportunity to visit the real live Hobbiton Village as seen on the movies The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit, only a short detour halfway between Matamata and Cambridge. Wander about the large set and see all the famous places such as the Hobbit Holes, the Mill and the Green Dragon Inn.
From here it’s on through Putaruru, the Kinleith Forest and on to Taupo. Just before you get to Taupo stop by the Huka Falls, These impressive 11 metre high falls are the result of very hard volcanic rock underneath forcing the path of the water through a very narrow shoot. Viewing the falls from the footbridge above is a good way to appreciate the sheer force of the water barrelling below or you can see them from below via jet boat or cruise.
Once you reach Taupo the immediate focus is on the Lake of the same name – which is said to be the size of Singapore! This tranquil lake provides visitors with a large variety of water based activities including jet skiing, boating, fishing, sightseeing, water skiing, swimming and much more!
If you prefer to keep your feet on more solid ground – the Great Lake Trail runs around the parts of Lake Taupo and beyond and is an awesome mountain biking experience for riders of all ages. See here for more information on Mountain biking tracks in Taupo and the Great Lake Trail.
20. Centre Of The North Island
Drive time 3 hours 30 minutes (plus some walking!)
Grab your walking boots or your mountain bike and get an early start on this one – you will find the Centre of the North Island in the Pureora Forest Park at the bottom of the Waikato region. This roadie will take you south out of Auckland, through Hamilton, and deep into NZ farming country.
Access to the Pureora Forest Park is from three main locations via SH30 for the northern block, via SH32 to the eastern side of the park and SH4 via Ongarue on the south-western side. From Auckland you want to come in via SH 30 through Te Kuiti and then Mangaoweka, turning off SH 30 after passing through Bennydale, keep an eye out for the Maraeroa Road and Barryville Road turns offs as you go.
Upon arrival at the Pureora Village Timber Trail Car Park (the Timber Trail walking track begins from here too!) the Centre of the North Island is approximately a three to four hour walk in using the forestry roads or follow the Timber Trail if you like and climb Mount Pureora and then follow the Mount Pureora Trail down and across the Forestry Road all the way to the reach the Centre of the North Island. See here for a map of Pureora Forest Park.
Be aware shops are limited if not non-existent beyond Te Kuiti so fuel up and fill up with everything you need before heading in. Remember it’s always safety first when entering New Zealand’s wilderness parks – be prepared for all kinds of weather, wet and uncomfortable conditions and always have emergency supplies on hand.
Road trips are a great way to enjoy the natural environment surrounding the city, providing the opportunity to escape and relax with friends and family. USAVE offer a range of spacious and affordable van and minibus rental vehicles ranging from 8 seater people carriers to luxury 12 seater coaches to make your day trip journey more enjoyable. Book online today.