Visit the actual set from the Lord of the rings and Hobbit films. Located near Matamata. This day trip is a 2 hour 15 minute drive from downtown Auckland. This is an extraordinary day out for any Tolkien fan. If you don’t have a rental car there are plenty of tour operators who will take you there from Auckland.
Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari
Spend a day out on the water, Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf has a year round population of bryde’s whales (a close relative of humpback whales). There are also bottlenose and common dolphins year round. Migrating humpback whales, pygmy blue whales and the occasional sperm whale. There are also frequent visits from Orca pods. Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari is not cheap but it is totally worth the money and more. If you’ve never seen a whale before then this day trip will be an unforgettable experience. Do not miss this activity. The boat runs 7 days a week from Viaduct Harbour.
Located in Waitomo, two and a half hours from Auckland CBD is the stunning Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. You can silently cruise through the caves in a boat and get up close to the glow worms. This day trip is suitable for all ages. Or you can go black water rafting. This involves you, in a wetsuit, on a tube in the river. It’s a little colder and a lot more adventurous. For the really brave you can enter the black abyss. A huge abseil down into the cave followed by ziplining in the dark through the caves and black water rafting. This is consistently rated one of New Zealand best activities.
Goat Island Marine Reserve
Goat Island is located 1 hour and 15 minutes drive from Auckland CBD in Leigh. It’s New Zealand’s oldest marine reserve and the snorkeling is spectacular. There are glass bottom boat tours, snorkel and kayak hire. There’s nothing keeping the fish in the reserve, they come and go as they want but there is always plenty to see including snapper, maomao, parore, moki, goatfish, leather jackets, sweep, blue cod, spotties, kelpfish, marble fish, eagle rays, stingrays and even sharks. If you’re lucky you may see marine mammals including dolphins, orca, whales, or seals. It’s free to swim or snorkel at the beach if you have your own equipment. If you want to ride in the glass bottom boat you need to book as it can get full in summer.
Bay of Islands
This one is a really long day trip but totally worth it if you can’t spend more time in Northland. It leaves from the 4 star Skycity Hotel at 7:30am. The Bus takes you to Paihia in the Bay of Islands which is a 3 hour journey one way. Then you board the dolphin Seeker, a purpose built catamaran which takes you looking for dolphins and whales before taking you through the hole in the rock. The flying fish are even more amazing than the dolphins. The bus returns to Auckland at approximately 8:30 pm. It’s totally worth the journey.
Tiritiri Matangi Island
Tiritiri Island is a bird sanctuary located to the north of Auckland off the eastern tip of Whangaparaoa Peninsula. To get there take a ferry from downtown Auckland. The island has been replanted in forest and endangered birds have been transported to the island and released. There are no dogs or other pets allowed on the island. You need to bring your own food and drink and take your rubbish home with you. Bring a wind/rain jacket, sturdy walking shoes and a sun hat. There are a couple of beaches you can swim at if you get hot so bring a towel and some swimwear. You will spend most of the day hiking on well formed paths. There are great views from the top of the island. There is are often dolphins and occasionally Orcas around Tiri so there’s a chance of seeing them if you’re lucky but don’t count on it.
There’s a lot to see and do on Waiheke. You can try and do it in a day but you could just as easily spend a week on the island. It’s a 40 minute Ferry from downtown Auckland. The ferries start early and run until 11:00pm on Sundays and public Holidays and and Midnight the rest of the week. You can often see dolphins and occasionally Orcas on the ferry ride out to the island. Once there your transport options, are bus, taxi’s or rent a car. You can also bring a bike on the ferry with you for free if you have one. Waiheke’s pretty big so you won’t be able to cover much of the island walking. The list of things to do is pretty long. Waiheke Island has some of Auckland’s best beaches. The ones on the North side of the island are more exposed and often have small surf suitable for body surfing, or paddle boarding. Those on the ends of the island and facing the mainland tend to be flat water and safe for swimming. Oneroa and Onetangi are the most famous, but don’t stop exploring there’s plenty more to be found.
Waiheke is one of New Zealand’s most famous wine growing regions and there are plenty of great wineries. Cable Bay and Mudbrick are two of the best for dining, but wine lovers should do there research and explore. Man O’ War vineyard, Stoneyridge, and Tantalus Estate are also excellent for wine tasting, pick up a case of wine and bring it back to enjoy in your 5 star Hotel in Auckland. Food and wine go together and Waiheke is no exception, there are plenty of top quality restaurants to choose from. The island also has beautiful parks and reserves so take your walking shoes and do a hike or two while your there. If you’re looking for something more adventurous try EcoZip. Ziplining through the trees and over the vineyards.
You can see Rangitoto Island from most of Auckland’s best suburbs. It’s Auckland’s youngest volcano at only 600 years old. It’s extinct now so perfectly safe to visit. You can get there by Ferry from downtown Auckland or you can take a kayak tour from Mission Bay. If you are young and fit take the evening kayak tour. It’s about an hour and a half paddle out to the island, a 1 hour hike to the top to watch the sunset, a 40 minute hike back down and an hour and a half paddle back under the stars towards the city lights. If you’re not up for the paddle then the ferry is the best option. The hike is about 1 hour and uphill all the way. There are some great natural lava tunnels you can get through them with the light of a phone but a flashlight is better. There’s no shop on the island so bring your own food and carry your rubbish home with you. The island is a nature reserve please don’t litter.
Piha Beach is a black sand surf beach on Auckland’s Rugged West Coast. It’s an hours drive from downtown Auckland if you have a rental car or there are plenty of tours that will take you there. Make sure you choose the right tour for you. Some are for surfers, others are more suited to families and older visitors. You drive through west Auckland and over the beautiful Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. There are spectacular views of the beach from the top of the hill as you are driving in. Be sure and stop for a photo. The beach is Auckland’s most popular surf beach swells can be up to 4m so swim between the flags. The beach is patrolled by volunteer lifeguards on weekends during the summer and weekdays during the peak summer months of December, January and February. Piha is a popular spot for locals with many permanent and holiday homes dotting the steep hills. There is a really well run general store that sells artisan food, a campground, a cafe, and near the beach a fish’n chip shop.
The beach is split in two by the imposing Lion Rock. This is well worth the climb. The track no longer goes all the way to the top but the view is still well worth it. The southern part of the beach is the most popular. Bring your jandals or some kind of footwear, during the summer the black sand gets hot enough to blister your feet. The water isn’t particularly warm most surfers wear a wetsuit. There are strong rips so be careful. At low tide take a walk around the rocks to the south of the beach and discover the secret bay. There’s a neat cave that goes through to the ocean, just be careful to come back before the tide comes back in, it’s only accessible at low tide.
Piha beach has surfboards and boogie boards for hire, you can also get surf lessons from the Piha Surf School.
North Piha is much bigger with less people. There are surf patrols here too. If you’re swimming find one, and stay between the flags. People drown at Piha every year. They are usually tourists, wearing long pants and not swimming between the flags. At the north end of North Piha is a walkway that goes up to Te Waha Point lookout it’s a steep walk but the view is well worth the effort. From there if you are really adventurous there’s a very steep path down the cliff to an isolated beach, even in summer there are usually no other people.
Behind Piha Beach is the Kitekite falls this is 1/2 hour hike through the forest to the base of the waterfall. It’s another 15 minutes to the top. You can swim in under the falls, the water is freezing but it’s fun. There’s really large eels at the waterfall which may put some off swimming. If you do the walk at night there are glow worms on the river bank on the way to the waterfall. For the best experience book a canyoning tour with AWOL adventures.
Kawau Island is al little different to the other islands on this list. People live here. There are a number of permanent and holiday homes on the island. There are no roads or cars so the only way to get around is boat or walking.
Kawau island was once home to Governor George Grey who, in the 1860s, built the iconic Mansion House. This is now open to the public for viewing. The island is great for swimming and bush walks. There are plenty of native birds, including wild kiwi. There are several boats available to take you to the island from Sandspit (an hours drive from any Auckland CBD hotel.) Or you can paddle there in a sea kayak if you’re an experienced kayaker. If kayaking make sure you paddle to the island on an outgoing tide and return on an incoming tide.
Rotoroa Island is a 75 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. It’s located off the eastern end of Waiheke island. The island has a visitors centre, 3 houses available to rent by the night, and a hostel style accommodation with 18 bunks. The house are a 4 star standard. The island is pretty small you can hike most of it in a day but you’ll want to make time to relax on one of the many empty white sand beaches. This is an amazing place to get away from Auckland even if it’s only for a day trip. The island is a bird sanctuary, you need to bring your food with you for the day and take your rubbish home with you. You can sea kayak here from Kawa Kawa bay in 2-3 hours. Be sure to travel with the tide if you’re kayaking or it’s a lot longer journey.
The Coromandel is such an amazing place you can spend a whole week there and still not experience all it has to offer. If you’re trying to do it in a day you’re going to have to make some choices. The first choice is how to get there. A ferry or a coach tour. Coach tours will leave early from central Auckland and return late. Most popular is Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. New Chums Beach is also spectacular but you can’t do it all of them in a day. Older visitors may find The Lost Spring to be more relaxing. If you have the time book a campervan and go and see all the Coromandel has to offer.
Rotorua has too much to see in a day. If you only have a day to visit you’ll need to choose a day trip that gives you a mix of activities. Rotorua is famous for it’s geothermal activity so seeing that is a must. Rotorua also has the famous Polynesian Spa for those looking to relax in and pamper themselves, incredible white water rafting, mountain biking and other outdoor activities. If you want to combine the Geothermal activity with some adrenaline activity then try this tour that includes Te Puia and the luge and ziplining.
Auckland Day Trips
New Zealand’s relatively small size means that many exciting places are accessible in a day trip. From the Islands, and Beaches of the Coromandel, Northland and the Bay of Islands to Auckland’s incredible West Coast beaches. The hobbiton movie set, Rotorua’s Thermal wonderland, Waitomo caves the mountains of the central plateau and even trout fishing in lake Taupo.
So if time permits, go on an Auckland day trip and experience more of New Zealand.