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12 BEST Day Trips from Auckland

12 BEST Day Trips from Auckland

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In case you’re new here, I lived in Auckland when I first moved to New Zealand. While working at the Auckland Museum, I spent my days off doing as many Auckland day trips as possible because so many of New Zealand’s most beautiful places are within reach. I still come back to visit whenever I can and always plan a few road trips in the area!

Whatever adventure you’re craving, there’s a day trip from Auckland for you. Whether you want to visit an island with wineries, see the Hobbiton movie set, spend the day at one of the gorgeous beaches nearby, or venture into glow worm caves. All of these experiences and more are waiting just outside of Auckland!

I’ve narrowed it down to the 12 best day trips to add to your Auckland itinerary. I’m also sharing tour recommendations from Auckland when those are available just in case you love a tour as much as I do. They’re perfect if you don’t want to worry about planning a day out, want to learn from a knowledgeable local guide, or just don’t want to worry about driving yourself.

Don’t have time to read the full article? My absolute favorite day trips from Auckland include:

  1. Exploring one of the best wine regions in the country on Waiheke Island. This gourmet food and wine tour plans the day for you with stops at four wineries.
  2. Seeing the twinkling lights of glow worms dazzling inside the Waitomo Caves while drifting through on a boat ride.
  3. Stepping right onto a movie set complete with Hobbit Holes with a visit to the famous Hobbiton!
  4. Digging your own hot tub in the sand of Hot Water Beach.
  5. Climbing to the top of the dormant volcano of Rangitoto Island.

Best Day Trips From Auckland

1. Waiheke Island 

Bailey drinks wine at a winery on Waiheke Island from Auckland
Cheers!
A winery on Waiheke Island in Auckland
So beautiful!

Waiheke Island is one of the most popular Auckland day trips (and my personal favorite – which is why it’s first on the list!). It’s located just off Auckland’s coast and is only a 2-hour trip from the city including a short ferry ride.

Waiheke Island is basically paradise for wine lovers like me since there are 30 wineries here! As one of the best wine regions in New Zealand (its nickname is New Zealand’s Island of Wine!), Waiheke Island is known for red wines mostly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. But there’s Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and so many more. I haven’t tried a glass of wine on this island that I haven’t liked!

It isn’t all about wine here though, Waiheke Island also has stunning white sand beaches, walking trails along coastal cliffs, boutique shops, and beachfront restaurants.

It’s pretty easy to get from central Auckland to Waiheke for a day trip as ferries leave throughout the day from Auckland’s Downtown Terminal. The quickest way is aboard the Fullers fast ferry which gets you to the island in 35 minutes. Roundtrip tickets are $55 NZD or cheaper if you leave in the afternoon. If you’re on a budget, the cheapest way to get here is on the Sea Link ferry which is $23.50 NZD for a one-way ticket. It’s a 1-hour ride and also includes the option to take a rental car right on the ferry.

Once you’re on the island, you can drive around if you rented a car in Auckland and brought it with you on the ferry. If not, there are buses and taxis, but I always enjoy renting a bike. I’ve spent a few afternoons pedaling between wineries and I love that it gives me a chance to enjoy the scenery!

If you need help narrowing down which wineries to go to and have transportation taken care of, that’s where a wine tour comes in. My favorite is this Waiheke Island Gourmet Food and Wine Tour because it takes you to four different wineries to enjoy tastings and a delicious lunch.

You’ll need to catch the ferry over on your own, so make sure to have tickets for the 9 am Fullers Fast Ferry to make the 9:50 am tour start time! The guide is waiting for you once you step off the ferry on Waiheke so you’re taken care of from the start. First up is a scenic drive to take in the views of the Hauraki Gulf and the Coromandel Peninsula as you make your way to the first winery.

Our first stop was Kennedy Point Vineyard to try their organic wines – the rose is especially good! I also got to taste olive oil grown right here at the vineyard and some local Te Matuku Bay Oysters which are considered the best oysters in the country! Next up was Batch Winery which holds the claim to fame as the highest vineyard on the island! This means stellar views while you sip wine – you can even see as far as Auckland! Make sure you try the sparkling wine Blanc de Blancs as it was one of my favorites.

The third winery is Casita Miro which served our tour a tapas menu inspired by the Mediterranean while we sipped wine in the art-deco pavilion overlooking the water and vineyard. Finally, the tour finishes with lunch at a fourth winery which changes depending on the day you go. We stopped at Stonyridge Vineyard, but wherever you go, you can count on a platter-style lunch which is basically like a giant charcuterie board with meat, cheese, and fresh bread.

The tour lasts about 5.5 hours and costs $272 NZD per person – not including the ferry ticket. It includes all your wine tastings, snacks, lunch, air-conditioned transport, and a helpful local guide. If you’re looking to experience the best wineries on the island or are celebrating a special occasion, make sure to reserve a spot here before it sells out!

2. Waitomo Caves

Glow worms in the Waitomo Glow worm cave in New Zealand
Like stars in a night sky!
A single glow worm in the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
How cool?

Having visited several glowworm caves across the country, I can confirm the Waitomo Caves are hands down one of the best places to see glow worms in New Zealand. Thousands call the caves home, and it’s one of the most magical sights you’ll see on your trip. 

The Waitomo Caves are located 190 kilometers (118 miles) south of Auckland which is about a 2 to 2.5-hour drive along State Highways 1 and 39. This network of caves (complete with stalactites and stalagmites), sinkholes, and underground rivers was 30 million years in the making.

You can explore three caves on foot: Waitomo Caves, Ruakari Cave, and Aranui Cave (which doesn’t have glow worms). The catch is you MUST do a guided tour to see the caves. I recommend booking in advance, especially in summer, as time slots can sell out. The good news is various guided tours are available. 

The cheapest and quickest option is this 45-minute small-group guided tour for $75 NZD. This includes a walk through Waitomo Caves to Cathedral Cove and a boat tour. Floating through the still cave while staring at the glowing ceiling is incredible!

For my fellow adrenaline junkies, there are also rafting tours that allow you to float through the caves on an inner tube, slide down small rapids, and jump off mini waterfalls. You can even upgrade to include rappeling into the caves and a longer experience. The tours include a wetsuit, boots, and helmet to keep you warm and safe. It costs $179 NZD for the 3-hour experience or $299 NZD for the elevated tour and both can be booked online in advance.

If you’d prefer to stay out of the water, choose the 75-minute guided walking tour through Ruakuri Cove. A local Maori guide will take you on a journey past stalagmites, stalactites, and glow worms. The only downside is this cave doesn’t have as many glow worms. It costs $107 NZD, so it’s a good mid-range option if you’re looking to explore the caves but not get on a boat or inner tube.

No matter which tour you choose, don’t forget to bring a sweater or waterproof jacket. The caves typically hover around a cool 12-14°C (54-59°F) year-round. 

Most visitors detour to Hobbiton on the way back to Auckland. This makes for about 5.5 hours of driving, so you’ll need around 12 hours to see them both. It’s a full day, but seeing two of the most popular New Zealand attractions in one go makes it well worth it.

There’s parking at both facilities if you choose to rent a car and drive yourself. But if you prefer to hand the reins to someone else, I highly recommend this full-day Hobbiton and Waitomo Caves tour. Let a professional driver navigate New Zealand’s roads as you sit back, relax, and enjoy the breathtaking scenery.

We’ll talk more about Hobbiton below. But on this tour, you get to do the 45-minute guided walk and boat ride through Waitomo Caves. See tiny worms illuminating the caves thanks to natural phosphorescent properties for a light show unlike any other. Your guide will also likely be a descendant of the Maori chief who first discovered the caves. They’ll happily tell you about the area’s natural and cultural history. 

This 11-hour small-group tour starts at $370 NZD per person. The cost includes a local driver and guide, round-trip transfers from Auckland CBD, admission tickets, and lunch. It’s a long day but since it includes a trip to Hobbiton from Auckland and a stop at the famous glow worm caves, it’s a fantastic combo tour to see two places you won’t want to miss. This tour often sells out weeks in advance, so I recommend booking online here if you want to grab a spot!

3. Hobbiton

Bailey walks up to the door of a Hobbit Hole at Hobbiton in New Zealand
So cute!
Bailey sits in the door of a red Hobbit home at Hobbiton, NZ
I love the detail!

Whether you’re a huge Lord of the Rings fan or not, it’s no secret that the famous movies were filmed right here in New Zealand! If you’d like to step right onto a movie set, then visiting Hobbiton is a must.

Here you’ll find colorful Hobbit Holes dotting the hillside as you approach the one and only Bag End (home of the Baggins). This is where you can get that iconic shot entering a Hobbit Hole (like I did above!) and you can even order up your own ale at the Green Dragon Inn. Even though I’m not a huge LOTR fan, I loved Hobbiton and even brought my mum here when she came to visit me from Canada!

You’ll find Hobbiton’s location 169 kilometers (105 miles) from Auckland, or about a 2-hour drive. It’s on a sheep farm with sweeping views of the Kaimai Ranges. Like Waitomo Caves, you can only visit Hobbiton from Auckland via a fully guided tour. These two attractions are genuinely like two peas in a pod!

If you want that 2-for-1 deal to see two of the best places on the North Island, then the tour I mentioned earlier deserves another look! This Hobbiton and Waitomo Caves Tour includes an official tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set. Over 2 hours, you’ll visit sets from both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies as you peek inside Hobbit Holes, hear behind-the-scenes details of creating The Shire, and even enjoy a complimentary drink at the Green Dragon Inn.

Plus, there’s a Kiwi-style lunch included before heading to the Waitomo Caves. This tour costs $370 NZD per person and leaves Auckland bright and early at 6:30 am. Make sure to book ahead here as this one fills up!

If a shorter day trip from Auckland is all you have time for, you can still fit in a visit to Hobbiton! I think that this Hobbiton small group tour is the best choice if you want to focus on exploring this area and get to sleep in a bit. This tour leaves Auckland at 10 am as you travel through gorgeous farmland to Middle-earth.

Once you arrive, you’ll get the full guided tour aboard the big, green Hobbiton buses! Even though it’s a bus tour, there are tons of opportunities to get out and look around and take pictures. Plus, this tour includes free time to shop, stroll around, enjoy a drink at the Green Dragon Inn, and grab lunch at the Shire’s Rest Cafe which has stellar views. The tour costs $275 NZD and includes all transport and admission and it’s a great choice for families or travelers that have Hobbiton on their bucket list! You can check availability online here.

Related Read: If Hobbiton is on your list, don’t miss visiting Wētā Workshop Unleashed in Auckland. You’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the special effects company that brought the LOTR movies (and many others!) to life.

4. Rotorua

Bailey with the beautiful Rotorua Museum Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa in Rotorua
Such a beautiful place to take a walk, even in the rain!
Bailey takes a selfie on the Ziplining Forest Adventure in Rotorua, New Zealand
So much fun!

Thanks to Rotorua’s unique geothermal activity, it’s one of the most popular Auckland day trips! It’s about a 3-hour drive and I’ve made this trip multiple times because I love the stops along the way like waterfalls, cute small towns, and even a blueberry farm. My full road trip guide on Auckland to Rotorua will help out if you want to drive here too!

There are so many things to do in Rotorua that you could easily spend a week exploring. But let me share my favorite places to visit so you can create the best day trip for you. 

First up is one of New Zealand’s top whitewater rafting experiences, as you “casually” raft down the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall. Tutea Falls is a 7-meter (23-foot) drop guaranteed to get your heart racing and give you bragging rights to family and friends! This specific tour comes with the best reviews and builds up to the big drop with easier rapids before you go over the falls! Luckily this tour is offered all year round and can be easily booked online here for $115 NZD per person.

Rotorua is also a hub of Maori culture and visiting Te Pā Tū for the evening is a must. This Maori village is close to Rotorua and when you book an experience, you’ll get a traditional welcome ceremony, a Haka performance (which you may have seen on TV performed by the rugby team the All Blacks!), and a feast cooked in an underground oven. The meal was delicious and I loved getting a window into this amazing culture. Tickets are $260 NZD and also include transportation from Rotorua.

Visiting Rotorua and not checking out a thermal park is basically impossible! The three top ones are all paid parks and they aren’t the cheapest, so if you’re only visiting on a day trip from Auckland, I suggest just visiting one.

There’s Hell’s Gate with its bubbling mud and mineral-rich waters that Maori warriors used to swim in and now you can too! It’s best explored with a Hell’s Gate tour so you get the full experience including a walk through the geothermal landscape, trying out Maori carving, and soaking in the mud baths and warm waters. The experience is $105 NZD when you pre-book online. Another option is Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland which is the cheapest of the three ($45 NZD) and includes the largest mud pool in the country and the impressive Lady Knox Geyser.

But one of the most popular (and my personal favorite) is Te Puia Thermal Wonderland. It’s home to mud pools and one of the world’s two geyser fields still in its natural state. In fact, Pōhutu Geyser is the Southern Hemisphere’s largest active geyser! You can join a guided tour once you arrive for $90 NZD and there are plenty of cool add-ons like a Haka performance or traditional meal.

If you only have a short time in Auckland but want to tick Rotorua off your bucket list, I highly suggest this Rotorua day trip From Auckland. It lasts for 13 hours and starts early at 6:30 am. But if you can handle the wake-up call, this small-group tour is a fun choose-your-own-adventure. 

Everyone visits the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, Lake Rotorua, and Te Puia (with a cafe lunch). The basic tour starts at $365 NZD per person. But optional extras include a visit to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, the Polynesian Spa, a Maori Concert, or the Redwoods Treewalk. Take your pick when you book online!

5. Piha Beach 

View of Piha Beach from the lookout showing the beach and Lion Rock
What a place!

You must visit Piha Beach while spending a few days in Auckland to see why it’s constantly named one of New Zealand’s most beautiful beaches. It seriously looks like it was plucked straight from Hawaii with its lush greenery, turquoise water, and black sand. It’s located 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Auckland, so you’ll get from the city to the beach in less than an hour.

There are many things to do at Piha Beach, including swimming and surfing. Just make sure to stay safe and swim between the flags. It can have rough waves and strong currents, so I tend to stay in the shallow water when I visit!

If you get hungry during your beach day, I suggest trying the gourmet burger or fish and chips at Piha RSA Restaurant. They have a deck where you can eat your meal with a great view of the beach. If you’re craving something sweet, Cones on the Beach has creamy fruit ice cream that’s my go-to on a hot day. I love the passionfruit flavor!

Don’t leave without taking in the views at the Piha Beach Lookout. It’s right off Piha Road and the views of the coast will take your breath away. I love coming to this spot as the sun starts to sun. It faces west, so all the colors in the sky are on display! It’s the perfect end to a day trip here for me.

To combine three spectacular locations and not have to worry about transportation, check out this Afternoon Piha Beach and Rainforest Tour. You’ll visit the Waitakere Ranges, Piha Beach, and the bush. The 5-hour tour starts off strong with panoramic views of the Tasman Sea from Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. The local tour guides are fantastic and will show you traditional Maori carvings while you’re here.

Then, you go on a 45-minute rainforest walk lined with giant tree ferns. The best part is seeing the New Zealand silver fern which is considered a national symbol of the country. My guide also helped our group identify other native plants and trees. Next, it’s onto Piha Beach to take in views from both a lookout and the beach’s black-sand shores. The experience finishes off with a New Zealand-style afternoon tea that includes cookies and manuka honey.

This tour is $185 NZD per person and departs daily at 12:30 pm and includes round-trip transfers from Auckland, afternoon tea, and a professional guide who’s happy to answer any and all questions. They’ll ensure you get all the best photo ops so your Instagram never looked better! You can easily make a booking with Viator but don’t wait too long as I’ve found this tour can fill up a few weeks in advance.

Why I Book Tours on Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book all of my tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here

6. Muriwai Beach 

Gannet colony at Muriwai Beach NZ
The coastline around Muriwai Beach is breathtaking!

If you’re looking for a shorter day trip from Auckland, let me introduce you to Muriwai Beach. It’s located on the rugged west coast 43 kilometers (27 miles) from Auckland. All the roads here are paved and it’s a really easy 45-minute drive.

You can swim, surf, relax on the sand, grab a coffee from a nearby cafe, or have a picnic at Muriwai Beach. But the main reason people flock here (pun intended) is for the birds.

Yes, calling all wildlife lovers! The volcanic cliffs that line this black-sand beach are home to a massive gannet colony. We’re talking about 2,400 birds, give or take. These large white seabirds call the cliffs home from August to March. I visited in January and saw many baby gannets from the convenient viewing platforms, which was so cool!

If you drive to Muriwai Beach, here’s a hot tip. Head up Waitea Road for a sweeping view of Muriwai Beach and Maori Bay from the top of the hill. Speaking of driving … I recommend making a West Coast day trip out of the journey. Head south, and you’ll find Bethells Beach and Piha Beach, which I’ll go into detail about later on.

If an organized tour is more your style, I’ve got you. Check out this private nature tour where you get to customize the itinerary as you see the spectacular West Coast. Your guide, Gesa, is a huge part of what makes this a 5-star tour. She takes you where the tour buses don’t – including some spectacular photo ops. Of course, a stop at the gannet colony is included and you’ll get close enough to see the adorable gannet chicks.

There’s also time for a cup of tea while looking out at Maukatia Bay and a hike in the rainforest. Plus, great vineyards and stunning black-sand beaches are around here, so just let Gesa know what you want to see and she’ll make it happen! It’s a half-day tour, so it’s easy to fit into your Auckland itinerary. It’s $315 NZD for 2 people or $247 NZD for groups of 3-6, but does book up quickly, so reserve it here if you want a personalized look at Muriwai Beach and the surrounding area.

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7. Hot Water Beach 

Bailey and her mum relax at Hot Water Beach
Me and my mum having a drink at Hot Water Beach!

If you’re after the most unique day trip from Auckland, then you’re going to want to visit Hot Water Beach. An actual crack in the Earth’s crust here allows heat to escape. This bubbles up to make hot areas along the beach’s sandy shore – basically nature’s hot pools

You’ll notice some sunken spots where the sand is hot at low tide. This is where you want to dig to create your natural hot tub, made from ocean water heated from deep down below. Pretty cool, right? When I say hot, I mean hot, like up to 64°C (147°F).

When you’re headed here from Auckland, try to time your journey for 2 hours before or after low tide. While visiting early in the morning or late at night might be annoying, odd times mean fewer crowds. Before you go, check the Hot Water Beach tide times online and bring a shovel! While you can rent shovels from the shops nearby, if you go early in the morning (I was there at 4 am once!) then nothing is open yet.

Now I’ve got you intrigued, let’s discuss the logistics. Hot Water Beach is located 175 kilometers (109 miles) from Auckland on the Coromandel Peninsula. It’s about a 2 to 2.5-hour drive, depending on traffic. The easiest way to get there is to rent a car. Otherwise, you can get a bus to nearby Tairua that costs about $30 NZD and includes two transfers.

If you’d rather have everything taken care of, this full-day tour from Auckland to Hot Water Beach is my pick. You’ll have an expert local guide show you the highlights of the Coromandel Peninsula including Hot Water Beach, and Cathedral Cove. Now, this tour may not line up with tide times, so you could get the chance to dig your own hot water pool or you might not. But if you’re limited on time and need a ride here, this tour will give you a nice overview of the area.

After you’re done exploring Hot Water Beach, I recommend adding on another stop – Cathedral Cove. It’s known for being a Narnia filming location and is just a 30-minute walk or 10-minute drive away. It’s currently closed because of storm damage, but hopefully, it will open up again soon! You can check for updates on the closure here.

Related Read: If you’re planning a few road trips, maybe you want to travel in style (and comfort!). Check out my guide on renting a motorhome or campervan in Auckland for tips!

8. Hunua Falls 

Hunua Falls is a North Island waterfall worthy of a spot on your New Zealand bucket list. It’s located inside Hunua Ranges Regional Park which is a huge forested area about an hour’s drive southeast of Auckland.

But back to Hunua Falls, a 30-meter (98-foot) waterfall. It actually appeared in the iconic NZ TV show, Xena: Warrior Princess! There is a large pool at the base of the waterfalls and swimming isn’t advised because of the currents, but you will still see some people getting in the water here despite the risk.

To visit Hunua Falls, follow the Hunua Falls Track for a 5-minute walk to one lookout or a 20-minute walk to another lookout for a different perspective. Or if you’re up for some hiking in New Zealand, go one step further and try out the Hunua Suspension Bridge Track. It includes a strenuous uphill climb, but your reward is views of Wairoa Reservoir.

While in Hunua Ranges Regional Park you can also go mountain biking, fishing, or bird watching. Keep your eyes peeled for the kokako, one of New Zealand’s rarest birds that’s actually making a comeback in this area!

Hunua Ranges Regional Park is open to pedestrians 24 hours a day. However, vehicle access is limited to 6 am to 9 pm in summer and 6 am to 7 pm in winter.

9. Waitakere Ranges Regional Park 

Views over the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park in New Zealand
Views over Waitakere Ranges Regional Park in New Zealand

Waitakere Ranges Regional Park feels like a complete escape from the city! It’s only 39 kilometers (24 miles) from Auckland or an easy 40-minute drive.

What I love about the day trip here is that there’s something for everyone with lush rainforest, beaches, and rugged coastline. Popular things to do in Waitakere Ranges Regional Park include swimming or surfing at Piha, Muriwai, or Bethells Beach. Yes, all these beaches are located within the park!

The Arataki Visitor Centre is also a great spot to learn about Maori history with beautiful carvings to check out. There are also some neat exhibits inside the building (which are free to visit!) or you can chat with the helpful staff about nature walks to take in the area. There are over 250 kilometers (155 miles) of trails within the park, so there’s no shortage of North Island hikes to take. My favorite is the 45-minute Kitekite Falls Path which leads to a gorgeous multi-level waterfall tumbling down the rocks.

If you’re like me and can’t get enough waterfalls, then don’t miss Karekare Falls. It’s seriously one of the most beautiful waterfalls in New Zealand! Standing 30 meters (98 feet) tall, Karekare Falls is hidden in the park, but only a 5-10 minute walk from the carpark to the lookout. There is a pool underneath that you can swim in and lots of shade around if you want to sit and admire the falls for a while.

You can even combine wine and waterfalls (which are two of my favorite things!) with this full-day tour from Auckland. It includes wine tastings, a stop at Piha Beach, an upclose look at Karekare Falls and lunch at an award-winning vineyard bistro. It’s all included for $295 NZD, but dates are limited!

Another tour option I like if you only have one day to see the park is the Coast and Rainforest Eco-Tour. It’s very similar to the tour I talked about in the Piha Beach section, but this one is just a little bit longer. It starts at the Akitari Visitor Centre which is considered the park’s gateway. You’ll see traditional Maori carvings, enjoy sweeping sea views from the panoramic deck, and go on a guided eco-walk through the rainforest.

Then, it’s time for lunch at the scenic Mercer Bay Loop. Get this – you get to pick your lunch from the local bakery. I’ve never had that experience on a tour before! We walked off lunch on a clifftop track before spending time at picturesque Piha Beach, then returning to Auckland. Prices start at $285 NZD for this 7-hour tour (departing at 10 am daily). You get round-trip transfers, a local guide, light refreshments, and a picnic lunch for this price, so book your Waitakere Ranges adventure here.

10. Bethells Beach

Bailey on Bethells Beach, New Zealand
Bethells Beach!
Bailey and a friend stand in the cave at Bethells Beach in Auckland
The cave at the southern end of the beach!

Another beach to visit in Waitakere Ranges Regional Park is Bethells Beach (also known as Te Henga). Bethells Beach is a little more off-the-beaten-path compared to its counterparts, Piha and Muriwai Beach. But this gets a big stamp of approval from me because it typically equals fewer crowds.

The 2 km (1.2 mile) long beach is about a 45-minute drive from Auckland. Like the other beaches on this volcanic west coast, it’s characterized by green rugged hills, surf waves, and a vast expanse of black sand. It’s among the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand without a doubt.

Things to do in Bethells Beach include swimming (between the flags) and surfing. Besides being a popular spot for surfing, the windy conditions mean it’s also well-liked by paragliders and parasailers.

If you’d rather stay on land, there are plenty of walks to take in the beautiful coastal views. I personally recommend hiking to O’Neills Bay along the Te Henga Walkway. You’ll get a great view of the surfers in action! This path has been closed because of storm damage, so check here for updates on if it’s open again.

A must if you’re here during low tide is a visit to Bethells Beach Cave. The cave has a large opening and is only about 40 meters (131 feet) deep, so it’s easy to explore once the tide goes out. If you don’t know about this cave, you could miss it (especially if you don’t walk the entire beach), so check the tide times before you go and make sure to explore this cave!

Because it’s more off the beaten path, there’s only one place to grab food here. The Bethells Cafe is basically a small food truck that opens up in the summer. They make great burgers and have coffee if you’re here for an early morning beach trip … or just want some caffeine for the drive back to Auckland!

The parking lot is directly at the beach and is free. It’s open from 7 am to 9:30 pm between mid-October to mid-April. In winter, it closes at 7 pm. Don’t stay past this time or the gates will be locked and you’ll have to call security and pay for them to come unlock it for you!

11. Rangitoto Island

View of Auckland from Rangitōtō Island.
View of Auckland from Rangitōtō Island.

Rangitoto Island is one of the volcanic islands lying just off Auckland’s coast. The island is only 5 kilometers (3 miles) in diameter, so it’s the perfect Auckland day trip as you can explore a good portion of the island in a short amount of time. 

It’s considered a “young” volcano as it only popped up out of the water 600 years ago! Rangitoto Island was an important strategic location as Maori people used the peak as a lookout and later, the island was a military location during WWII. You can still see the remnants of a fire command post and wireless room around the summit.

To get here, hop on the 25-minute ferry from Auckland’s downtown terminal to Rangitoto Island. There are only two daily departures on weekdays (9:30 am and 10:30 am) and one on weekends (9:15 am). There are then return departures daily in the afternoon from 12:20 pm – 4 pm. It costs $53 NZD for an adult return ticket when you book online, but there are deals for families and children.

The main reason I recommend visiting is for the walking and hiking opportunities! Once you arrive, take the popular Summit Trail to climb to the top of the dormant volcano. You’ll follow a path through lava fields and I suggest bringing a torch along so you can go inside lava caves on the way! The trail is 5.6 km (3.5 miles) total and should take about an hour each way. The views from the summit make it all worth it!

If you are hiking on the island, just remember to pack enough water, as there’s nowhere to buy it here!

While you can explore independently, I also suggest this Sunset Kayak Tour to Rangitoto Island for adventurous travelers. You’ll kayak to the island alongside a guide with decades of experience. Once you reach Rangitoto Wharf, you enjoy a one-hour informative yet fun trek to the summit to catch the sunset over Auckland.

When you return to the wharf, a Kiwi-style BBQ dinner awaits. Then you paddle back to Auckland in the dark with the sparkling city lights guiding you. Sounds magical, right? The small-group tour costs $245 NZD per person, including equipment and dinner. Departing daily at 4 pm, head here to make a booking.

Related Read: Once you’re back in the city, a trip up the Auckland Sky Tower is a must for more incredible views.

12. Whangaparāoa Peninsula 

Stanmore Bay Beach
Stanmore Bay Beach

Whangaparāoa Peninsula on the Hibiscus Coast is where locals go during summer, as it’s only a 40-minute drive north of Auckland. It’s so popular the population typically triples in size every summer! You can get here via car or bus – just get ready for multiple transfers if you go that route.

Whangaparāoa Peninsula is the place to go for beautiful beaches. Trade the black sand beaches on the West Coast for golden sand and warm, calm water instead. 

Stanmore Bay Beach is the most popular, and for good reason. The beach is paired up with a skate park, playground, secret rock pool, and gorgeous sunsets. You can also easily walk here from the town center.

If you’re looking to escape the crowds, Little Manly Beach is my pick. It has calm waters and great views of Auckland. Its big sister, Big Manly Beach, is the closest beach to Whangaparāoa town center and the best place for water activities. There are two large swimming areas marked with buoys and a dedicated ski lane for boats and jet skis. It’s also the best spot to see dolphins!

Other things to do on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula include grabbing bait from a local shop and feeding the fish and stingrays at Gulf Harbour Marina or visiting Shakespear Regional Park to check out the beaches, walking and mountain biking trails, and excellent bird watching.

Where to Stay in Auckland

Elegant room with a great view of the city at The Grand by SkyCity in Auckland, New Zealand
Photo credit: The Grand by SkyCity

Auckland is a huge city, so deciding where to stay in Auckland can be a challenge. Luckily, I’ve stayed in Auckland countless times (and even lived there for a few months), so I know the best areas. Below are my favorite hotels/hostels in Auckland to suit all budgets and travel styles:

$$$ – The Grand by SkyCity

The Grand by SkyCity is an Auckland accommodation unlike any other. Treating you to a lavish stay right in the heart of the city, this five-star hotel is exactly where you want to be if you’re after luxurious rooms and city views.

Rooms are typically $400 NZD and up, but I have found some stellar deals on Booking.com, so it’s worth checking before you book!

$$ – Marsden Viaduct Hotel

One of the Auckland hotels with the best views, the Marsden Viaduct Hotel puts you right on the harbor without breaking your budget. This world-class accommodation is within walking distance to the Wynyard Quarter and the restaurant and bars in the Viaduct Harbour, so you’re pretty much in the center of it all.

Rooms are around $300 NZD nightly and can be reserved on Booking.com.

$ – The Attic Backpackers

The Attic is one of my favorite budget-friendly accommodations in the heart of Auckland city. Although The Attic isn’t as high-end as the other hotels in the area, you can still call it your home-away-from-home, and it’s actually pretty cozy. You have some chill-out areas a few steps away from the room for chatting with friends and watching TV.

There’s also a spacious outdoor covered deck to enjoy the sun in. Dorm rooms start around $50 NZD nighly and private rooms are available for $120 NZD. You can book The Attic online on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.

For more detailed info on the best areas to stay in Auckland and the best hotels, check out my blog!

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your campervan or motorhome through JUCY or Star RV! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey at a beach near Auckland
Thanks for reading!

I hope this guide to the best day trips from Auckland has given you tons of ideas for your trip! While there’s so much to see in Auckland, there are some hidden gems and cool places to explore that are within easy driving distance. Plus, there are even some tours that include transportation to make for a stress-free outing from the city!

Before you visit Auckland or any of the other places on this list, check out my other blogs! I love living in New Zealand and have traveled across both the North and South Islands to create everything from road trip guides to restaurant recommendations. Here are a few to get your trip-planning creative juices flowing!

How to Spend the BEST 2 Days in Auckland: Great Food, Sights, and Tours!

14 BEST Stops on the Drive from Auckland to Tauranga

12 Best Places for Helicopter Tours in New Zealand

10 Things to KNOW About Catching a Ferry to the South Island