It’s only been a month, but I’m already seriously homesick for New Zealand.
I fell truly, deeply in love with the country while I lived there.
The people are fantastic. The food is delicious. And there are endless travel opportunities.
For 7 months, I worked full time while living in Auckland.
That put a pretty serious damper on my travel.
I tried to fly somewhere new every 6 weeks, but that still left a lot of non-travel time.
Luckily, Auckland is close to a number of amazing day trips.
I’ll preface this with one fact: to me, day trips must be under 3 hours away.
A lot of sites advertise day trips to the Bay of Islands or Taupo. I would straight up laugh in your face if you tried to get me to go to either of those on a day trip. And they’re just 3 ½ hours away from Auckland!
Every trip on this list is under 3 hours driving time from the CBD.
Auckland is an amazing city. But sometimes you need a change of scenery.
These day trips offer a mix of new cityscapes, beaches, hiking and tourist activities. So no matter what you’re into, there’s one you’re sure to enjoy!
After my post on Waiheke, it’s no surprise that it would be one of my top picks for day trips.
The “wine island” is a close 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland. You can pick up a ticket day of or order it online ahead of time from Fullers Ferry.
Pack a picnic and sit on the beach. Lace up your hiking boots to take on the large trails. Rent a scooter to reach distant settlements. Dress to impress for wine tastings. Zipline over the trees at an adventure park. Arrive with an empty stomach and sample some of the island’s delicious restaurants.
Whatever you’re looking for on a day trip, Waiheke is sure to have it.
Getting around the island is easy on public buses (especially if you buy a day pass), scooters or bikes.
Waiheke is known for its brilliant sunsets. Don’t be like me and bail for an early bedtime – stay to check out the impressive colours on the horizon.
You can extend your trip by staying at one of the lovely inns on the island. Who wouldn’t want to watch the sunset and be steps away from their bed? (Can you tell I wish I did this??)
There are a number of spa accommodations that can quickly eat up your budget, but they’re well worth it!
Devonport is debatably a part of the larger Auckland area, but I don’t count it.
You can feel the vibe shift from the busy CBD to the slower, more artsy atmosphere of Devonport the moment you get off the ferry.
Fullers Ferry runs regular 15-minute ferry rides across the harbour for commuters and tourists alike. Tag on with your metro card for a discounted fare.
Some people pop over for a quick meal, but I regularly spent full days enjoying Devonport.
Everything is walkable. Hop off the ferry and head to a café for a morning pastry. Follow the ocean to the free military museum or climb Mount Victoria for stunning views of Auckland. Wander to Cheltenham Beach (my favourite beach in New Zealand) for a relaxing afternoon in the sun. Explore historic tunnels in North Head Historic Reserve. Head back into the city for hidden food gems before heading back to the city.
Cheltenham stands out from the myriad of brilliant beaches in New Zealand for a couple reasons.
Firstly, it’s not very crowded. As a proud introvert and screaming-children-hater, I much prefer a quiet beach.
Secondly, there are lots of pockets of shade for the pale folk like me to hide in. Unlike most beaches, these aren’t a kilometre away from the water, usually backing up on the parking lot.
Third, the water is the warmest I found in New Zealand (apart from hot water beach, of course). Where Mission Bay was only comfortably warm for a few weeks of the summer, Cheltenham was swimmable for a couple months.
Devonport is an excellent spot to spend a sunny day browsing the shops, relaxing by the water or going for a short walk up historic hills.
Mangawhai is a beach 1 ½ hours north of Auckland. You’ll need a car to get there from the city.
The area is well known for surfing, it’s gorgeous beach and the cliff walk.
The cliff walk takes 2-3 hours. It follows along the beach, through volcanic rock formations, up the cliffs and across the brush along the top. It is rated an intermediate hike.
The walk is pretty easy, with breathtaking views that distract you from the number of stairs you have to climb. Be sure to cover up, as the sun absolutely roasts you in the open areas up top.
Take some time to enjoy the beach. The soft, white sand is a perfect pillow for a post-walk nap. The rolling waves make for great bodysurfing (or real surfing, but I’m not knowledgeable about that at all).
Gather a few friends and head up to Mangawhai to make the most of good weather.
Coromandel is a further-away, more tourist-y Mangawhai. But it’s absolutely gorgeous.
Driving from Auckland will take you 2 ½ hours. A lot of bus tours do day trips to Coromandel or include it in their journey around New Zealand.
This was the first stop on my Kiwi Experience bus tour out of Auckland. I was still a bit jet lagged, nervous about this bus I’d agreed to spend a month on and trying to figure out how to make friends. That all fell away when I saw how incredible the Coromandel landscape is.
Walk along the cliffs and take in the stunning islands dotting the cerulean ocean. Descend metal staircases built into the rock to reach the plush sand beach. Vie with tourists for shots of the stone structures. Throw on a bathing suit and jump into the cool water.
The only reason Coromandel isn’t higher on my list is because of how popular it is. It was used to film a Narnia movie and it’s on almost every tourist itinerary.
There aren’t a massive amount of people. You could easily lay out in the sun or go swimming undisturbed. Most of the buses only schedule 1 hour stops, so the congestion is short lived.
But I was only able to visit during that congestion (curse being under 25 and incapable of driving on that side of the road!).
I’ve written about Hobbiton extensively before. I flooded my Instagram with photos of all the Hobbit holes. I talked about it to the point where I basically had to move to a new country to have a new audience to gush about it to.
Of course, it had to be included in this list.
Hobbiton (located in Matamata) is a 2 hour and 10 minute drive from Auckland. Tons of companies run day trips to Hobbiton.
Even if you’re not a Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit fan, I recommend visiting Hobbiton. If for no other reason than it’s really really cute.
I mean, where else in the world can you explore a miniaturized village full of fascinating filming anecdotes?
Tours of Hobbiton take 2 hours, but you can extend this if you book a Tour & Meal combo (2 ½-3 hours).
Hobbiton includes transport to the Shire from the Hobbiton centre (where you can buy tickets and souvenirs). Watch Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Pip and Merry explore the village on the screen before taking your own tour through the village. You’ll see specific Hobbit holes, decked out for their inhabitants; hear stories from the filming (like the noisy frogs); learn about movie magic (like the need for scale); and get to take hundreds of photos (I think I took 1,200 on my phone alone).
Be sure to pick up your complimentary beverage from the Green Dragon Inn. Try on some Hobbit clothing or dance to the Hobbit music filtering through the pub.
After your visit, consider heading into Matamata for a bite before your journey home. It’s a small town with cute cafes.
Have you ever climbed a volcano?
Well why not try it!
Rangitoto is a volcanic island off the coast of Auckland. The volcano is dormant, so you’re not likely to have to run from any lava.
Hop on a Fullers ferry to reach the island in 25 minutes.
There is literally nothing on the island except for a washroom by the ferry port.
Pack lots of water, snacks and sunblock for your hike!
Climb the volcano by following the 1 ½ hour path. Stop along the way to look out at the expansive ocean and glimpse the Auckland skyline. Follow side trails to walkable caverns.
Extend your day trip by crossing the causeway to Motutapu Island, one of the earliest places inhabited in the Auckland region. Its name means “sacred” or “sanctuary” in Polynesian languages.
This day trip is for the intrepid travellers who are looking to leave the city behind.
Rotorua is a geothermal town that is notorious for its bad smell. The area is plagued by the smell of sulfur from its numerous hot springs and geysers.
If you can get over the smell, take the 2 hour 50-minute drive to Rotorua (or catch a coach bus) to relax in the free geothermal pools.
Rotorua also has a large Maori population who share their culture with tourists at Tamaki Maori Village Rotorua. Experience an evening performance of traditional dances, haka, learn about their history and feast on hangi.
This is a long day trip, especially if you stay for the evening show. Rotorua has a variety of hostels and inns for travellers to stay in.
Venture outside the city to a geyser park to see the geothermals in action. Or find a kiwi bird encounter at a Kiwi house outside the city.
Rotorua is a wonderful day trip for free thermal pools or cultural activities.
Piha is a village west of Auckland that is best known for its black sand beach.
Hop in your car and you can be in Piha in just under an hour. For the motion sick (like me), pack tablets as the final 15 minutes are quite windy.
Piha is an amazing spot for an outdoor day trip. The strong surf draws surfers from around the North Island.
The black sand, although a unique sight, can be difficult on very bright days. Pack flip flops (or “jandals” as the Kiwi call them) and a towel so you don’t burn yourself.
Not looking to lounge by the water? Take one of the nearby hikes.
Kitekite Falls are a fantastic 30-minute hike. It’s a small waterfall hidden amongst the trees. Unfortunately, it’s well known. That meant a pack of high schoolers were using it as an Instagram background the day we went.
For more hikes, simply Google “Piha hikes” to get dozens of amazing walking trails.
Piha doesn’t have much around the beach. Be sure to pack food and water.
Piha Café is well known as the spot to stop in while in the area. It’s one of the few options for food in the area.
Looking to stay longer? Pack your tent and camp in Piha.
9. Mission Bay
Ok ok, this is one isn’t outside of Auckland. But it’s still a really good way to spend a day, and if you walk there from the CBD (like I used to) it sort of counts as a trip! (Right?)
Mission Bay is a 15 minute drive or 25 minute bus ride from the ferry terminal. To make it a proper day trip, I would walk along the waterfront. It’s a gorgeous 1 ½ hour journey populated by walkers, joggers and bikers alike.
Mission Bay is hugely popular, which is why I prefer beaches like Cheltenham even though they’re across the harbour.
The beach is a large expanse of white sand. The sand gets extremely hot in the summer, so bring sandals!
There’s no shade available by the water unless you bring a beach umbrella. For shade, you have to lie on the grass in the abutting park.
Mission Bay is a boisterous beach with steel drummers, boom boxes and shouts from impromptu footie games mingling with the cry of gulls and crash of the waves.
Because it’s such a popular place, lots of restaurants, cafes and small stores are right next to it. Grab a quick ice cream from Movenpick or sit down for some fish and chips in between sun tanning sessions.
Spend the day away from the hubbub of the CBD by escaping to Mission Bay beach.
10. Waitomo Caves
Looking for a unique activity that doesn’t depend on weather? Head to the Waitomo Caves 2 ½ hours south of Auckland.
The Waitomo Caves are famous for their glow worms. These gross larvae become brilliantly beautiful as they glow a light blue in the underground caves.
To see them, you’ll need to book a tour. I did mine with Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. You can go rafting or abseiling – either way, you’ll get wet.
Indulge your intrepid side by venturing underground, jumping off waterfalls, and floating through dark tunnels lit only by glow worms.
The tours take 3 hours, but require you to arrive early.
Be prepared to be cold! Unfortunately, underground water is freezing. Focus on the experience then warm up in hot showers and guzzle down tomato soup to thaw yourself afterwards.
Spend a unique day exploring the mystical underground world of New Zealand with the glow worms.
Have I inspired your wanderlust yet? Cause I’ve certainly inspired mine!
Although it can be tricky for most of the world to even get to New Zealand, once you’re there the opportunities for small trips are abundant.
These day trips can easily be added to your schedule if you’re working full-time or mixed into a large touring itinerary.
Finding day trips from your city is a wonderful way to start travelling, fulfill your travel bug when you can’t get away for longer and to learn more about the place you’re living.
Since I travel a lot, I try to take advantage of day trips wherever I am.
When you’re living somewhere permanently, it can be a lot harder to get the will to leave your comfy home. It’s especially hard if you’re working full time.
I find the best way to get into it is to start with one day trip per month (less if you are going on a big trip that month). This can be as simple as a long hike, walking somewhere you’d usually drive to, or a long drive for lunch.
Getting out of your usually surroundings and into a new place is almost therapeutic.
Take the time to do some more local exploring – travel doesn’t require a plan ride!
What’s your favourite day trip from your home?