8 Amazing Places to Visit Near Auckland
Planning a trip to Auckland and the surrounding area? You have definitely landed in the right spot. There are so many amazing places to visit near Auckland which shows just how diverse New Zealand’s North Island is.
However, we understand that travel time can be limited, so here we’ve selected eight of the best destinations.
Relax in the thermal hot springs and explore hidden caves a few hours south of Auckland. Or, discover black sand beaches and tropical rainforests just under an hour west of the city.
This article contains loads of useful information on these top destinations. You will probably even discover some destinations you would never have otherwise considered.
The best way to get to most of these destinations is to drive. I highly recommend checking prices on RentalCars.com. You will find all the big brands like Avis and Europcar listed here but with huge discounts on rental cars.
And of course, if you have any further questions, please ask us in the comments section below.
Islands Near Auckland – Hauraki Gulf
The Hauraki Gulf is framed by Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour in the west, the Hauraki Plains to the south, the protruding Coromandel Peninsula in the east, and the Barrier Islands to the north. For those with a little more time, we’ve covered nine great islands near Auckland in this detailed article. However, if you’ve only got a couple of days for the whole region, then Waiheke and Rangitoto might be for you.
1. Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island is on the top of every visitor’s list of places to visit near Auckland. It’s a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland across the sparkling Waitemata Harbour and a world away from big city living. It is frequently voted by Lonely Planet, Travel & Leisure Magazine, and many other international travel experts as one of the top island escapes in the world. There is a public bus network, a hop-on-hop-off bus, bike rentals and car rentals available which makes getting around the island so easy.
You will find sandy, pristine beaches, lined with the unique New Zealand Pohutukawa trees which bloom with rich red flowers at Christmas time. Becuase of this, these iconic Kiwi trees are also known as the New Zealand Christmas trees.
You will find sandy, pristine beaches, lined with the unique New Zealand Pohutukawa trees which bloom with rich red flowers at Christmas
One of the best things to do on Waiheke Island is to visit a boutique vineyard. These vineyards offer stunning views, wine tasting rooms, and restaurants where you can linger over a long lunch featuring delicious local and seasonal produce. Try Cable Bay and Mudbrick vineyards which are both walking distance from the ferry terminals. There is an information desk at the ferry terminal on Waiheke Island and they will help you with what’s on and where to go.
There is a great network of walking tracks throughout the Waiheke Island and around its 40km coastline, showcasing New Zealand’s flora and fauna. You can also rent a kayak, go mountain biking, or ziplining through the trees if you want some action.
Waiheke Island was once regarded as having a bohemian hippy lifestyle and still has many interesting art studios to visit. We suggest the interesting outdoor Sculpture Exhibition located on a walking trail that takes place every two years in February or March. There is also a very popular jazz festival which takes place over Easter.
2. Rangitoto Island
On your ferry trip to Waiheke Island, you’ll pass one of Auckland’s best-known landmarks, Rangitoto Island. It’s a large symmetrical, green, cone-shaped island that is actually a volcano!
Did you know that Auckland is built on a volcanic field of over 50 volcanoes? The last eruption in Auckland was Rangitoto over 600 years ago. Scientists consider these volcanoes to be dormant, rather than extinct, so there is an extremely slim chance of any of them erupting in the near future.
Did you know that Auckland is built on a volcanic field of over 50 volcanoes? The last eruption in Auckland was Rangitoto over 600 years ago
Rangitoto Island is a 25-minute ferry ride from Downtown Auckland or a two-hour kayaking trip from Auckland’s North Shore. The island was declared “pest-free” in 2011 and birdlife has flourished. It is home to dozens of sea, shore and forest birds.
There is no shop on the island, so you will need to bring your own food and drink. There are also no rubbish bins, so you will need to take your own scraps and rubbish off the island with you.
The most popular walking track is the Rangitoto Summit Track. It is an easy, but up-hill, two-hour return walk on well-formed paths along the lava fields. The Wreck Bay Track is a twisting track to Wreck Bay and Boulder Bay on the northern side of Rangitoto. These bays were once used as dumping grounds for old ships and at low tides, some of the remains can still be seen.
Another popular track is the Coastal Walk from Rangitoto Wharf to Islington Bay, which passes by boatsheds and some old 1930s baches (classic New Zealand holiday cottages) one of which is open as a museum. The track passes old quarry sites, ruins of wartime storage bases for mines, and Yankee Wharf which was built during World War II.
Be careful not to miss your ferry ride back to Auckland as there is no overnight accommodation on the island. A water taxi back to Auckland can be quite expensive.
Another very amazing island about an hour’s plane ride from Auckland is Great Barrier Island. It is one of the few places in the world with a ‘Dark Sky Sanctuary’ rating.
The Waikato Region – South of Auckland
These following two tourist attractions near Auckland can be combined into a one-day trip if you have limited time. You would need to leave Auckland before 7am, book a morning tour at Hobbiton and then head 1 hour and 15 minutes over to Waitomo for the afternoon. It would be a very busy day but is doable if necessary.
Fans of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies visit Hobbiton in their masses. It is the third-largest tourist attraction in New Zealand.
Hobbiton is in a small rural town called Matamata about a two-hour drive from Auckland. In 1995 Peter Jackson, the director of the films, spotted the Alexander family farm in Matamata as an ideal location for some of his filming and work began. The New Zealand army was called in to build a road to the site. The original set was just a temporary build, but in 2010 it was rebuilt permanently as “The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey.”
Today you can do a tour of Hobbiton and experience the real middle earth! Take a look at Bagshot Row, Bilbo’s Bag End, the Party Tree, 44 hobbit holes and have a pint at The Green Dragon Pub. It is recommended that you book your tour in advance so that you don’t arrive at the Shire’s Rest and have to wait for a vacancy in a tour group. It gets really busy here in the high season.
4. Waitomo Caves
Located beneath rolling green hills about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Hobbiton at the famous Waitomo Caves. These caves were created over 30 million years ago while the region was still under the ocean. There are about 300 known limestone caves in the area, and possibly more to be discovered.
There are several caving organizations that offer different experiences. Choose from a walking tour, a boat tour, a black water rafting tour, an abseiling tour, and even a ziplining tour.
The most popular tour is the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. It has a huge cavernous space where you can see the amazing limestone stalagmite and stalactite formations. The trip finishes with a silent boat ride in the dark, with thousands of illuminating glowworms sparkling overhead.
The Ruakuri Cave and Aranui Cave are also very popular options to visit too.
Beaches Near Auckland – The Rugged West Coast
The rugged black sand beaches on Auckland’s West Coast are some of the most unique and stunning places to visit near Auckland. We always take our overseas visitors to one or both of these beaches and they are always super impressed.
5. Piha Beach
You essentially leave Auckland behind as you pass the arty Titirangi Village located about 20 minutes southwest of the city. From there is another half-hour drive to Piha Beach on the rugged west coast.
You will reach Piha Beach by taking the Scenic Drive route. It’s a narrow road that winds its way over hills and through the green fern-laden rainforests of the Waitakere Ranges.
Along the way to Piha Beach, you can make a quick stop at the Arataki Visitors Centre. It is located in the middle of New Zealand’s native bush at the peak of a hill. Here you can get great views and learn about the cultural, colonial and natural history of the area.
Just before you reach Piha Beach there’s a left turn to Karekare Beach. This is where many scenes from the film “The Piano” were shot in the 1990s. Karekare Beach is another very rugged black sand beach with huge rolling surf.
As you drive down to the black sands of Piha Beach you will get great views of the entire coastline. The iconic Lion Rock landmark divides the beach into a northern and southern half. If you’re up for a hike, you can climb the steep trail to the top of Lion Rock for an awesome view of the beach where surfers challenge the huge waves below.
6. Muriwai Beach
Muriwai Beach stretches for 60 kilometers along the dramatic Tasman Sea with huge ocean swells and rolling breakers. This windswept, black sand beach is situated on Auckland’s west coast, about a one hour drive from the city through farmland, vineyards, and small rural towns.
While Muriwai Beach is a popular spot for surfing and windsurfing, it is also renowned for its large gannet colony. Viewing platforms located atop of the cliffs at the southern end of the beach offer close up views of these huge birds. Gannets weigh about two and a half kilos and have a wingspan of around two meters. From August to March about 1200 pairs of Gannets mate, nest and have their chicks on these windswept clifftops. You can normally see the chicks throughout December and January.
There is no public transport to Muriwai Beach so you will need a car or take a West Coast tour to get here. The last 15 minutes of the drive the beach goes down a narrow and winding section of road through native bush. Near the end of the road, opposite the local café, is a left turn that takes you up to the carpark. This is where the walking track to the Gannet Colony viewing platform begins.
New Zealand’s Thermal Area
Three hours south of Auckland is the not-to-be-missed geothermal area around Rotorua. There are so many unique things to do in this area. You won’t forget the unique smell! Rotorua has been called ‘The Sulphur City’ because it has a unique pungent aroma that smells very much like rotten eggs, but you do become accustomed to it over time!
Rotorua is situated on the southern shore of Lake Rotorua. Lakes and streams are abundant in the area, while trout fishing and white water rafting are a few activities that you may wish to take part in.
Rotorua is most famous for its geothermal activity. Hot springs, bubbling mud pools, and spouting geysers can be seen at various parks and locations around the area. A few popular attractions are the Pohutu Geyser at Whakarewarewa, the Waiopu Thermal Wonderland, and the Waimangu Volcanic Valley.
Other must-visit places are the Rotorua Polynesian Spa which was voted as a Top 10 World Day Spa by Conde Nast Traveller, the Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park where you can see a live kiwi, the Rotorua Agradome for an entertaining farm show, the magnificent Redwoods at Whakarewarewa Forest. So Many Places! So Little Time!
8. Matakana Village Farmer’s Market & Goat Island Marine Reserve
The Matakana Village Farmer’s Market is a great spot to visit on a Saturday morning. Matakana is about one hour north of Auckland. It is a quaint village with interesting boutique stores, art galleries, and a great little cinema complex.
The Farmer’s Market is laden fresh organic food. It sells a wonderful array of tasty foods like fresh oysters, the prawn tacos, homemade bread, local cheese, honey, and chutney. You can sit by the river, listen to live music and enjoy whitebait, paua or mussel fitters and a great cup of coffee!
Ten minutes past Matakana is the very upmarket Omaha Beach and fifteen minutes further on is the Goat Island Marine Reserve with the best snorkeling and scuba diving near Auckland.
There are so many interesting places to visit near Auckland. We hope that you get a chance to visit and enjoy some of these top destinations. When you’re finished exploring Auckland, have you thought about a cruise around New Zealand? Here are 9 reasons why it is worth considering.
Author bio: This article was written by Maureen Spencer from So Many Places! So Little Time! An online travel magazine and blog. Maureen is a passionate traveler and hopes the detailed travel guides on her website can help other passionate travelers on their journeys too.
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- Nine Stunning Islands in the Hauraki Gulf
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- Milford Sound Cruise, Fiordland National Park