Some people might give Auckland a bad rap, but it shouldn’t be written off on your trip to New Zealand. It’s a great base for exploring the sights in the area – and there are lots!
Here are my recommendations of places you should check out while you’re based in Auckland:
Piha Beach: Only a 45 minute drive from Auckland, Piha Beach is a great escape that feels worlds away from the big smoke. The vegetation fringed road winds down to the town of Piha, where the main attraction is, of course, the beach! Bring a picnic to enjoy after you walk the length of the beach or go surfing or boogie boarding.
Muriwai Beach: About the same distance away from Auckland as Piha Beach, Muriwai is another great beach to visit on a day trip from Auckland. It’s a great place to go surfing and boogie boarding, and also has a large colony of gannets who congregate on the rocks. Bring a picnic or head to Sand Dunz up the road for some takeaways and ice cream.
Goat Island Marine Reserve: About an hours drive from Auckland is the tiny town of Leigh, and the home of Goat Island Marine Reserve. Hugely popular in the summer with snorkelers and divers, a large amount of fish and other sea creatures thrive here due to the fact that it’s illegal to fish here! Even if you don’t want to get into the water, it’s a nice place to stop to take a look and have lunch.
North Head: Auckland is surrounded by fifty dormant volcanoes, and North Head sits on one of them. It boasts a great view of Rangitoto and Auckland city, and during the last century was used by the military for coastal defence. It’s no longer used for military purposes, but old bunkers and tunnels were left behind for people to now explore. The Department of Conservation has administered this area as a reserve, so bring along a picnic and walk around the site.
Waiheke Island: A 45 minute ferry ride from the Auckland CBD, Waiheke Island is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Walk up to the small town that has a handful of cute shops and cafes or take a tour to the island’s wineries. The beaches are lovely and have great views of the islands further out. Although it’s an island, biking around it would prove to be difficult as it is quite hilly and the roads aren’t very wide. It’s worth spending a couple days here as there’s lots to do!
Woodhill Mountain Bike Park: If you’re feeling energetic and keen for some adventure, head down to Woodhill Mountain Bike Park where you can rent mountain bikes and rip though the trails. There were many families here but is appropriate for all ages and levels of experience. Hiring gear is easy, and if you can borrow a bike or you have your own, it only costs $7 to use the park. Woodhill Mountain Bike Park is a 40 minute drive from Auckland.
Matakana: Less than an hour north of Auckland, Matakana boasts a number of wineries, a cute township, an awesome farmer’s market and is close to Goat Island. Enjoy a day up in Matakana by grabbing some fresh food from the market, picking up a bottle of local wine and heading to the beach: either Goat Island or Tawharanui Reserve.
Rangitoto: The big mountain you’ll see from most points in and around Auckland is Rangitoto, a 600 year old volcano. To get to Rangitoto, you take a ferry from the wharf in downtown Auckland that costs $28/person and is a 25 minute journey. From there, you can hike to the summit (takes an hour) or just walk the outskirts. There are no shops on Rangitoto so bring lots of water and snacks! It is also pest free, so there’s a good chance you’ll see many of New Zealand’s native birds. Rangitoto Island is a great way to spend an afternoon in Auckand… check out the lava tubes!
Tiritiri Matangi: Tiritiri Matangi Island is a wildlife sanctuary and probably the best place to observe native New Zealand birds. The island is located 30km northeast from Auckland and is completely pest-free so that the birds can flourish – and it’s definitely working, they’re everywhere!!
To get to Tiritiri Matangi Island, you can take a 360 Discovery ferry from Auckland ($66). Pack a lunch with you as there are no food shops on the island, but there are toilets, a gift shop and a bunkhouse where you can stay overnight. You can also take a guided tour of the island (we did) which is really helpful to distinguish the different bird songs and show you some good spots!
Waitakere Ranges: less than an hours drive out of the city you’ll leave behind the traffic in exchange for 250 kilometers of hiking trails, waterfalls and black sand beaches. Strap on some hiking boots and spend the day surrounded by huge kauri trees, beach hopping or simply checking out the visitors centre.
Takapuna: located on Auckland’s North Shore, Takapuna is a vibrant community with a great shopping strip and awesome beach. There’s a number of nice bars like Macs Brewpub, Belgium Beer Cafe & the Elephant Wrestler that are hard to beat on sunny days where you can sit on their patio and enjoy a brew or two. Takapuna Beach has a nice grassy area for picnicking and to watch all the water sports going on. Food options are plentiful, but I’d suggest Daikoku for their cheap lunch special (the Teppanyaki chef cooks your meal in front of you!) or if you just want a treat, go to Kiwiyo for some delish fro-yo!
Mangawhai: an hour and a half drive from Auckland, Mangawhai is a cute little town with some great beaches. Grab some fish n’ chips from the takeaway shop in town and drive to Mangawhai Heads beach to walk it off. If you’re feeling energetic, you can also surf here and there’s a great cliff-top walkway (2-3 hours return). We were lucky one afternoon to see a pod of dolphins frolicking in the waves here! On your way back to the city, make sure to stop in at Bennetts of Mangawhai for some amazing gourmet chocolate!
Manukau Heads Lighthouse: it will take you under two hours to get here, but even the drive over is nice as you leave the city for small towns and farmland. The Manukau Heads Lighthouse itself is beautifully constructed and the view is unreal – you can see the Waitakere Ranges, Auckland city and even Mount Taranaki on a nice day (located at the bottom of the North Island). The ocean below is so blue and apparently you can see dolphins if you’re lucky! A nice day trip into the country, this one!
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