Auckland is a wonderful city to visit, comprising everything from a stunning harbour and lots of green spaces to incredible volcanoes and superb beaches. While you can easily spend all your time exploring the wonders of New Zealand’s biggest city, there are plenty of places beyond it on the North Island you should check out too.

By hiring a car with a company like Enterprise Rent-A-Car Auckland City, you’ll be able to get a real flavour of the region beyond The City of Sails. As well as over 4000 km of coastline and numerous bays and islands, you can visit plenty of sights of Māori and historical significance and a host of sites of incredible natural beauty to spam your Insta Wall.

Sounds good? Well, here are 10 of the best day trips and longer drives you can do from Auckland.

Things To Remember

If you do decide to hire a car and drive beyond Auckland just be mindful of where you intend to drive to and when. This should have a bearing on what type of vehicle you choose as you might require a four-wheel drive in winter – especially if planning on going to more remote areas of the North Island.

It is also worth hiring a vehicle with a good satellite navigation system or at least using Google Maps or Waze on your phone. Additionally, make sure you download Gaspy, the NZ fuel app and the Campermate app, which will provide you with the location of the nearest petrol station and public toilet.

1. West Coast Beaches

If it’s a lovely day and you fancy a surf, why not go for a jaunt around the beaches on the west coast?

One of the best to visit is Murawai, which is about a 40 km drive from the City of Sails and is notable for its black sand. Caused by the breaking down of the iron found within volcanic rock, this beach has a very ethereal feel to it. Overall, it will take you about 45 minutes to drive here from Auckland’s CBD.

Technically, Muriwai resides within greater Auckland. However, it has such a remote feel to it, you’d scarcely believe there is a population of 1.65 million people not far from it.

Once at the beach, head to the lookouts above Takapu (the gannet). From there you’ll get Insta-worthy views of the coastline. If you fancy a change of scenery, the nearby beaches of Bethalls and Piha are equally stunning.

2. Waitomo Caves

If you fancy seeing something spectacular that involves a bit of an extended yet manageable drive, consider making a trip to the Waitomo glow-worm caves. It will take you around 2.5 hours to travel there on Highway State 1 and Highway State 39, but once you arrive, you will be able to witness an extraordinary cave system.

While it is quite extensive, only a small section is available to visit, and then by guided tour only. However, you will get to learn more about the cave’s history, geological formation and the surrounding area. Additionally, the highlight of the visit is a silent boat tour, which takes you beneath a huge canopy of glow worms that twinkle like stars. 

If you do visit the glowworm caves, be mindful that photography is not permitted inside. Also, try to arrive at the caves in time for the first tour of the morning. This will give you plenty of time to enjoy some of the region’s other attractions later in the day, like blackwater rafting, before heading back to Auckland. 

3. Waitakere Ranges

Auckland is known for its diverse landscapes and some of the best examples of it can be seen at the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. Comprising more than 16,000 hectares, this magnificent park runs from the rainforest nestled within the hills all the way down to the coastline.

Running within the park are over 250 km of walking tracks that wonderfully showcase its biodiversity. These trails range from short ones that take no more than 10 minutes to complete to others, like the Hillary Trail, which requires multiple days to cover its 75 km.

The park can be reached by a 40-minute drive which will take you in a westerly direction from the city of Auckland. If you intend to tackle some of the longer trails, make sure you go fully prepared with plenty of water, food and other necessary provisions.

4. Check Out Waiheke Island

Taking the ferry over to Waiheke Island should be on every tourist’s ‘must-do’ list. It is the second-largest island in New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf and is home to just under 10,000 permanent residents.

The ferry terminal on this island is situated at its western end at Matiatia Bay – just 21 km from the terminal at Auckland central-city. For those wanting to take their car over, your best bet is the Sealink ferry, which departs on a half-hour run from Half Moon Bay. If you have rented a car, check that you are allowed to take it on a ferry (not all rental companies do).

Once on the island you can enjoy some time at the beach, take in spectacular views of the boats at the harbour, explore walking tracks or go on tours of any of the wineries based on the island. There are plenty of exceptional restaurants you can dine at too.

5. Visit Both Matakana Markets and Omaha Beach

If you consider yourself a bit of a foodie, then you’ll want to drive an hour north of Auckland City on a Saturday to check out the Matakana Markets. It is well known for its artisanal baked goods, food items and superb local produce, which, along with superb coffee, provide you with everything you could want for a delicious picnic.

The market has a zero-waste policy, so it is important to bring your own bags. However, it is a terrific spot to mingle with locals and enjoy a leisurely day perusing the various stalls.

If you do decide to buy items for a picnic, a lovely spot to enjoy it is Omaha Beach. It will take you about 10 minutes to reach it by car, and you’ll have to go over a bridge, but there is plenty of pristine white sand on which to lay down on a blanket and enjoy your food.

6. Hobbiton Movie Set

Fans of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit will definitely want to check out their movie sets. What sets them apart from other movie sets around the world is that you really feel like you are walking into a scene from either movie.

In both trilogies, the movie set served as the town of Hobbiton within the Shire. It is located in Matamata and can be reached via a drive of just over two hours from Auckland. Thankfully, the drive takes you along decent bitumen roads that showcase a stunning hilly landscape of rural farmlands – which you could imagine Bilbo running down!

If you are a big fan of either film you will be happy to discover that pretty much everything is as you see in the movies, including the party tree and hobbit holes. So, it is well worth the trip.

7. Marvel at Mount Maunganui

Tauranga is about a 2-hour and 45-minute drive from Auckland, but it is worth coming here to check out Mount Maunganui. Residing on a peninsula the extinct volcano is a sacred Māori site which accommodates hiking trails that showcase tremendous views of the ocean as you walk around it. 

The base walk comprises a 3.5 km loop that is relatively flat. However, you can also climb to the top of the mountain to take in superb panoramic views. Once you have completed the circuit, head to Main Beach, which is a hotspot for surfing. Alternatively, if you would prefer to paddleboard, Pilot Bay Beach is a lovely option. 

Elsewhere, you can relax in saltwater baths and indulge in spa treatments at the Mount Hot Pools complex or shop for crafts and souvenirs at the eclectic range of boutique stores you’ll find in town.

8. Rotorua

Set around the lake of the same name, Rotorua is a lovely part of the North Island to visit. It will take you around three hours to get there from Auckland, but it is an easy drive that enables you to visit several other sites, towns and attractions along the way.

One of the main draw cards in Rotorua is its geothermal parks. There are several you can choose to visit, though if you are pushed for time, prioritise going to Wai-o-tapu. The landscape here is incredible, featuring a diverse range of colours and scenery that will take your breath away. As the area comprises a series of loop tracks, it enables visitors to cover as much or as little ground as they like.

If you fancy a bit of pampering, head to the Polynesian spa which is situated on the edge of the lake. There, you will be able to relax in private spas, which take the form of numerous alkaline and acidic pools that have been fed by various springs.

9. The Northland Loop

If you are in the mood for a longer drive, why not traverse the Northland Loop? This adventure takes you to stunning coastal regions like Mangawhai, Waipu and Langs Beach and on towards Tutukaka and the magnificent Bay of Islands. You could easily spend 8 to 10 days undertaking this trip which is perfect for those who enjoy activities like diving, fishing or kayaking.

There is plenty to see and do in the area, including taking a dolphin cruise, trekking up to Cape Brett to take in sensational views and stopping in at some of the wonderful wineries in and around Kerikeri. It is also worth heading up to Cape Reinga at the very tip of the North Island where you can witness the Tasman Sea merge with the Pacific Ocean.

As it is a loop, this drive will eventually take you back to Auckland.

10. Pacific Coast Highway

Hawkes Bay resides on the east coast of the North Island and is well known for its spectacular beaches and excellent wineries. From Auckland, it is worth taking the time to explore this area – anywhere between 3 and 7 days is a good amount of time – as it boasts some of the best views in the whole of New Zealand.

The main city in the region is Napier, which is known for its Art Deco landmarks, such as the incredible Daily Telegraph Building, which holds a zig-zag pattern. However, along the way, you can enjoy some time at the Miranda Hot Springs, play a round of golf at the beautiful course in Pauanui, go surf at Whitianga or check out the cellar doors of the wineries near the city of Gisborne.

One Last Thought

While we’ve outlined ten suggested driving options, the thing about the North Island is that we could have easily outlined at least fifty more.

Ultimately, the North Island of New Zealand is a wonderful place to visit. So, if you find yourself in the brilliant city of Auckland, please take the opportunity to venture further out and see for yourself what makes it so special.

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