The Auckland vs Wellington debate is real and can get heated here in New Zealand. I made my choice, siding with Wellington and making the move to the capital. Whatever you think of NZ’s biggest city, however, you can’t deny that Auckland provides a fantastic base to go out and explore. Some of the most beautiful places on the North Island can be reached in just a few hours, so what’s your excuse? Make your time in the city a little more interesting (no, of course I’m not biased) and head off on one of these amazing weekend trips from Auckland!
Drive Time: 2 hrs 30mins
Home of the famous Cathedral Cove, the Coromandel Peninsula is the perfect place for a summer getaway. Drag yourself out of bed early and head down to Hot Water Beach before the tide comes in. Here you can dig yourself your own personal hot spring to relax in. Or at least you can try. Ours just kept coming up cold until someone else left and we just stole theirs. After a morning of digging, head down to Cathedral Cove for some of the most screensaver worthy views around. Be warned, it’s a longer walk than you’d think so make sure you actually pack shoes. Even a beach day in New Zealand requires a 45 minute hike first. I don’t know how lazy me is surviving here. If you’d prefer somewhere I little more private, New Chums Beach is just up the road. The locals insisted that it was voted one of the Best 10 Beaches in the World, and, while I’m struggling to find that statistic on the internet, it’s definitely worth a visit. We didn’t see another person there for the entire morning.
If the beach isn’t your thing, head into the Forest Park for a hike or take a trip to the Karangahake Gorge. It’s worth staying in either Whitianga or Coromandel Town and using it as a base to explore. I actually had the honour of being stuck in Coromandel Town for a day after a storm closed all roads off the peninsula. (Yes, this large piece of land only has 2 access roads. Typical NZ.) But it was surprisingly cute, with plenty of places to eat and drink, so crisis averted.
Bay of Islands
Drive Time: 3hrs
I was completely surprised by how much more New Zealand exists north of Auckland. The beautiful Bay of Islands are a great place to go for beaches, walks and a taste of Kiwi culture. The Bay is home to the Waitangi Treaty Ground and Russell, New Zealand’s first capital, so is the perfect place to brush up on your NZ history. Stay in Paihia, a classic beach town full of backpacker bars, water sports and beach bums, but be sure to venture out of town. Take a drive along 90 Mile Beach, sit at northernmost tip of the country at Cape Reinga and try sand boarding on the dunes.
Drive Time: 3hrs
Chances are, you’ll smell Rotorua’s best attractions before you see them. The city is New Zealand’s geothermal capital and the constant eggy stench is an unfortunate byproduct of the incredible things the Earth does around there. Steaming hot pools are common in the city (I’m using the word city very loosely here) and geothermal parks such as Wai-o-Tapu are only short drives away from the centre. Here you’ll find countless geysers, coloured pools and mud baths, just not the kind you would ever want to get into. Save that for the luxurious Polynesian Spa.
Rotorua is also home to a large Maori population, with many communities opening their doors to tourists with tours, performances and traditional Hangi meals. For adrenaline junkies, take the gondola to the top of the Skyline Rotorua for great views of the city, mountain biking, zip lining and real-life Mario Kart (aka luge). The whole city is set up for tourism so expect to spend more here than you would on the beach in Coromandel. Definitely worth the extra cash though!
Waitomo and Hobbiton
There’s a reason why the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Hobbiton are two of the most popular attractions in New Zealand. They are absolute must do’s and can easily be combined into a weekend trip. Walk, tube, climb, abseil and zip through the breathtaking caves, taking in the glowworms as you go. This was easily the best day I’ve had in New Zealand after five months here. I couldn’t recommend by guides at The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co (yep, that’s their real name) more but the tour I did was tough and required previous, technical climbing experience. There are so many companies that do infinite kinds of cave tour though, so make sure you do your research. In the evening, take a walk around the area surrounding the caves to see even more glowworms and wildlife.
It’s pretty hard to escape from Lord of the Rings in NZ but Hobbiton is the King of LotR based fun. It’s obviously a must for super fans but even those raised on Team Harry Potter (aka, me) can enjoy the movie set tour. About an hour away from Waitomo, the set tour takes about 2 hours and involves a guided walk of The Shire and a drink in the Green Dragon. Many photos will be taken. Guaranteed.
Drive Time: 3hrs 30mins
On the banks of huge Lake Taupo, lies the town/city (who even knows anymore?) of Taupo. Take a boat out on the lake to view the Maori Rock carvings or relax in Spa Park, a natural group of hot pools that are slightly less eggy than those in Rotorua. If you’re feeling active, spend a day doing New Zealand’s most famous 1 day hike, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Don’t let the hundreds of tourists fool you. It’s no walk in the park. But if you can make it, the views are well worth the burning legs and pure self loathing.
Interested in expereincing the crossing for yourself? Find my Lazy Girl Guide to the Tongariro Crossing here.
For a less strenuous walk, head down Huka Falls and the Aratiatia Rapids. You can drive between them easily, hop out and get that all-important Instagram snap, or the walk between them in a 4 hour round trip. Honestly, there isn’t much of interest in between, but walking makes you feel a lot better about the food you inevitably ending up eating in The World’s Coolest McDonalds later that evening.
What are your favourite weekend trips from Auckland? And if you have any ideas on where I can head to get out of Wellington for a few days, let me know in the comments!