If you’ve got a free day in Auckland and you’ve already seen everything the city has to offer, you should hit the road (or water) and explore the surrounding area.
If you happen to be looking for inspiration – and you’re reading this, so most likely you are – I can recommend these awesome Auckland self-drive day trips…
5. Awhitu Peninsula
Something of a secret – even from Aucklanders themselves – the lovely Awhitu Peninsula is about a 45 minute drive from central Auckland, on the south-west shore of the Manukau Harbour.
Beaches on the west coast of New Zealand are typically wilder than the ones on the east, but on the Awhitu Peninsula you’re spoilt for choice – the beaches on the inside of the peninsula are sheltered, while the ones on the west of the peninsula are often far less gentle.
Check out the magnificent view from atop the Awhitu Peninsula lighthouse, go hiking, or pack a picnic lunch (there aren’t too many shops on the peninsula, so I recommend you grab supplies from Waiuku village on your way past).
Speaking of New Zealand’s often wild west coast, Piha is a stunning black-sand surf beach that’s only about a 45-minute drive from central Auckland. It’s a very scenic drive, too, through the Waitakere Ranges – a picturesque chain of hills and native bush in west Auckland, where there’s a series of hiking tracks.
I can’t speak as to whether the hiking tracks are any good or not, but I can say that Piha would never make a list of great swimming beaches – unless you like being thrown around in the surf. But it’s a popular beach nonetheless, and makes for a great day trip from Auckland city.
3. Clevedon/Maraetai & the Pohutukawa Coast
My wife and I stayed a night near Maraetai on our one-year wedding anniversary and, although I could just make out the Sky Tower – Auckland city’s tallest building – on the distant horizon, it didn’t feel like I was in Auckland anymore. It felt more like Northland or the Coromandel – two far less populous, more “beachy” regions in New Zealand.
Visitors to Auckland with a bit of time to spare should definitely check out this area, east of Auckland. It’s about 45 minutes away from the city by car – or you can catch a ferry to Pine Harbour, which has a few restaurants and a lovely promenade where the rich moor their boats. All the beaches in the area are perfect for swimming, provided you visit in summer, of course.
If you’re driving to the Pohutukawa Coast, check out the Clevedon Village Farmers Market (pictured above), which is on every Sunday from 8.30am until 12pm.
2. Matakana/Omaha/Leigh/ Goat Island
Another one of Auckland’s best markets, the Matakana Village Farmers Market (pictured above), is a must-do for visitors to Auckland. It’s on every Saturday in the relatively bustling (but still very quaint) village of Matakana, which is about a 45 minute drive north of central Auckland.
After you’ve had your fill of the local produce – including whitebait fritters, craft beer, and even Hungarian fried breads – keep driving to Omaha, an awesome beach-side settlement full of fancy baches (holiday homes). Even the Prime Minister has a place here.
Then, if you’re still in the mood for exploring, drive around the Matakana Coast to Leigh and Goat Island, a marine reserve teeming with fish. It’s a great spot to go diving or snorkelling – although it can get overcrowded with tourists in summer.
1. Waiheke Island
What can I say about Waiheke Island that I haven’t already said on this travel blog? Waiheke Island is probably my favourite place in Auckland.
This stunning little island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf is covered with awesome wineries (check out my picks of the best Wineries on Waiheke Island here) where you can sit with a glass of the good stuff, soak in some sun and admire the spectacular views.
Ferries from downtown Auckland to Waiheke Island take roughly 40 minutes. If you go on just one day trip from Auckland, make it this one.