The Coromandel Peninsula is pretty much the closest weekend getaway from Auckland. Less than three hours’ drive and you’ll find yourself dipping your toes in the ocean while admiring Cathedral Cove, patting pigs on road 309, straining your neck trying to glimpse the top of kauri trees, or watching the sunset on Whitianga beach.
Not pictured: the wonderful Hot Water Beach on Mercury Bay, where visitors can dig their own pools at low tide and paddle around in the natural spring’s burning hot water – basically a free spa, but with the added possibility of a beer…
I’ve been calling Auckland home for almost six months now. My affection for the city has gone up and down during this time. At first, I fell in love for it – it was the first ‘proper’ city I’d seen in months, with bars and cafés and shops, and it had the sea on two sides! Heaven.
Then I realised Auckland’s not that… that great. It’s a bit of a mess of a city, with heterogeneous architecture (if you can call it that), poor public transport, and very little to do on the cheap. Luckily, there’s plenty to do near Auckland to get some fresh air, so here’s a list of some of my favourite day trips I’ve taken so far.
Less than an hour’s ferry from Auckland CBD, Waiheke Island is the dream day out. You’ve got plenty of trails to walk (including the round-the-island Te Ara Hura track if you’ve got four days to spare), beaches for miles, a few lovely villages with numerous cafes – but mostly, you’ve got wineries. Oh, to wine on Waiheke. The climate of the Hauraki Golf makes for juicy and refreshing Savs, and tight, elegant reds. Have a drink at Mudbrick or Cable Bay as the sun sets; the views are splendid. As best said by the gentleman who poured me wine at Mudbrick while I admired the sun setting over the distant city skyline: ‘This is where Auckland should be – over there.’
The West Coast beaches: Piha, Karekare and Bethells
You’ll need to rent a car to make the hour-long drive to Auckland’s West Coast beaches. While Piha is the most popular, both for its seemingly endless black sand beach and its waves, I’m fonder of the other two. Karekare is huge and often deserted, and the short walk through the bush to get there makes it feel that bit more special. As for Bethells, it’s another good surfing spot, but still quieter than Piha.
It’ll take you a bit longer to get to Karangahake Gorge – a good two hours in the direction of the Coromandel Peninsula. But it’s worth it: there’s enough trails for a good day’s walk, with a bit of mining memorabilia for those wanting to get to grips with Kiwi history, and stunning views everywhere. Try and keep the tunnel walk for dusk; you’ll see glowworms in the caves, then the light of golden hour fall onto the gorge. Glorious.
Anyone else still not got their driving licenses? Fear not, for I have researched adventures accessible by bus that still feel like leaving the city! The Waikowhai coastal walkway starts near Onehunga and ends in Lynfield, with bus and train stops into CBD near both ends. It’s a beautiful walk, along several stunning beaches and through a few natural reserves, with a couple trails that made me feel like I was in the Coromandel rather than in Auckland.
I’d heard the same from everyone who’s gone to Hobbiton: it’s too expensive for what it is, but it’s got to be done. And as a lover of The Lord of the Rings, books and films, I agree. It’s an expensive day out, and the visit is shorter than I expected, but I still got a massive kick out of seeing Hobbit holes, peeking into Bag End (although there isn’t actully anything to see inside) and having a pint at the Green Dragon.
Bring mates who’ll make you laugh for added enjoyment!
Have you got any other tips for day trips from the City of Sails? Let me know in the comments so I can keep busy over the next few months…