The city vibe is not why I personally chose to move to New Zealand, so as much as I loved being in Auckland I was definitely ready to explore the surroundings as soon as possible. There are so many amazing short trips outside of Auckland that you are really spoilt for choice.
One of my favorite trips we took out of Auckland was definitely the Coromandel Peninsula. If you want somewhere with beautiful beaches and great hikes this is the spot for you. We were lucky to visit during the autumn so although it was way too cold to swim, we got to see the views completely on our own. We rented a JUICY camper van for this trip which allowed us to find some pretty beautiful and isolated places to stay. There are a few must see spots around the peninsula and a few delicious seafood restaurants to hit. First off you have to visit the most famous view in the area which is Cathedral Cove. There is a short walk from the car park down and the beach and surrounding area is absolutely beautiful. Hot water beach is a short drive from the cove. At low tide you will be able to sit in thermal pools and get the spa like treatment while overlooking the coast. There is also tons to do in terms of hiking in the Coromandel. We loved driving along back roads and getting out of the car to explore. Although it wasn’t as warm as summer we loved feeling like we had nearly the entire peninsula to ourselves!
Waitomo Caves are one of the most visited spots around Auckland and unfortunately we never got a chance to see it, because all I have heard are the most romantic and dramatic of things. Here you will be able to explore caves with ceilings covered completely in glowworms, sounds pretty epic, eh?
Rotorua is one of the most interesting places I visited nearby Auckland. The first thing anyone will tell you about the area is that it stinks. And truly it does. When you first arrive the smell of rotting eggs is a bit overwhelming, but with this stink comes some of the most incredible formations I have ever seen. The whole area is surrounded by geothermal activity which creates boiling mud baths and unreal pools of unbelievable color. I recommend checking out Wai-O-Papu for the feeling of being on another planet, with steam coming from the ground and visiting the Champagne Pool that has water with green and orange like I have never seen before. Aside from the spa and beauty of the geothermal activity I cannot recommend visiting a Maori cultural center while you are here. Maoris are the native people from New Zealand and their culture is foundational to this great country. The Tamaki Village is the most famous in the area and the experience absolutely blew me away. You will be able to eat the traditional feast called a hangi, which is food cooked under ground using hot rocks as well as watching and taking part in a traditional Maori dance. It is so beautiful and empowering to see a country that fully promotes their indigenous people’s culture and heritage so this is a MUST. Lastly if you are not going to be going to Queenstown in the South Island I truly recommend taking part in some adventure activities while you are here. Rotorua has a lot of the same things Queenstown has to offer and for an adrenaline junky you can’t pick a better country. Just outside the city there is a large hill you can take a gondola to which allows for a stunning view over the city and surrounding area. When at the top you can enjoy luge rides down the mountain as well as a swing and zip-lining. You are in the adrenaline capital of the world, definitely take part in some fun while you are here!
Bay of Islands is a few short hour drive north of Auckland. We went at a less than ideal time weather wise for swimming and outdoor activities, but I can imagine the summers here would be absolutely stunning. We based ourselves in Paihia which was such a cute, quaint place to stay. The beaches are what this area is more renowned for and I would recommend sailing or taking a boat trip if you want to see the marine life and views from afar. Want to get a little closer to the action? This is the perfect place to enjoy some snorkeling or scuba diving. If you love adventure (which I hope you do as this whole country is the home for it!) I highly recommend renting a bike and taking a trip through the 85 km long Twin Coast Cycle Trail. It meanders its way through beautiful countryside and an old railroad tunnel. On the same adventurous side of things you can also take part in parasailing or skydiving. We decided to skydive in the South Island but knowing the views up here I am sure it was absolutely breathtaking. There are lots of waterfalls in the region along with 150 islands so you are sure to not get bored taking in the beautiful sights of this area.
Lake Taupo is a stunning lake aside a super quaint town just south of Auckland. You can take time lazying around the area, hiking around the lake and enjoying the cute cafes around town, but if you are like me you came for Tongariro Crossing. Tongariro Crossing is a place you have probably pinterested before without even realizing it. It has emerald lakes, lots of shots from Lord of the Rings and is a dual World Heritage Site. And I can tell you after going there that it was one of my all time favorite hikes. That is if you catch it on the right day. It is a 19.4 km hike and while we were fortunate with beautiful weather I have heard from many others that the weather can change in a blink of an eye. So first and foremost I would warn you to keep constant tabs on the forecast before heading. In Taupo all accomodation will inform you on the status of the hike on a day to day basis and if it is closed due to weather. Even if the weather is stunning at the beginning it can quickly flip, I have had a few friends begin the hike only to have to turn around halfway when weather got out of control. Aside from all of mother’s natures madness the actual hike is out of this world beautiful. The entire trip is about 7-8 hours one way and you will need decent physical fitness to finish, as it can often be steep in places. Throughout the walk you will feel like you are on a different planet more times than imaginable. Between craters, active volcanoes, and green lakes the whole trip is one awe inspiring sight after another. I would advise bringing lots of water as well as snacks and lunch. This is not a hike for the faint of heart but wow is it worth it! If you aren’t feeling up to such a big haul but want to enjoy the beauty of the area, definitely check out Huka Falls which is an 11 meter long waterfall that is absolutely stunning! You can stroll along the blue lake and head over to the waterfalls landing. Not to be missed!
Spending four months in the North Island of New Zealand was an absolute treat. While Auckland is a great city to base your travels out of, I cannot stress enough how necessary it is to make trips outside the city. All of these places are close by and the drive alone are worth the trek. Enjoy all New Zealand has to offer, I promise it’s pretty freakin magical.