Auckland’s islands and hinterland rival the best New Zealand has to offer. Much of the forest may have been cleared a century ago as the city expanded, but it has regrown into beautiful bush that’s (in places) alive with native birds. The beaches offer some of the country’s best surf and the three main islands are about as distinct from each other as you can imagine.
Almost everything we’ve listed here is accessible in an hour from the city but you wouldn’t try to do everything as one circuit. Far better to pick and choose what appeals.
The region that lends itself best to being treated as a single itinerary is West Auckland, particularly the Waitakere Range and the surf-crashed west coast beaches beyond. For a taste of the wild on the city fringe, make for Karekare, famous for its grand-on-the-sand scenes from the 1993 movie The Piano. A couple of headlands to the north, Piha presents a slightly less primal setting for more great surf and a bunch of walks – along the coast, up the beach-girt Lion Rock and inland to Kitekite Falls. Grab some lunch before heading inland along Scenic Drive to Cascade Kauri, where an easy walk threads through a lush patch of native bush dotted with kauri trees and throbbing with birdsong courtesy of an intense pest trapping programme.
Last stop on the coast is Muriwai where the clifftops and sea stacks support on of the country’s few onshore gannet colonies. Instead of heading straight back to the city, set an hour or so aside for a visit to Hallertau, probably the city’s best brewpub.
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The Hauraki Gulf islands are best visited as separate day trips. For maximum cruise time, pack a picnic and some decent shoes to explore Tiritiri Matangi Island, a pest-free island where the once-felled native bush is slowly returning and maturing, to the delight of the native birds which have been reintroduced. Most are under severe threat from habitat loss and predators elsewhere in the country, so grab your chance to see them here.
Rangitoto Island is also pest-free, but the focus here isn’t on the birds (there aren’t many) but on exploring the contorted black-lava landscape with its lava tubes and dense pohutukawa forest. The views from the top stretch back to the Auckland skyline, north to Tiritiri Matangi, and east to Waiheke Island, the dream island getaway. Whether you’re wanting to recover from jetlag, whiling away your last few days in NZ or just want a couple of days relaxing it is a great spot to unwind. There’s not much that you really have to do, but lots to occupy your time if you have the inclination. With some of the country’s finest Bordeaux-blend wines produced here and winery restaurants to match, your palate and stomach will thank you.