6 Weekend Trips from Auckland to Get Away From It All
For me summer is about escaping the city as much as possible and Auckland is lucky in this regard, with a whole range of adventures no more than a few hours drive away. Whether you live in Auckland full time, or are just visiting, these are my pick of overnight trips to take you away from city life and let you explore a little more of New Zealand.
I love the harsh beauty of the Tongariro National Park and there are outdoor activities available for every taste. Accommodation in the area can be pricy in the peak season, but with so many free activities available this still makes for an economical escape.
Best for: adventure, outdoors, families
Distance: 4 hours
Activities: The Tongariro National Park is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, with activities including hiking, skiing, biking and fishing plus, the surroundings are truly stunning. My personal recommendation for the reasonably fit is the Tongariro Crossing (6-8 hours), a hike that climbs the saddle between Mt Ngauruhoe and Tongariro before scaling Tongariro, looping around the stunning blue & green lakes and coming down the other side. The hike itself is free, so makes for an economical break, though you will probably need to catch a bus to the start of the track (you leave your car at the other end so it is right there when you come out of the bush). The only downside to this trip is that it is very weather dependent. I have personally experienced gale force winds at the top and believe me, it’s not fun. So check the weather forecast before committing to this particular adventure.
Accommodation: Centered around Turangi on one side of the mountain and Ohakune on the other, I would highly recommend booking somewhere with a hot tub or decent shower for after your hike. Turangi has a local hot pool if that sways you at all.
Food: If you are staying central to either of the villages there will be several dining options. If you are staying further into the national park however, your options will be limited, so it’s best to provide for yourself. Scroggin and other typical hiking foods are great for the hike itself and don’t forget to bring water!
This is one of my favourite destinations to unwind. There are enough activities to keep you entertained, but the beauty of this location is the peace & quiet and the stunning views. It’s perfect for recovering from city life.
Best for: relaxation, outdoors, families
Distance: 2 ½ hours
Activities: The Coromandel Peninsula has long been a laid back destination. It's more a site to relax with long bush or beach walks than a happening spot. Famous for the vistas of Cathedral Cove, Coromandel also has activities such as water works for families and historic sites and gold mining tours for history buffs.
Accommodation: Though there are all types of accommodation available, the Coromandel has been a camping destination for many years. There are also a huge range of private beaches for hire, for that perfect chill out weekend escape.
Food: Nowadays there is a selection of cafes and restaurants available along with a few top notch wineries. Or you can cook your own at your campsite or beach.
Ok, so this is two separate locations but they can easily be linked for a fun weekend of exploration, great for the young and old alike.
Best for: families, adventure
Distance: Auckland to Waitomo 2 ½ hours, Auckland to Hobbiton 2 ½ hours
Activities: Waitimo’s glow worm caves have been pulling both tourists and locals for nearly 90 years and it’s easy to see why when you step into a subterranean wonderland hung with glow worms. With tours from gentle walking paths suitable for prams, to black water tubing, there is something for every taste. Expect your wallet to feel the hit but for this unique and wondrous experience it’s well worth the dollars.
Hobbiton is New Zealand’s movie success story. It may be as touristy as it gets but if you or your children are fans of Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit then this is a little taste of Middle Earth. Tours include the set and themed pub. These can be pricy, but it is the perfect treat for any LOTR fan with all the picturesque scenery and movie magic New Zealand has to offer.
Accommodation: Accommodation is available for Waitomo in the Waitomo/Otorohanga region and for Hobbiton around Matamata, a short drive from the attractions. Both sites have a range of accommodations available but Waitomo, as the more established region, really has accommodations for every budget.
Food: Both sites have food available during the day, or bring a picnic lunch to save some dollars and eat in the local towns at night. There are a range of options available but remember small towns close down early.
Known as a tourist hot spot, many forget that there is also a huge range of less pricy activities available in the area. The sheer number of attractions in the region makes this a great bet for the whole family. Did I mention that many of the hotels have private spas in the rooms?
Best for: families, adventure, outdoors, culture, relaxation
Distance: Auckland to Rotorua 3 hours, Auckland to Taupo 3 ½ hours
Activities: Around Rotorua and Taupo there are a great range of activities, literally something for everyone. Activities fall into three main categories:
- Nature: There are a wealth of nature activities from free hiking and biking to geothermal parks such as Hellsgate and Wai-O-Tapu with their associated tourist price tags.
- Action adventure: As tourist centers both Rotorua and Taupo have a wide range of action adventures, these can be pricy but if adrenalin is your thing, adding in one or two to your itinerary can be a blast.
Rotorua: Zorb, Luge, Agroventures
Taupo: Huka falls jet, Taupo bungy, Rock n ropes
- Cultural: If you are wanting to explore some kiwi culture there are options from Maori historical villages to art trails and wineries.
Taupo: Art trail, Steam boat ride
Rotorua: Buried village, Mitai Maori village, Te Puia, Tamaki Maori village,
Accommodation: As both these sites are tourist centers the range of accommodations is endless. However, due to their popularity you will want to book ahead over the summer and on public holidays
Food: Both Taupo and Rotorua are big enough to have a wide range of dining options, from fast food to 5 star dinning. Even picky eaters will find something here.
Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is a lovely picturesque area perfect for those who like the finer things in life. With boutique accommodation and many wineries this is a great escape for families and older travelers.
Best for: relaxation, outdoors, families, culture
Distance: 3 hours
Activities: From historical Waitangi and quaint Russell township, to water sports, swimming with dolphins and the famous hole-in-the-rock tour, the Bay of Islands can show you a slice of New Zealand history while you relax in style.
Accommodation: Accommodation is centered in Paihia and covers all budgets, although this is another spot where beach hire is a part of the culture. Just make sure you book well ahead during holiday season.
Food: With cute cafés and wineries by the dozen you won’t go hungry in this neighbourhood.
My family’s favourite for years, after a short ferry ride from downtown Auckland you are surrounded by beaches and bush. But beware if you’re not willing to brave public transport since bringing your car along will cost quite a bit.
Best for: relaxation, outdoors, families
Distance: 2-3 hours
Activities: Originally a sun and sea campsite destination, Waiheke Island has grown in recent years in the high culture boutique holiday market. There are countless wineries if you fancy a drop, as well as a range of tours including sailing and sculpture walks. Despite this transformation it still retains its laid back, out of time feel.
Accommodation: Apart from the original family camping sites B&Bs reign supreme here, the perfect atmosphere for a romantic getaway.
Food: With the upscale wineries have come upscale restaurants so you can be assured of some delicious eats, though little cafés and fish & chip shops are still local favourites.
With these six overnight adventures, you will find something for every budget and interest, whether your perfect escape is an adrenalin fuelled adventure or sipping a glass of wine on the sea front.
So next time you need a break and find yourself longing to escape to a tropical island somewhere, treat yourself to a night away. You will come back refreshed and with a better appreciation of the amazing experiences available in your own back yard.
If you enjoyed this post, check out this article on the best road trip stops in the North Island of New Zealand.
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