Craving a long weekend away? Start planning your summer travels with 12 great things to check out within an easy drive from Auckland.
1. Coromandel Coastal Walkway
Head to the the northern tip of the Coromandel Peninsula to tackle the spectacular Coromandel Coastal Walkway. You can complete the 20km, seven-hour return route on foot or mountain bike in the best part of a day, travelling between Stony and Fletcher bays. Either return via the same easy grade walking trail, or pick the steeper Coromandel mountain bike track across farmland. Experience dramatic views across Mount Moehau, the Coromandel Ranges and the Hauraki Gulf, featuring regenerating bush, coastal forest and secluded sandy beaches. If you want to linger longer, there are DOC campsites bookending the trail at both Fletcher and Stony Bay
2. Cape Rēinga
The white lighthouse at Cape Rēinga can justifiably be termed ‘iconic.’ Here, at the very top of the country, you can witness a rare and powerful thing – the meeting of two bodies of water, the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The tides race each other in an awesome display of ocean strength. Look to the left to see Cape Maria van Diemen, named by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, and to the right, the beautiful arc of Spirits Bay, its name underpinning the sacred cultural aspect of this amazing place: Māori believe that Cape Rēinga is where the dead depart for their final journey.
3. Whirinaki Forest Park
Wild, untamed and precious, the Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park deep in the Bay of Plenty is a rugged jewel of the North Island. With 56,000 hectares of lush native forest including soaring tōtara, rimu, miro, matai and kahikatea, Whirinaki is one of the last remnants and best remaining examples of lowland podocarp forest left in New Zealand. Choose from walks ranging from short loop tracks to challenging multi-day expeditions where you can experience beautiful waterfalls, tranquil lagoons and the spectacular moss-covered rock walls of the Te Whaiti-Nui-a-Toi Canyon.
The left-hand breaks at Raglan’s Manu Bay are usually long and glassy making it one of Aotearoa’s most famous surfing spots. But there’s kite-surfing, windsurfing, and body surfing, too, at a myriad of spots along the coast, all with something slightly different to offer, all worth a good look and catering to various skill levels. While the waves are a major attraction, there are sheltered inlets aplenty, so you can kayak, the kids can dawdle and paddle – you can just generally take it easy in the warm water in any way you choose.
5. Whenuakura Island
Visit Whenuakura Wildlife Sanctuary or Donut Island – a sacred spot with a hidden lagoon just off the coast of Whangamatā. 600 metres off the Coromandel coast, Donut Island is a spiritual place for local Iwi and many Whangamatā locals. You can get to the island by kayak or SUP, but the environment is fragile and the journey potentially perilous in the wrong conditions, so do it right and go with a certified local guide. Arriving at Donut Island you will pass through a narrow rock archway to reach the remarkable secluded lagoon in the island’s centre.
6. Mount Manaia
Mount Manaia towers over Whangārei Harbour in a cluster of majestic craggy peaks, irresistible to anyone who appreciates a dramatic view. The track to the 420-metre summit is a steady climb through regenerated native bush that includes kauri stands, groves of nīkau and northern rātā hanging from pōhutukawa.In the steepest bits, the wide gravel path switches to wooden steps and you’ll want to stop at the lookouts on natural rocky outcrops, if not to catch your breath, then definitely to appreciate the view. From the top, Whangārei Harbour is spread out like a colourful tapestry, with shades of blue stretching to the horizon and the intriguing shapes of Bream Bay and the Hen and Chicken Islands.
7. The Blue Spring
Set in the heart of South Waikato, the Blue Spring is a source of water so clear and pure it supplies around 60% of New Zealand’s bottled water. Fed from the Mamaku Plateau, the water is filtered for up to 100 years resulting in the pristine and picturesque spring you can visit on the 4.7-kilometre Te Waihou Walkway, which takes about three hours, return. Pass wetlands, rolling pasture and native bush to reach the spring, so clear and blue that it doesn’t quite seem real. Water flows from the spring fast enough to fill a 25-metre swimming pool in just 12 minutes and is a constant 11º year-round.
8. New Chums Beach
One of the greatest charms of Wainuiototo Bay, aka New Chums Beach, is the fact that it’s so secluded. Metres of white sand stretching away deliciously. Clean, clear water. No buildings. No camping. No road. On a busy day, you might see a flock of seagulls. A 30-minute walk across the estuary at the northern end of Whangapoua Beach and through a cathedral of pōhutukawa will take you to this special spot. Swathes of sand stretching to the sea one way, and into beautiful bush the other.
9. The Hokianga
The whole of the Hokianga is a kind of oasis where visions of the Great Kiwi Summer can be experienced – if you know where to look. There are a lot of firsts associated with the area, too, Kupe being the first Māori explorer, who legend says landed here a thousand years ago, through to Hōreke having New Zealand’s first pub. Hōreke also housed New Zealand’s first Post Office, first commercial shipyard and infamously, was the site of the country’s first murder trial. Kauri – in the form of timber and resin and gum – was an early, thriving industry in these parts, and there are plenty of tell-tale remnants that add a real flavour to the area. There are also lots of bush walks, with quiet pools and streams to explore. And if you fancy bobbing about in a boat, or relaxing with a line off the pier, the wharves at Ōmāpere and Ōpononi are great spots for fishing.
10. Mount Maunganui
Mount Maunganui is the iconic landmark of the Bay of Plenty region – standing sentry over sprawling white sand, turquoise surf breaks and happy holidaymakers. The proper Māori name for Mount Maunganui – Mauao – means ‘caught in the light of the day.’ Legend tells of a once nameless hill, whose affections were spurned by the beautiful female mountain, Puwhenua. Heartbroken and hopeless, the hill decided to drown himself in the ocean and called on the patupaiarehe – the fairy folk – to help. But time ran out and, as the sun rose, the hill was forever frozen in place at the entrance of Tauranga Moana: caught by the morning sun. Choose from a gentle 3.4-kilometre meander around the base of the big hill to a brisk 20-minute walk to the 232-metre summit via the steeper tracks. You’ll be rewarded with spectacular 360º views along the plentiful coastline.
11. Waiorongomai Valley
Explore the remnants of gold-mining history on the outskirts of Waikato’s Te Aroha. In the Waiorongomai Valley, you’ll find New Zealand’s oldest bush tramway, built between 1882-1883, with its original rail still in place, alongside mining machinery, the remains of gold mines and historic miners’ houses. Although prospector Hone Werahiko found gold in the Waiorongomai Valley in 1881, the mines here were never very successful due to the unexpectedly hard rock. Today, you can choose from one of several relic-filled walking tracks that range from short bush loops suitable for children to advanced overnight tramping tracks.
12. Poor Knights Islands
23 kilometres off the coast of Tutukākā in Northland, the ancient volcanoes that make up the Poor Knights islands are a renowned nature reserve on land as well as a myriad of marine life below the waves. Discover an underwater wonderland of drop offs, walls, arches and caves teeming with abundant sea life. In this confluence of currents next to the continental shelf, there is an astonishing array of life, from well-known species like trevally, kingfish and snapper to tropical visitors carried from warmer waters and a vibrant selection of colourful sponges and anemones. Whether you’re an experienced diver, a snorkeler, or keen to stay above water on a SUP, the Poor Knights are one of New Zealand’s highlights.