So dear reader, you’re telling me that you’re having a grand old time in Auckland, New Zealand, but you’d like to venture outside of the city a little bit.
Do you have time to drive to NZ’s south island? It could be an 8-12 hour trip depending on where you go. No?
Well, luckily for you, I have some wonderful day-tripping options for you to choose from. Keep on reading, you intrepid traveler.
Things I recommend for day-trip travel:
- A vehicle, preferably a car (if you’re looking for a place to rent a car, I recommend GO rentals)
- A good sense of direction OR access to GPS navigation
- PocWifi – so you can use wi-fi at any time, at a relatively affordable price
- Cash, just in case
- Snacks??? I mean, it’s up to you, I just very snacky when I roadtrip.
I’ve given you some one-way travel times from Auckland to all of the listed destinations below, but take these with a grain of salt. Traffic, road work, your own driving speed, etc. will all flex these times.
Travel time from Auckland: About 2 hours
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan or even if you aren’t, Hobbiton is beautiful venture in the countryside to the movie set where scenes from the Shire were filmed for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.
During the tour, you’re able to walk through the actual set and take photos, while a guide tells you all sorts of movie trivia (a delight for any nerdy heart). If you’re lucky, the weather will be sunny and light up the green hills of the Shire, making you feel like you might ACTUALLY be a little hobbit. (Shoot for summer or maybe late spring.)
I recommend that you book your ticket online in advance, because the time slots can sell out and you can only visit the set if you’re on a tour. Also, since you book a time and they ask you to check in 15 minutes before your tour, you should give yourself enough time to get there. Even if you arrive early, they have a gift shop and a cafe where you can kill time.
Travel time from Auckland: About 3 hours
Rotorua is an excellent place to visit for nature and culture fans.
The Whakarewarewa Forest is only about 5 minutes from downtown Rotorua and is a great place to stroll, hike, bike and even ride on horseback. For travelers from the U.S., the huge trees that the forest is famous for might look a little familiar, and that’s because they’re actually California Redwoods!
Rotorua is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone resulting in a ton of geothermal activity! We visited Hells Gate – both a geothermal park and spa. When you visit and find yourself encompassed by the warm steam and surrounded by volcanic rock, you’ll understand how it got its name. I recommend choosing the tour and spa package, so you can take a self-guided tour through the sulphur and mud pools that make the naturally-heated spa pools possible.
Speaking of Taupo, if you have a little more time in Rotorua, Lake Taupo is just about an hour’s drive away. It also has a lot to offer! Apart from a HUGE natural lake that you can take boat and kayak tours on, there’s also Huka Falls, known for its beautiful icy blue water. Huka Falls has a few different hike trails of its own – including the Spa Walk, which actually leads you to a natural hot spring.
If you’re interested in learning more about Maori culture, there are a couple different Maori villages that you can visit in Rotorua. If you’re not sure which one you’d like to visit, ask the locals. Some of them are actual living Maori villages and others are a bit more… tourist-y. We had planned to visit the living village, but after freezing our buns off on a brisk Lake Taupo boat tour, we opted to warm ourselves up at a local pub.
Travel time from Auckland: About 2-and-a-half hours
One of the big attractions in Waitomo is their cave system. You can visit Ruakuri, Aranui or their Glowworm Caves – all of them offering a different experience. Feeling particularly adventurous? Try black water rafting or tubing through the caves (we were a little too chicken to try this – plus, it was already pretty chilly OUT of the water)!
However, if you’re finding yourself short on time like we were, I would make the Glowworm Caves your Waitomo stop. When you’re in the sitting in the darkness of the cave, only illuminated by the soft blue lights of the thousands of glowworms – you forget you’re in a cave. It’s almost like looking up at a bunch of little stars. It’s truly beautiful, and honestly, my words do do it justice. You can’t take photos in the cave because the glowworms are very sensitive to lights and sound, so it’s really something you have to see for yourself.
Travel time from Auckland: About 2-and-a-half hours
Tauranga is for lovers – beach lovers, that is. The Mt. Maunganui Main Beach has been voted New Zealand’s best, and I can totally see why. The long stretch of beach is a great place to stroll, relax on the soft sand and swim.
If you want to get a hike in, the beach is also conveniently located at the base of Mt. Mauao. If I recall, there were a couple main hiker trails – one that loops a bit more gently up the mountain and one that’s a shorter, but steeper climb up to the summit. We took the steeper climb, which was QUITE the haul, but we were rewarded with gorgeous views along the way and at the top.
If you can believe it, I cut this day trip round-up short for you, dear reader. There’s just SO much to do and see in New Zealand. That’s why I’m definitely going back in the near future and why I’m creating these helpful guides for travelers. If you’re looking for a place to start in Auckland, check out my budget traveler’s guide.
Happy travels to you!
Oh my!!! I would love to do the Lord of the Rings tour!!! I always wondered if that was a tour or not when I saw photos on IG. Great tip on reserving tickets online 🙂
I loved it! Even if you’re not a Lord of the Rings/Hobbit fan, the countryside there is gorgeous! -Katie
Auckland and its surrounding towns look so diverse stunning, you are spoilt for choice! I really need to visit Hobbitown someday soon 🙂
From beaches, to forests, to mountains and more – there’s a ton to do! I plan to go back and visit more of the South Island again. – Katie
I enjoy road trip always. All photos are so lovely. My fave here is the Whakarewarewa Forest, really amazing! Thanks for all tips 🙂
I love road trips too (as you can tell, haha)! Thanks for the kind words and for stopping by! 🙂 – Katie
Wow. So plenty of things to do! I’d love to visit Hobbiton too! It’ll be cool to explore the set! 🙂 Auckland seems a pretty awesome place to visit.. The landscapes are gorgeous with so many beautiful landscapes to explore. What the story behind the carving on your photo at Lake Taupo? Very intriguing!
If I recall correctly, the Maori carvings on Lake Taupo were done more recently than you would think in the 1970s(??) by a Maori artist. He hasn’t come back to finish the eyes yet though, even though he said he would. If you visit, take a kayak or boat tour so you can hear the story straight from the locals! – Katie
We skipped Hobbiton when we went to New Zealand many years ago. It was a decision made with a very heavy heart, but at the end of the day the tour was just too expensive. It was a great trip across the North Island, though! 🙂
Awwww. Well, maybe you can visit again someday! Really though, they filmed in multiple places across New Zealand, so you don’t necessarily have to go to Hobbiton to nerd out about the Lord of the Rings. – Katie
Love this post! Auckland looks amazing! So much to do and I like your tip about renting a car. Think that allows you to experience so much more and at your own pace versus with a tour.
Added bonus is that if you haven’t driven on the left side of the road before, you feel very proud of yourself for doing it, haha. Thanks for reading! – Katie
Ahhh Hobbiton! I am planning to go to New Zealand this year for my birthday. And if ever the plan happens in reality, I am definitely visiting HObbiton! <3
Ah, that would be a wonderful birthday trip! I hope you make it out there! Keep your eyes peeled for cheaper flights on Air New Zealand/Jetstar. – Katie
Well you had me at Hobbiton!! It would be nice to visit somewhere where I feel normal height (I’m five foot). The redwoods and geothermal stuff around Rotorua look stunning. It sounds like a wonderful place to spend a day.
I had the same though about Hobbiton, haha. I’m pretty short myself and I felt very much at home there. 🙂 – Katie
Amy Poulton - Page Traveller
Love the photos! I’ve always wanted to visit New Zealand. Thanks for these tips!
You’re welcome! I hope you get a chance to visit soon – it’s a wonderful place! – Katie
Lovely photos! I have never been to NZ but will keep these tips in mind when I get to go there 🙂 PS: We will definitely be road tripping!