1. Awhitu Peninsula - Franklin
Awhitu Lighthouse, on a beautiful peninsula on the south-western shores of the Manukau Harbour, has remarkable views of the coast. Awhitu Regional Park has rambling farmland and tidal beaches to explore, and sheltered swimming beaches are tucked around the harbour.
Driving time: About 45 minutes from Auckland City.
What to pack: Camera, fishing gear, windproof jacket (Awhitu is prone to strong coastal breezes) and picnic lunch (not too many shops out this way).
2. Whatipu - West Auckland
Known for its shipwreck stories and spiritual connections, the Whatipu coastline has a history all of its own. The drive alone is very scenic, although the ultimate destination is the Whatipu Caves along a coastal track.
En route: Attractions along the way include Lower Huia Dam, bush walks and swimming/fishing/picnicking at Cornwallis Beach.
Driving time: About 80 minutes from Auckland City.
What to pack: Camera, torch, picnic, fishing rod, swim gear, cash for fish'n' chips in Huia.
3. Tawharanui Peninsula - Matakana
Once you hit the peninsula, virtually any of the multitude of bays in this reserve is sure to delight. It's an open sanctuary - pest-free, isolated and idyllic - where you can body surf, collect shells or explore within minutes of the main Tawharanui Beach. There's heaps to enjoy while you're in Matakana: Morris & James, Omaha, wineries ...
Driving time: About 90 minutes from Auckland City.
What to pack: Surfboard, snorkel, mountain bike, binoculars (for the dolphins) and walking shoes.
4. Scenic Drive, Waitakere Ranges
Take the Rain Forest Express miniature railway over narrow viaducts and through caves inhabited by huge wetas, then relax at the Upper Nihotupu dam for lunch. Scenic Drive offers many walks, including Fairy Falls, and is a conduit for other junctions - such as Bethells Beach and Piha, including the Mokoroa Falls and Makutu Reserve.
Driving time: Allow 45 minutes from Auckland City.
What to pack: Camera, picnic, all-weather walking shoes and insect repellent.
5. Rangitoto Island
A short ferry ride from central Auckland, Rangitoto is within easy reach. Climb over basalt rock paths through a mix of lush forest and lava fields. There are caves to explore, the summit to conquer, old World War II bunkers, and outstanding views. A good level of fitness is required, and Rangitoto is very popular with families.
What to pack: Water bottles, sun screen, hat, good walking shoes, food.
FIVE BEST ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS
1. Lake Wainamu: Throw yourself off giant black sand dunes on a cardboard box or paddle in the shallow waters of the Waiti Stream below. It's an easy and beautiful walk, beside the winding stream or along the marked track. Adventure, picnic and swim - a winning combination.
2. Cornwall Park: A sprawling adventure playground for the whole family. Ramble over farmland, create your name in boulders in the One Tree Hill crater, ride the flying fox at the playground, cycle on huge open spaces or feed the roosters.
3. Okahu Bay: Swim at the beach, fish off Orakei Wharf, stroll/rollerblade/cycle along Tamaki Drive, splash in the Mission Bay fountain or settle in on Okahu Bay's grassy reserve, complete with adventure playground.
4. Glenbrook Railway: Smell the coal, see the steam billowing from the funnels - take an authentic steam train ride in the countryside. Choose an indoor or open-air carriage - or try your expertise on a hand or motor jigger ride. A great outing for all ages and free for the under-4s.
5. Motat: The interactive science Challenge Zone and Tactical Dome is a winner, along with Mirror Maze, Whisper Dishes and tram rides. An extra bonus is the Holiday Experience programme offered during Anniversary Weekend. Free for the under-5s.
* Julie Crean edits the website Planmyplay, a comprehensive listing and advice site recommending great family and all-weather activities around New Zealand.By Julie Crean