1. Te Aroha
If you think there's a vague hint of the black and white buildings of Rotorua's baths in this Victorian town, you'd be right: Te Aroha was one of the early spa towns to "take the waters". It's baths are still divine, the buildings and bandstands speak of faded glories. With hikes around the mount Te Aroha, good food and coffee, great cycling and untapped junk shops, it's perfect for an autumn weekend away.
Worth a diversion if you're mountain biking at Woodhill or soaking at Parakai hot springs, Helensville is a scenic 40 minute drive from Auckland. Sadly, the rail trail didn't take but the action for this pretty township is around the station and Kaipara River. Today there's a market with crafts and food, or head over to the Grand Hotel Awaroa, a beauty from days of old.
Don't make this the town you drive through on the way to somewhere else. Paeroa's junk shops (and vintage weekends) are worth a stop, there's terrific home baking at the northern entrance to town. And, of course the ultimate Kiwi photo-op with the giant L&P bottle. Bring your bike and ride a section of the Hauraki trail through flat farming country.
Head west for glorious sunsets, the cutest wee townships of Maungaturoto, Paparoa (the restored pub is a beauty), Baylys Beach. Quaint museums celebrate the Kauri Coast's biggest exports - kauri gum and kumara. There are fishing cruises and horse treks and good old-fashioned eats.