Auckland city sits on the narrowest point of the country, which means it’s within easy reach of the diversity of both east and west coasts. Whether you strike out south or north, in less than two hours - traffic permitting - you can find yourself on a beach, a mountain, or even an island.
For your next weekend trip, consider these five off-the-beaten-track destinations. Adventurous by nature and quintessentially Kiwi at heart, they offer quiet escapes where the go-to activities are beach and bush walks, and accommodation is in a simple bach or holiday park.
Once a fishing port, now a quiet bach town, Port Waikato sits next to the broad delta where the Waikato River pours itself into the Tasman Sea. It's only 70 minutes out of Auckland, but it might as well be years.
Surrounded by acres of dunes and bordered by a vast black sand beach pounded by wild surf, Port Waikato has the windswept, remote feel of a place much further removed from civilisation.
The liveliest spot in town is the wharf, which is often lined with people, rods in hand. If you want to cast a line but forgot your fishing gear, no need to worry; the wharf store, which has been running since 1864, stocks fishing supplies alongside the typical dairy fare.
On clear evenings, take a front-row seat at sunset beach and watch the sun drop into the sea.
Stay for the weekend at Port Waikato Holiday Park, where you can find everything from tent sites to cabins.
It would be easy enough to drive straight through the small town of Tapu when heading north along the Thames coast. It would be even easier to miss the turnoff to the Tapu-Coroglen road, a winding ribbon of gravel that frequently narrows to one way and takes you well and truly off the beaten track.
In Tapu Valley, a perfect slice of the Coromandel, you'll find outdoorsy and artsy treats. Head to the 1200-year-old Square Kauri for a 20-minute walk and a glimpse of what Coromandel forests used to look like. Or visit the Rapaura Watergardens to explore supremely tranquil gardens. Another creative place to stop is the Mahara Sculpture Park and Pottery, a working gallery and private garden featuring pieces of art interwoven with native bush.
Stay at the Tapu Creek Campervan Park for a peaceful camping weekend, or try the River Gypsy House Bus for a unique Airbnb experience.
Waipū village and the surrounding countryside is a quaint pocket of rural New Zealand, just over 90 minutes out of Auckland.
Waipū Caves are a local natural wonder. Equipped with boots and a torch, you can explore these stalagmite and stalactite-laden caves. Make sure you switch off your lights at least once; among the karst rock formations are glow worms galore.
The Waipū Caves Track, which starts close to the cave entrance is also worth exploring. It takes roughly 90 minutes to walk the 4km return track, through unique limestone rock formations and regenerating bush.
Embrace the rural feel of the area and stay at Waipū Glamping for a rustic country retreat.
Pākiri Beach is within the Auckland region, so it's perfect for a getaway once the city moves to red in the upcoming Covid traffic light system. Its broad stripe of white sand in between cerulean water and the muted green of mature pōhutukawa is exceptionally easy on the eyes.
The gentle waves at Pākiri make this beach perfect for beginner surfers. It's also a great spot for bird enthusiasts, as a breeding ground for endangered fairy terns and dotterels.
For a different perspective on the beach, you can take in Pākiri from horseback with Pākiri Beach Horse Rides.
Stay at the Pākiri Beach Holiday Park beachfront cottages, where you can watch sunrises from your own deck. Or for a little more luxury, book into the riverside glamping tent.
Croissant-shaped Kawau is the exotic island escape you've been dreaming of. With no real roads, roaming wallabies and bright peacocks strutting through historic gardens, Kawau feels as if you've travelled further than an hour north of Auckland.
Reached by a quick ferry ride from Sandspit Wharf near Warkworth, the main attraction on the island is Governor Grey's Mansion House and park-like gardens. There are also several walks meandering through the Kawau Island Historic Reserve, including a track to a former Pā site and to the remains of a copper mine engine house built in 1854.
There are a small number of baches available to rent on the island. If you plan ahead, you can enjoy a quiet weekend with plenty of time to explore.
Check alert level restrictions and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz