As much as we love hitting up new openings, sipping on Auckland’s best cocktails and making the most of what this buzzing city has to offer, sometimes we just gotta get out of town. And the truth is, you’re never going to feel further away from the city and your life’s woes than on an island. Nothing beats jumping on a ferry and exploring the rugged beauty of Auckland’s surrounding islands.
The next long weekend is in sight and it’s time to get planning. Here are six island escapes just a hop and a skip from Auckland.
Great Barrier is the epitome of untouched wilderness—seriously, the place is stunning. A trip to the Barrier will have you walking through native bush, bathing in the Kaitoke Hot Springs and riding the waves at one of its surf beaches. Around 43% (a massive 12,109 hectares) of the island is made up of the Aotea Conservation Park so you’ll really feel like you’ve escaped the big smoke. It’s either a scenic 30-minute flight or a 4.5-hour ferry ride. If you’re taking the latter, you’ll probably want to stay the night at EarthSong Lodge and recharge at the Wild Rose Café.
Kawau, you beauty! Known for its crystal-clear waters (perf for fishing) and sheltered bays, this island is a picturesque reminder of how damn lucky we are to call New Zealand home. It’s steeped in a fascinating history, from the fully restored 19th century Mansion House (once Governor Grey’s crib) to the remnants of the early copper mine, plus a bunch of other gems for you to explore. Ferries, water taxis and cruises depart from Sandspit near Warkworth and there are plenty of lodges and baches to rest your head after a long day of frolicking about.
Just a 25-minute ferry ride across the harbour, this Auckland island is quite literally right at your fingertips. Perfect for a day jaunt, Rangitoto randomly emerged from the sea over 6,000 years ago and is now a dormant volcano for us to explore—hurrah! Chuck on your walking shoes and climb the summit, where you’ll be able to take in Auckland in its full glory. If exercise isn’t what you’re after, join a guided tour on the 4WD road train and learn all about Rangitoto’s fiery past. There’s also lava tunnels and caves to explore (BYO torch) and if that’s not enough, wander on over to neighbouring Motutapu Island via a causeway established in World War II. Don’t forget your camera, there’s a whole lot to get #snaphappy about.
Calling all nature lovers! Tiritangi Matangi is a wildlife sanctuary just 75-minutes from downtown Auckland. It’s home to a thriving bird population so join a guided tour and learn about all the chirping and sing-song going on around you. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot stitch birds, bellbirds, tiny oh-so cute North Island robins and the bright blue-grey colours of the kokako.
When it comes to day trippin’, Rotoroa Island doesn’t seem to be on many Aucklander’s radar. But with stunning sandy white beaches and a chance to step back in time, it really should be. This charming island is just a 75-minute ferry ride from downtown and, once you arrive, you’ll spend the day visiting the old chapel, jail house, museum and learn about Rotorua’s history as a rehab retreat. Bring a picnic or cook up some snags on one of the free barbecues.
Last, but most definitely not least, is Auckland’s beloved Waiheke Island. This island sure knows the way to our hearts—wine, beaches, epic restaurants, zip lining, art…we could go on and on…and on. If you’re a wine-o, vineyard hopping will probably be your priority (Cable Bay is a must) or, if food is front of mind, make sure you hit up The Oyster Inn and Dragonfired Pizza—two of the best places to fill your belly on the island. Waiheke is also full of gorgeous B&B’s, lodges, resorts and baches so go all out and make a weekend of it.
Don’t quite have your sea legs? Here’s 12 Fabulous Day Trips To Take This Weekend instead.
Image credit: Delamore Lodge, Waiheke