I know that I haven’t done the best job of telling you all about my trip to New Zealand. To be honest, I’ve found it really challenging to put the experience into words! We did and saw so much over those two weeks that every time I sit down to write about it, I feel overwhelmed. That’s a good thing – I’d rather have too much to write about than too little!
While the majority of our trip to New Zealand was spent on the South Island in the Queenstown area, we also did two fantastic day trips from the city of Auckland. If you’re flying to New Zealand from anywhere besides Australia, you’ll definitely be flying through Auckland. Even if you just have a full day in the city, there are plenty of beautiful and exciting things to see and do!
Bay of Islands Adventure Cruise
Conventional wisdom will tell you that the Bay of Islands is not a day trip from Auckland. Conventional wisdom is probably right. But where there’s a will, there’s a way – even if it meant waking up at 4 am. After hearing amazing things about the Rock Adventure Cruise in the Bay of Islands, AJ and I, along with our friends Matt and Amanda, decided we absolutely had to give it a try. The Bay of Islands is located all the way at the very top of New Zealand’s North Island and is about a 3 hour drive from Auckland. Although there are overnight options available, we opted for the day cruise, which required us to arrive at 8:00 am. That meant a (very) early start, but the great adventure is worth it!
There are over 150 islands in the Bay of Islands, and the cruise takes you throughout the bay. The daytrippers boarded a ship and headed out to meet the cruise boat, where the overnight guests had already woken up and had breakfast. We set sail under cool, overcast skies, taking in the beauty around us and psyched for a great day ahead. After all, my best friend had done this cruise and said it was her favorite thing that she did in New Zealand!
The first stop on the trip was snorkeling. Because I am an idiot, I did not opt for the optional wetsuit – actually, none of us did. I should have known this was a terrible idea, but it was our first full day in New Zealand and I was high on life and delusion. We all jumped into the water, ready to get our snorkel on…and I immediately was so cold I could not breathe. Like no intake of oxygen whatsoever. I completely panicked. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe…so I hightailed it back to the boat. Amanda and Matt did the same, but my brave husband (and everyone else…) shrugged his shoulders and carried on with snorkeling. Look, I was raised in South Florida, ok? I have a very low threshold for cold water.
The three of us weren’t bored while the others snorkeled, though! Some of the crew had caught live sea urchins and let us hold them while they explained all the different parts. If you’ve never had a sea urchin on your head, you should probably do it.
The sun began to come out and the day warmed up considerably as we headed to the next activity. After cruising around a bit longer, we got our sea kayaks into the water and paddled over to a large island. I couldn’t believe how beautiful and crystal clear the water was as we glided across it! It was the most stunning shade of blue-green.
After landing on the island, we set off on a hike. The cruise visits different islands each day so that the crew and staff don’t get bored, so you never know which one you’ll see. While the Bay of Islands is certainly beautiful from the boat, it’s even better after you’ve climbed one of the hilly islands and can take in the view from above.
While the hike was short (I’d say under 3 miles round trip), we were privy to tons of changing scenery along the way. We went up a steep climb through a lush forest, only to pop out the other side with a view of the most stunning beach. While some people decided to stay and hang out on the beach, some of our group decided to keep hiking and were rewarded with an even more incredible view of a privately owned island. If I can scrounge up $20 million, I can live there, so I’m saving.
In all honestly, I could have spent all day on that island. By this point, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Although group tours can sometime be not the best, this one had plenty of opportunity for people to do (or not do) whatever activities they wanted and explore as they saw fit. I liked the relative freedom that we had and I liked the scenery even better.
After getting back on the boat, it was time for lunch and more cruising. I had requested a gluten-free meal in advance, which was no problem – they even had a gluten-free brownie for me! Then, the real fun began. Remember those sea urchins we had held earlier? Well, the crew gathered everyone around and cut one open. They showed us which part of the urchin is used in sushi and let us try it fresh. It was delicious!
Then, they asked for volunteers, and Amanda and I immediately shot up our hands without knowing what we were volunteering for. Uh oh! Turns out, we were about to try sea urchin “the Kiwi way.” The crew member cut an urchin in half, then stirred up the inside – water, urchin guts, and all – and handed half to each of us. Then, he told us to chug it. Never one to back down from a challenge, chug I did.
Honestly? It just tasted like gritty salt water. It wasn’t terrible. AJ was, as usual, horrified.
After sailing around and enjoying the weather for a bit longer, it was time to head back to shore. Overall, the cruise lasted about 7 hours and was a perfect way to spend the day! I definitely recommend taking the day (or overnight) cruise if you are wanting to explore the Bay of Islands and have an awesome adventure but don’t have a ton of time.
A much more manageable day trip from Auckland’s city center is Waiheke Island. Ferries shuttle back and forth from the main ferry terminal every hour during the summer season, making it extremely convenient to head over at any time. While Waiheke Island is the most famous and most popular of the islands near Auckland, you can also visit Rangitoto from the ferry terminal as well! Both are about a 30 minute ride.
After being in the hustle and bustle of Auckland, Waiheke Island almost feels like you’re on another planet. The island is covered in vineyards – 22 of them, in fact! If you’ve ever visited a vineyard, you know that there’s really no such thing as an ugly one. I mean, rows and rows of fields covered in grapes? Gorgeous. But now imagine that those fields are on an island surrounded by perfectly blue-green water and covered in the greenest grass you’ve ever seen. That, my friends, is Waiheke Island.
While the vineyards are definitely the star of the show on Waiheke, what makes the island so much fun is the variety of ways to explore it. Whether you drink wine or not, you can explore the island by foot, on the many walking trails, by bike, on the roads and paths, or by bus, car, or even taxi. AJ and I ambitiously decided that we would rent bikes and ride from vineyard to vineyard like we were in some 1950s romantic comedy.
And oh, there was comedy. Waiheke Island, like literally everywhere else in New Zealand, is hilly. Really hilly. We were breathing so hard by the time we got to the first vineyard (literally one mile from where we rented the bikes) that we thought we were going to collapse. I’d like to think it was the fact that we were riding the world’s heaviest bikes (which were also very expensive to rent – like $35 for the day), but it may just have been the fact that I haven’t ridden a bike in a while. Either way, we definitely earned our recovery glass of wine!
Recognizing the potential for this fun day to rapidly devolve into a fit of exercise-induced anger on AJ’s part, we made the executive decision to ditch the bikes and hike the rest of the day. There are tons of great walking trails all over the island, and we happened to be right near one. We set off to explore and quickly realized we had made the right call. As much as I love wine, this scenery was unreal.
We trekked through pastures (with sheep!), through dense subtropical forests, along rocky beaches, and past massive homes. While we got a good workout, it was never too challenging or overwhelming. Then again, that might be because I stopped every 100 feet to take another picture.
We happened to be on Waiheke right as they were setting up for the Art Walk, which is basically when beautiful sculptures and pieces of art are set up all over the island along the walking trails. People can walk along the trails from sculpture to sculpture and there is live music, food, and drinks. We got to see some of the sculptures without any of the crowds, which was perfect!
After finishing our hike, we decided to take our bikes into the small village of Oneroa and check out the local artwork…and have more wine. We found going downhill to be significantly easier, haha! The village is full of cute shops and restaurants, but most close early – it is definitely a day tripper’s island. We still got there in plenty of time to enjoy the wine, though!
We took our bikes back and then boarded the ferry back to Auckland, watching beautiful Waiheke fade behind us. It’s easy to see why the island was named the fifth best destination in the world by Lonely Planet in 2016!
LEAVE A COMMENT: Do you prefer to stay in one spot and take day trips, or would you rather pack up every few days and move? What is your favorite day trip you’ve ever taken?If you're headed to NZ, you're bound to fly into Auckland. @thetrexrunner shares her favorite day trips from the… Click To Tweet