There's nothing like a trip to an island to make you think "holiday". Maybe it's the feeling of escape, of getting away to somewhere isolated and peaceful. Maybe it's the scenery, which is always beautiful. Maybe it's just the adventure of the journey over there, the feeling of landing somewhere exciting and new.
Whatever it is, a trip to an island is always a good idea. And in Auckland, it's a very real possibility. This is a city within easy reach of 50 islands, some of which are inhabited, some of which are purely wild. The attractions on Auckland's islands are both cultural and natural, featuring everything from wineries on Waiheke to native forest on Rangitoto. Getaways to these places can also be as active or relaxing as you choose.
Waiheke is perhaps the most popular of Auckland's island getaways, a beautiful spot just a 40-minute ferry ride from the city centre, but another world away in terms of scenery, and pace. It's all about the good things in life on Waiheke: wineries, restaurants, art galleries, olive plantations, cafes, and spectacular walking tracks and beaches.
This island was first settled by artists and hippies, and it still boasts something of a bohemian vibe. You'll find stunning New Zealand contemporary artworks at the Dead Dog Bay and Connells Bay sculpture parks (open October to April), as well as at the some of the island's boutique galleries, places such as –[S p a c e] and Tivoli.
Waiheke these days, however, is becoming known more for its food and wine scenes, with local growers and producers making use of the fertile land and temperate weather. Mudbrick is probably the best known of the wineries, not just because of its excellent, locally produced pinot gris and viognier, but the winery's attached restaurant, which does extremely high-quality modern New Zealand food. Tantalus is another of the island's great wineries, with another beautiful restaurant, this one set in the picturesque Onetangi Valley.
Of course, in between all of this eating, drinking and art appreciating you'll probably want some active enjoyment, and Waiheke has plenty of it. Explore the island's farthest reaches on a scooter or bike. Go swimming, and then lie on the beach at Oneroa or Onetangi. Go kayaking in the crystal-clear waters, and feel the adrenaline rush of SegWai and EcoZip Adventures.
Spend a night or two soaking up all of this beauty, and then jump on the ferry, and you're back in Auckland in no time.
Great Barrier Island
There's a stark contrast between the beauty and the attractions of Waiheke, and those of Great Barrier Island, which -lies in the outer Hauraki Gulf. Choose to travel by ferry or cut your travel time down by taking a 40-minute flight. While Waiheke is all about modern culture, Great Barrier is more a chance to get off the grid, to check out completely from modern life and commune with nature.
It's not just the island itself that's the attraction, either, though it is beautiful. There are stunning beaches here, windswept and rugged. There are mountainous inland areas, forested slices of wilderness riven with walking trails. There are wetlands and gorges, waterfalls and hot springs, and trike tours. Try your hand at fishing and diving, sea and river kayaking or self-drive an art discovery trail. There's also a small community to get to know, a few hundred people who call this island home, who live off solar and wind energy sources in villages with no streetlights, no ATMs. Off the grid.
There are 48 volcanic cones in the Auckland area, and can spot 47 of them from the summit at Rangitoto – the 48th,(and youngest at 600 years old) of course, will be below your feet. Rangitoto is the Auckland area's most recognisable volcanic landmark, a symmetrical cone that sits just off the coast, accessible via a 25-minute ferry ride (or a longer kayaking trip) from the city centre. Once on Rangitoto, visitors have the option of either walking or taking a 4WD road train up to the top of the volcano, along the way passing lava caves and New Zealand's largest pohutukawa forest, before emerging at the top to take in one truly spectacular view.
From this 260-metre-high peak you can see all the way to the Hunua Ranges in the east, the Waitakere Ranges in the west, and out over the Hauraki Gulf. Rangitoto is the perfect break from the Auckland bustle, and the easiest way to access island life.
See also: Where to find the spirit of New Zealand
This article has been produced in association with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development.
Auckland, New Zealand, is an exhilarating mix of natural wonders and urban adventures. From world-class food and wine to beautiful beaches and islands, amazing shopping to outdoor adventures, you'll find the best of both worlds here.
Only a short 3-hour flight from Australia's eastern seaboard, it's the perfect short break. Start planning now.