CHOICES GALORE: Many of the area’s islands are a short ferry ride from downtown Auckland so it’s easy to enjoy a lazy lunch or zoom through the trees on a guided quad biking tour.
CHOICES GALORE: Many of the area’s islands are a short ferry ride from downtown Auckland so it’s easy to enjoy a lazy lunch or zoom through the trees on a guided quad biking tour. Chris Mclennan

Discover natural NZ beauty in all its glory

AUCKLAND is known for its spectacular harbour setting, but there's much more to the region's natural beauty - sub-tropical rainforest, sheltered islands, hundreds of beaches and 48 volcanic cones.

The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, encompassing 1.2 million hectares of sea, coast and islands, is right on the city's doorstep. Many of the islands are a short ferry ride from downtown Auckland so it's easy to fit in a visit even if you're short on time.

Just across the harbour is Rangitoto Island, Auckland's youngest volcano. Enjoy the one-hour walk to the summit or hop on the four-wheel-drive road train tour to the top, where the views stretch back to the city and out to the horizon, in every direction. Nature lovers shouldn't miss Tiritiri Matangi Island, an open wildlife sanctuary that's home to many of New Zealand's rarest native and endangered bird species, or head out into the gulf on a whale and dolphin safari.

A trip to Waiheke Island is an absolute must for visitors. Known as the "island of wine" for its 30 boutique vineyards, it's equally famous for its beautiful scenery. Just a 35-minute ferry ride away, it's the perfect day trip - or stay longer for a blissful escape.

Back on the mainland, explore some of the region's vast rainforest covering the Hunua Ranges in the east or the Waitakere Ranges in the west. Both are great places to get immersed in nature, with cascading waterfalls and walking tracks winding through towering native kauri trees, nikau palms and silver tree ferns. And because New Zealand's plant life is so different, there are no killer snakes or spiders to watch out for. The Waitakere Ranges run down to the west coast's wild surf beaches. With dramatic cliffs overlooking crashing surf and black volcanic sands, beaches such as Piha and Muriwai draw visitors all year round and yet somehow always feel wonderfully isolated. At Muriwai, wander up to the viewing platforms to see the huge cliff-top gannet colony. It's hard to believe that all this is a 40-minute drive from the city centre.

Join a guided tour and learn about the forest's protected plant life and wildlife as you go.

Woodhill Forest, also out west, is a magnet for mountain bikers. Hire a bike and hit the purpose-built tracks and jumps, which range from beginner level to expert. If you prefer your bikes with a bit more grunt, zoom through the trees on a guided quad biking tour.

Take a guided walking tour of Mt Eden's volcanic cone to see remnants of an early Maori stronghold or enjoy the self-guided Coast to Coast Walkway, discovering volcanoes, urban sights and cultural history as you travel right across Auckland's isthmus in just one day.

To celebrate Air New Zealand's direct Sunshine Coast to Auckland service, you could win the chance to experience Auckland's natural wonders for yourself. Visit http://www.sunshinecoastairport.com.au and enter at http://bit.ly/1jGS4kq

Win getaway

WIN your own ultimate Auckland getaway. There are two fantastic prize packages up for grabs - each prize pack includes: three nights' accommodation at Heritage Auckland; a half-day Matakana wine tour with Matakana Style; an afternoon Wilderness Experience tour with Bush and Beach; and an exhilarating SkyWalk experience.

Enter at http://bit.ly/1jGS4kq

WHETHER you're after a spot of island hopping, delicious food and wine, exploring native bush, hitting the shops, local art and culture or an adrenaline rush, Auckland has it all. And with so many experiences so close by, it's easy to hop from one adventure to the next.

To find out more about things to see and do in Auckland visit aucklandnz.com


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