Auckland: 30 minutes to contrasting worlds

Auckland's dramatic coastal scenery is only the beginning of the contrasting landscapes found within short distance of the city's downtown business centre.

North Shore

Auckland's North Shore is a quick drive over the harbour bridge, or a short ferry trip across the water from downtown Auckland.

Known as 'lifestyle city', North Shore City has more than 20 pohutukawa-lined sandy beaches with views of volcanic Rangitoto Island. The beaches stretch north along the east coast from the historic seaside village of Devonport which looks back on the city.

The mix of parks, reserves and native bush alongside boutique shops, markets, cafes and galleries contribute to the North Shore's laidback lifestyle, while the many restaurants, bars and venues such as the Bruce Mason Centre always offer something to do.

Matakana Coast

Further north, the sprawling cityscape evolves into the rural green countryside of Rodney District and Matakana Coast wine country, which lie between the twin coasts.

The Matakana region has developed into a food and wine mecca, with a lively Saturday farmers' market showcasing the locally-grown produce and delicacies.

Goat Island Marine Reserve, the first marine reserve established in New Zealand, offers the chance to experience the region's abundant marine life.

Kawau Island was home to New Zealand's first governor general. His historic property, known as Mansion House, was extensively restored to its former appearance in 1977–80 after many years of varied ownership and neglect. Mansion House is open to visitors September through May. Kawau Kat cruises run daily trips to the island, including the Royal mail run cruise, the largest mail run by water in the Southern Hemisphere

West Auckland

Auckland's west is famous for its lush rainforests, rugged black sand beaches and rolling green rural landscapes.

The Waitakere Ranges rainforest covers 16,000ha and has more than 240km of walking trails through native trees to waterfalls and beaches.

A warm coastal climate provides ideal wine growing conditions for some of New Zealand's oldest wineries, including Kumeu River, Soljans Estate and Nobilo.

Muriwai - a vast black sand beach - has one of New Zealand's largest onshore gannet colonies. Piha, south of Muriwai, is a popular surf beach and community.

Hauraki Gulf islands

The Hauraki Gulf's more than 50 islands are accessible by boat, plane or helicopter.

Iconic Rangitoto Island - the youngest of Auckland's volcanoes and the dominating landmark in Auckland's harbour - has fascinating geology and one of the world's largest pohutukawa forests. The island can be explored by foot, on a guided 4WD journey or by helicopter.

North of Rangitoto, sits the world-class conservation park of Tiritiri Matangi island - home to more than three million native trees and many endangered birds.

Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island offers a picturesque blend of farmland, forest, beaches, vineyards and olive groves.

Waiheke's hot, dry summers and stony soils provide ideal wine growing conditions. Some of New Zealand's best red wines come from Waiheke, including the Stonyridge Larose - in the world's top 20 cabernet blends.

The island has a resident community, including many artists, and guided food, wine and art tours are available. Visitor accommodation choices range from simple seaside cottages to five-star luxury accommodation such as Delamore Lodge or the Boatshed.

Great Barrier Island

Further north, Great Barrier Island has a spectacular, untouched beauty that appeals to adventurers and eco-tourists.

Over 70 percent of Great Barrier island is under the Department of Conservation (DOC). Glenfern Sanctuary offers native wildlife tours and Earthsong Lodge offers a luxurious eco- retreat in native forest surrounded by panoramic ocean views.

Manukau City

Manukau City - south of Auckland city - is surrounded by a varied rural landscape of forests, lakes, gently rolling farmland and 300km of picturesque coastline.

Manukau has a rich cultural heritage and is one of the most diverse population centres in the country, with more than 165 ethnic groups. The city's colourful multi-cultural traditions come together on Saturday's at Otara Markets with authentic music, food, and original arts and crafts.

Cultural and natural historic treasures include Mangere Mountain and Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve. Created by volcanic eruptions 20,000 years ago, the reserve is an insight into how people once lived and worked on Auckland's volcanic landscape.

Wine lovers can sample some of New Zealand's award-winning wines at Villa Maria Estate, or head to Clevedon's boutique wineries and farmers' market.