The great outdoors, north of Auckland...and some fine indoor places also... The area is one of the up and coming places of the North Island!
Just over the Harbour Bridge (or short ferry ride) are North Head, & a bunch of East Coast beaches. All great for swimming and bbqs, and easy to get to by bus from downtown Akl.
Most of the following places described are part of the "Twin Coast Discovery Route".
Let's start with Orewa just north of Auckland...
Orewa has a nice long beach, which is excellent for surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing. There is a campground in Orewa. The township is reasonably big with a few nice restaurants, its draw-point is definitely the beach.
Close by is Waiwera with its thermal hot pools.
And so is Wenderholm Regional Park, a nice place to stop on the way. It is a good spot to have a picnic or a stroll on the beach. It also offers some nice walks and hikes.
Your next stop could be Puhoi, which is a tiny historic bohemian village, with a pub you shouldn't miss out on visiting. The Puhoi-made cheese is delicious and there is also a kajak-hiring place in Puhoi. Exploring its river or paddling to Wenderholm Regional Park is supposedly nice.
About 15 minutes from Puhoi is Warkworth. It is a small town, right on the riverside with ducks cruising around and some nice cafes. There is also a small Kauri Tree Park and Warkworth has got an I-SITE Tourist Information.
Close to Warkworth is Kauwau Island. There are treks to some little coves and beautiful beaches on the island and visiting the old Mansion House is interesting,too. If you are lucky you can see wallabies there. You can catch the ferry or taxi boat from Sandspit to get there. (Sandspit is a nice little harbour with a small camping ground) and if you are lucky you can see orcas and dolphins on the way to the island.
Sheepworld is close to Warkworth as well, which gives you an insight on how sheep farmers round up and shear their sheep. The live demonstration is quite interesting and you can feed lambs by bottle if they have lambs at the time. They also have a camping ground and cafe. The shows are on at 11 am and 2 pm.
There is an awesome 2 km long sculpture trail situated about 5 min from Warkworth or Matakana coming (heading to Snells Beach) with impressive sculptures nestled in bush and farmland. It is part of the Brick Bay vineyard and the glasshouse cafe there is worth a visit.
Matakana is a small up and coming town with lots of vineyards, galleries, cafes and restaurants around. The time to be here is Saturdays when the Farmer's Market is on with yummy local food on offer, which is on until 1pm. The movie theatres in Matakana are awesome and the vineyards in the area are excellent.
There are kitesurfing, stand up paddleboarding, wakeboarding and jetboating trips and lessons offered in the Matakana Coast region, which are great (Blue Adventures)
Close to Matakana is Omaha with its beautiful long white-sand beach and mellow sand dunes (It is an excellent surfing beach). The Omaha settlement is very different to a lot of other places in the area as the architecture of houses near the beach is very modern and contemporary.
Tawharanui Regional Park is close to Matakana as well. It is a Kiwi bird reserve and its got some very nice walks and treks through farmland and along the cliffy coast. The beach there is awesome and also good for surfing.
The next township coming from Matakana is Leigh. Leigh's Goat island Marine Reserve is famous for its snorkeling and diving but you can also take the glass-bottom-boat-trip to see the big snappers and other fish without getting wet. Stand up paddleboarding is offered by Blue Adventures, and a snorkel hire is available too. There is a great campground very close by.
The Leigh Sawmill Cafe/Pub/Brewery is a excellent location to have a beer, coffee or meal after spending a hard day on the beach at the Marine Reserve and there are gigs on pretty much every weekend.
Pakiri and Te Arai are another 2 magical beaches and good for surfing. There is horse riding on Parkiri beach, which is very scenic. I really recommend these 2 beaches, they are beautiful and definitely count to my favourites. There are campgrounds, too.
From there you can carry on to Mangawhai. It is a laid-back little town and its main attraction is its long stretched beach, which is a good surfing beach. Mangawhai gets busy over summer time with locals and Aucklanders staying in their summer houses and batches and there are big sand dunes in Mangawhai, which are worth a visit.
From there you can drive on to Waipu, stopping at the Waipu cave to do some cave exploring and to see glowworms. It is worth-while and a good adventure. Don't forget your torch, though. Waipu also has a good little surfing beach and the route takes you back onto the motorway there.
From here the "Twin Coast Discovery Route" carries on to Whangarei, up to the Bay of Islands-where it is great to see dolphins- and up to the beautiful Cape Reinga-make sure you drive parts of it on the 90 mile beach and visit the giant sand dunes. On the way back down to Auckland it leads through the Kauri forest and the volcanic black sand beaches of the West Coast which are definetely worth a visit, too.
Many of the above mentioned places are pretty close to Auckland as well and going to some of these places even make an awesome day trip.