Let the highway draw you away from Auckland's urban surrounds, towards black-sand beaches, vast gorges or towering native trees.

1. Raglan's endless summer

Hire a car near Auckland Airport, wind down the windows, and take a two-hour drive south to the beach town of Raglan on the west coast. On your way, make sure to check out Pokeno, a small town known for its incredibly generous ice creams, the biggest of which can be found at Pokeno Takeaways on Great South Road.

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After satisfying your sweet tooth, continue to Raglan, a popular destination that has managed to maintain its quirky, small-town vibe. A stroll down Raglan's main drag, complemented by 15 stately phoenix palm trees, will reveal an array of handmade crafts, artisanal eats and art galleries. Locals walk with a relaxed gait, jandals on their feet and coffees in hand, and visitors can't help but begin to feel the sedative effects of this chilled little town.

In comparison to the white-sand beaches found on the east coast of the North Island, Raglan's beaches appear wild and intriguing, especially on a gloomy day. Ngarunui is one of the most frequented, so make sure you get there early to secure a spot in the car park, which fills up quickly during the summer months. Just 5 km from town, this expansive black-sand beach has lifeguards on patrol from October to April, making it the best option for swimmers.

Just over 2 km from Ngarunui is Manu Bay, a beloved surf beach, which gained renown back in 1966 after it was featured in the cult surf documentary "The Endless Summer." An incredibly long left-hand surf break still attracts surf fanatics from all over, and their loved ones often bring a picnic or read a book in the car, since the waves tend to occupy surfers for hours.

2. Gorge on history in Karangahake

Located approximately two hours from Auckland on State Highway 2, Karangahake Gorge is a vast winding canyon, that, excluding the road through the middle, looks like an untouched scene from the Jurassic era. Follow the signs to the Karangahake Historic Walks, and you'll find a place to park your rental before setting off to explore the area's walkways, cycle trails and former gold mines.

A selection of scenic walks is available for people of all fitness levels. The Windows Walk is a relaxed 2 km excursion that lets visitors experience the best of what the gorge has to offer, from mining remnants, to dense native foliage. There's even a free mobile application called MyParx to help visitors learn about their surrounds. If you're into cycling, the 82 km Hauraki Rail Trail passes through Karangahake, and from here you can follow the Historic Walkway to Victoria Battery, which was once the most extensive quartz crushing plant in Australasia and the country's largest producer of gold.

3. Visit the lord of the forest

Car hire in NZ is easy and affordable, and you can pick up your rental in Auckland as early as 7:00 a.m.. Pack a picnic lunch, download some podcasts and leave the city suburbs behind as you head north on State Highway 1. After driving for just over an hour, you'll come to Brynderwyn where you can turn onto State Highway 12, which runs through the Waipoua Forest.

After continuing north for a while longer, you'll spot some signposts that will direct you to the Tane Mahuta car park. Have lunch at the picnic area nearby, then take the short five-minute Tane Mahuta Walk, which will lead you to the foot of New Zealand's largest living kauri tree – the towering 51.5m-high Tane Mahuta. With a trunk circumference of almost 14 m, tree-hugging this giant would be a group effort – if you were allowed close enough.

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Once your neck will no longer let you marvel at this ancient kauri, try out one of the other walks in the area before returning to the city to start planning your next big Auckland road trip with East Coast Car Rentals.