Auckland is my playground. I live here and thrive on the vast number of inexpensive and free things to do in Auckland. It’s an ideal city for those seeking relaxation, entertainment, culinary excellence, cultural experiences, or adrenaline rush activities. Reflecting the natural beauty one expects to find in New Zealand, it is nestled between two major bodies of water. It is my city.
Lush green parks line the city’s 1,600km of sparkling blue coastline. Visitors rarely find themselves more than 5km from the sea. On sunny weekend days, it is easy to see why Auckland has been nicknamed the City of Sails.
There are so many fun things to do in Auckland. It is a city made for walking, cycling, sailing, dining, relaxing, or a bungy jump. It is home to impressive museums, tempting restaurants, and colourful nightlife. While there are plenty of things to do in Auckland for free, to round out the list, I have included several special activities that are not so free (labelled with $).
Founded in 1840, Auckland’s short history includes influences from the indigenous Maori people. Today, it is home to nearly one-third of the country’s population. It has earned a reputation as a family-friendly, active, and safe city.
Here you will find free and nearly free things to do in Auckland in the following categories:
Table of contents
- 1 Auckland Volcanoes
- 2 Auckland Volcanoes North of the Waitemata Harbour
- 3 Auckland Walks
- 4 Hiking Auckland Regional Parks and Reserves
- 5 Art and Historical Museums in Auckland
- 6 Markets and Other Shopping in Auckland
- 7 Animal Viewing
- 8 Nightlife in Auckland
- 9 More Free Things to do in Auckland
- 10 Adrenaline Adventures (but NOT free things to do in Auckland)
- 11 Getting to Auckland Activities
- 12 With so many free things to do in Auckland, why would you ever want to leave?
The city sits on the remnants of 48 dormant and extinct volcanoes. Not surprisingly, some of the best views in the city are found at the summit of volcanoes in Auckland. Morning is a great time to climb an Auckland volcano.
- Mount Eden Volcano – Enjoy a short walk to the summit of the Mount Eden domain. Here you will find dramatic 360-degree views from the highest natural point in the city. However, it is the 50-metre deep crater (now grass-covered) that many consider the highlight of this visit.
- Auckland Domain – It’s Auckland’s oldest park. The domain is home to extensive forested walking trails, impressive sculptures, and plenty of spots for picnic or sport. Here you will find the Auckland Museum, Wintergardens, Wintergarden Cafe, and the city hospital.
- One Tree Hill – This is Auckland’s second-largest volcanic field. It offers lovely views, a historic obelisk, and the gravesite of a national hero. Interestingly, today you will find several youthful trees, replacing the “one-tree” that was destroyed in protest.
Auckland Volcanoes North of the Waitemata Harbour
- Rangitoto Island – Auckland’s youngest and largest volcanic field can be seen from most north facing city views. Daily ferries go out to e Rangitoto and other Hauraki Gulf Islands from the Auckland or Devonport. From the summit, enjoy spectacular city views, explore lava caves, overlook the world’s largest Pohutukawa forest, or watch the sunset. Although a moderate level of fitness is required for hiking to the top, tours are available that will take you up on a 4wd tractor-pulled tram.
- Mt. Victoria in Devonport – My favourite view of the Auckland skyline is seen near sunset from Mount Victoria, a hill directly across the Waitemata Harbour from the city. Also at the top are iconic red and white “mushroom” painted vent caps dotting the fields, a tourist favourite photo spot. There are both buses and a ferry that travel between Auckland city and Devonport.
- North Head Historic Reserve in Devonport – As you enter the former military tunnel complex hidden in the hillside at North Head, you leave behind expansive panoramic views of the Hauraki Gulf and Auckland city. It is easy to understand why North Head was a coastal defence site.
Here are a few of the best walks in Auckland.
- Coastal path – With so much coastline, there are miles of beachfront path options. Two of my favourites are Tamaki Drive from the city to Mission Bay and the coastal path from Milford to Takapuna (one of the best things to do north of Auckland).
- Coast to Coast Walk Auckland – Fairly unique to Auckland, you can walk across the country from the Waitemata Harbour to the Manukau Harbour. In about 5 hours you will pass suburban streets, five volcanic fields, and several historical sites.
- Wynyard Quarter: This redeveloped district is an ideal spot to enjoy a meal at one of the waterfront restaurants, bring kids to a large playground, visit a community garden, or just relax on giant wooden recliners.
- Heritage walk – Take a self-guided tour of some of the city’s most historically significant and beautiful heritage buildings.
- Walk or cycle on the Te Ara I Whiti. This former motorway turned into a pink lightpath lets pedestrians and cyclists bypass the autos on the city roads.
- Free Walking Tour – Spend your morning learning about the central city on a nearly three-hour free walking tour. (Although listed as one of the free activities in Auckland, tipping at the end of the tour is customary.)
- Westhaven Marina – With over 2,000 boats, it’s the largest yacht marina in the southern hemisphere.
⇒ Check Auckland Transit for more free walking routes in the city.
Flower fans won’t want to miss these gardens
- Auckland Botanic Garden – roam through the 156 acres (including 10 acres of native forest) that attracts nearly one million visitors annually.
- Parnell Rose Garden – Be enchanted by the over 5,000 flowering bushes in springtime.
- Domain Wintergardens – Originally built in the early 1900s to provide garden viewing in the winter months, today the Wintergardens have a fernery, an ornate courtyard, and two Victorian-style greenhouses.
Hiking Auckland Regional Parks and Reserves
Each of the 36 regional parks offers something different, but all have opportunities for hiking in Auckland. Nevertheless, I do have several favourite urban parks.
- Western Springs – A flock of black swans live on the artificial lake that was originally built (1875) as a reservoir for Auckland water.
- Cornwall Park – A peaceful park with tree groves, gentle walking paths, sheep and cattle, playground, and two historic buildings. At one end of Cornwall Park is One Tree Hill volcano.
- Shakespear Park – Hike through paddocks and on trails at Shakespear Park at the end of Whangaparaoa Peninsula. The park is home to the only mainland little-spotted Kiwi birds; although you won’t see them, sometimes at night you can hear their call.
- Tiritiri Matangi – Take a ferry ($$) out to the bird sanctuary island of Tiritiri Matangi. Here you will discover several species of endangered birds including the once thought to be extinct Takahe.
West Auckland Parks
- Waitakere Ranges – There are over 250km of sub-tropical rainforest trails making up the Waitakere Ranges walks and plenty of waterfalls. The trails range from family-friendly to the 80km multiday Hilary Trail. Important, as of April 2018, many of the trails are closed to protect the trees from Kauri Dieback. Here is a list of open trails.
- Arataki Visitor Centre – The gateway to the rainforest, the Arataki Visitors Centre has stunning views overlooking the rainforest, information on the parklands, extensive Māori history and several impressive carvings. It is one of the highlights of West Auckland.
- Manukau Heads Lighthouse – Climb to the top of the lighthouse and be rewarded with stunning harbour views over the Awahiti Peninsula.
Art and Historical Museums in Auckland
There are plenty of things to do in Auckland city on a rainy day. Entry to most of the art museums is free, while several other museums offer free entrance for locals. This list includes all my favourite Auckland museums.
- Pah Homestead – Worth a visit to see either the historic home or the frequently renewed contemporary art collection.
- Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Art Gallery, Auckland – Located in Titirangi, the contemporary art galleries of Te Uru will be different on almost every visit.
- MOTAT ($) – Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology is a hands-on opportunity to discover the country’s advancements in transportation and technology. A day at MOTAT and the nearby Auckland Zoo would be one of the best things to do in Auckland with kids.
Free entry for Aucklanders
- Auckland Museum (Free entry for Aucklanders) – An Auckland must-see destination for visitors who want an insight into New Zealand’s history. The museum boasts one of the world’s most impressive collections of Māori and Pacific Island artefacts. And, the top floor is home to The Auckland War Memorial Museum.
- Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki (Free entry for New Zealanders) – Home to over 15,000 artworks including paintings, sculpture, and multimedia, it’s New Zealand’s largest collection of national and international artwork.
- New Zealand Maritime Museum (Free entry for Aucklanders) – From the dugout canoes that brought the first Polynesian people to modern world-class racing vessels, New Zealand’s nautical history comes to life at the National Maritime Museum.
Art fans may want to check out this art tour ($) that will introduce Auckland’s vibrant art scene while visiting up to six galleries, including exclusive access to venues.
Markets and Other Shopping in Auckland
Window shoppers can consider these options as free things to do in Auckland. If you’re a collector, you will have a different experience.
- Queen Street – Every city has a street that does it all; in Auckland, this is Queen Street. This main thoroughfare is the heart of the central business district (CBD), a shopper’s paradise, and a tourist destination.
- Otara Flea Market – A Saturday morning market located in the car park of the Otara Town Centre. This is the largest Polynesian-style market in New Zealand.
- City Farmers’ Market at Britomart – Also on Saturday mornings, this farmers’ market is the place to get fresh produce.
- Sylvia Park Shopping Centre – This is New Zealand’s largest indoor shopping mall.
- K-Road during the day – On Karangahape Road you will find an eclectic mix of fashion, second-hand shops, art galleries, and vegetarian cafes.
- Auckland Night Markets – At seven different locations throughout the city.
Birds are the main wildlife spotted, although sheep, cows, and deer each outnumber people.
- Gannet Colony at Muriwai Beach – Late August to March is the best time to view the colony of up 1,200 Australian Gannet pairs that fly over 2,000 km to breed on Muriwai’s cliff top.
- Goat Island – This wildlife/marine sanctuary is one of many popular day trips from Auckland. It is the best spot near Auckland for colourful (subtropical) snorkelling, SCUBA diving, or a glass-bottomed boat tour.
Not free animal viewing
- Auckland Zoo ($$) – A family destination featuring New Zealand’s largest collection of native and exotic animals, as well as traditional animals found at zoos.
- Butterfly Creek and Dinosaur Kingdom ($$) – A place for kids explore a tropical butterfly house or travel back to a time when dinosaurs ruled.
- Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium ($$) – From the penguins in Antarctica to the sea life in local Auckland waters, if it lives in the Southern Ocean, you will find it at Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium. Built underground, it houses the world’s first walk-through acrylic tunnels that surround visitors with colourful marine life or shark-infested waters.
- Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari (AWADS) ($$$) – Every moment on an Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari is exciting, but nothing tops the day’s first whale sighting. Not free, but it is the best thing I have ever done in Auckland.
Nightlife in Auckland
If you know where to look, there are plenty of things to do at night in Auckland. Many of the hotspots are free before 10 pm. If hitting the bars is on your free things to do in Auckland list, get an early start and have your hand stamped. This will allow you free return later.
- SkyCity Auckland Casino (Free to enter, pay to play) – New Zealand’s largest casino is always open.
- Stardome Observatory and Planetarium ($) – A planetarium experience followed by outdoor telescope viewing.
- K-Road at Night – Karangahape Road is different at night when it’s the place to go for mixed and gay bars, strip clubs, and brothels.
- Free Movies in Silo Park – A summertime event on Friday nights.
- Poetry Live – Tuesday nights at the Thirsty Dog Tavern and Cafe features New Zealand’s longest running dedicated poetry event.
- Rock Bar – The place to sing karaoke on Queen Street.
- Classic Comedy Club ($)- The only full-time comedy club in Auckland.
- Caluzzi Bar and Cabaret ($$) – A complete night out featuring a hilarious drag queen cabaret show and delicious dinner.
- Frenzi Bar Crawl ($) – Every Thursday night this bar crawl starts at the Camel Bar. Or if you want to go it alone, find our favourite clubs are here listed amongst these things to do in Auckland at Night.
- Dinner in Auckland – Find our current favourites amongst these 20 Unique Restaurants in Auckland.
More Free Things to do in Auckland
If you are still wondering what to do in Auckland, take a look at a few more ideas.
- Take photos at sunset.
- Enjoy a picnic in a reserve.
- Fish from a pier or beach (check the local rules).
- Surf one of the west coast beaches.
- Swim or sunbathe at a gentle east coast beach.
- Collect cockles and have a barbeque in Shakespear Park.
- See the super yachts docked at Viaduct Harbour.
- Attend a lecture at one of Auckland’s 55 City libraries.
- Listen to live music in the park at various venues throughout the summer.
- Look for hand and footprints of famous Kiwis at the Auckland Celebrity Walk.
- Visit Holy Trinity Cathedral is the world’s only architectural example of a Pacific-Gothic cathedral.
- People watch.
- Hunt for graffiti and street art.
Adrenaline Adventures (but NOT free things to do in Auckland)
Whether you are looking for the adrenaline rush activities or just a bit of excitement, Auckland has something for you. A country known for pushing to the limit, many of these are once in a lifetime opportunities.
- Escape Masters ($$) – Escape rooms on Queen Street.
- Rainbow’s End ($$) – New Zealand’s largest theme park.
- America’s Cup Sailing ($$$) – Participate in the sailing of an America’s Cup yacht.
- Eco Zip Adventures ($$$) – Zip lines on Waiheke Island.
- Skyscreamer ($$$) – Catapult into the air on a reverse bungy ride.
- Sky Tower ($$) – The Auckland Sky Tower is the tallest manmade structure in the Southern Hemisphere standing proudly at 328 metres. A visit to the top provides impressive 360° views stretching out 80 km in every direction.
- Sky Jump or Sky Walk ($$$) – an adrenaline rush from the top of the Sky Tower.
Want more thrilling details? Check out these 13 Adrenaline Rush Activities in Auckland
Getting to Auckland Activities
- Auckland is an easy city to get around. There is excellent public transportation inside the city. However, there are less frequent options in the surrounding areas.
- If you rent a car, remember, parking in the city is often expensive. We use RentalCars.com when we travel. They find the best deals and have amazing customer service.
- Taxis are available at busy downtown venues, or taxis or Uber can be called.
- The Hop-on Hop-off bus is a great way to see some of the highlights.
With so many free things to do in Auckland, why would you ever want to leave?
But if you do want to get outside the city, here are our recommended day trips.
The legend is per adult entry (at the time of publication):
- $ less than $20
- $$ is $21 – $99
- $$$ is more than $100
Disclaimer: We are frequently provided with a complimentary entry or other benefits. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly my own.