Auckland reflects the natural beauty that one expects to find in New Zealand. It is a city nestled between two major bodies of water and built on the remnants of 48 dormant and extinct volcanoes. It is my city. I live here and continually discover free things to do in Auckland.
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.
Auckland is a playground for those seeking cultural or adrenaline pumping activities. It is a city made for walking, cycling, sailing, dining, relaxing, or bungy jumping. It is home to impressive museums, tempting restaurants, and colourful nightlife. While there are plenty of free things to do in Auckland, 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 (Inside the City)
- 2 Auckland Volcanoes (North of the Waitemata Harbour)
- 3 Auckland City Walks
- 4 Auckland Walks: Gentle Strolls to Enjoy the Flora
- 5 Auckland Walks: Hiking in the Regional Parks and Reserves
- 6 Art and Historical Museums in Auckland
- 7 Markets and Other Shopping in Auckland
- 8 Animal Viewing and the Best Zoo in New Zealand
- 9 Things to do in Auckland at Night
- 10 More Free Things to do in Auckland
- 11 Adrenaline Adventures in Auckland (Once in a lifetime, but not so free things to do in Auckland)
- 12 Practical Information on Activities in Auckland
Auckland Volcanoes (Inside the City)
The summits of Auckland volcanoes hold some of the best views of the city. While you can hike to the top of any of them, most have drivable roads to the top. Each volcano tells its own story.
- Mount Eden Volcano – If you only have time to visit one of the Auckland volcanoes, enjoy a short walk to the summit of Mount Eden. At the top, you will find dramatic 360-degree views from the highest natural point in the city. Plus, there is a 50-metre deep grass-covered crater.
- Auckland Domain – Auckland’s oldest park 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 – As you reach the top of One Tree Hill, the most obvious question is, “Where is the tree?” This is Auckland’s second largest volcanic field. While here, also visit Cornwall Park.
Auckland Volcanoes (North of the Waitemata Harbour)
You will need to take a ferry out to Rangitoto Island, while a car, bus, or ferry can bring you to Devonport.
- Rangitoto Island – If getting to the top of Auckland’s youngest and largest volcanic field is on your bucket list, you have two options. A moderate level of fitness is required for hiking, or you can take a guided tour on a 4WD Volcanic Explorer Train. Rangitoto Island can be seen from the city, North Shore, and Whangaparaoa peninsula.
- Mt. Victoria in Devonport – One of two volcanoes in New Zealand named to honour our former queen, Mt Victoria in Devonport sits across the Waitemata Harbour from Auckland city. It offers some of the best views. Iconic red and white “mushroom” painted vent caps dot the fields.
- 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.
Auckland City Walks
Auckland is a city built for walking and exploring. Here are a few of my favourite city walks, all free things to do in Auckland (although donating at the end of the free walking tour is customary).
- 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, or the coastal path from Milford to Takapuna on the city’s North Shore.
- Coast to Coast trail – Fairly unique to Auckland, you can walk across the country (from the Waitemata Harbour to the Manukau Harbour) in just 5 hours. You will pass through suburban streets, five volcanic fields, and several historical sites.
- Wynyard Quarter: This redeveloped, family-friendly waterfront district is a perfect place to watch the boats sailing past. Here you can enjoy a meal at one of the many Auckland waterfront restaurants. After your meal, visit a playground, 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.
- Westhaven Marina – With over 2000 boats, it is the largest yacht marina in the southern hemisphere.
Auckland Walks: Gentle Strolls to Enjoy the Flora
Of course, an isolated island nation would have an abundance of colourful flora. These are a few of the best spots to enjoy them.
- 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.
- 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 5000 flowering bushes. It’s best in springtime.
- Parry Kauri Park – Here is a chance to see an 800-year old giant native Kauri tree within an hour from the city.
Auckland Walks: Hiking in the Regional Parks and Reserves
- 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, paddocks with sheep and cattle, a children’s playground, and two historic buildings. At one end of Cornwall Park is the base of One Tree Hill.
- Shakespear Park – Hike through paddocks, trees, 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, you can know they are there.
- Subtropical Rainforest Hike – There are over 250km of trails in the Waitakere Ranges and plenty of waterfalls. The trails range from family-friendly to the 80km multiday Hilary Trail. Start your adventure at the Arataki Visitors Centre. There are park rangers there to assist in your rainforest and west coast exploration planning.
- Manukau Heads Lighthouse – Climb to the top and be rewarded with stunning harbour views over the Awahiti Peninsula.
- Tiritiri Matangi – Take a ferry out to the bird sanctuary island of Tiritiri Matangi (Free to hike, $$ for the ferry to the island), where you will discover several species of endangered birds including the once thought to be extinct Takahe.
Art and Historical Museums in Auckland
Don’t let rainy days bring you down. Most of the art museums in Auckland have free entry. Similarly, most of the historical museums offer free entrance for Auckland residents.
- Auckland Museum (Free entry for Aucklanders) – A must-see destination for visitors who want an insight into New Zealand’s history. The Auckland museum boasts one of the world’s most impressive collections of Maori and Pacific Island artefacts. And, the top floor is home to The Auckland War Memorial Museum.
- Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki – Home to over 15,000 artworks including paintings, sculpture, and multimedia, it is 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 Maritime Museum.
- Pah Homestead – Worth a visit to see either the historic home or the frequently changing contemporary art collection.
- Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery – Located at the gateway to the Waitakere rainforest, the contemporary art galleries of Te Uru will be different on almost every visit.
- MOTAT ($) – Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology is a showcase of Kiwi ingenuity. A fresh approach to displaying the country’s advancements in transportation and technology, this hands-on museum is a favourite destination for kids of all ages. In addition to the main museum don’t miss MOTAT 2 – The Aviation Display Hall.
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. There are various weekend markets around the city. My favourites are listed below.
- Queen Street – Every city has a street that does it all; in Auckland, this is Queen Street. This main thoroughfare was once a dirty canal leading out to sea. Today, it is the heart of the central business district (CBD), a shopper’s paradise, and a tourist destination.
- Otara Flea Market – A Saturday morning market with a Polynesian influence.
- 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 cafes.
- Auckland Night Markets – At seven different locations throughout the city, there may be an Auckland night market near you.
Animal Viewing and the Best Zoo in New Zealand
Wildlife in New Zealand focuses on birds. The bat is the only indigenous mammal in the country. We are also a farming nation, with more sheep, cows, or deer than people.
- Gannet Colony at Muriwai Beach – Late August to March is the best time to view the colony of up 1200 Australian Gannet pairs that fly over 2000 km to breed on Muriwai’s cliff top. Viator offers tours of the Gannets and local vineyards.
- 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.
- BaristaCats Cafe ($) – If you want a more intimate animal encounter, Barista Cats Café offers animal lovers a place to enjoy coffee or tea while surrounded by furry friends. (minimum age is 10)
- Auckland Zoo ($$) – An ideal family destination, at the Auckland Zoo you can spot the iconic kiwi bird, feed a giraffe, or enjoy New Zealand’s largest collection of native and exotic animals.
- Butterfly Creek and Dinosaur Kingdom ($$) – A place for kids (and adults) explore a tropical butterfly house or travel back to a time when dinosaurs ruled.
- Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium ($$) – 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.
- Sheepworld ($$) – Situated about 45 minutes north of Auckland city, at Sheepworld you will get an insight into New Zealand sheep farming and wool harvesting.
- Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari ($$$) – Every moment on an Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari is exciting, but nothing tops the day’s first whale sighting. –> Check prices and often save money at Viator.
Things to do in Auckland at Night
If you know where to look, there are plenty of free things to do in Auckland at night, plus a few expensive options too. Many of the hotspots charge an entry free beginning at 10 pm. If hitting the bars is on your free things to do in Auckland list, get an early start. Be sure to have your hand stamped when you leave a club, should you wish to return later. Highlights include:
- SkyCity Auckland Casino (Free to enter, pay to play) – New Zealand’s largest casino.
- K-Road at Night – Karangahape Road is the place to go for pubs, mixed and gay bars, strip clubs, and brothels.
- Poetry Live – Tuesday nights at the Thirsty Dog features New Zealand’s longest running dedicated poetry event.
- Free Movies in Silo Park – A summertime event on Friday nights from 9 pm.
- Classic Comedy Club – The only full-time comedy club in Auckland.
- Rock Bar – The place to sing karaoke.
- CBD Auckland bars – There is an eclectic mix of clubs in CBD, and many Auckland’s neighbourhoods.
- Frenzi Bar Crawl ($) – Thursday nights from Camel Bar.
- Stardome Observatory and Planetarium ($) – A planetarium experience followed by outdoor telescope viewing.
- Caluzzi Bar and Cabaret ($$) – Hilarious drag queen cabaret show and delicious dinner.
More Free Things to do in Auckland
If you are still wondering what to do in Auckland, take a look at a few more ideas.
- Take photos of the city at sunset.
- Enjoy a picnic in any of the reserves.
- Fish from a pier or beach (check the local rules before you begin).
- Collect cockles (and have a barbeque) at Okoromai Bay in Shakespear Park. It is one of only a few Auckland bays that still allows cockle collection.
- Swim or sunbathe at a gentle east coast beach.
- Hunt for graffiti and street art.
- See the super yachts docked at Viaduct Harbour.
- Read a book or attend a lecture at one of Auckland’s 55 City libraries.
- Listen to live music in the park at various venues throughout the summer.
- Look for hand and footprints of famous Kiwi’s you might know at the Auckland Celebrity Walk.
- Visit Holy Trinity Cathedral for an unusual mix of traditional and modern. Holy Trinity is the world’s only architectural example of a Pacific-Gothic cathedral.
- People watch.
Adrenaline Adventures in Auckland (Once in a lifetime, but not so free things to do in Auckland)
Whether you are looking for the adrenaline extreme or just a bit of excitement, Auckland has something for you. A country known for pushing to the limit, many of these are once in a lifetime.
- Surf one of the west coast beaches.
- Solve a mystery at Escape Masters ($$).
- Rainbow’s End ($$) – New Zealand’s largest theme park.
- Race on an America’s Cup Sailing yacht ($$$) –> Check prices and often save money at Viator.
- Fly over vineyards at Eco Zip Adventures ($$$) on Waiheke Island.
- Catapult into the air on the Skyscreamer ($$$), a reverse bungy ride.
- Sky Jump or Sky Walk ($$$) at the Auckland Sky Tower, the tallest manmade structure in the Southern Hemisphere standing proudly at 328 metres. Or, enjoy the impressive 360° views from the top stretching out 80 km in every direction.
Practical Information on Activities in Auckland
- Auckland is an easy city to get around. There is public transportation inside the city.
- If you hire a car, remember, we drive on the left. Taxis are available at busy downtown venues, or either taxis or Uber can be called.
- The Hop-on Hop-off bus is a great way to see some of the highlights.
- Grab your copy of Lonely Planet’s New Zealand Travel Guide.
- If you prefer a tour or want to get out of the city, check Viator for city tours or day trips to Hobbiton or Rotorua.
- We find Booking.com has the best prices on Auckland hotels.
- Legend is per adult entry:
- $ less than $20
- $$ is $21 – $99
- $$$ is more than $100
With so many free things to do in Auckland, why would you ever want to leave? What will you do first?
Disclaimer: We are frequently provided with a complimentary entry or other benefits. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly my own.