Auckland has over 1.45 million people, and that’s about one third of New Zealand‘s entire population — with that in mind, it’s no wonder that a lot of people confuse it as the country’s capital (when it’s actually Wellington). Add the fact that Auckland’s bustling metropolis is coupled with gorgeous surrounding terrains, then it surely isn’t surprising if more and more tourists will be mystified by this fact.
…Of course, this is not to say that Wellington doesn’t deserve its title — because it does, given how it has its own charm and distinct characteristics — but Auckland is truly a wonder in itself! And if you were to land here, there are a wide variety of things that can keep you occupied.
For starters, here are the top FREE things to do in this ‘City of Sails’!
Free Things To Do in Auckland, New Zealand
#1 – Go and climb a volcano
Photo by Chris Gin / CC
Did you know? There are about 50 volcanoes that make up Auckland’s unique landscape! For those who are up for a leisurely hike, it’s definitely a must to climb the following easily-accessible volcanic summits:
One of Auckland’s most iconic natural landmarks as well as its youngest volcano, Rangitoto has a distinctive symmetrical cone that can easily be spotted off the coast. It’s only a 25-minute trip away across the harbour from downtown Auckland, and before you leave, make sure to drop by its neighbouring Motutapu Island.
Mount Eden (Maungawhau)
This is the highest volcano in the city. Go here by foot or by bike and you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view over the city and the Waitemata Harbour.
One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie)
The highest point is topped with a monument dedicated to Sir John Logan Campbell (the ‘founding father’ of Auckland City). What’s more, it’s even claimed to be the largest pre-historic earth forth in the world. (NOTE: If you come during spring season, you can enjoy pink cherry blossoms all throughout the park).
Mount Victoria (Takarunga)
This volcanic cone is found in Devonport and it provides picturesque sea views. (Going up takes about 10-20 minutes only).
Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand and it is in Mangere Mountain where you can see some remains of former Māori settlements. If you want to learn more about the history, drop by the Education Centre found at the base of the mountain (open during weekdays).
#2 – Enjoy panoramic views from several vantage points
Aside from climbing up volcanoes, there certainly are other ways to get great panoramic views of Auckland.
You can basically find in this seaside town the volcano called as North Head (Maungauika, just beside Mount Victoria) and it is one of the region’s oldest cones. To get here, it’s a quick 10-minute ferry ride worth NZ$11.50. Apart from glimpsing a great skyline view with an added opportunity to explore its underground tunnels, you can also visit the Navy Museum for free and have a swim at the nearby Cheltenham Beach.
The view from the top of this 328-meter iconic landmark is pretty amazing and the entrance is only worth $20~ (or NZ$29). If you’ve got more cash, you can also bungee jump from high up. (TIP: If you eat lunch or have some afternoon tea in its Orbit restaurant that’s perched high up the tower, you can get FREE entrance to the observation deck for an hour!)
#3 – See the city’s famous landmarks
Photo by Spentrails / CC
What better way to see and learn more about the city than to tour around with a local? For instance, if you go with Auckland Free Walking Tours, you’ll be able to join a no-cost 3-hour city tour!
Other than the already mentioned spots like Sky Tower etc., some of the landmarks that you must not miss would be:
The major commercial hub named after Queen Victoria, and it’s speckled with popular restaurants, shops, and cafes.
Auckland Harbour Bridge
The Harbour Bridge is yet another Auckland icon and if you’re up for some exhilarating fun, you can do a 40-meter bungy jump from the bridge with the operator AJ Hackett, or just do a bridge climb to see grand views of the city and the harbour.
If you’re rather into boutique window shopping, Parnell (which is Auckland’s oldest suburb) is full of charm and character due to its Victorian-villa-designed structures.
#4 – Appreciate historic art in one the city’s best museums
The Auckland Art Gallery has the most extensive collection of national and international art in New Zealand and the best way to experience this world-class gallery is by joining an intimate guided tour — which is offered for FREE. (Entrance to the museum is also FREE!)
The tours run twice daily at around 11:30AM and 1:30PM, and opening times are from 10:00AM to 5:00PM.
Often times, the gallery also hosts international exhibitions and offers a lively number of events such as talks, performances, film screenings, and children’s activities to complement its exhibition programme.
#5 – Lounge at nearby beaches…
Photo by Monday’s Socks / CC
There are actually thousands of beaches throughout the greater Auckland region: from white beaches, to black sand ones, and so on! Therefore, go arm yourself with a beach blanket, a book, and/or some picnic parahernalia and head on to the wide open beaches. Otherwise, there are plenty of other ways to fill up your time while on these sandy havens: surfing, kayaking, snorkelling and even diving!
NOTE: Always swim between the red and yellow patrol flags as they identify the safest area to swim when an active lifesaving patrol is on the beach. Never swim or surf alone on an unpatrolled beach.
Given the number of beaches, below are the top picks that I know of by area:
This area is primarily known for its white and golden-sand beaches such as that of Pakiri (where you can ride a horse by the sand) and Tāwharanui. For family and friend outings, beaches such as Mataetai and Omana are best with ample water activities and playgrounds to do and use respectively.
You shouldn’t miss a stop at Muriwai Beach that’s famous for its clifftop gannet colonies (a type of seabird)! If you love surfing or simply want the chance to glimpse a black-sand beach, come over to Piha Beach or Karioitahi Beach.
If you don’t want to stray too far from the city center, there is the golden sands of Mission Bay, Kohimarama, and Saint Heliers by the waterfront. And like I mentioned earlier, if you ride a ferry to Devonport, it has Cheltenham Beach. If you want something even nearer, there’s Takapuna Beach across the Harbour Bridge.
#6 – …and also hop to nearby islands!
Auckland also has a wealth of incredible surrounding islands, apart from Rangitoto, the other notable ones would be:
Located an hour away from the city center, Goat Island Marine Reserve is New Zealand’s first and most accessible marine reserve; that being said, it would be a great activity on your itinerary to dive and snorkel here under its sheltered and crystal clear waters.
Waiheke is just a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland and it is known as the ‘island of wine’ due to the number of wineries and vineyards that are prevalent here. Other than visiting fabulous wineries, you could also enjoy its white sand beaches called as Oneroa and Onetangi, making it a great option for a day trip during your stay.
Tiritiri Matangi Island
Only a 75-minute ferry ride away from downtown Auckland, Tiritir Matangi is an open wildlife sanctuary that protects native and endangered species; hence, it’s a nature lover’s paradise! You will absolutely love your wilderness adventure here, and when it’s time to relax, there’s Hobbs Beach which is just a 10-minute walk from the main wahrf.
Great Barrier Island
If you’ve got some time to spare, take a 4.5-hour ferry ride to reach the Great Barrier Island — one of the most tranquil and unspoilt places you’ll ever find! There are not only tons of forest trails available that will lead you to secluded hot springs, waterfalls and swimming halls, but there are also superb spots for surfing, kayaking, swimming, snorkelling, and diving.
#7 – Do a nature walk
If you’re the kind of traveler who loves to discover a place’s natural beauty on foot, Auckland has short walks and multi-day hikes to offer you. Below are a few options to get you started:
Coast to Coast Walkway
[Distance: 16km] This trail starts from Waitemata Harbour to the expansive Manukau Harbour, and it will take you over a HUGE variety of landscapes as you walk through the city, the urban parks, and eventually to volcanic cones for great views.
[Distance: 1 .8km] A short walk that takes you through waterfalls, streams, and native bush, you will find this track close to the seaside community of Piha. One of the highlights of this activitiy will be the chance to see the fantastic Kitekite falls.
[Distance: 10km] If you’ve got a car, driving through this road is something you should consider; if not, there is a pathway that you can walk through (shared by cyclists and rollerbladers too) as you witness Auckland’s most affluent suburbs, breathtaking harbours, and beautiful Eastern beaches. Rest assured, it is flat so it’s very suitable for adults and children alike.
This parkland covers more than 16,000 hectares of native forest and coastline. If you’re game for walking and tramping, Waitakere Ranges has several trails for you to choose from, longest of which would be the 4-day 77km self-guided tramp called as “Hillary Trail”. It connects a network of existing regional park tracks and basic backpacker campgrounds (trail begins at Arataki Visitor Cenre).
#8 – Participate in free events and festivals
Photo by Auckland NZ / CC
Auckland is buzzing with events all throughout the year. Those that you should look out for are:
Tāmaki Herenga Waka Festival
[Late January] This is a FREE and unique 3-day, family-friendly celebration showcasing Māori heritage and the culture of Tāmaki Makarau (Māori name for Auckland). In here, you can experience Māori games and workshops as well as watch exciting tribal waka races.
Auckland Lantern Festival
[Early February] As part of the Chinese New Year celebrations, there will be hundreds of Chinese lanterns, music, dance performances, traditional festivities, and more!
[Early March] Pasifka celebrates authentic Pacific Island villages and each of them will showcase a performance on stage, as well as present their goods on a market setting. With this vibrant celebration, you’re sure to witness various cultures from places like Kiribati, Cook Island, and Samoa!
[Summer] Situated in Silo Park, you can enjoy various movies every Friday and Saturday at Silo Cinema. At the end of it, there are also several night markets and food stalls for you to wander into.
For a complete list of upcoming affairs, go here.
#9 – Relax at one of the city’s green spaces
At this point, you definitely would have realized by now that Auckland is packed with an array of surrounding natural spaces to fill your time with. But that doesn’t stop there because here are some interesting city’s parks smacked right in the center that you need to see:
Parnell Rose Gardens
In addition to its romantic rose garden, it is home to the oldest manuka (flowering plant) and the largest pohutukawa (also called as ‘New Zealand Christmas tree’) in Auckland. There’s even a huge park to enjoy and a small beach!
This is the city’s oldest park, and at 75 hectares, one of its largest. When I wandered off to this place, I particularly enjoyed the Wintergardens, what with its glass houses that include various tropical plants! Other things that you can find are Auckland’s War Memorial Museum, some duck ponds and a cherry blossom grove.
This occupies much of the site of Albert Barracks, one of the city’s early European military forticiations. At one corner of the park, you will find Auckland Art Gallery (Toi o Tāmaki) and some gardens, and on the other side is an original park-keeper’s cottage, which is now a museum of memorabilia.
#10 – Admire the waterfront
Dubbed as the ‘City of Sails’, you obviously shouldn’t leave the city without taking the time to visit Auckland’s waterfronts.
As the metropolis’ most recently developed waterfront precinct, it’s a great venue for dining and entertainment.
Lined up with restaurants and bars, this vibrant waterfront is a great place to hang out or dine in too. If you want to level up your harbour time, you can also join a peaceful cruise with Pride of Auckland for NZ$85. Or, visit the Voyager Maritime Museum to learn more about New Zealand’s rich maritime history (NZ$20).
LOCAL CURRENCY: New Zealand dollar (NZD)
$1 = NZ$1.4~ = Php 50~
IMPORTANT: New Zealand has VERY strict quarantine laws for undeclared food and other biohazards. This means that you should not bring in any kind of fresh food such as bananas, apples, honey, etc. Make sure that you dispose them before going through the baggage claim area. Processed or packaged food can be accepted but you are supposed to declare them on your arrival card. If you’re ever in doubt, ask for clarification — otherwise, you will be charged with a hefty fine.
If you’ve got outdoor equipment like diving gear, hiking boots, etc. you must clean them before you travel to New Zealand in order for the inspection process to go more quickly for you. Be advised that New Zealand is firm about this given how they have sniffer dogs and bio-sensitive X-ray machines to detect any unwanted items.
» How to get to Auckland?
By plane. Auckland International Airport (AKL) is New Zealand’s largest airport and there are a lot of airlines that go through the city. One of the airlines that I absolutely recommend would be Singapore Airlines. (But in case you’re wondering where to look for the best flight deals across all airlines, my go-to platforms are Momondo, Kayak, and Skyscanner.)
Meanwhile, you can reach the city from the airport by Airbus Express (NZ$16), shuttle vans, or taxi (can be NZ$50 to NZ$100). Uber has a flat rate of NZ$70, wherereas Zoomy charges between NZ$39 to NZ$66.
By train. If you’re coming from Wellington, the Overlander train goes to Auckland at NZ$119 (with a stopover opportunity at Tongariro National Park).
By bus. There are several providers that you can choose from: InterCity, GreatSights New Zealand, Northliner, ManaBus, and NakedBus.
By boat. Auckland is a major cruise ship port of call with its main cruise terminal located on Queens Wharf.
» Where to stay in Auckland?
Your best choices would be…
» How to get around Auckland?
By foot & by bike. Renting a bike is easy and the cost can start at around NZ$35 for a day.
By train, bus, or ferry. All public transportation in Auckland have a standardized ticketing system called as ‘AT HOP’ and the card is a reusable prepay smart card. They cost NZ$10 and can be topped up with a minimum of NZ$5 — a day pass costs $18 though, so it’s best to get one. (Unfortunately, I can’t find other types of day passes; the next longer pass you can have is for a month).
By taxi. Taxis in Auckland are very expensive. But if you must, you can choose from either Uber or Zoomy. I personally would recommend Uber since they have considerably cheaper fares (usually less than 1/2 the cost of a regular taxi).
» Helpful Māori phrases?
English is the dominant language spoken by most Kiwis (New Zealanders) but the country’s de jure official languages are Māori and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). Rest assured, Māori people are bilingual and can speak English too, but they’ll be happy to hear you try and speak their language.
If you want to learn a few helpful Māori phrases, make sure that you pronounce them properly!
- Hello (to 1 person, formal): Tēnā koe (Te-na koy)
- Hello (to 1 person, informal): Kia ora (Key-oar-rah)
- Thank you: Kia ora (Key-oar-rah) ~ pronounced with a rising intonation
- Yes: Āe (I)
- No: Kāore (Kao-re)
- Goodbye (said by person leaving): E noho rā (E-noho ra)
Goodbye (said by person staying): Haere rā (Hayre ra)
- I’m sorry: Aroha mai (Ar-ro-ha-mai)
- Help!: Āwhina! (Af-fin-nuh!)
Cheers!: Kia ora! (Key-oar-rah!)
As the first city that I visited in New Zealand, Auckland served as an amazing prelude to the rest of the country’s splendor!
After all, you can see how its beauty goes beyond that of its charming urban setting — just a walk or drive away and you can easily escape the bustle of the metropolis as you spend your time away in its natural delights.
- What do you think of Auckland?
- Would you like to visit this city? Why or why not?
- Or have you visited before? How was it?