What are some free or best things to do in Auckland? Especially when you only have one precious day off during a working holiday in New Zealand.
A lot of the attractions in the biggest city in New Zealand (e.g. Skytower, museums, art galleries, etc) sadly aren’t free.
Luckily, there are some places (mostly outdoors) that you can visit for free!
13 Best Things To Do In Auckland
Auckland is home to around 50 volcanos – none of which, have erupted since 600 years ago.
So the hilly region has many places to get an aerial view of the city.
And we’re starting this list with one of them:
1. Climb To The Top Of One Tree Hill Domain (Maungakiekie)
A very beautiful and spacious park (Cornwall Park) that’s close to the city. Around 20 minutes’ drive.
Climb up the hill amidst sheep and olive trees to get to the monument (obelisk) on top.
From there, you can get astonishing views of Auckland city on a clear day. Watching the sunset from here is popular with both tourists and locals.
Bonus: You get to see lots of sheep up close!
History Of The One Tree Hill Obelisk
It is next to the grave of Sir John Logan Campbell, a prominent public figure in New Zealand known as the “father of Auckland“.
It was his wish that the obelisk be built as a tribute to the Maori people. You may notice a bronze statue of a Maori warrior close by too.
Best (and FREE) views of Auckland?
2. Take In The City Skyline From Mt Eden
Another dormant volcano-turned-recreational park (and the highest):
It’s just 15 minutes’ drive away from the city center:
Mt Eden (or Maungawhau) can be seen from One Tree Hill Domain (See item #1) and vice versa.
It is part of the Auckland Coast-To-Coast walk as well.
How To Get To The Top Of Mt Eden:
Walk up a tar road circling the hill. Or if you want a shortcut, take the stairs and mud path.
On a Sunday, there are usually a lot of people at the top but not overcrowded.
Spectacular views of the city can be seen from the top. After you’ve had your fill of the views, go around the giant 50m-deep crater to get a perspective of how big it is.
3. Try Local & International Food At The La Cigale French Market
This lovely market only opens on weekends from 8am to 1.30pm (9am on Sundays) according to the official site.
You can get all sorts of savory pies and sweet pastries there. As well as food from other nationalities – Spanish, Italian, Chinese, etc. There is a Turkish family selling excellent carrot cake.
Other things for sale include:
- Cheese. Sold by grams and without plastic packaging (yay!).
- Sauces for dipping
- Handmade soaps and candles
- Pure high-grade honey
- Roasted and smoked meats
- Homemade dog treats
- Fresh fruit juice blends
- Fresh loose vegetables. Go early to get your pick!
Want to see more tasty food in New Zealand?
How To Get To La Cigale French Market
We didn’t see any buses that directly came here except for university buses. If you have a car with you, it’s an 11-minute drive.
It’s possible to walk:
- Make sure you have comfortable shoes and sunscreen
- This is a steep uphill walk
- From central Auckland, the walk takes 30 minutes according to Google Maps.
After getting a bite to eat at La Cigale, check out this place:
4. Spend A Sunny Day At Auckland Domain Wintergardens
Auckland Domain is another expansive park with big trees lining the road. Plenty of open space for dogs and children to roam.
Take an old blanket and chill on the grass.
It is actually the oldest park in Auckland!
How To Get To Auckland Domain Winter Gardens
From La Cigale French market, it will take you another 30 minutes’ walk or 8 minutes drive. So consider paying this a visit before or after you’ve had something to eat at La Cigale.
From central Auckland, it’s also a 30-minute walk. Or an 11-minute drive.
The Auckland War Memorial Museum is here too:
International visitors have to pay a whopping entry fee of $25 though. On the other hand, Auckland residents can get in for free.
Don’t miss the gardens!
Entrance is free.
And the Wintergardens make for a nice walk around.
There is a central pond and a glasshouse featuring tropical plants.
5. Take An Evening Stroll Around Viaduct harbor & Wynyard Quarter
This area is super lively on a Friday night. It is tricky to find parking along the street.
We eventually parked at Jellicoe St Car Park. It’s free for the first 2 hours.
What Is There To See At Viaduct Harbor
There’re food stalls and even an outdoor movie screening (Silo Park) – not sure if it was just that night that we came.
If you walk further along the harbor, there are many pubs, restaurants and bars too.
You can cross the bridge to the other side too.
Next up, there are a couple of islands that you can actually visit from Auckland.
- Tiritiri Matangi Island – a bird watcher’s paradise with a strict pest-free sanctuary
- Aotea, Great Barrier Island – for a multi-day trek across spectacular beaches
- Rangitoto Island – Site of New Zealand’s youngest volcano, you can hike or kayak here
- Devonport – not technically an island but you do need a 12-minute ferry to reach this seaside town from the city
6. Hop On A Ferry To Quaint Waiheke island
This item on the list is probably the most expensive since the return ferry ticket for one adult is already at $38.
It is worth it though:
The 40-minute ferry ride there is scenic. You get to see some of the other islands surrounding Auckland and of course, the skyline of the city.
Getting Around Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island may seem small on the map but don’t be fooled.
Plan carefully if you do intend to explore the end that’s furthest from the Matiatia wharf.
Bring your Auckland AT hop card to save money on the local buses around Waiheke island.
And if you have a bike, you can bring that onto the ferry – I believe it costs nothing. Renting a car or bike on the island is possible too.
You can bring your car onboard the ferry. But it’ll cost extra!
What To Do On Waiheke Island
- Wine tasting
- Exploring the beaches
- Trekking the coast
- Finding a good sunset spot
- Trying out the seafront restaurants (Had a delicious meal of fish and chips at The Local as well as a beef burger)
- Checking out Onetangi Reserve
Our Route (1 Day Waiheke Island)
There’s one trek you can start straight away from the visitor’s center in Matiatia. We did the coastal walk first.
Great views along this walk after the initial shrubbery.
It started to rain on us mid-way so we took a detour to Oneroa town. After that, we took time to wander around Oneroa Beach.
If you want some privacy:
Then Oneroa Beach is probably best.
We went to Palm Beach as well. Super soft sand and the whitest we’ve seen in New Zealand, so far.
In the afternoon:
Head over to the other end of Waiheke first, then take the bus back to Onetangi beach for the sunset.
Honestly, between the three beaches:
We found the atmosphere around Onetangi the most charming. Lots of quaint restaurants that overlook the whole beach.
We didn’t have enough sunlight to explore the reserve near Onetangi.
By the way:
Kauri Dieback Disease
Those spray bottles contain disinfectant and are for your shoes before you enter the site. To curb the spread of kauri dieback disease – a parasite that kills the magnificent kauri trees in New Zealand.
There is no way to cure a tree once it’s being infested with the parasite. It only takes a tiny particle of soil to spread the disease. It is a nation-wide problem and the council really prioritizes on it.
Just do New Zealand a favor and clean your shoes before entering, okay? It isn’t difficult to give your shoes a brush and spray them with the disinfectant.
Of course, you don’t have to go to Waiheke Island just for the beaches. There are plenty of beaches along the west and east coast of Auckland.
Some that are part of free and awesome regional parks in Auckland:
7. Try Your Luck At Spotting A Kiwi Bird At Shakespear Regional Park
It is less than an hour’s drive to this park from the city. We drove here from the city but you can also take a bus.
More information here.
Here, there are a couple of forest trails and nice coastal views.
Entrance is free.
If you’re lucky, you might spot a kiwi bird but we didn’t. Maybe if you stay overnight, you will hear their calls in the morning.
To protect the wildlife, dogs and other pets are not allowed here.
Stay Overnight At Shakespear Regional Park
There is a fee for staying overnight at the park itself.
Bookings and payment of $15 per person have to be made through the phone at the ranger hut.
The process can take up to 30 minutes.
Want to save your money and all that trouble?
Alternative Accommodation Close To Shakespear Regional Park
Provided you have a certified self-contained vehicle:
This carpark is free.
Look for “1346 Laurie Southwick Parade, Gulf Harbour, Whangaparaoa 0930” in Google Maps or “Gulf Harbour Hammerhead“.
The dock looks like this. It’s quite a beautiful view during the day.
There are no showers there but the toilets are open till late and there’s a dump station.
Need a shower?
It’s a 15-minute drive away and costs $3 for a hot shower at this public pool facility “Stanmore Bay Pool and Leisure Centre“.
Yet another regional park near Auckland:
8. Relax At Long Bay Regional Park
You could probably fit both item 7 and 8 into the same day as they are 40 minutes’ drive apart.
What’s to love:
There are plenty of picnic tables and you can walk from one end of the bay to the other.
There is a walk up to the cliff as well though we didn’t do that. If you have kids with you, they’ll love the giant playground at one end of the park.
To Camp Here Overnight
Make a booking to DOC/Auckland City Council via the ranger phone to make payment.
It costs $8 per person for a night.
Take note though, there are no hot showers and the toilets don’t have lights on at night.
North of Auckland,
9. Silverdale/ Red Beach
You can stop by this little town with a beach if you’re making your way to item #7.
On most Saturdays from 8am to 1pm, the Silverdale Village Market will be open too:
The fresh food section of the market (outside the town hall) was rather small .
Maybe because it was raining that day but there are a lot of handicrafts (e.g. silverware, jewelry, knitted crafts, etc) for sale inside the town hall.
And Red Beach is a good place to let your dog run.
If you look closely, the sand is brownish with some red specks.
Anyways, it is a very scenic drive from Red Beach until Shakespear Regional Park. There are some very charming New Zealand houses to look at along the way.\
What about a black sand beach? You can find these unusual beaches on the west coast of Auckland.
10. Walk On Black Sand At Piha Beach
Strong waves (This beach is popular among surfers) and the dark sand makes this beach stand out from the others in Auckland.
The drive here from Auckland takes about an hour and is pretty windy so take your nausea-preventing pills if you need them.
Piha Beach is part of the 40,000-acre Waitakere Ranges Regional Park.
Do climb Lion’s Rock. The stairs make the climb easy for all ages. The view of the beach from the top is worth it.
Want to see some native New Zealand freshwater eels?
11. Bird-Watching At Western Springs Park
The springs from here used to be the main source of water in the area. Now, the place is mostly a bird sanctuary of sorts.
If you’re scared of birds, you might want to skip this place but this is a great place to spend an hour or two on a hot day.
The walking trails are mostly all shaded with trees. Great place for a run if you’re into that.
If you have a dog, you have to keep them leashed to protect the birds.
Something for the kids?
There is a big playground and porta potties (e.g. temporary toilets) near the lake.
We went in winter and there were relatively few people. In fact, the birds outnumbered the people there.
Where To See Eels At Western Springs Park In New Zealand
Got our first glimpse of New Zealand freshwater eels in a small stream when we left the park through the stadium entrance (There is a carpark there). Circled the spot in red.
There were many eels swimming lazily in the clear water. We would have missed them entirely if not for the other curious people looking over the bridge.
Alternative picnic spot
We had our picnic lunch at one of the big tables by the rugby grounds. Undisturbed by the park’s numerous winged residents.
Getting To Western Springs Park
From the map, you can see a few entrances into the park.
We parked our car along the Great North Road.
Where there is a small tram running around the outside perimeter of the park. You can take it at the Museum of Transport (or MOTAT) for $2 per adult. The zoo is also very close to this park.
12. Avondale Sunday Market
Open every Sunday from 5am until 12pm regardless of the weather.
Most of the fresh food stalls are outdoors. Some stalls sell secondhand hardware and appliances. While others sell clothes and jewelry.
There is one stall in particular that we appreciate, dried foods of Asian origin!
And all without the need for plastic! If you diligently bring your own containers along to avoid unnecessary trash.
There is a fella who sells fresh tofu too.
Money-Saving Tips For The Avondale Sunday Market
- Fresh produce can end up cheap if you buy a lot.
- Check carefully before making your purchase as the next stall could be selling the same thing for less!
Avoid the $3 parking fee:
There is an attendant to collect the money at the entrance gate. It’s difficult to turn back at that point.
Try parking along the nearby residential streets before you reach the market. Just don’t block anyone’s garage!
13. Henderson Night Market
Open every Thursday from 5pm until 11pm.
There are handicrafts, homemade soap, and lots of random items (like sunglasses) for sale.
But it is the food that draws the crowds. There are a variety of international stalls – kebabs, churros, Korean food, etc.
The K-Mart next door is open pretty late too so check out this chic department store too if you have time.
Other Free Things to Do in Auckland
- City heritage trail
- Auckland Zoo – see native animals including kiwi!
- Mission Bay – picturesque pier here
- Arataki Visitor Centre(Waitakere Ranges Regional Park)
- Auckland Art Gallery – A must-see is the Maori portraits gallery!
- Parry Kauri Park – A kauri tree grove 44 minutes’ drive north of Auckland
- Manukau Heads Lighthouse & Awhitu Regional Park
- Famous Pink Path (Māori Te Ara I Whiti) – a world-famous cycling lane in Auckland
- Orewa Beach Farmer’s Market
- Auckland Botanic Gardens
- Ambury Regional Park – opportunity to get close with farm animals
- Oakley Creek Waterfall – Natural waterfall right in the city!
- Central City Library – New Zealand is full of impressive libraries, you should see at least one of them!
Weekend Trips From Auckland
It is also possible to visit Tongariro for a 2-day trip from Auckland for the North Island must-do: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Another 2-day trip you could do is to explore the Coromandel peninsula in North Island New Zealand.
Or if you have the budget, Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton!
Keep this list of the best things to do in Auckland handy! Because chances are, you will have to be in Auckland at least for a couple of days. Unless you’re flying immediately to the South Island.
We hope this list is useful in keeping boredom at bay while you are in this large city. Most of the places we have featured in this post are outdoors and don’t cost much to visit!
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