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 – here’s how you can get the working holiday visa.
Or maybe, you’re just coming to New Zealand for a visit and would like to know what the biggest city in New Zealand has to offer:
A lot of the attractions (e.g. Skytower, museums, art galleries, etc) sadly aren’t free.
Especially the museums and galleries – unless you have a proof of New Zealand citizenship like a driver’s license.
So here is a list of things we’ve done in Auckland so far:
Most of them are nature-ish cause that’s what we prefer. We haven’t found anything to do on rainy days yet – we use those days to pick up groceries instead.
13 Best Things To Do In Auckland
1. One Tree Hill Domain
A very beautiful and spacious park that’s close to the city. Around 20 minutes drive.
You can 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 tourists and locals too.
Bonus: You get to see lotsa sheep up close! Plus their poop?
Best (and FREE) views of Auckland?
2. Mt Eden
Another ancient volcano-turned-recreational park 15 minutes drive away from the city center, Mt Eden can be seen from One Tree Hill Domain (See item #1) and vice versa. It is part of the Coast to coast walk as well.
To get to the top:
You walk up a tar road circling the hill. Or if you want a shortcut, take the stairs and mud path.
We went there on a Sunday and there were a lot of people at the top but not overcrowded.
Spectacular views of the city to be had at this point too. You can walk around the giant crater to get a perspective of how big it is.
3. La Cigale French Market
This market only opens on the weekends from 8am to 1.30pm (9am on Sundays) according to the official site.
Note: On a sunny morning, there will be a shortage of seats though.
We didn’t see any buses that directly came here expect for the university buses which we weren’t sure we could use. Didn’t have our car that time too.
So we walked:
If you’re planning to do that, make sure you have comfortable shoes and sunscreen. If you have a car with you, it’s an 11-minute drive.
It is an uphill walk:
The steepest we’ve seen in Auckland to date. The path we took leads past a few parks, the University of Auckland and up a hill where shops line the street at both sides. There’s a dainty church that we passed before turning into a neighborhood.
If you’re coming from central Auckland, then the walk should take you 30 minutes according to Google Maps.
The market is lovely!
You can get all sorts of savory pies and pastries there. There is a Turkish family selling excellent carrot cake.
Other things for sale include:
Cheese is sold by grams and without plastic packaging (yay!). Sauces for dipping, handmade soaps and candles, roasted and smoked meats, a wide range of honey/wax products, fresh fruit juice blends and even Spanish and milddle-eastern food. There’s a section for fresh vegetables too. Go early to get your pick!
Want to see more tasty food in New Zealand?
After getting a bite to eat at La Cigale, check out:
4. Auckland Domain Wintergardens
Side note: Compared to Ipoh where we’re from, the amount of land that they have allocated for recreation in such a big city is truly remarkable.
Auckland Domain is another such park with big trees lining the road and plenty of open space for dogs and children to roam. Take an old blanket and chill on the grass.
It is somewhat “close” to item #3 on our list:
It would take you another 30 minutes walk or 8 minutes drive to get here so consider paying this a visit before or after you’ve had something to eat at La Cigale. From central Auckland, it’s a 30 minute walk here or 11-minute drive.
The Auckland War Memorial Museum is here too:
International visitors have to pay a whopping entry fee of $25 though. Auckland residents get in for free.
Don’t miss the wintergardens! Entrance is free.
The Wintergardens make for a nice walk around. There is a central pond and a glasshouse featuring tropical plants – nothing we don’t have back in Malaysia but it’s free, so why not?
5. 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 here. It’s free for the first two hours.
There’re food stalls and even an outdoor screening – not sure if it was just that night that we came. If you walk along the harbor, there are many pubs, restaurants and bars to choose from. You can cross the bridge to the other side too. This is the route we took though we think most people start from the opposite direction – saw quite a lot of tourists as well as locals.
There are a couple of islands that you can visit from Auckland:
6. 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 20-ish 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. The 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.
TIP: Bring your Auckland AT hop card to save money on the local buses around Waiheke island. If you have a bike, bring that onto the ferry – I believe it costs nothing. Renting a car or bike on the island, however is another story but still cheaper than bring your car on board the ferry.
Because it’s free:
We skipped on wine-tasting and started our trek right straightaway 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. Had a delicious meal of fish and chips at The Local as well as a beef burger.
After that, we took time to explore the beach around Oneroa.
We went to Palm beach as well. Super soft sand and the whitest we’ve seen in New Zealand, so far.
If you’re short on time though:
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.
If you want some privacy:
Then Oneroa beach is probably best.
We didn’t have enough sunlight to explore the reserve near Onetangi but maybe next time. The trees are quite dense there so we were apprehensive about going in around sunset.
Note – this photo was retouched to bring up the brightness.
By the way:
Those spray bottles contain disinfectant and are for your shoes before you enter the site. This is 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.
Some free and awesome regional parks in Auckland:
7. 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 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. Note: there is a fee for staying overnight and 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?
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. It’s a 15 minute drive 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. 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.
Note: There are plans for some roadworks to be done in June 2018. Check here for the latest updates on the status before you go.
You can also camp out 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
We went down here since we were making our way to item #7.
Thought we’d buy some food at the Silverdale Village Market 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. The market is open on most Saturdays from 8am to 1pm.
Red beach is not that red:
This is a good place to let your dog run. We saw a few owners take their dogs here. The sand is brownish with some red specks. I suppose the sand would look reddish in sunset then.
It is a very scenic drive from Red Beach until Shakespear Regional Park. The houses have unique modern or beach designs and great views of the coast.
What about a black sand beach?
10. Piha Beach
Strong waves (This beach is a 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.
Do climb Lion’s rock. The stairs make the climb easy for all ages. The view of the beach from the top (though not the highest point) is worth it.
Note: Muriwai beach also has black sand but doesn’t have the impressive rock formations that Piha does. During October, Muriwai beach plays host to a large ganet colony.
Want to see some native New Zealand freshwater eels?
11. Western Springs
The springs from here used to be the main source of water in the area. Now, the place is mostly a bird paradise. 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 big lake.
We went in winter and there were relatively few people. In fact, the birds waaaaay outnumbered the people there.
Note: Please don’t ever feed the waterfowl (e.g. ducks, geese, swans, etc) bread! Things like fresh vege (a signboard suggested garden peas) is better for their digestive systems.
But where are the eels?
Got our first glimpse of New Zealand 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 winged residents.
While you’re in the area:
From the map, you can see a few entrances. We parked our car along the Great North Road. There is a 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.
Tip: When driving here, your GPS may direct you to the stadium with the same name although it’s next to the 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 jewellery.
But we like to go there for groceries:
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. There is a fella who sells fresh tofu too. Again, we bring our own container to avoid unnecessary trash.
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.
Instead, before you reach the market, you can try parking along the nearby residential streets. 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.
K-Mart is open pretty late too so check out this chic department store too if you have time.
Other Things to Do in Auckland
These are some other places we’re interesting in checking out. Unfortunately, the forest trails of the Waitakere Ranges are currently closed as of 1 May, 2018.
- Manukau lighthouse
- Awhitu Regional Park
- Orewa Beach Farmer’s Market
- Rangitoto/Motutapu islands
Will be updating this list of things to do in Auckland as we explore more. Follow us on Facebook (travelswithsun) for updates. There are more pictures of all the places we’ve been to on our Instagram (travelswithsun) too.
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.
Auckland isn’t the most central location to be based at if you’re in New Zealand. But chances are, you will have to be there at least for a couple of days. We hope this list was 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. Bring sunscreen. And it helps to have a water proof jacket and pants.
That wraps up this post. Pin this post to your Pinterest if you’ve enjoyed it! =)