23 Totally Free Things to do in New Zealand, North Island (with Map)

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      This giant list of free things to do in New Zealand, North Island includes loads of free activities in each major North Island destination.

      New Zealand is an expensive country. But it’s well worth spending the money when you get to experience such a lush, vibrant and adventurous country.

      Still, some days you just want to do something fun that doesn’t cost the Earth, right? You’re sick of paying $100 + for, like, literally everything. Well, that’s how I felt anyway. I had already hired my van and embarked on an epic 3-week road trip around the North Island of New Zealand, I simply didn’t have the money to be bungee jumping and going dolphin watching every single day!

      So, how to experience all of New Zealand’s “must-see’s” when you’re low on funds?

      Instead, take the time out to do equally fun but totally free activities. Some of them are honestly really cool! This is my list of free things to do in New Zealand, North Island edition!

      Free Things to do in Northland

      Northland consists of a large area stretching from just outside of Auckland all the way to the northernmost tip of New Zealand. I’ll talk about this in more detail below in the Cape Reinga section below but considering Paihia (about halfway up) is the popular dolphin cruise area, there are still some seriously cool things you can do in Northland for free.

      Think conservation forests, kiwi night walks and giant sand dunes to slide down. This action-packed part of New Zealand often gets overlooked, but it really shouldn’t be! Read on to find out more about the cool free things to do in Northland.

      Check out Cape Reinga lighthouse

      ‘Te Rerenga Wairua’ in Māori language means the leaping-off place of spirits. Check out a tree here known to be where spirits descend into the underworld. Its roots are steps down to the water.

      There’s a lot of cool Māori history and stories laid out on plaques around the lighthouse. My favourite is the story of the meeting of the two seas (the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean) which are male and female oceans. As they collide and churn against one another it symbolises the creation of new life.

      The energy and mythology here make Cape Reinga lighthouse one of the ultimate best free things to do in North Island New Zealand.

      Slide down the Te Paki giant sand dunes

      When you are searching for fun free things to do in NZ, this place is awesome! The long stretch of beach between Kaitaia and Cape Reinga is home to Ninety Mile Beach. Here, you can find the endless Te Paki sand dunes.

      If you have no access to cardboard or a bodyboard to slide on, you can rent stuff from nearby, BUT a barefoot run and roll can also be just as fun!

      Getting to the right part of the beach can be a bit tricky if you’re driving. So make sure you check out my map at the bottom of the article for the dropped pin. You can also download the custom map onto your phone to help you find even more free things to do in New Zealand!

      Te Paki sand dunes for Free Things to do in North Island, New Zealand

      Visit ancient Kauri trees in Waipuoa Kauri Forest

      These are some seriously ancient trees. I’m talking 3, 000-year-old trees here. Trees with a 5-meter wide girth. Trees that have lasted through all of the world wars. Now, these are some really impressive trees. You should go see them. Seriously.

      One of the trees; Tane Mahuta, is the largest kauri tree in New Zealand and is about 2, 000 years old. Its canopy has an ecosystem of its own and the trunk at 4.4 metres in diameter is still growing! See, I told you! One of the more awe-inspiring free things to do in New Zealand, North Island.

      All of the trees in the Waipuoa Forest are close to each other and within 30-minute walks from the road or parking lot. Although these incredible trees are a popular attraction for bus tours, it’s worth braving the crowds to see them. While you are there you can take one of the quieter hiking trails in the area and maybe even spot a kiwi bird!

      Take the short walking trail to Rainbow Falls

      Hiking makes the list of cheap things to do in New Zealand because it’s FREE! This short and very easy trail takes you to the beautiful Rainbow Falls, which is notorious for Kiwi bird sightings.

      Once you’ve checked out the gorgeous falls from the various viewing platforms, head down to the bottom where, after a little bit of boulder-hopping, you can almost get behind the falls.

      If you have more time on your hands, take one of the walking trails next to the falls, I recommend the one that follows the river downstream. Check out the ferns and keep an eye out for the notorious flightless bird!

      Kiwi bird night walk from Trounson Kauri Park Campground

      If you’re in the market to see a kiwi in the wild then this walk is a great option. At night you can hear their calls all around you and the book inside the campsite kitchen will inform you of the latest kiwi spottings and where.

      You’ll just need a flashlight, as the campground supplies red cellophane to cover your torch and make it night vision!

      This is also an awesome campsite to park your van if you’re on a northern NZ road trip. It does cost $6 per night though, which is inserted into the deposit box inside the kitchen. This is especially fun for families travelling in New Zealand!

      📷 VENUS 2014 / CC-BY

      Check out what I got up to in this spectacular part of New Zealand!

      Free things to do in Auckland

      Everybody loves free stuff, especially in Auckland, a big and expensive(ish) city. There are loads of fun free things to do in Auckland, and NONE of them is museums – YAY! Not that we don’t love museums, it’s just that sometimes there’s more to life, right? Right!

      Anyways, Auckland is full of awesome (and free) things to do. I mean, Auckland was built on a volcanic field, so there are about 48 volcanoes in total for you to explore. And YES, some of them are still active!

      There are also parks and forests galore, numerous islands, marine parks and harbours. Seriously, this is a cool city. You need to spend some time here.

      Walk to the top of Mt Eden – Auckland’s highest volcano

      A great day trip from Auckland is the panoramic views you’ll see from the top of Mount Eden. This place is the volcanic cone of a dormant volcano. Also, there are 5.5 acres of award-winning gardens on the side of Mount Eden with colourful plants, waterfalls, rock formations, birds and harbour views.

      Visiting a dormant volcano? Tick! One of the coolest things to do in Northland for free.

      Don’t have much time? You can easily drive to the top! OR if you actually have an entire day, this awesome viewpoint can be done as part of a full day “coast to coast” hike, where you literally walk from one side of New Zealand to the other in 4.5 hours. Check out below for more information!

      📷 Allan Harris / CC-BY

      Trek the width of NZ on the ‘Coast to Coast’ walk

      Yep, that’s right! You’ll be able to tell your mates that not only did you cross the width of the whole country, but that you did it in ONE day! It’s a 16 km walk winding through the city, hitting some of Auckland’s main attractions and finishing on the harbour opposite.

      The idea is that you begin the walk from the city centre on the gorgeous harbourside of Waitemata, which incidentally means ‘smooth and shining water’ in Maori. Over the course of this walk, you’ll pass by five volcanic sites and walk to the top of Mount Eden where you’ll experience spectacular views of the city. You will also pass through the historic suburbs before finishing at Manukau Harbour.

      You can pick up a map of the walk at any visitor centre and probably even your hotel. Once completed you have a couple of public transport options nearby to return to the city. You can catch the light rail from Onehunga or there are buses near the harbour.

      Alternatively, you could do the trail in reverse, finishing in the city for a well-deserved meal. Including transportation and food, it is one of the best cheap things to do in Auckland.

      Explore Waitakere Ranges and Piha Beach

      Only a 40-minute drive from the City Centre of Auckland is the gorgeous Waitakere Ranges, the rainforest right next to the city! Waitakere covers more than 16, 000 hectares of stunning native rainforest and coastline and keeps within the famous black sands of Piha Beach and Karekare Falls. You can take a scenic drive through the ranges and stop in at one of the delicious cafes with a view.

      Take one or two of the walking trails since there are 250 kilometres of them! Or, why not try climbing Lion Rock, an impressive rock structure that juts out of the ocean?

      Even the Visitor Centre has great vistas to check out when you stop in to decide where you want to go first! In this park, you can see many different types of ferns, native birds, skinks and kauri trees.

      Waitakere Ranges are free to enter and make a seriously good day trip option from Auckland if you have access to a vehicle.

      Smell the roses at Parnell Gardens

      If you love roses or gardens, this is the place for you! Go there in the blooming season, from August to November to see the pretty flowers in their most beautiful. Parnell is arguably one of the best rose gardens in the world, with rows and rows of immaculately maintained roses.

      In Auckland in summer is best to visit the gardens in the morning or afternoon since they are quite exposed with only a few spots of shade around to shelter under.

      If you are looking for free stuff to do in Auckland for couples, this is perfect as there is no admission to visit these gardens! You can access them from sunrise to sunset as they are in a public park.

      Parnell Gardens are easy to reach by bus from the CBD. Bus #703 stops right in front of the garden, and then to head back to the city you can get the same bus number from just outside the park as well!

      📷 Judit Klein / CC-BY

      Swim with huge snapper in the waters of Goat Island

      I know that getting to Goat Island isn’t exactly free, and it’s actually quite far away from the city. BUT, once you’re there there are some pretty cool fish lurking under the water, ready to say hello! These big snappers swim quite close to shore meaning you can jump in and snorkel from the beach and have a thrilling time!

      If you bring your own snorkel gear, then it’s free to visit Goat Island Marine Reserve. Or you can scuba dive, but that most definitely isn’t free.

      You can also hire Clearyaks (clear-bottomed kayaks), go in a glass-bottomed boat (or bring your own) or head to the Marine Discovery Centre if you have a little extra cash.

      Getting to Goat Island Marine Reserve isn’t too hard. It’s just off the mainland at Leigh, which you can drive to in about an hour from Auckland.

      ⓘ TIP: Get to the Marine Reserve early if you want to get a park or a space on the beach or not bump into anyone snorkelling in the summer. This place gets VERY busy, especially in high season. Be prepared.

      📷 empty007 / CC-BY

      READ: How to Choose a Snorkel Mask Right For You!

      Auckland Art Gallery guided tour

      Who doesn’t love a free guided tour? Auckland’s public art gallery is set in a beautiful 1887 building with a très moderne facelift and houses international stars such as Picasso, Cézanne and Gauguin. The building itself is worth the visit!

      There are two daily free tours at 11:30 am and 1:30 pm. It’s the perfect free activity for a rainy day in Auckland, which by the way is very common!

      Disclaimer: Please note that the Auckland Art Gallery guided tours have paused their operations indefinitely. Please check their official site for up-to-date information!

      ⓘ NOTE: I have new information that an admission fee has been introduced for foreigners. The Art Gallery is still free for New Zealand residents, however. If visiting, you can check the prices here.

      Free Things to do in the Coromandel Peninsula

      The Coromandel holds some of the most natural beauty New Zealand has to offer! And being so rugged and raw, it’s no wonder that most of the things to do in the Coromandel are completely free.

      You can also easily get to the area by ferry from Auckland, and hire a car near the port. But since the area is big and full of rainforest, you might find it hard to only get around by public transport. Although it CAN be done.

      There are also loads of free campsites (known as freedom camping) in the Coromandel, meaning if you’re on an NZ road trip, this place is a goldmine!

      Dig a hot spa in the sand at Hot Water Beach

      How cool is this? Just take a shovel or something to dig and make your own spa! Perfect for those rainy NZ days (you wouldn’t want to go there when it’s really hot!).

      The hot water is only found on certain parts of the beach though and there’s a specific time you should go. Head to where the rocks are about 2 hours before the lowest of the low tide – so you’ll have about 4 hours to dig and sit in your spa before the waves devour them again.

      I wrote an entire guide on this amazing natural phenomenon so that you could get the most out of your day at Hot Water Beach. If you are heading here, be sure to read more.

      📷 Photo Credit: The Coromandel

      Admire the natural archway at Cathedral Cove

      This beach was possibly the most beautiful beach I saw in New Zealand and I wish I’d spent more time there. It’s an easy 30-minute walk from the car park at Cathedral Cove Lookout, so don’t be put off by this! It opens out to an amazing rock formation (the Cathedral) and some of the clearest, greenest water I’ve ever seen! My photos DO NOT do this place justice.

      At one side a Cathedral-shaped hole in the rock leads you to yet another paradise beach – so long as the tide is down. If the tide is high, like it was when I was there, it makes for amazing photographs and Instagram-worthy selfies!

      Waiau Falls and Kauri walk

      A little bit off the beaten path is this little gem of a walk. We did it in the rain and so we had the entire place to ourselves – no one in sight! The Kauri Walk will take you to the “twin Kauri” (two trees that have fused into one). And we even took a dip in the freezing but refreshing green milky water of the waterfall!

      Waiau Falls and the Kauri Walk are both a short 2-minute drive from each other (or a quick walk) on the 309 Road. They are a little bit “off the beaten path” and we found our mobile service didn’t work very well out there which meant had a bit of trouble finding them. However, once on the 309 Road there are signs to Waiau Falls, so just follow them!

      Do the Historical Walk at Karangahake

      Despite doing it in the pouring rain, I really, REALLY enjoyed this walk in an old gold-mining town. It’s absolutely stunning and the path leads you through some beautiful rainforest and interesting pathways. Wander through kilometre-long abandoned train tunnels, following gold mine rail tracks, and creep under rocky crevices.

      Bring a torch so you can see in the dark of the tunnels and admire the spectacular views from the bridges and ridges. Be sure to read the information scattered about the trails as this only adds to the wonderment of this place.

      Located in the rainforest only a 1.5-hour drive from Auckland, this little gem is the perfect day trip. Or do as I did and stay overnight in a camper van at nearby Dicky Flat (a seriously gorgeous campsite). I did this during a three-week road trip around New Zealand. Click the link to read more.

      Free Things to do in Rotorua

      The hot spring city of Rotorua is just bursting with awesome things to do, and loads of them are free! YAY! Rotorua is a beautiful and culturally rich city and the sights and attractions of this place absolutely took my breath away (and it wasn’t just because of the rotting egg smell)!

      The town captures your heart and I wish that I’d spent much more time here. Although the wellness centres use up many of the more impressive hot springs, there are still loads of fun free things to do in Rotorua! I’ve listed my favourite ones below, so you don’t have to do the research!

      Kuirau Park for free hot springs and geothermal activity

      I highly recommend this park right in the middle of Rotorua town. All within an easy stroll of each other are a bunch of different bubbling hot springs.

      Some are green, others mud and my favourite was a big lake with bright yellow build up on the bottom. It is difficult to find good free hot springs in Rotorua, so this park is easily a great attraction for people on a budget.

      In the middle, you’ll come across a small paddle pool to soak your feet in. Bliss… Beware – it does smell a little bit… Okay, it smells A LOT, but you get used to it!

      Soak in the warm waters of Kerosene Creek

      Just in case you haven’t had enough of geo-thermic activity, here’s another good one. Although everyone knows about it, this little spot has everything! The water is just right for a soak and it offers a natural bathing experience like no other.

      Access to Kerosine Creek is free, making it a popular choice for locals especially. There’s also a cooler lake near the entry, or a waterfall a little more upstream!

      The river is easily accessed from the road (only a 200-metre walk) and there is parking with toilets and showers as well. But arrive early, as it gets busy quickly.

      PHOTOS: Volcanoes and Hot Springs of Rotorua

      Find out what I got up to in Rotorua!

      Free things to do in Hamilton and Surrounds

      If I’m being frank, Hamilton itself doesn’t have that much to offer tourists. However, the awesome activities surrounding this simple city are seriously flipping fun!

      Things like blackwater rafting through caves and visiting the movie set of Hobbiton are all a bit too expensive for this post. But that doesn’t mean there are no cool free things to do in Hamilton’s surrounding areas. Here are a few of the best.

      Check out the surf at Raglan

      A little west of Hamilton is the surfing mecca of Raglan. Manu Bay is famously known for having the longest and most accessible left-hand break in the world. In fact, the perfect break will allow surfers to travel for up to 2 km or for a full ten minutes!

      But even if you aren’t into surfing there is some cool volcanic black sand at Ocean Beach to check out and you can swim or bodyboard there as it’s a little safer than Manu Bay. There are also some walks to do near the beaches and the township of Raglan is super cute.

      Watch Mokena Geyser burst and spit hot water into the air

      About every 45 minutes this little, unassuming Geyser will make a sudden appearance blasting out hot soda spring water. Mokena Geyser feeds the Te Aroha Spa and can be found just behind the facility at the base of Mount Te Aroha.

      Free Things to do in Wellington

      Look, I’m going to be straight with you. I didn’t have enough time to go to Wellington in the end. But I did research it extensively because I had intended to go to the windy city.

      So here’s what I found while researching for free things to do in Wellington.

      Explore the Te Papa Museum, one of the best in NZ!

      Visit the Te Papa museum for all things NZ. Said to be the best museum in the country, this place has it all from amazing art installations, Pacific cultures, natural history and Maori history.

      Even the name: ‘Te Papa Tongarewa’, translates to ‘container of treasures’ in Maori. And just to top it all off, it’s totally and completely FREE!

      Even if you aren’t a big fan of museums, this is one you need to try!

      Walk Mount Victoria for incredible views

      Mount Victoria is famously part of the Lord of the Rings movies and it sports brilliant views of the city below. Located right in the central business district it is a short drive to the top or an easy walk through the bush-covered town belt.

      Get WOW’d by film special effects at Weta Cave

      This is definitely one for the movie buffs, but who doesn’t love some Hobbits?

      At Weta Workshop you’ll find behind-the-scenes work such as concept design and prop production used in some of the best movies Weta Digital has produced. These include but aren’t limited to; Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit films, Tintin, Avatar, Thor, Blade Runner 2049 and Ghost in the Shell.

      Weta Cave is totally free unless you would like to participate in a workshop.

      Hang out at Wellington’s Cuba Street

      Probably New Zealand’s coolest street, an inner-city slice of Bohemia where you can check out street art alleyways, buskers, shop, and visit quirky cafes.

      Great food culture can be found here and people from all walks of life. Anything goes here, so be prepared to hang out with the city’s alternative crowd.

      HEADING SOUTH? Here’s a List of Free Things to do in Queenstown!

      Map of Free Things to do in New Zealand, North Island

      I made this custom map, just for you! It includes everything from where I went on my road trip in New Zealand, great free camping sites and super fun (and often cheap) activities you can do on the North Island!

      Click on each icon to see more information about the location or activity. To open this map in Google Maps simply tap the small square icon on the top right-hand side of the map.

      If you are using the map from your phone, the map should save into “Your Places” > “MAPS” automatically. You can select an area (such as New Zealand) to download and use offline if you won’t always have access to data.


      Are you doing a road trip around New Zealand? Here are a couple of campervan deals to get you started. Note that for some of them you might have to scroll down to New Zealand, as they are international deals:

      READ: 7 Reasons to visit New Zealand in Spring

      New Zealand, North Island on a Budget FAQs

      Is New Zealand, North Island expensive to visit?

      Generally speaking, New Zealand is a very expensive country for visiting. From food to accommodation to transport, everything is quite expensive. One of the most popular ways to explore the country is by hiring a campervan, which could mitigate some of that cost. Though expensive, New Zealand has a strong backpacker scene with budget travellers looking to enjoy some of the best things New Zealand has to offer.

      What are some adventurous free activities in New Zealand, North Island?

      With New Zealand’s rich geological profile, there are plenty of outdoorsy and adventurous things to do. Consider doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing at Tongariro National Park, a popular day hike that traverses volcanic lakes and craters. The landscape is so surreal that it was used in the Lord of the Rings movies!

      Looking for something more beachy? Explore the world-famous coast track at Abel Tasman National Park. The trail takes you through ethereal golden sand beaches and dramatic rocky cliffs. If you prefer something with freshwater instead of saltwater, then go take a dip in Lake Tekapo.

      What are some tips to save money when travelling in New Zealand, North Island?

      New Zealand is certainly expensive to travel to, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t free or cheap things to do in New Zealand, North Island. To help ease some of the strain on your budget, we recommend staying in cheaper accommodations such as hostels, shopping in big supermarkets, cooking your own meals, taking public transportation, and doing free activities such as hiking or swimming!

      Alternatively, if you have more time to spare, you can get a working holiday visa and earn some good money in New Zealand while exploring the country slowly and thoroughly!

      Try out these Free Things to do in New Zealand, then leave a comment on Pinterest!

      What are other free things to do in New Zealand? Tell me about them in the comments below!

      Share this so someone you know can save money too! 

      Categories: Cheap Travel, Favourite, New Zealand
      Crystal Egan

      Passionate baby goat cuddler and part-time adventurer, Crystal can often be found doing headstands on the edges of cliffs, taking photos of abandoned buildings or sleeping on deserted islands with dangerous criminals. She has too many awesome stories and helpful tips to keep them all to herself so follow along and in return she will bring you inspiring pictures, travel videos and a whole load of fun!