15 Free & Cheap Things to do in New Zealand North Island

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New Zealand, the land of the Hobbits, has always been in many travelers’ bucket lists. The landscape of this paradise is undeniably gorgeous. And while most of the gems are located in New Zealand South Island, there are plenty of things to explore in the North Island as well! Now, let’s have a look at these free and cheap things to do in New Zealand North Island!

Before we begin, let me just note that this post is a collaboration post between me and many other amazing travel bloggers. So, rest assured that you’ll be getting the most reliable source of information from different travelers around the world!

Without further due, let’s dive in and check out the free and cheap things to do in New Zealand North Island!

Free and Cheap Things to do in New Zealand North Island

Mt Maunganui Beach

If you are visiting the beautiful sunny Bay of Plenty, one of the best things to do is to head to Mt Maunganui Beach for the day and relax in the sun.

The main beach at Mt Maunganui has beautiful clean sand, decent waves and is well looked after by the local surf club. If surfing is your thing, hire a board, or bring your own.  In the summer there are many offering lessons and gear hire.

If calmer water is what you are after, turn around and on the other side of the Peninsula is Pilot Bay.  Well known for its stand up paddleboarding, this bay is sheltered from the waves and is great for watersports.  Hire a SUP or kayak and go and enjoy the water.

Keen outdoorsy types will want to bring their running shoes as the beautiful mountain next to the beach is the famous Mt Maunganui.  You can walk around the base of the Mount in around 45 minutes to an hour, or you can head straight up to the summit on a range of tracks, taking 30 minutes to an hour.

The views from the top of Mauao (the Maori name for Mt Maunganui) are epic.  You can see far down the East Coast, where the white sandy beaches are bright and abundant and across the port and city of Tauranga.

Written by Jen from Backyard Travel Family who specializes in families traveling around New Zealand with ease.

Mt Maunganui view

Visit The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Undoubtedly one of the best free things to do in Wellington is to visit the National Museum – Te Papa Tongarewa. The museum offers an incredible variety of exhibitions ranging from natural history to Maori culture.

There is a great mix of hands-on and interactive exhibits for kids as well as information for adults. The museum stretches over 5 floors and an outdoor area which includes a nature walk, glow-worm cave, and fossil dig.

Some of the most popular exhibits for tourists include the earthquake house, marae (traditional Maori meeting house) and Pasifika section.

Entrance to the museum is free but there are rotating exhibitions that require an entrance fee. Te Papa is located on the Wellington waterfront just minutes from the city center and main bus routes.

It’s also the perfect spot to begin or end a waterfront stroll. There are a cafe and an excellent gift shop at the entrance and a local market in the carpark every Sunday.

Written by Rohan from Travels of a Bookpacker.

Te Papa Tongarewa National Museum Wellington

Watch Sunrise in The World’s Easternmost City, Gisborne

Gisborne is a great place to add to your New Zealand North Island itinerary, and I’m not only saying that because I grew up there! Two of the major drawcards are its laid back feel and world-class surf beaches.

Another little claim to fame is that it’s the world’s most Eastern city (or “town” depending on who you ask, as its classification is borderline!). I’d highly recommend choosing one of its wonderful beaches as a location to watch the sunrise. You can get up with the birds and know that you’ll be one of the first people in the world welcoming the new day in!

The two main town beaches are Waikanae and Midway. Wainui beach is about 5-10 minutes’ drive from town, which is where this shot was taken!

The best thing is that watching the sunrise is completely free. You’ve got a few main options for getting to Gisborne, which is known as being a little bit isolated as its a few hours’ drives to the next closest city:

  1. Fly there.
  2. Drive the “fast” way through the beautiful Waioeka gorge if you’re heading in from the North. The winding gorge road is full of beautiful native bush.
  3.  Drive the slow way there via the East Cape if you’re heading in from the north. This coastal route takes in several beach villages.
  4. Drive through the Wharerata hills if you’re arriving from the south.

Written by Elly McGuinness from Parenting, Passports and Profits.

Gisborne Sunrise World's Easternmost City

Murawai Beach

Muriwai Beach is a gorgeous black sand beach on the western coast of New Zealand’s north island. It is about a 45-minute drive from Auckland city making it a wonderful day trip, or even just a nice stop on any New Zealand road trip.

Although Muriwai Beach is popular for surfers as well as just those looking for a relaxing beach day, there is actually one thing that makes it particularly special – the Gannet Colony. Thousands of birds (gannets) call the cliffs right next to Muriwai Beach home.  

When you arrive at the Muriwai parking lots there is a boardwalk that you walk on to reach viewing platforms. Along the walk, there is sign-posted information about the birds and why they live at Muriwai. Once you reaching the viewing platforms, you’ll be right next to the cliffs where the birds nest and you’ll see a crazy amount of gannets (they say approximately 1,200 pairs of gannets live on these cliffs!)

Unfortunately, the gannets don’t stick around in the colder months. In order to see them, you must visit between August and March. If you visit around December or January you might even see the baby gannets as this is the time of year they usually hatch!

Both Muriwai Beach and the Muriwai cliff gannet colony are free things to do in New Zealand North Island!

Written by Bailey from Destinationless Travel

Murawai Beach New Zealand

Fishing Off The Dock in Russell

One of our favorite days on our road trip around New Zealand was fishing off the dock in Russell. It’s definitely one of the cheap things to do in New Zealand North Island, which also brings you closer to the locals.

Located in the Bay of Islands, this little town provides a cool small-town vibe that makes you want to slow down and enjoy the small things in life. One way to just enjoy what is around you is to fish like a local.

So we walked into a fishing and tackle shop and asked the clerk what we needed to fish off the dock. We bought a collapsible fishing rod, some small hooks, some bait, a couple of wooden dowels with string and walked to the dock. The total cost was around $30NZ for our family of 4 to fish for the entire day.

Plus, we got to take the fishing rod home with us! We spent hours sitting on the dock fishing, talking with locals and tourists, enjoying the views and watching the boats.

Afterward, we took our catch from the day, cleaned them and fried them up for a fish fry back at camp! We had such a great day we went back the next day to try our luck again fishing off the dock. An inexpensive way to enjoy the day on the North Island of New Zealand.

Written by Nicole Fiorante from The Passport Kids.

Fishing Off The Dock in Russell New Zealand North Island

Karangakahe Gorge

If you love the outdoors and are looking for a great free attraction that is not far from Auckland, a visit to Karangakahe Gorge is one the whole family will love.

The gorge is located between Paeroa and Waihi, about 2 hours drive from Auckland. It’s a leisurely drive with places to stop and explore along the way.

What was once one of the most profitable gold mining areas in New Zealand, Karangakahe Gorge is now a maze of walking tracks, cycling trails, and unique history.

Take the windows walkway for stunning views through the windows of old mining tunnels. Or wander across bridges and through the massive old railway tunnel on the Tunnel Loop that seems to go forever. The tunnel is 1100m and just as you think it will never end, you will find yourself amongst beautiful scenery on the other side.

Nearby there is a winery and a cafe to rewards yourself with some great eats and drinks after your walking adventures.

The popular Hauraki Rail Trail cycling track will also take you through Karangakahe Gorge if you are a cycling enthusiast looking for a new challenge.

Kids will love discovering the old mining relics and ruins scattered through the walkways and walking across the bridges and tunnels. A visit to the Tramway Rides Museum is another fun family activity if you have the time. Check online before your visit as the museum is not open every day.

Written by Holly from Four Around The World.

Karangakahe Gorge Auckland New Zealand

See Huka Falls in Taupo

If you’re visiting Taupo, a visit to Huka Falls is an absolute must! The stunning Huka Falls is a set of waterfalls in the Waikato River which comes from Lake Taupo in New Zealand North Island.

Here you will see more than 200,00 liters of water per second plummeting through the narrow gap of the 11-meter-high waterfall. It is said that the Huka Falls would fill up an Olympic Swimming Pool in just 11 seconds!

The Huka Falls is formed due to the normally 100m wide Waikato River, narrowing to just 15 m as it passes through a hard volcanic canyon. This causes an increase in the flow of water causing the water to burst out with great force – creating one of the most visited natural attractions in all of New Zealand.

It’s easy to see Huka Falls, from the Huka Falls car park it’s a short 1-2 minute walk to the bridge. However, if you have time, I recommend you take the easy 90-minute walk from Spa Park up to Huka Falls or get even close by taking a jet boat ride or river cruise.

Huka Falls is just a short 10-minute drive north of Taupo, is free to check out. Check out these best things to do in Taupo with kids!

Written by Melissa from Thrifty Family Travels.

Huka Falls in Taupo

Rotorua Lakeside Walk and Kuirau Park

Rotorua is a city that should definitely be on your New Zealand North Island itinerary. Especially if you are on a budget.

You can easily reach it from Auckland by bus or car within 3-4 hours. Rotorua is a beautiful city with loads of free things to do. Admittedly, after first arriving in Rotorua you might feel like you immediately want to leave again as it always smells a little bit like rotten eggs.

But trust me, it is worth it to endure the smell and explore the area.

I can especially recommend the Rotorua lakeside walk and Kuirau Park. The walk starts next to the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua, which should be easy to find. When standing right in front of the spa, turn to your left and keep on walking until you see a little sign that says “Rotorua Walkway”.

You will walk past the beautiful Government Gardens, along the lakeside, past Sulfur Point all the way to the lakefront. If you keep on walking along the lake from here, you will pass a traditional Maori meeting house and eventually end up in Kuirau Park.

This park is free to enter and has a lot of geothermal activity going on, which Rotorua is famous for. Take your time to explore the park as there is a lot to see and don’t forget your camera. You will have some brilliant photo opportunities here.

Written by Valerie from Valerie’s Adventure Time

Rotorua Lakeside Walk and Kuirau Park

Walk Right Across New Zealand Coast-to-Coast in Auckland

This has got to be a great free thing to do in New Zealand North Island, to not only get an excellent scenic overview of Auckland but also for bragging rights, like “Did you know that I walked right across New Zealand from one coast to the other?”.

You can decide whether or not to include the fact that it only took you four to five hours!

The 16 km walk (or by bike if you prefer) takes you across the narrowest part of New Zealand, from the Pacific Ocean in the city, across to the Tasman Sea at Onehunga.

You will go through a variety of interesting places from historic sites, beautiful green parklands with sheep and cattle grazing. Also, past some beautiful old villas and to the top of a volcano for great 360 degree views of Auckland City and the surrounding areas and get a look at a 50-foot volcanic crater.

The most popular option for people staying in the city is to catch the train from Britomart Station Downtown to Onehunga. This is a 30-minute ride, departs about every 30 minutes on weekdays, and costs $5.50.

Before you go pick up an ‘Explore Central Auckland Map’ from a tourist information center, download a ‘Coast to Coast Auckland Map’ online and make use of GPS Google maps, as some of the signage along the way can be a bit confusing.

From the station make your way to the Onehunga Bay Reserve. The start is not too picturesque but it gets better and better and better as you go along.

It is a hilly walk but you can do it at your own pace and just hop on a bus back to the city if you get too tired. There are plenty of toilet and drinking fountain facilities along the way.

Cafes and coffee shops are dotted about but it might pay to put a few snacks in your backpack or picnic items that you could have when you stop to enjoy some of the stunning views.

Enjoy your hike! And have you thought about doing a New Zealand cruise? Here are 9 reasons why you should go for a New Zealand cruise!

Written by Maureen from “So Many Places! So Little Time!”.

New Zealand North Island Auckland City View

Visit Weta Cave in Wellington

If you love movies, especially Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Narnia or Thunderbirds then a visit to the Weta Cave is one thing to do when visiting Wellington.

Weta Cave is the entrance for the Weta Workshop, a design and effects facility which creates special effects for many international movies. Weta Workshop has received countless awards including 5 Oscars and 4 Baftas and has become an iconic business of the New Zealand film industry.

To understand how the visual effect artists of Weta Workshop make a movie come to life, Weta Cave offers the public a free introduction.

The Weta Cave may not look impressive on the outside, but once inside you can wander through the mini-museum showcasing some of Weta’s mini-props used in movies like King Kong.

And for some fun, you can get a selfie with one of the characters of Lord of the Rings.

But for further insights into the special effects of the Weta Workshop, there is a free documentary screening every 30 minutes in the Weta Cave.

It’s not every day you can have access to the movie world for free.

Weta Cave located at 1 Weka Street, Miramar is close to Wellington airport. Your best option is a taxi or if coming from the city, take Bus 18e to Stop#6240 on Darlington Road. Or if driving, free car parking is available on the streets near Weta Cave.

Weta Cave is open 9 am to 17.30 daily except Christmas Day.

Check out these 5 Fabulous Things to do in Wellington Waterfront!

Written by Maura from Travel Kiwis.

Weta Cave Wellington

Admire the Cathedral Cove in Coromandel Peninsular

Visiting the Coromandel Peninsular’s stunning Cathedral Cove is an unmissable activity on any adventure around the North Island of New Zealand.

Aptly named for its gigantic church-like arched rock formation, Cathedral Cove forms the perfect backdrop to an even more beautiful beach. Not only does this secluded spot provide a gorgeous beach day out, but there’s also a striking waterfall at one end, where collected rainwater cascades onto the sand below.

Our morning spent here may even be my favorite day of all our time during our New Zealand North Island road trip.

As one of North Island’s most famous beaches, it’s important to go early to beat the crowds. Easily accessible in under two hours’ drive from Auckland, you’ll need to get parked at the Cathedral Cove Parking area ($15 for four hours).

From here, you can enjoy a 40 minute gently undulating stroll down to the beach. The views of the coastline along the path are breathtakingly beautiful on a clear day, so make sure to allow enough time to enjoy this fully.

Tour buses tend to arrive by 10 am, so aim to get to the car park by 8 am. Note that the current in the water just offshore is famously strong, so swim with caution.

Written by Annie from Off Goes Annie.

Cathedral Cove New Zealand North Island

Hike Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk

The Tongariro Northern Circuit is an incredible hike with dramatic scenery that inspires even non-hikers to take it on. It’s definitely one of the most mesmerizing things to do in New Zealand North Island!

The trail is characterized by its three iconic volcanoes – Ruapehu, Tongariro and the famous Ngauruhoe (if you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings movies, you’ll know it as Mount Doom).

The Northern Circuit also includes the majority of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing track – known as one of the best day hikes in the world – which takes you around stunning emerald lakes and up to the Red Crater.

However, those who take on the full circuit will experience waking up at Oturere Hut to see Mount Ngauruhoe glow red at sunrise – a truly unforgettable experience.

There is never a dull moment on this 45 km hike which leaves you in awe all the way through with brightly colored volcanic lakes, lunar landscape, and powerful waterfalls.

The Tongariro Northern Circuit begins at Whakapapa Village in Tongariro National Park, roughly equidistance between Auckland and Wellington. You can get most of the way there by train or bus and then take a shuttle to the park itself if you don’t have a car.

You can choose to camp for $15 NZD per night or go for the more luxurious option of staying in the huts for $36 NZD per person per night.

The best time to do this hike is between the end of October and April (the Great Walks Season) as the weather in the winter can make this hike impassable due to the avalanche risk.

Written by Cat from Walk My World

New Zealand Tongariro Northern Circuit

Take A Walk Up Mt Eden (Maungawhau)

As a city, Auckland isn’t the cheapest destination in New Zealand, but it’s one blessed with incredible natural attractions that don’t cost a cent to enjoy.

One such attraction is the volcanic crater of Mt Eden or Maungawhau in Maori.

Located close to the city center, Mt Eden is an iconic sight. But, the view from the top is even more so. Rising up 196m, it’s the highest natural elevation point in Auckland and the best place to take in the immense scope of the sprawling city.

To tackle the short but steep walk to the top of the crater. Take one of the many tracks leading up from the inner-city suburb of the same name or neighboring Newmarket. It’s on the Newmarket side you’ll also find the popular Eden gardens on the side of the crater.

Once you reach the top of the Mt you’ll be able to witness evidence of the Maori settlements that used to live on Maungawhau. Both in the form of pā terraces and historical food pits.

Walk around the crater, pause to enjoy the views, take advantage of the viewing platforms and walk the perimeter of the concave crater to appreciate the scale of it. Just remember that the crater itself is sacred and should never be entered.

Written by Nadine from Le Long Weekend.

Mt Eden Auckland New Zealand View

Take The Mangawhai Clifftop Walk

One of the highlights of our road trip around New Zealand You can find the Mangawhai Clifftop Walk near the tiny village Mangawhai, about an hour’s drive from Whangarei.

The Mangawhai Clifftop Walk is a 9km walk through very diverse landscapes. It’s not a difficult trail, however, you will have to hike up a steep cliff at the start of the hike. Once you’re up on the cliff, you can enjoy a marvelous view over the beach and the ocean.

The trail continues through a forest and views are consistently great along the way. Eventually, the trail descends down to the beach. Depending on the tide you can either loop back via the beach (during low tide) or return the same way you came from.

If you hike during the low tide, slow some time to gaze into the clear pools many pools on the beach, in one of them I spotted a little octopus!

Depending on your pace, the hike takes between 2.5 and 3 hours.

See the Department of Conservation website for more information and a map of the Mangawhai Clifftop Walk here.

Written by Lotte Eschbach from Phenomenal Globe

Mangawhai Cliff Walk

Chill Out in Hot Water Beach

This is one of the best things to do on the Coromandel Peninsula, and the best part, it is free! There is free parking for the beach access, the only thing that costs money is a shovel rental (if you need one).

Hot Water Beach is located on the East side of the peninsula, south of Whitianga. It is off Highway 25, which is the main highway in the area.

Hot water beach is famous for the hot water that runs under the sand and into the ocean. At low tide, you will find hundreds of people digging their own hot pools, which range in temperature from really cold to boiling hot. Finding a spot right in the middle is important. Most bathers will enjoy the hot pools until the tide comes back in and covers all of their hot pools!

Hot water beach is quite a sight to see as along the stretch of beach you will see EVERYONE in close quarters on a stretch about 20 meters wide! Too far to the left or right and you will not get any of the water that comes from the underground spring!

Written by Lindsay from Step Into Jordan.

New Zealand North Island Hot Water Beach Digging

How Are These Free and Cheap Things to do in New Zealand North Island?

So what do you think about these amazing cheap and free things to do in New Zealand North Island? I would love to hear from you in the comment section below, so feel free to let me know! Nevertheless, I hope you love these travel tips and don’t forget to enjoy your travel to New Zealand. Use the Booking widget below to find your North Island hotels! Here are 27 Amazing Things to do in New Zealand South Island if you’re heading south too!

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Yen is a university student from Malaysia and a huge fan of Blues music and photography. His passion for travel can be traced back to 2016 when he spent 6 months traveling New Zealand. By blending into the locals and traveling long-term, he shares all the comprehensive and detailed travel ideas and guides for the countries with his footprints.

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