New Zealand is an amazing place to visit, but is known for being expensive. However, you don’t have to break the bank to visit.
This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this site, I earn a small commission at no cost to you.
New Zealand is an epic place on so many levels – nature, cities, and the adrenaline capital of the world! If it’s not on your bucket list, it should be. Whether you’re only able to visit for a few days, or three weeks – New Zealand won’t disappoint. However, it can be very expensive – so here are some things to do in the cities that are budget-friendly and/or free. No surprise, New Zealand has a LOT of hiking and amazing views – so be sure to pack some comfortable shoes!
Auckland is a huge city with plenty of museums to explore that are budget-friendly. However, some of us (me) aren’t huge lovers of museums. Luckily, Auckland was built on a volcanic field so there are plenty (48, specifically) of volcanoes in total to explore. Some of them are even still active.
Walk to the top of Mt. Eden
The highest volcano in Auckland boasts breathtaking panoramic views of the city. Don’t worry, the volcano is dormant. If you’re short on time, you can drive to the top and walk down. In addition to views of the city, there are over 5 acres of gardens on the side of Mount Eden. Take a break from the sky rises and enjoy a variety of colorful plants, rock formations, and waterfalls – all while taking in views of the harbor!
Walk Coast to Coast
Imagine being able to say that you walked from coast to coast in New Zealand! It’s possible with this 16km (about 10 miles). It covers some of the must-sees in Auckland and finishes on the opposite side in the harbor. The walk starts city center on the harborside of Waitemata. Walk past five volcanic sites and up to Mt. Eden. Then it’s a quiet stroll through some of the suburbs before finishing at Manukau Harbor. A visitor center and most hotels have maps of the walk making it easier to navigate. Bonus, public transportation is easy to get at Manukau Harbor to get back to the city!
For more hikes, learn more about the best hikes in New Zealand!
Stop & smell the roses at Parnell Gardens
Parnell is one of the best rose gardens in the WORLD. You can walk through rows and rows of roses that are immaculately maintained. Blooming season is August to November and the best time of day to visit is morning since the gardens are exposed with limited shade. Since it’s a public park, there’s no admission cost and you can go from sunrise to sunset.
$20 Art Gallery tour
If you’re an art lover, there are two guided tours at 11:30 am and 1:30 pm. For an international visitor admission and tour is only $20 (students are $17 with ID). The public art gallery is set in a building from 1887 with beautiful architecture. You can enjoy Picasso, Cezanne, and Gauguin with a knowledgeable tour guide. This is the perfect activity for a rainy day in Auckland. You can book your tour in advance here.
Get inspired for your trip to New Zealand with these 11 beautiful photos!
A harbourside city in the Bay of Plenty, Tauranga is home to historical buildings and sites, an extinct volcano, and astonishing views of the water. Nearby is Mount Maunganui, a beach town with hot saltwater pools as well!.
Hike Mt. Maunganui aka Mauao
There are a few walking tracks up and around the mountain, but straight up is about 30-45 min hike up and rewards you with views of the city, ocean, and beaches!
Enjoy Saltwater Hot Pools
If you’re in the city on a chilly day, you can relax in a hot pool! Or if you need somewhere to relax after hiking, take a swim at the Mount Hot Pools. The Mount Hot Pools are at the base of Mt. Maunganui and admission is only NZ$14 for admission. Check with your accommodation as they may have deals or offers with the hot pools!
Enjoy the local markets!
One of my favorite ways to “live like a local” is by visiting a local market! Every Sunday there’s a Farmer’s market in Tauranga from 9 am-1 pm on 5th Avenue. There’s also another market on the first Saturday of the month in the summer from 9 am-2 pm in Coronation Park. You can support local businesses by shopping local too!
If you’re not there on a Saturday, don’t worry, you can still get local eats for cheap by going on a foodie crawl! Here’s how to find some cheap eats in Tauranga.
Watch the surfers at Mt. Maunganui
If you’re a surfer, you can rent a board pretty cheaply too. But if you’re like me and have NO sense of balance on the water, people watching may be the safer way to go!
If you like hiking, check out 15 Day Hikes in New Zealand!
Rotorua is one of the biggest tourist destinations in New Zealand, attracting over 3 million visitors a year! There’s plenty of natural wonders, crazy adventures, and entertainment to amuse everyone!
Visit the only FREE georthermal park – Kuirua Park
While there are larger and more popular parks (Waimangu and Te Puia) but they’ll cost you. Kuirua Park is a city park that’s accessible on foot, and is free! Maori statue in Rotorua
Enjoy the night market
Every Thursday night, there is a night market on Tutanekai Street between Haupapa and Hinemoa. The streets are blocked off for cars, so enjoy the community atmosphere, food trucks, live music, and entertainment!
Take a bus out of the city and find Rotorua’s Redwood Forest (also know as Whakarewarewa Forest). You can hike or bike on the trails. Enjoy the magnitude of teh trees surrounding you. There is a Treetop Walk for $25 for adults if you want to get really close to the trees.
Learn more about the Maori
Rotorua is well known for Maori tradition. You can wander through Ohinemutu, a living Maori village, to get a glimpse into traditional living. Ohinemutu is a suburb of Rotorua, located on the shores of Lake Rotorua. The tribe that still lives here, the Ngati Whakaue tribe, chose this spot because of the lakeside setting and geothermal energy. The geothermal energy is used for cooking, bathing, and heating.
As with any country capital, it can be easy to spend a lot of money in Wellington. The city is comfortably nestled between Cook Strait and rural farms and hills, making it a breathtaking city all around. Don’t worry, your wallet can enjoy the views as well!
Take the Wellington Cable Car
It’s hard to miss the iconic bridge red Wellington Cable Car among the ocean blue and rolling hills of green. The ride is only about five minutes long but it’s a beautiful ride to the Botanical Gardens! Commuters use the cable car in the morning and evenings, so it may be better to use it throughout the day.
Walk through the Botanical Gardens
Ask anyone, my thumb is NOT green at all. Not even like a hint of green, but there is something to be said about these botanical gardens. Instead of taking the Cable Car down, take a beautiful and peaceful walk through the botanical gardens! The gardens encompass 64 acres of peace and tranquility. Take in local and exotic plants, a duck pond, and a few garden sculptures.
Take in the Waterfront with some writers
A waterfront is always a beautiful place to walk – and Wellington’s is no different. Along the waterfront, you’ll find over 20 sculptures. These encompass the Wellington Writers Walk. Check out here for more information on how to find them and what they mean.
Visit Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand
You may know I’m not a huge museum person but this isn’t an ordinary museum. Most of the museum is free, with the exception of specialist exhibits sometimes. There are interactive exhibitions about everything from wildlife, to World War I, to natural taonga. Check out their exhibits, here.
At the head of Otago Harbour, Dunedin is an eclectic mix of culture – including Scottish and Maori heritage, while having Victorian and Edwardian architecture. There’s also a lot of wildlife including colonies of albatross and the rare yellow-eyed penguins!
Dunedin is basically a magnet for the world’s rarest wildlife – meaning that you can see it pretty regularly on the Otago Peninsula. You can explore the peninsula on your own and potentially spot penguins, seals, sea lions, albatross, kiwis, parrots and so much more! However, to increase your chances of seeing, you should probably do a tour.
Visit the steepest street in the world
While Lombard Street in San Francisco is the most crooked street in the world, Baldwin Street is the steepest street in the world. It has a grade of 35%! Fun fact: The street is so steep that the surface was made of concrete, instead of tar since it would melt asphalt on a warm day.
Check out Dunedin Railway Station
Okay, this one sounds weird. Just trust me. The gothic style architecture of the station makes it a wonderful photo destination – and apparently, people agree. It’s said to be the “most-photographed heritage building in New Zealand”
Walk around Larnach Castle & Gardens
It’s about NZ $20 to access the Larnach Castle gardens, Ballroom Cafe, as well as outbuildings and stables. The Victorian interiors will wow every traveler! The castle and grounds are open 365 days a year! https://www.larnachcastle.co.nz
Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island. In 2010 and 2011, earthquakes destroyed many of the stone-built buildings and over 150 people lost their lives.
Check out Bottle Lake Forest
Bottle Lake Forest has it all – walks in the forest and on the coast, mountain bike tracks, and horse-riding trails. The visitor center at the main entrance has maps and information available to visitors. The park is open from 6 am to 10 pm year-round.
Have a picnic lunch atop Taylor’s Mistake
Taylors Mistake, also known as Awaroa/Godley Head Walk is a hike accessible to everyone. Sleep in, embrace the breathtaking scenery, enjoy a picnic lunch and be back in the city within 4 hours. The walk will give you the most dramatic views of the ocean and cliffs!
Before the National Memorial was built, there were chairs placed in town to represent those who were lost during the earthquake.
Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial
It is one of the more somber things in this post, but it is a powerful memorial. It is the Crown’s official memorial for those killed or seriously injured in the February 2011 earthquake. It’s located on both sides of the Avon River, downstream from the Montreal Street bridge. 185 people were killed in this earthquake with a lot of damage to city infrastructure and buildings.
Enjoy the street art
Street art has popped up in Christchurch post-earthquakes. You can explore by foot or bicycle, but be sure to look in alleyways and by new construction. You can also do a 1.5 guided tour through CBD with Watch this Space or use this interactive map on your phone. https://www.christchurchnz.com/christchurch/arts-and-culture/christchurch-street-art/
While Akaroa is not a major city in New Zealand, it is one of my favorite places in the world, so I had to include it on this list! Akaroa stole my heart with its breathtaking views and blue waters, not to mention the dolphins that call the Akaroa Harbour home! Snorkeling with dolphins can be pretty pricey (around $180), though some of that money gets donated to protecting these animals. Don’t fret though, there are still things to do in Akaroa that won’t break the bank!
The beautiful nature around Akaroa
Do the Rhino Walk (aka the Children’s Bay Walkway)
The walk starts at the boardwalk at the north end of town at Children’s Bay. The walk goes through farmland and forests, with a scenic viewpoint over Akaroa Harbour. The reason why it’s called a rhino walk is because of the animal sculptures along the way. It’s a 3 hour loop or you can simply walk to the Rhino and back which would only take about 1 hour.
Visit the Giant’s House
A local artist created a garden with mosaic art, sculptures, and water features. The end result? Something straight out of a fairy tale! Admission is only NZ$20 and the unique art is worth it!
Rent a kayak or paddleboard
Remember how I said I loved the views of the water of Akaroa? What better way to see the water than to be ON it? Renting a kayak or paddleboard is about NZ$20 per hour and you may be able to see some of the dolphins while you’re out there!
Hike to Misty Peaks
A short half-day hike takes you along the ridgeline overlooking Akaroa and a few other bays. Hiking is always a great budget option! It’s a loop hike too so you’ll end up where you began, making it easy to continue exploring.
Set among the Southern Alps and Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is not only known for nature, but also for being home to adventure. They also have wineries and historic mining towns.
Walk around Lake Wakatipu
The lake is not too large that you can’t walk around it, and it’s surrounded by massive mountains, creating the perfect backdrop for any photo. It’s a wonderful way to see the combination of the city and nature.
Go underneath Lake Wakatipu
You read that right – you can go underneath the lake at the Underwater Observatory. It’s only $10, so it’s easy on the wallet. You’ll probably see some wildlife including trout, eels, fish, and the famous diving ducks!
Hike the Tiki Trail to Bob’s Peak
If money isn’t an issue, then you can splurge on the Skyline Gondola for the awe-inspiring panorama of the town. However, you can also hike the Tiki Trail for similar views – for free! Definitely worth saving $61 for ONE adult. Burger by the Lake, credit: Ultimate Queenstown
Have a burger at Fergburger
While not free, depending on the burger, it’s around $15 for this meal. However, if you talk to a local or anyone who has visited Queenstown, Fergburger is THE place to eat – it’s an icon of Queenstown. You can have beef, lamb, deer, chicken or vegetarian burgers – all of which have their own inventive names! The line can be a bit ridiculous, so order over the phone ahead of time to skip the line!
Invercargill is the southernmost city in New Zealand, and one of the most southern cities in the world. It’s surrounded by farmland, conservation land, and marine reserves, making it a beautiful place to visit.
Wander through Demolition World.
This is definitely one of the most unique things to do, in my opinion. It’s free entry, but there’s a donation box near the entrance. It’s a working demolition yard that transports you back in time. The world is constructed from demolished buildings and recycled items. Take a haunted theatre, historic school, a sweet store, and mix in a few live chickens wandering around to keep you on your toes and you have one very unique experience!
Go bird watching at the Estuary Walkway
The walkway is about a 3-mile long loop walk that is home to many local birds. Enjoy the views of Pleasure Bay Lagoon on one side and the sea on the other, it’s a great place to enjoy the views.
Bike through the city
Invercargill is very bike-friendly! Rent a bike and explore the Invercargill Heritage Trail. You can get a map from most hotels or a visitor information center. Bike to 18 points of interest that give you an inside look at the history of the area. You’ll visit the Victoria Railway Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in New Zealand and a beautiful piece of architecture.
Take a minute and smell the flowers in Queens Park
If you’re biking, you’ll undoubtedly visit Queens Park, but if biking isn’t for you, it’s still a place to visit. It’s huge – over 80 acres – right in the center of the city! It’s surrounded by popular landmarks, like the stunning 40-meter high water tower.
Heading to New Zealand is an amazing trip, but it doesn’t have to be too rough on the wallet. Hopefully, this list inspires you to break off the must-see lists and go for a more local feel.