Free Activities, Attractions, Sights and Tours on the North Island
You know what they say: “The best things in life are free.” That couldn’t be more true for a road trip around the North Island. Thanks to many of its natural features, including geothermal areas, wildlife and scenery, all it takes is a little know-how to enjoy these for free. Let us guide you to a cheaper holiday with this list of 31 free things to do on the North Island.
1. Hit the Road to the Far North and Cape Reinga
A great place to start on the North Island is its (almost) northernmost point, Cape Reinga. Enjoy a short walk to the Cape Reinga Lighthouse and watch the tides of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea collide.
Location: Cape Reinga, Northland. Learn more about free things to do in our 6 Best Things to Do at Cape Reinga.
2. Hike to the Pouakai Tarns of Taranaki
While popular volcano hikes like the Tongariro Crossing require a little bit of budget, the Pouakai Tarns Track (Mangorei Track) in Taranaki gives you off-the-beaten-track volcano views for free.
Location: Egmont National Park, Taranaki. See more free walks in our 6 Best Hikes in Egmont National Park.
3. Watch the Sunrise from the East Cape Lighthouse
Due to its position on the International Date Line, New Zealand is one of the first countries to see the sunrise of a new day. Make an event out of this daily occurrence by heading to the East Cape Lighthouse on the easternmost shores of the mainland.
Location: Te Araroa, Gisborne. Learn more about the region’s free attractions in the 13 Eastland Must-Dos.
4. Marvel at the Clear Pools Along the Te Waihou Walkway
See vividly clear spring water winding its way down a stream on the Te Waihou Walkway. The hidden gem can be found just outside of Putaruru.
Location: Putaruru, Waikato.
5. Stop by Huka Falls
Huka Falls is not only the most-visited natural attraction in the country, but it’s 100% free to visit! See tumultuous rapids caused by the Waikato River squeezing down a narrow canyon eventually ending in a waterfall.
Location: Taupo, Waikato. See more free attractions nearby in the 12 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Taupo.
6. See Cute Seals
While the South Island takes all the limelight for seal colonies frolicking on its shores, you can, in fact, see seals on the North Island between May and October. Popular hangouts are on the Red Rock Walk in Wellington, Cape Palliser in the Wairarapa and in the Bay of Islands.
Location: See locations all over New Zealand in the 14 Best Places to See Seals in New Zealand.
7. Dig Your Own Hot Pool
Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula has a hot spring seeping through the sand, ideal for making a hot pool when mixed with seawater at low tide.
Location: Hahei, Waikato. See more free beaches in the 22 Stunning Beaches in New Zealand.
8. Visit the North Island’s Giant Sculptures
The North Island’s towns are full of character and there’ve got the giant sculptures to prove it! For instance, see the giant carrot in the “Carrot Capital” of Ohakune, the giant kiwi bird in the “Kiwiana Capital” of Otorohanga, the giant gumboot in the “Gumboot Capital” of Taihape and much more!
Location: Check out many of the North Island’s free sculpture locations in the 21 BIG Things in New Zealand.
9. Discover New Zealand’s Largest Trees in the Kauri Forests
New Zealand’s last remaining kauri forests can only be found at the top of the North Island and its off-shore islands. If you can only visit one forest, make it the Waipoua Forest to visit Tane Mahuta, the “God of the Forest”.
Location: See all of the North Island’s free kauri forests in the 10 Best Kauri Forests in New Zealand.
10. Visit the Te Papa Museum
Te Papa is the national museum of New Zealand and is free to visit! There’s so much to explore here between the displays of flora, fauna, settlers’ stories and exhibitions both inside and outside.
Location: Wellington. For more experiences nearby, see the 20 Best Things to Do in Wellington.
11. Feel You Toes in the Sand at Cathedral Cove
The white cliffs, archway and sandy shores of Cathedral Cove are an iconic image of the North Island. Get there on foot either from the Cathedral Cove car park in the off-season or by walking across Hahei Beach in the peak season.
Location: Coromandel, Waikato. For more free attractions in the area, see the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in the Coromandel.
12. Walk Through Mining Tunnels at Karangahake Gorge
Gold mining is an important part of New Zealand’s pioneering history. Remnants of these days can be seen along the riverbanks of Karangahake Gorge with various tunnels, historic bridges, old mining bins, railway lines and more.
Location: Paeroa, Waikato. See more free things to do near the town in the 5 Best Things to Do in Paeroa.
13. Wander Around Wellington Botanic Garden
The North Island has a few cities with spectacular public gardens. A highlight for many, however, is the Wellington Botanic Garden spanning 25ha (62 acres) across the city centre.
Location: Wellington. Explore more free attractions like this in the 21 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wellington.
14. Take in the Views from the Top of Mt Manaia
Get glorious coastal views of the Whangarei Heads from the Mt Manaia Walk incorporating kauri forest, rocky outcrops and views for miles. It’s just another spectacular free walk on the North Island.
Location: Whangarei, Northland. Plan more of your trip using the 12 Best Things to Do at Whangarei Heads.
15. Climb to the Lighthouse and More at Cape Palliser
Isolated at the bottom of the North Island, Cape Palliser offers plenty of reasons to make the day trip from Wellington. Get awesome views from the Cape Palliser Lighthouse (after climbing 250 steps), stop by the Putangirua Pinnacles used for filming in The Lord of the Rings, and say hello to the seals sleeping on the shore in winter.
Location: Wairarapa, Wellington. See more attractions in the area in the 10 Best Things to Do in Wairarapa.
16. Climb to the Top of “The Mount”
Mt Maunganui, a suburb of Tauranga, not only offers an array of eateries, shops and beach sports but epic views from the top of The Mount (Mauao)! It’s a steep climb to the top of this extinct volcano but totally worth it.
Location: Tauranga, Bay of Plenty. For more free stuff to do here, see the 19 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Tauranga & Mt Maunganui.
17. Stop by the Majestic Whangarei Falls
There’s no lack of waterfalls on the North Island. Arguably, the most photogenic is the mighty Whangarei Falls. It’s accessible from a short walk just outside of the city of Whangarei.
Location: Whangarei, Northland. Add more to the itinerary with the 19 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Whangarei.
18. Experience Gisborne’s Natural Waterpark at the Rere Rockslide
That’s right, Gisborne has its own free natural waterslide known as the Rere Rockslide. Get a bodyboard or an inflatable mattress and have the time of your life! Plus, don’t miss the Rere Waterfall, which is just a short walk or drive away.
Location: Rere, Gisborne. Visit more free places using the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Gisborne.
19. Visit the Republic of Whangamomona
Did you know there is an independent republic in the middle of the North Island? Take a road trip down the Forgotten World Highway to the village of Whangamomona, which has its own president.
Location: Whangamomona, Manawatu-Whanganui. See more free attractions nearby in the 15 Places You Can’t Miss on the Forgotten World Highway.
20. Mingle with the Locals at a New Zealand Farmers’ Market
Weekend mornings on the North Island are best spent at the farmers’ market, whether it’s to sample local food or listen to live entertainment. Popular markets include Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market in Hastings and Matakana Village Farmer’s Market in Auckland.
Location: Hastings, Hawke’s Bay or Matakana, Auckland. See more free stuff in the 8 Best Things to Do in Hastings and the 9 Places You Can’t Miss on the Matakana Coast.
21. See Bubbling Springs and Mud at a Free Geothermal Park
That’s right, you don’t have to pay for every geothermal park on the North Island. See bubbling mud and steaming lakes at Kuirau Park in Rotorua or walk beside bubbling hot springs on the Tokaanu Thermal Walk near Turangi.
Location: Rotorua, Bay of Plenty or Turangi, Waikato. See more free attractions in the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Rotorua.
22. Be Inspired at the Tauranga Art Gallery
Culture yourself or simply get out of the rain by visiting one of the many art galleries on the North Island. What’s more, many of them are free, such as the Tauranga Art Gallery and the Wellington City Gallery.
Location: Tauranga, Bay of Plenty or Wellington. Check out more free stuff in the 19 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Tauranga & Mt Maunganui and 12 Free Art Galleries & Museums in Wellington.
23. See Some Cool Props and Miniatures at the Weta Cave
Weta is New Zealand’s props and special effects studios for movies such as The Lord of the Rings, Avatar and more. Experience some of the movie magic for free by visiting the Weta Cave, complete with a miniature museum and small cinema showing a short documentary.
Location: Wellington. Also, check out the activities in the 21 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wellington.
24. Stand Under Huge Wind Turbines at the Te Apiti Wind Farm
Have you ever stood directly beneath a rotating wind turbine? It’s pretty cool and easily accessible at the Te Apiti Wind Farm, just a short drive from Palmerston North.
Location: Ashhurst, Manawatu-Whanganui. See the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Palmerston North nearby.
25. Sooth Yourself in Some Free Hot Pools
You don’t have to pay top dollar to soak in soothing mineral hot pools on the North Island. There’s are a few free hot springs that meet with cooling river or lake water to create the perfect bathing temperature. Popular options include Spa Park in Taupo and Kerosene Creek in Rotorua.
Location: Taupo, Waikato or Rotorua, Bay of Plenty. Check out more hot pools in the 7 Free Natural Hot Springs in New Zealand.
26. See Glowworms for Free
Another surprising free attraction is glowworm caves. Although there are famous glowworm caves that you have to pay to see, you can just see them on some bushwalks after dark, like on the Ruakuri Bush Walk in Waitomo. Free glowworms caves on the North Island include the Waipu Caves and Abbey Caves near Whangarei.
Location: For more free glowworm locations on the North Island, see the 10 Free Glowworm Caves in New Zealand.
27. Wander Around the Hamilton Gardens
More like an outdoor art exhibition than your average public garden, the Hamilton Gardens is a free attraction well worth exploring. Each garden has a different theme from around the world.
Location: Hamilton, Waikato. You might also be interested in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Hamilton.
28. Marvel at a Gannet Colony
See huge colonies of majestic seabirds nesting, either at Muriwai Beach in Auckland or Cape Kidnappers in Hawke’s Bay. Both colonies have walking access to enjoy close-up viewings of gannets.
Location: Muriwai, Auckland or Hastings, Hawke’s Bay. For more free attractions, see the 17 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Auckland.
29. Visit a Historical Pā Site
New Zealand’s early settlers, the Maori, mainly used wooden structures for their villages, therefore, few physical structures remain of their past. Pā sites, however, which were fortified villages, have terraces carved into hills which you can still see to this day. Interesting pā sites to visit include Kororipo Pā in Kerikeri and Otarara Pā in Napier.
Location: Kerikeri, Northland or Napier, Hawke’s Bay. See more free attractions in the 12 Best Things to Do in Kerikeri.
30. Soak in the Views from Te Mata Peak
Protruding from a landscape otherwise covered in flat vineyards, Te Mata Peak not only makes an interesting subject for photography but offers spectacular views from the summit. Either walk, cycle or drive to the top.
Location: Hastings, Hawke’s Bay. See more walks to try nearby in the 10 Best Walks in Hawke’s Bay.
31. Walk Through a Tunnel and Check Out the Views from the Durie Hill Tower
In the city of Whanganui, an unusual free attraction awaits at Durie Hill. First, walk through the 213m (699ft)-long tunnel to the historic elevator. It’s a small fee to ride the elevator or you can walk back out of the tunnel and take the steps to the Durie Hill Tower. The tower has a further 355 steps to reach the top and enjoy the views of the city.
Location: Whanganui, Manawatu-Whanganui. For more free activities, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Whanganui.