50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand
50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand

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Free Activities, Attractions, Sights and Tours in New Zealand

New Zealand isn’t the cheapest country to get to, nor are all of its must-do activities super affordable. Luckily, there are “heaps” of free things to do in New Zealand to help balance the travel budget. In fact, many of the country’s most popular natural attractions are on free walking trails. Travellers in the know, i.e. those of you who read this travel guide, will also find free versions of glowworm caves, geothermal parks and glacier walks. So without further ado, let us help you get stocked up on the free activities in this list of 50 free things to do in New Zealand!

1. Venture Far North to Cape Reinga

A worthy road trip destination for anyone on the North Island is the Far North and 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, North Island. Learn more about things to do in our Cape Reinga guide.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Unsplash

2. Hike to the Mirror Lake of Taranaki

One of many hikes you can do in New Zealand to revel in its majestic scenery, the Pouakai Tarns Track (Mangorei Track) journeys through the ancient moss-covered forest of the Egmont National Park to a mirror lake reflecting Mt Taranaki.

Location: Egmont National Park, North Island. See more walks in ourĀ 6 Best Hikes in Egmont National Park.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Unsplash

3. See the First Light of a New Day on the East Cape

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. An iconic place to mark such a momentous occasion is the East Cape Lighthouse.

Location: Gisborne, North Island. Learn more about the region’s attractions in the 13 Eastland Must-Dos.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

4. Marvel at the Clear Pools of Te Waikoropupū Springs

Te WaikoropupÅ« Springs is the largest freshwater spring in New Zealand, which is amazing to view from a short walk around its vividly clear water. If you’re on the North Island, you’ll find something similar at the Blue Spring of the Te Waihou Walkway in Putaruru.

Location: Takaka, South Island. For more Takaka attractions, see the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Takaka.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

5. Check Out Huka Falls

Not only is Huka Falls the most-visited natural attraction in the country, but it’s 100% free to visit! See the tumultuous rapids caused by the squeezing of the Waikato River down a narrow canyon eventually ending in a waterfall.

Location: Taupo, North Island. See more free attractions nearby in the 12 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Taupo.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Pixabay

6. Visit a Seal Colony

Seeing these adorable marine mammals can be a common occurrence in New Zealand, especially when travelling the South Island. For instance, check out seal colonies from the Cape Foulwind Walkway in Westport, the Red Rock Walk in Wellington or from the Point Kean car park in Kaikoura.

Location: See locations all over New Zealand in theĀ 14 Best Places to See Seals in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

7. Dig Your Own Hot Pool at Hot Water Beach

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. Head over to the beach with a spade at low tide and start digging!

Location: Hahei, North Island. See more free beaches to visit in the 22 Stunning Beaches in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

8. Explore Giant Arches and Caves at the Oparara Basin

A real hidden gem, the Oparara Basin in the Kahurangi National Park has a series of short walks to caves, lush forest and various arches including a 200m (656ft)-long arch! Plan your visit using the 7 Amazing Oparara Basin Walks.

Location: Karamea, South Island. For more free activities nearby, see the 7 Best Things to Do in Karamea.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© westcoast.co.nz

9. Cross the Swingbridge Over the Blue Pools of Hokitika Gorge

A short walk brings you to this beautiful river gorge on the West Coast. Cross the Hokitika Gorge swingbridge over a milky-blue river and down to its riverbanks. Learn more about the walk in the 23 Best Walks in Hokitika.

Location: Hokitika, South Island. See more free photo spots like this in the 10 Picture Perfect Bridges in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

10. Check Out McLean Falls in The Catlins

You can always rely on waterfalls as a free thing to see while road tripping in New Zealand. Arguably, some of the most beautiful can be found in The Catlins. McLean Falls is a rewarding waterfall to visit with its climbable terraces, while the nearby Purakaunui Falls is only a short walk to visit.

Location: The Catlins, South Island. For more free waterfalls to visit, check out the 12 Most Wonderful Waterfalls in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

11. Take a Photo of a “Big Thing”

New Zealand might be a small country but it has a lot of “big things”. We’re talking about sculptures erected in various towns to commemorate the thing that makes them great, such as the “Brown Trout Fishing Capital” of Gore or the “Kiwiana Capital” of Otorohanga.

Location: Check out many of New Zealand’s free sculpture locations in the 21 BIG Things in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

12. Walk Among the Giants in a Kauri Forest

By “giants”, we, of course, mean New Zealand’s largest species of tree, kauri. The biggest of which is Tane Mahuta, the God of the Forest, found in the Waipoua Forest.

Location: Hokianga, North Island. For more free kauri forests, see the 10 Best Kauri Forests in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© David Kirkland - Northland Inc

13. Explore the Stunning Coastline of Farewell Spit and Wharariki Beach

Get well and truly off the beaten track to the sandy shores of Golden Bay. Not only can you visit Farewell Spit, which is New Zealand’s longest sandspit and one of the most protected places in the country, but you can also visit Wharariki Beach looking out to the photo-worthy Archway Islands.

Location: Golden Bay, South Island. For more free things to see in the area, check out the 19 Epic Natural Attractions in Golden Bay.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© www.nelsontasman.nz

14. Visit the Te Papa Museum

Te Papa is the national museum of New Zealand, located in the capital. There’s so much to explore here between the volcano displays, settlers’ stories and exhibitions both inside and outside. What’s more, the museum is free!

Location: Wellington, North Island. For more experiences nearby, see theĀ 20 Best Things to Do in Wellington.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

15. Admire the Reflections of Lake Matheson

Enjoy this loop walk around Lake Matheson to various viewpoints with reflections of New Zealand’s tallest mountains in the inky black water.

Location: Fox Glacier, South Island. For more free lakes to admire, see the 21 Mind-Blowing Lakes in New Zealand.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

16. Feel Your Toes in the Sand at Cathedral Cove

The white cliffs, archway and sandy shores of Cathedral Cove are an iconic image of New Zealand and, more specifically, the Coromandel. Get thereĀ on foot either from theĀ car park in the off-season or by walking across Hahei Beach in the peak season.

Location: Coromandel, North Island. For more free attractions in the area, see the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in the Coromandel.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Unsplash

17. Discover Mining Tunnels and More at Karangahake Gorge

Mining for gold is a fundamental part of New Zealand’s pioneering days. Remnants of the past can be seen along the rugged terrain of Karangahake Gorge on the North Island, or on the South Island along the Charming Creek Walkway.

Location: Paeroa, North Island. See more free things to do nearby in the 5 Best Things to Do in Paeroa.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Unsplash

18. Marvel at Mountains and Glacier Lakes on the Hooker Valley Track

More excellent scenery can be admired on the Hooker Valley Track of the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. Walk from suspension bridge to suspension bridge under the gaze of towering mountains until you reach a glacier lake. Then you have it to enjoy all over again on the way back!

Location: Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, South Island. For more free walks, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Mt Cook.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Tourism New Zealand

19. Walk Among the Bizarre Boulder Formations of Castle Hill

Check out the free natural attraction at Kura Tawhiti in the Canterbury region, also known as Castle Hill. Walk beside majestic limestone formations by taking the access track. Similar formations can also be found at Elephant Rocks in the Waitaki Valley.

Location: Castle Hill, South Island. See more free sights nearby in the 10 Underrated Places to Visit in Canterbury.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Unsplash

20. Wander Around Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Christchurch is dubbed as New Zealand’s “Garden City”, so a wander around the Christchurch Botanic Gardens is mandatory! We also like the Wellington Botanic Garden on the North Island.

Location: Christchurch, South Island. Explore more free attractions like this in the 17 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Christchurch.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

21. Check Out the Views from the Top of Mt Manaia

Yes, another free walk! You’re starting to see a pattern here, aren’t you? Get glorious coastal views of Whangarei Heads from the Mt Manaia WalkĀ incorporating kauri forest, rocky outcrops and views for miles.

Location: Whangarei, North Island. Plan more of your trip using theĀ 12 Best Things to Do at Whangarei Heads.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

22. Snap a Photo of the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes

If you’re travelling around the West Coast, don’t miss the 20-minute walk to see the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks. Check out these oddly-shaped rocks stacked like pancakes and powerful blowhole displays at high tide.

Location: Punakaiki, South Island. There’s more free stuff to do here, which you can find out more about in the 9 Best Things to Do in Punakaiki.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

23. Climb to the Lighthouse and Find a Lord of the Rings Location 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 a scenic photo of the Cape Palliser Lighthouse (after climbing 250 steps), stop by the Putangirua Pinnacles from The Lord of the Rings, and say hello to the seals sleeping on the shore.

Location: Wairarapa, North Island. See more attractions in the area in theĀ 10 Best Things to Do in Wairarapa.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

24. See Mt Maunganui from The Mount

This cool little beach suburb of Tauranga not only offers an array of eateries, shops and beach sports but you can see it all from the top of The Mount! It’s a steep climb to the top of this extinct volcano but totally worth it.

Location: Tauranga, North Island. For more stuff to do here, see the 19 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Tauranga & Mt Maunganui.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Unsplash

25. Stop by the Majestic Whangarei Falls

Another free natural attraction to admire is the mighty Whangarei Falls. The short waterfall walk offers various viewpoints for picture-perfect photos.

Location: Whangarei, North Island. Add more to the itinerary with theĀ 19 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Whangarei.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

26. See the Perfectly Spherical Moeraki Boulders

These round boulders on the beach offer more wacky (and free) photo-ops. Plan your visit using The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Moeraki Boulders. Alternatively, there are similar boulders on the North Island, the Koutu Boulders in the Hokianga Harbour.

Location: Hampden, South Island.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© Pxhere

27. See What it’s Like to Walk Up the World’s Steepest Street

That’s right, Baldwin Street in Dunedin holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s steepest residential street! While you’re visiting world records, why not check out the world’s longest place name, Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, on the North Island?

Location: Dunedin, South Island. Add a visit to Baldwin Street to your 18 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Dunedin.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© DunedinNZ

28. Race Down the Rere Rockslide

Forget waterparks, Gisborne has its own free natural waterpark at the Rere Rockslide. Get a bodyboard or an inflatable mattress and have the time of your life! While you’re there, don’t miss the Rere Waterfall, which is just a short walk or drive away.

Location: Gisborne, North Island. Visit more free places using theĀ 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Gisborne.

101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List© NZPocketGuide.com

29. Admire the Architecture of Dunedin

We’ve talked a lot about New Zealand’s natural attractions, but if you’re more intrigued by the country’s urban marvels, then you might like to visit the city of Dunedin. Admire gothic-style architecture and cathedrals unlike anywhere else in the country.

Location: Dunedin, South Island. Plan more of your visit usingĀ The Travel Guide to Dunedin on a Budget.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com

30. Stop by the Republic of Whangamomona

Did you know there is an independent republic in the middle of New Zealand? The village of Whangamomona has its own president (which hasn’t always been human). While the town is obviously free to visit, getting the optional passport stamp requires a small fee.

Location: Whangamomona, North Island. See more free attractions nearby in the 15 Places You Can’t Miss on the Forgotten World Highway.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com

31. Experience a Classic New Zealand Farmers’ Market

Weekend mornings are best spent at the farmers’ market in New Zealand, whether it’s to sample local food or listen to live music. Popular markets include Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market in Hastings and The Riccarton Market in Christchurch.

Location: Hastings, North Island or Christchurch, South Island. See more free stuff in the 8 Best Things to Do in Hastings and theĀ 17 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Christchurch.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com

32. Admire the Views from Queenstown Hill

Queenstown is known for being one of the most expensive destinations in New Zealand, but you can save on the cents by enjoying one of the free walks, such as Queenstown Hill.

Location: Queenstown, South Island. Get more ideas in theĀ 16 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Queenstown.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© Destination Queenstown

33. See Bubbling Mud, Hot Springs and More at a Free Geothermal Park

That’s right, you don’t have to pay for every geothermal park in New Zealand. 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, North Island. See more free attractions in theĀ 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Rotorua.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com

34. Inspire Yourself at the Tauranga Art Gallery

Culture yourself or simply get out of the rain by visiting one of the many art galleries. What’s more, most of them are free, such as the Tauranga Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and the Wellington City Gallery.

Location: Tauranga, North Island. Check out more budget-friendly advice, check outĀ The Travel Guide to Tauranga on a Budget.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com

35. Check Out Props at the Mini-Museum of Weta Cave

Weta is New Zealand’s props and special effects studio 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 in Wellington, complete with a mini-museum and mini-cinema showing a short documentary.

Location: Wellington, North Island. Also, check out the activities in the 21 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wellington.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com

36. Marvel at Lake Wanaka from Roys Peak

One of the most popular day hikes on the South Island, Roys Peak offers Instagram-worthy photos at its conclusion. Get stunning views of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains.

Location: Wanaka, South Island. You can also do theseĀ 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wanaka.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© Unsplash

37. 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 Ashhurst or Woodville.

Location: Ashhurst, North Island. See theĀ 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Palmerston North nearby.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com

38. Soak in Some Free Hot Pools

You don’t have to pay top dollar to soak in soothing mineral hot pools. There are a few free hot springs in New Zealand that meet with cooling river or lake water to make the temperature just right. Popular options include Spa Park in Taupo, Kerosene Creek in Rotorua and the Copland Track in Fox Glacier.

Location: Taupo – Rotorua, North Island or Fox Glacier, South Island. Check out more hot pools in the 7 Free Natural Hot Springs in New Zealand.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com

39. Stand in the Centre of New Zealand

If geographical points of interest are your thing, then you’re in for a treat in Nelson. A short uphill climb brings you to the Centre of New Zealand, along with excellent views of the city and coast.

Location: Nelson, South Island. Add this activity and theĀ 14 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Nelson to your itinerary.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com

40. Visit Free Glowworm Caves

Glowworms are one of those other attractions that you don’t have to pay to see. You’ll likely see these shiny maggots on random bushwalks after dark, but if you want to see them through the day, you’re best to head to one of New Zealand’s free caves. Check out Clifden Caves near Tuatapere, Waipu Caves near Whangarei, the Hokitika Glow Worm Dell and others.

Location: Tuatapere and Hokitika, South Island or Whangarei, North Island. For more free glowworm locations, see the 10 Free Glowworm Caves in New Zealand.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com

41. Wander Around the Award-Winning Hamilton Gardens

More like an outdoor art exhibition than your average garden, the Hamilton Gardens is a free attraction well worth visiting. Explore their different themed gardens with influences from all over the world.

Location: Hamilton, North Island. You might also be interested in theĀ 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Hamilton.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© Unsplash

42. 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: Auckland, North Island. For more free attractions, see theĀ 17 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Auckland.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© Hawke's Bay Tourism

43. Visit a Historical Pā Site

With New Zealand’s early settlers, the Maori, mainly using wooden structures for their villages, remains of their past are hard to come by. Pā sites, however, which were fortified villages, have terraces carved into hills still visible to this day. Interesting pā sites to visit include Kororipo PāĀ in Kerikeri and Otarara PāĀ in Napier.

Location: Kerikeri and Napier, North Island. See more free attractions in the 12 Best Things to Do in Kerikeri andĀ 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Napier.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© Northland Inc

44. 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 top.

Location: Hastings, North Island. See more walks to try nearby in theĀ 10 Best Walks in Hawke’s Bay.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© Unsplash

45. 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 for expansive views of the city.

Location: Whanganui, North Island. For more free activities, check out theĀ 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Whanganui.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com

46. See a Glacier

Forget a heli-hike, you can still see a glacier for free if you take the Franz Josef Glacier/Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk or the Fox Glacier South Side Walkway/Cycleway.

Location: Franz Josef, South Island. See more activities in theĀ 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© Unsplash

47. Go Kiwi Spotting on Stewart Island

Admittedly, it is difficult to see New Zealand’s elusive and nocturnal kiwi birds without paying for a guide or going to a kiwi house. However, you’ll still have better odds on the trails or the parks of Stewart Island. Learn more about spotting kiwis in the 10 Best Places to See a Kiwi Bird in New Zealand.

Location: Stewart Island. Learn more about seeing kiwi birds in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Stewart Island.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com

48. Do Some Free Food Tastings

Sample some of New Zealand’s tasty treats for free. Free samples are a common feature of farmers’ markets, but free honey tastings are encouraged at the likes of the Huka Honey Hive in Taupo. We also recommend fudge tastings at The Remarkables Sweet Shop in Queenstown.

Location: Taupo, North Island or Queenstown, South Island. See more food to sample in the 16 Foods You Have to Try in New Zealand.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© NZPocketGuide.com

49. Take a Photo of #ThatWanakaTree

A lonely tree in the shallow depths of Lake Wanaka, #ThatWanakaTree has become Insta-famous over the last few years. Snapping up a photo of it for your own collection is free!

Location: Wanaka, South Island. See more activities in theĀ 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wanaka.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© Unsplash

50. Go On a Parliament Tour

Finally, you can tour the parliament buildings of Wellington on the free New Zealand Parliament Tour. Learn about the governmental history, political structure and earthquake strengthened buildings on this one-hour tour.

Location: Wellington, North Island. Also, check out theseĀ 21 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wellington.

50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand© Unsplash

More Free Things to Do in New Zealand

That’s it for the best free things to do in New Zealand. For even more free activities in New Zealand, check out the following articles:

Author

Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in New Zealand over 10 years ago and with a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to travel New Zealand. She knows Aotearoa inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience New Zealand’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides and is the co-host of NZ Pocket Guide’s live New Zealand travel Q&As on YouTube.

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