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.
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 our 6 Best Hikes in Egmont National Park.
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.
4. Marvel at the Clear Pools of Te Waikoropupū Springs
Te Waikoropupū 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.
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.
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 the 14 Best Places to See Seals in New Zealand.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the 20 Best Things to Do in Wellington.
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.
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 there on foot either from the 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.
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.
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.
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.
20. Wander Around Christchurch Botanic Gardens
Location: Christchurch, South Island. Explore more free attractions like this in the 17 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Christchurch.
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 Walk incorporating kauri forest, rocky outcrops and views for miles.
Location: Whangarei, North Island. Plan more of your trip using the 12 Best Things to Do at Whangarei Heads.
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.
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 the 10 Best Things to Do in Wairarapa.
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.
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 the 19 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Whangarei.
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.
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.
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 the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Gisborne.
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 using The Travel Guide to Dunedin on a Budget.
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.
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.
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 the 16 Free & Cheap Things to Do in 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 the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Rotorua.
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 out The Travel Guide to Tauranga on a Budget.
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.
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 these 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wanaka.
37. Stand Under Huge Wind Turbines at the Te Apiti Wind Farm
Location: Ashhurst, North Island. See the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Palmerston North nearby.
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.
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 the 14 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Nelson to your itinerary.
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.
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 the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Hamilton.
42. Marvel at a Gannet Colony
Location: Auckland, North Island. For more free attractions, see the 17 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Auckland.
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 Pā in Kerikeri and Otarara Pā in Napier.
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 the 10 Best Walks in Hawke’s Bay.
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 the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Whanganui.
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 the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef.
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.
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.
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 the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wanaka.
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 these 21 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wellington.
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: