When it comes to New Zealand, Auckland isn’t exactly the cheapest place for travellers. But with some good advice and your rental car ready to roll, you can take your time enjoying the best the city and its surrounds has to offer. New Zealand’s most populous city, whose Māori name is Tāmaki Makaurau, is set around two large harbours, with beaches, islands and nature just a drive away. It’s a true blend of cultures, with food, art, music and wine available to be added to your itinerary.
Here are some of the best free and cheap things to see and do around Auckland, as well as one experience that will require opening your wallet but is not to be missed.
When you think about parks it generally means green spaces but Silo Park is different. Built around a cluster of six huge structures and one standalone silo that all once stored cement, this industrial harbourside area is home to a trail of public art created by Māori artists. There’s more art inside the cluster at what is now known as Silo 6. During summer, favourite films are projected onto Silo 7 providing even more free fun.
Discover more about the city’s history on the Auckland Foreshore Heritage Walk, starting at Point Erin Park. It’s 5 km long one way that takes in beaches and bays, city wharves and grand old homes and gardens. There are plaques with photos and information along the way, or you can download a brochure from the Auckland Council website that goes deeper into the history and changes.
If you want to get more urban flavour, take some time exploring Karangahape Road, better known as K’ Road. It was once Auckland’s red-light district, but now is home to indie boutiques, cool cafes, music venues and art galleries, as well as plenty of colourful characters.
Set in the historical Pah Homestead, the Wallace Arts Trust has an extensive collection of contemporary New Zealand art. With about 9,500 works in the coffers, the curators change the thought-provoking exhibitions every couple of months. The shop also has incredible pieces by New Zealand artists for sale if your budget travelling has left you with a windfall.
If Māori culture is on your agenda, Auckland Museum is the place to do it. At Te Marae Ātea Māori Court on the ground floor, there are full-sized buildings, an incredible war canoe, art and everyday objects used before the arrival of Pākehā (white people). Upstairs, find the natural history galleries that tell New Zealand’s evolutionary story.
At Everybody Eats, the chefs create four incredible dishes – a vegetarian starter, two mains (one is vegetarian), and a dessert – using perfectly good ingredients that would otherwise have ended up in landfill. Guests pay what they can for their meals, with donations helping to feed homeless people, the elderly, single-parent families and other struggling Kiwis.
This might blow your mind… Auckland is surrounded by about 53 volcanos, although only one, Rangitoto, has erupted more than once. At the top of Maungawhau / Mount Eden, one of 53 volcanos, you can stroll the boardwalk around the crater and summit, look out over Auckland and Waitematā Harbour from the viewing deck, and check out some of the historical artefacts left from when a traditional Māori village stood here.
If you were a flying crow, you’d be on the Manukau Peninsula in no time at all, but since you’re in the rental car it’s about 100 km away. When you arrive there’s more than a hundred steps that will take you to the base of 140-year-old Manukau Heads Lighthouse then it’s just another 23 steps to the deck, with its 360-degree views of the rugged coastline and surrounding landscape with its prominent flax plants.
There are incredible beaches all around Auckland. The one at Okahu Bay is pretty and boasts great views of other beaches, the harbourside suburb of Devonport and the ferries travelling from Auckland to other parts of the coast. You could also head to Oceanz Seafood and grab some lunch before hitting Mission Bay Beach. Fish and chips on the sand is a New Zealand tradition.
If you really want to make the best use of the rental car, drive north to tiny Goat Island, just off the shore near the town of Leigh. Surrounded by a marine reserve, it’s an amazing place to snorkel or paddle around in a clear kayak. There are hundreds of species of fish, and the reserve is visited by fur seals, dolphins and orcas. If you prefer to stay out of the water, there are some great walks, including one that takes you to a pink sand beach. If it’s a Saturday morning, visit Matakana Village Farmers’ Market, 10 minutes away, where you can get coffee and some delicious supplies for a picnic.
When you’re ready to spend some time exploring Auckland and the regions around it, hire a rental car so you can see even more.