When planning a trip to New Zealand, most people skip over Auckland as a destination. Everyone flocks to Queenstown, or heads out to spend time in nature. It’s unfortunate, as anyone who’s visited knows there are so many things to do in Auckland that make it a great destination for all travellers. Backpackers in particular will enjoy the huge range of free and cheap things to do in Auckland, especially in a country that is notoriously on the pricey side.
The city’s trendy neighbourhoods can be explored on foot, and the skyline can be viewed from the water for the cheap price of a ferry ticket. There are plenty of options for budget food – particularly around the university areas – and the city doesn’t shy away from a good happy hour. Give yourself a couple of days to enjoy it, and check out some of our favourite things to do in Auckland.
1. Drink a flat white
Start your day the Kiwi way and get caffeinated. There’s some contention between Australia and New Zealand over who invented the flat white, but ask any Kiwi and they’ll say it’s 100% theirs. For the uninitiated, a flat white is kind of a cross between a latte and a cappuccino, with more coffee and less milk. There are some great spots all over Auckland to get seriously good coffee, and Remedy Coffee is always a good choice. It’s a cosy spot that offers takeaway but you might be tempted to sit down once you see their breakfast menu.
Open 6.30am to 3.30pm weekdays, 8am to 3pm weekends.
2. Trek around a volcano
A short 25-minute ferry from Auckland harbour will take you out to Rangitoto Island, which is actually a volcano cone sticking out of the water. There are guided tours you can do here, but it’s just as easy to follow the walking trail and trek up to the top of the volcano on your own. On the way, you’ll pass by old lava caves which you can explore and walk through. There aren’t any facilities on the island so bring food and water. Have a picnic atop the volcano rim, where there are stunning views out over the harbour and back to Auckland city. Just make sure you don’t miss the last ferry!
Return ticket: $39 (£20)
3. Enjoy some dumplings
Auckland has a really diverse food scene, with basically every cuisine on offer. Eating a good Chinese meal is one of the best things to do in Auckland and, while there are many options, a local fave is Barilla. This cheap-as-chips dumpling joint gets busy on weekends but is well worth the wait. Come hungry, as the portions are huge. It’s best enjoyed with a big group so you can order one of everything and share it around.
Open daily 11.30am to 11.30pm. Closed Wednesdays.
4. Watch a rugby game
New Zealanders take their rugby very, very seriously. If you’re in town during the season, going to a rugby match is one of the top things to do in Auckland to experience the city like a local. Even if you’re not always sure what’s going on, the atmosphere is fun with everyone getting fired up and incredibly into it. Tickets for games at Eden Park often go for less than $30 NZD (£15), so you won’t be breaking the bank.
5. Go caving with glow worms
The Waitomo caves area is a two hour drive from Auckland but definitely worth a day trip if you’ve got time. This huge underground cave network is filled with thousands of glow worms, lighting up the inside like fairy lights. It’s a spectacular thing to see with your own two eyes. You can take a leisurely boat ride through the caves to check it all out if you want a relaxed trip. Or don a wetsuit and hop in an inner tube to float down the underground river, then jump off rocky waterfalls. Adrenaline junkies can get their fix of action by taking a zip-lining and abseiling tour through the cave system, if you’re up for the challenge.
Tours start from $55 (£28)
6. Check out a French Market
Every weekend, a French food market pops up in two different spots across the city. It’s primarily a fresh produce market, where you can pick up stuff that’s been grown locally: veggies, meats, cheese, seafood, bread, and flowers. Definitely take the opportunity to try some local New Zealand manuka honey and the super fresh fruit that varies by season. Of course, there are plenty of pastries on offer, usually still warm from the oven. Or go for a typical French dish like croque madame or beef bourguignon.
Parnell market open Saturday 8am to 1.30pm and Sunday 9am to 1.30pm.
Britomart market open Saturday 8am to 1.30pm.
7. Drink wine on Waiheke Island
This island is by no means a hidden gem, but definitely something that needs to be top of your priority list. Even if you’ve just got a day and don’t know what to do in Auckland, make this stop number one. This island is covered in wineries and is just a short ferry ride from the city. You can take a bus around and do tastings at each one, or just choose your fave and sit in the sun with a glass and savour the views. Waiheke also has some amazing beaches, as well as walking trails and bike paths if you feel like getting active. You can even stay out on the island overnight if you want to get away from the city for a bit.
Return ticket: $42 (£21)
8. Kayak on the harbour
If you’re lucky enough to visit Auckland during the warmer months, take advantage of the good weather and get out on the water. You can rent a kayak or join a tour and paddle out to islands in the harbour. Do the sunset tour to Rangitoto and enjoy a BBQ on the beach before paddling back to the city under a starry sky. Or just rent a kayak and paddle up the river to a pub and have a few drinks before getting picked up by van.
Kayak rental from $25 (£12.50)
9. Jump off Auckland’s tallest building
There are a couple of ways you can experience Sky Tower, the tallest building in the city. First, take an elevator to the top where floor-to-ceiling windows give you amazing views of the city and harbour. Then you can take things a step further with SkyWalk, where you go out onto an outdoor viewing platform and walk around the edge of the building. Don’t worry, you’re fully strapped in! And if you’re really brave (or maybe stupid), you can bungee off the side of the building. It’s definitely a unique way to see the city.
Admission price $32 (£16). Open from 8.30am to 10.30pm on weekdays and ‘til 11.30pm.
10. Wander through The Domain
This huge park in the centre of Auckland city is like a little oasis where everything is peaceful and calm. There are walking trails through native forest areas, open grassy areas for picnics, botanic gardens, and even a natural amphitheatre inside an extinct volcano crater. The rim has amazing views of the city, so park yourself here with a picnic or takeaway meal and make the most of it. And bring bread to feed the ducks!
11. Catch a comedy show at The Classic
If you’re stumped for ideas of what to do in Auckland on a night out, check out what’s on at the Classic comedy club. Tickets are usually no more than $10, and you’re guaranteed a good show and a lot of laughs. Take a look at their timetable of upcoming shows; they regularly hold theme nights and events like open mic nights. Have a couple of drinks and spend your night laughing, it’s always a recipe for a good time.
12. Eat some seriously good ice cream
There’s a ton of really delicious ice cream options here in Auckland. A lot of people rave about Giapo, which serves up creative and inventive frozen creations that look like they’re made for Instagram. Or swing by Duck Island Ice Cream, who have an extensive selection of inventive flavours you’ve probably never tried before. Be sure to taste the fairy bread flavour which is always a hit, or the toasted marshmallow which is a real crowd-pleaser. They’ve even got a good array of vegan flavours for our dairy-free friends.
Giapo: Open 2pm to 10.30pm Monday to Thursday, and 1.30 to 11pm Friday to Sunday.
Duck Island: Open 11am to 10pm, and to 11pm on weekends.
13. Watch a free outdoor film
Silo Park is the place to be during the summer months. This big former industrial area is now a cultural and social hub for the locals of Auckland. On summer nights, films are projected onto the edge of an old silo and everyone gathers on the grass to watch. There are bars and food trucks and it’s a super fun place to have a chill night. As well as movie screenings, Silo Park also holds concerts, events and art installations, so be sure to check what’s on while you’re there.
14. Have a late night burger
One of Auckland’s most iconic eating establishments doesn’t really look all that flash from the outside. The White Lady is an extra-long white bus that’s been turned into an American-style food joint. It’s been going for the last 60 years, serving up absolutely delicious burgers to the hungry masses. There’s nowhere to sit so eat it on the go or find a milk crate – or just perch in the gutter, let’s be real. They’re open 24 hours on weekends, making it the perfect end to a night out in Auckland.
Open 7pm to 4am weekdays, 24 hours on weekends.
15. Try some local beer
Dr Rudi’s is an ideal destination for any beer lover visiting Auckland. The on-site microbrewery pumps out some excellent brews, and the bar has 14 different beers on tap. But that’s not the only reason to visit. It’s a rooftop bar set right on the water, so the views are amazing, especially at sunset. Plus, out back you’ll find two bowling lanes so you can see how good your skills are after a few bevvies. And if you get peckish, the food menu is packed with delicious seafood dishes, as well as pizzas and giant share plates.
Open 8am to 4am weekdays, 11am to 4am weekends.
16. Hit some golf balls…whenever you want
Have you ever had the urge to play golf at 4am? Probably not. But in Auckland you can do just that. JK’s World Of Golf is open 24 hours, and has a driving range where you can let off some steam and practice your swing. They’re right near the airport as well, so it’s a good place to stop off if you’ve got time to kill before your flight.
Cost is $13 for a bucket of 100 balls.
Inspired by these awesome things to do in Auckland? Check out all of our best Auckland hostels and turn that travel dream into reality!
About the author
Jemima Skelley is an Australian travel writer currently exploring Europe. Believes that the best way to discover a country is through their food, and is always on the hunt for a good coffee spot. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter .