It’s no secret that New Zealand doesn’t exactly fall into the budget destination category. The airfare alone can be prohibitively expensive if you’re coming from anywhere further away than Australia.
How can you offset the cost of that plane ticket? The obvious choice is to lace up your hiking boots and take advantage of New Zealand’s amazing trails.
While that’s a great option, it’s not the only one. Consider the following free – or relatively cheap – things to see and do in New Zealand.
Cheap or Free Things to Do on the North Island
1. Stroll Through the Gardens in Auckland
If you’re visiting during New Zealand’s summer (October to March), explore the many free parks and gardens in Auckland while the flowers are in full bloom.
If you’re visiting during the offseason, check out the Winter Gardens at the Auckland Domain instead. The greenhouses are spectacular all year round and right in the heart of the city, so they’re easy to walk to.
Closer to the airport are the Auckland Botanic Gardens, which are also free and feature over 10,000 plant species from around the globe.
2. Marvel at the Weta Cave Shop in Wellington
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies were filmed in New Zealand, so Tolkien fans looking to build their itineraries around filming locations are spoiled for options.
The most famous of these is the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata. Unfortunately, it’s also the most expensive. If you want movie magic without the price tag, visit the Weta Cave Shop in Wellington. It’s owned and operated by Weta Workshop, the company responsible for most of the design and special effects in the films.
The Weta Cave is home to life-size sculptures, a mini-museum, and a behind-the-scenes documentary that plays every thirty minutes. It’s also entirely free.
3. Visit the Kiwi House in Otorohanga
The Otorohanga Kiwi House is the self-proclaimed “Best Place to See Kiwi” in New Zealand.
I’ve been to four different kiwi houses in New Zealand and have to agree with that assessment. At $24NZD per adult ticket, they’re also the least expensive, and totally worth it.
Kiwi birds are both nocturnal and critically endangered, so you won’t see one in the wild. Plan your visit to the Otorohanga Kiwi House around the daily kiwi talks/feedings for the best chance to see these famous New Zealand birds up and about.
In addition to kiwis, there are sixteen other types of native birds to see and some reptiles, too.
Cheap or Free Things to Do on the South Island
4. Day Hike Part of a Great Walk
Technically, this is something that you can do on either island, but the more popular Great Walks of New Zealand are on the South Island. The Great Walks traverse a staggering variety of terrain and offer a decent challenge with views to match, even as a day hike.
I specify day hiking because the cost of overnight tramping (backpacking) the Great Walks can add up quickly – especially with the new differential pricing for international visitors. The only Great Walk you can’t day hike is the Milford Track, which is only accessible by a one-way ferry ride. All the others are easy to get to.
Another option for completing a Great Walk without paying a premium is to go during the offseason (May 1 – Oct 22). The nightly price for the huts drops to $15NZD on most of the Great Walks, including the Milford Track. Just be aware that weather conditions will probably not be ideal.
Cost: Free to day hike
5. Go Wine Tasting in Wanaka
They offer free, informal tastings daily for individuals and small groups. If you’re moved by the beauty of the land – and, let’s be honest, the wine – donations are welcome but not required. For groups of seven or more, private tasting reservations are mandatory and cost $30NZD per person.
Afterward, take time to enjoy the town. Grab a bite to eat at any of the wonderful lakefront restaurants or walk off your wine buzz with a stroll along Lake Wanaka. Don’t forget to snap a picture of #thatwanakatree.
Cost: Free for individuals
6. Stargaze in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park
Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin make up the Aoraki/Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. Certified by the International Dark-Sky Association, Reserves must meet sky quality and darkness criteria as well as commit to long-term dark-sky preservation.
There are only thirteen certified International Dark Sky Reserves in the world, so you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better place to stargaze.
Since summer days are long on the South Island, the best way to see this celestial display is by camping out. White Horse Hill Campground is the most accessible campsite in Aoraki/Mt. Cook and costs $13NZD a night per adult. For those traveling by campervan, they also accept campsite passes.
Cost: $13NZD per person for camping
If you’re planning a working holiday in New Zealand, or just want to explore cities like Christchurch, or Queenstown, or witness the country’s out of this world landscapes first hand, you have many options to do so without the price tag. Happy trails to you, we hope this post has been helpful.
What other cheap or free things to do in New Zealand do you suggest? Please share in the comments!