Auckland has enough to fill even the most demanding traveler’s itinerary – but New Zealand’s largest city isn’t the cheapest place to visit. Dining out and cultural activities are often on the pricier side, yet Auckland has a wealth of natural beauty including parks, beaches and native forests that are all free to visit.
You’ll also find an extensive program of free activities held in parks and local beaches during the summer months, most of which are family-friendly. These will give you an insight into local life as well as fun opportunities to see some of the city’s less tourist-focused attractions. Here are some of the best free things to do in Auckland.
1. Listen to music in a park
Between January and March, one of the best free things to do in Auckland is heading to a local park with a picnic and listening to music in the sun. These free Music in Parks events are organized by the local council and are free to attend. Relaxing on blankets on warm, summer evenings, locals gather to catch up with friends, people watch and just enjoy the shared experience of appreciating good music together. There’s dancing, good vibes and perhaps a glass of wine, depending on the venue.
No matter what music you enjoy listening to, there’ll be a performance for you, ranging from hip-hop, rock and pop to live bands or DJs. These events happen at different parks each weekend, so it pays to check the program to see who is performing where and when. Take a big picnic blanket, sunscreen, drinks and snacks and chat and relax while listening to the performances.
2. Admire local art
Auckland’s local art scene is on display at large and small exhibitions around the city. The Pah Homestead in Monte Cecilia Park displays contemporary and mixed-media art, along with photography exhibitions. The surrounding park is also beautiful to explore, with large expansions of grass and tree-lined avenues reminiscent of a typical English countryside estate. Another option is Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Art Gallery in West Auckland, where you will find a wide selection of contemporary art, ceramics and displays from Māori and Pasifika artists. While you’re there, explore the scenic village of Titirangi, tucked into the native bush. Entry to both galleries is by donation.
Free for New Zealand residents (and with a small fee for visitors) the Auckland Art Gallery in the city center has the largest collection of public art in the country. On display: work by a range of international artists, century’s worth of New Zealand art, pieces from the Pacific Islands and visiting exhibitions.
3. Go for a splash at historic Parnell Baths
Admission to the seasonal Parnell Baths is less than $10 for adults and free for children, and swimming in the saltwater pools makes a fun day out. Over 100 years old, the open-air pool complex has a stunning setting just a short walk from the city center, with beautiful views over the harbor. It’s a pleasure to spend the day relaxing poolside or swimming laps in the large outdoor pool. There is also a water playground for kids, as well as hot tubs if you want a more relaxing experience.
4. Be mesmerized by a twilight open-air cinema
As the warmer months roll around, Aucklanders like to spend their time outdoors. At parks and beaches throughout the city, Auckland Council’s Movies In Parks series screens classics and recent releases on giant inflatable screens. Arrive early to secure a good spot, and feel the sense of anticipation build as people arrive. Bring a picnic to keep costs down; otherwise, you can get provisions from on-site food trucks. Then, when it gets dark, relax back and watch the film.
Movies in Parks runs in various green spaces throughout Auckland from January to March. There are also regular open-air film screenings at Takapuna Beach, North West town center, Silo Park and Western Springs reserve.
5. Spot native birdlife at Western Springs Park
Take a break from the city at Western Springs Park, one of Auckland’s most popular green spaces. Close to the zoo, Western Springs Park was one of Auckland’s early sources of water, and you can still see the old Victorian pump house at the nearby Museum of Transport and Technology (affectionately dubbed MOTAT). Today, it’s a nature reserve and a pleasant place for a walk around the lake or over boardwalk-lined wetlands. Rolling lawns make for a perfect place to stop and relax, and a playground caters to kiddos.
6. Hike one of the Waitākere Ranges trails
If you’re ready to escape into nature, head to Arataki, the gateway to the Waitākere Ranges, home to stunning walks through unspoiled native bush. Start at the Arataki Visitor Centre, where you will be welcomed by an impressive pou, a post made from a kauri tree and carved with figures of Māori ancestors relevant to the area. Intricate whakairo (carvings) embellish both the exterior and interior. Inside, you’ll find a huge amount of information about the native trees and plants in the Waitākere Ranges, as well as small exhibits and activities for children.
When you venture back outside, wander through the viewing platforms behind the center for remarkable views of the Manukau harbor. There are a number of trails that start at the center, including a short walk to the Kauri Cathedral, a viewing platform surrounded by towering kauri trees, or longer loops through the forest. There is also a nature trail where you can learn how to identify different native trees and plants.
Note: In January 2023 damage from Cyclone Gabrielle meant the Visitor Centre was closed until further notice. Large sections of the park have also been closed to prevent the spread of kauri dieback, a disease spread through soil that kills native kauri trees. Check online for information on which walks are open in the Waitākere Ranges.
7. Cycle (or stroll) the pink path
Cross the city center in style by cycling on a psychedelic pink pathway, one of central Auckland’s brightest attractions. A disused motorway off-ramp has been given a second life as a cycleway, connecting the upper city center with the harbor. Cycle, walk or scoot down the cycleway, then walk along Britomart and back up Queen St to turn it into a loop, stopping for coffee or a snack along the way. The route is particularly impressive at night, when the pink path is lit with multicolored LED lights.
8. Climb to the top of a lighthouse for epic views
The Manukau Heads Lighthouse was originally built in 1874 to help ships navigate the sometimes treacherous Manukau Harbor (a decade earlier, a shipwreck had caused 189 casualties). Today, shipwrecks are all but a distant memory. Surrounded by forest and sea, visitors are greeted with panoramic views when they reach the top. You can also walk inside the lighthouse and learn more about the shipwreck that led to its construction.
The route to the lighthouse involves a trip to the Āwhitu Peninsula, a remote place of rolling pastures and coastal views that extends to the entrance of the Manukau Harbor. Take a leisurely drive to the very tip of the peninsula, where you’ll find the lovingly restored lighthouse.
Note: Due to a landslide the road to the lighthouse was closed in early 2023. Repairs are not expected to be complete until late 2024. Check online to make sure it’s open before you head up there.
9. Spend the day swimming or snorkeling at a local beach
Beach days in Auckland are synonymous with hot weather, cool ocean breezes and long stretches of white sand that look across the Hauraki Gulf to the islands in the distance. There are many different beaches to choose from, including peaceful white bays on the east coast, volcanic, black-sand beaches in West Auckland and rocky marine reserves in the north. Swimming is a must in the summer; if you enjoy snorkeling, head to Goat Island or Tāwharanui Peninsula and swim with the fishes in a marine reserve.
Otherwise, enjoy a walk along the coast. Mission Bay is not far from the city center and has a long stretch of sand that’s perfect for an early evening stroll along the beach. Get an ice cream from New Zealand Natural for a cheap(ish) treat and enjoy the views of the harbor and the North Shore. For visiting fishers, a number of spots beckon: snapper and kahawai can be caught in Auckland, including from the wharf in Devonport, under the Harbour Bridge, and off the rocks at many beaches at low tide.