Known for its alpine landscapes, scenic beaches, and breathtaking nature all-around, Aotearoa New Zealand presents infinite options for outdoor and indoor activities. You can be hiking to a mountaintop one day and catching waves or wine-tasting along a bike trail the following one. All this said, there’s no wonder why visiting the land of the long white cloud is at the top of the list for many travelers. This article will highlight 22 free or inexpensive things to do in New Zealand.
Exploring New Zealand on a tight budget is possible! And here’s how.
Is New Zealand Expensive?
Though many think that New Zealand is an expensive destination, you can explore the country on a budget and still get the full kiwi experience. This country has multiple activities and adventures you can do for just a few bucks.
If you’ve always dreamed of visiting, we’ll discuss different options for you to travel without eating away your savings in this guide.
Frugal Things to Do in New Zealand
1. Visit the Local Hot Pools
Rotorua is probably part of your destination list! Known for its bubbling mud pools and natural hot springs, Rotorua is a geothermal wonderland.
Though beautiful, it might not be the right option for many as it’s quite touristy and pricey. Luckily, many cities and towns have natural hot springs, including hot pools, spa pools, and even saunas.
For example, if you’re driving through the South Island, you can visit the hot pools in New Brighton – Christchurch – with brand new facilities right across the sea for just $14 to 18 NZD.
But these are not the only ones!
There are pools in Hanmer Springs, Lake Tekapo, and Mount Maunganui – to name just a few.
For even more affordable options, you can visit the local public pools. These usually boast a family spa area for just about $6 NZD.
Check the council website of the area you’re visiting, and get ready to relax and recover while soaking your stress away.
2. Go Camping
This country has the best setup for freedom camping. Whether you’re pitching a tent or traveling in a van, you can find hundreds of options for campgrounds that often include cooking, shower, and toilet facilities.
There are multiple websites and apps that can help you find a campground that fits your budget, like Campermate or the DOC website. Camping in New Zealand is extremely easy and popular, as it’s part of its culture. If you don’t have much experience, I recommend keeping a camping list handy to ensure you have everything you may need.
One of the best ways to explore New Zealand on a budget is hiking. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or an avid tramper; New Zealand has something for you and your family.
From easy walkways to multi-day hikes, the range of possibilities is unlimited. Beware, though; weather can be unpredictable sometimes, so always check the forecast and pick your hiking outfit according to the season for the location you’ll be exploring. Especially if doing a multi-day hike.
All hikes across New Zealand are free, but some traverse private land and may require a small fee – this is not all too common.
If you’ve done any research already, you may know about the Great Walks. These are considered the country’s “top” multi-day walks and come with a price tag if you wish to spend the night at one of their huts or campsites.
To plan your hiking trip, head to the DOC website and prepare for it. If you stick to one of the thousands of walks that are not part of the Great Walks, you can expect to spend just about $5 to $15 for a hut’s bunk bed or to pitch your tent.
Speaking of which…
4. Stay in a Hut
If you’re planning on doing several hikes or want to do overnight or multi-day walks, staying at a DOC hut might be ideal.
There are over 950 huts spread across the country, and they’re a perfect option to sleep in as they provide shelter and warmth, especially after a full day of walking in the bush. Besides, you get to enjoy stunning views of the landscape around you.
Depending on where you’re going, sleeping in a hut usually costs around $15 NZD a night – some are even free. However, as mentioned before, Great Walks’ huts usually cost more depending on the walk, as each has its own pricing, seasonality, booking dates, etc.
Hitchhiking is a safe and cheap way to get around and meet local people. I hitchhiked parts of the South Island when my best friend visited in the summer of 2020 and had a fantastic experience.
There’s some waiting time as some roads are not very busy, but it’s definitely an option for those looking to save as much money as possible.
Hitchhiking in New Zealand is legal, and drivers are very used to picking up backpackers along the road. So make sure to bring some chocolate to share, and smile!
However, it’s also important to practice safe hitchhiking principles like going with friends.
Have you ever heard about glowworms? Quite literally, glowworms are tiny worms…that glow. They can be seen at nighttime, looking like the tiniest little – yet mighty – stars.
Glowworms are usually found in caves. But, as glowworm tours often come with a hefty price, you need to know you can also find them in many locations for free.
A quick Google search will guide you, but these cuties love moisture so they can be found around river beds in humid areas. Some locations where you’ll find them are Wellington’s Botanical Gardens, Franz Josef, the Queen Charlotte Track, Hokitika, Hot Water Beach, and many more spots.
7. Experience Maori Culture
One of the can’t-miss things to do in New Zealand is taking the chance to learn about Maori culture. Many of the places you’ll likely visit are sacred and significant within Maori culture. Examples include Tongariro, Castle Hill/Kura Tawhiti, Rotorua, Aoraki/Mt. Cook, and many more.
Give your trip a different dimension by learning about the legends that keep Aotearoa’s past and present thriving.
8. Rent a Kayak, Paddleboard, or Surfboard
Water sports are a must to try during your stay. Many coastal towns and cities offer different options for renting out gear. Whether it’s surfing, kayaking, or paddleboarding, you can definitely find something that adjusts to your adventure taste and budget.
For example, if you go to Raglan – a surfing mecca – you can rent a surfboard with a wetsuit for $25 for half a day. At Kaiteriteri, near the Abel Tasman National Park, you can hire a paddleboard for just about $ 15 NZD for 30 minutes. Most popular beaches have companies hiring water sports gear on-site, so pick your fave and give it a go!
9. Go Climbing
Home to the Southern Alps, New Zealand offers spectacular views and locations for climbing, especially around the South Island. There are plenty of guidebooks and websites that will lead you to places like Takaka, Castle Hill Basin, and Mount Cook.
You can find anything that suits your fitness level as far as climbing goes.
From rock climbing and bouldering to alpine climbing, you can enjoy this sport in multiple gorgeous locations.
If you don’t have your own gear, you can usually rent it pretty cheap – shoes and crash pads, for example – at the local climbing gym. You’ll be surprised to realize how popular this sport is!
10. Join a Highline Gathering or Festival
Want to meet local people while trying out something different and fun? Then you should join a highline or slackline gathering or festival!
Slacklining is a fun sport and a great opportunity to enjoy the beautiful scenery around you: the beach, forest, or simply a park nearby. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can find highline festivals and gatherings on social media that you can join for free.
The slacklining community is very present and strong amongst local outdoor lovers in New Zealand. So don’t hesitate to reach out and find out how you can come to see this amazing sport.
Clear, dark skies offer a unique breathtaking experience. With almost no light pollution, you can visit some of the most accessible observatories in the world. For example, the Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve has been labeled one of the best stargazing sites on earth as it’s completely free from light pollution.
Did you know you could see the southern lights from New Zealand? That’s right. If you travel in winter, you might be lucky enough to see the Aurora Australis.
12. Visit the Local Museums and Galleries
Visiting museums and galleries is a top thing to do while traveling and definitely one of the most frugal things to do in New Zealand.
Te Papa, in Wellington, is the museum of New Zealand, and it’s free. In it, you can learn about the rich history of the country, its nature and wildlife, Maori culture, and more. You can easily spend the whole day over there! Same with the Canterbury Museum, and Christchurch’s Art Gallery, both located in the heart of Christchurch.
13. Hang Out With the Cutest Sea Life
This country’s incredible coastline offers an extraordinary experience: encounters with marine wildlife.
You can swim with dolphins, see the Blue penguins colony in Oamaru and even go whale watching. It all depends on what you fancy. Of course, keep in mind you’re entering a wild environment, so be respectful. Keep your distance and give them a break from cameras and phones. Simply enjoy the incredible encounter without too much technology.
14. Join the Steampunk Festival
Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction inspired by Victorian-era industrialism, and Oamaru happens to host the annual Steampunk Festival, a three-day event with workshops and activities perfect for locals, travelers, and steampunk enthusiasts.
This is a great way to get creative and show off your best outfit! Creativity can be found in many ways during this festival: accessories, clothing, fake weapons, and even means of transport. Join the opening parade and meet a different aspect of New Zealand’s locals.
15. Budget-Friendly Boat Trips
With beautiful islands, peninsulas, beaches, and harbors, catching a boat ride is an excellent way to enjoy the scenery.
If you’re hiking and enjoying around Abel Tasman, you can catch a water taxi to get a different view of the area for about $30 NZD. If you are touring the Bay of Islands region, you can catch a ferry for as little as $14 NZD.
When planning your trip, do your online research or call the local tourism information office. Most coastal towns will have some sort of water taxi or short cruise you can hop on.
16. Go Caving
If you thought New Zealand couldn’t amaze you anymore, you probably weren’t thinking underground. Yes, underground!
There are several caving sites throughout the country for you to explore. Waitomo Caves are the best-known caving system where you can choose to walk through them, or if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can try doing black water rafting!
The south island has several caving systems for you to discover, too; you can go on underground adventures in Nelson, Fiordland, on the West Coast, and Canterbury. These are the most famous but not the only ones!
Cave Stream is also a favorite amongst locals and visitors, just next to Castle Hill – world-renowned bouldering and Maori sacred site. And, while you’re south, you wouldn’t want to miss Hardwood’s hole, the deepest sinkhole in the southern hemisphere with a jaw-dropping height of 180 meters.
17. Frisbee Golf
Disc golf is played similarly to regular golf: throwing a disc to the target.
This is a family-friendly activity you can find around public parks and, in the beautiful spirit of this sport, it’s free to play. You only need some friends and a few discs, and you’re ready to go!
Grab a drink, make a picnic, and plan your afternoon at the local park.
If you want to be closest to nature and experience an epic trip, try Aotearoa’s cycling trails.
You can find different tracks that adjust to everybody’s skills: from easy trails like the Otago Central Rail Trail, a 152km recreational trail that follows the former rail line, to more experienced ones like The Old Ghost Road on the West Coast. Cycling is a fun way to find your way to untouched backcountry, stunning locations, and top-of-the-world views.
You can rent a bike pretty much in every city and big town. Just check with the local cycle shop or bike operator and get ready to hit the trails pedaling!
If you are on a budget, even renting a bike for one hour will do the trick. As a rule of thumb, an hour costs $25 for a regular bike and $35 for an e-bike.
19. Wine Tasting
Visiting a winery is a must-do when it comes to frugal things to do in New Zealand. You may think living the high life of a wine connoisseur is not a budget-friendly quest, but in New Zealand, it is!
Moreover, this is the perfect opportunity to try world-famous wines while enjoying spectacular views in beautiful settings.
You usually pay between $5 to $15 NZD for wine tasting. There are wine regions on both islands and plenty of vineyards for you to visit. Most places don’t even require bookings, so just show up and drink up!
Support local businesses and join the kiwi-buzz on Saturday and Sunday mornings! Markets in Aotearoa are chock-full of the yummiest goods, high-quality coffee, organic produce, and music.
Markets usually kick off around eight and wrap up at 1, so ensure to get your brekkie-fix ready before a big day ahead.
21. Visit Lord of The Rings Locations
After getting off the airplane, Hobbiton would probably be one of your first stops. But, if you’re traveling on a budget, there are more than 150 different locations across the country waiting for you to visit!
22. Go to a Yoga Class
Even when traveling and exploring new places, it’s necessary to take a break and connect with yourself.
Going to a yoga class is great for your body and mind, and it’s also an opportunity to meet some locals and get to know the place you’re visiting. If you’re planning to hang out in that area for a bit, most studios offer 2-week unlimited yoga passes between $30 to $40.
Discounts and Deals
A good tip for traveling on a budget is to check out discount websites. They usually offer package deals or discounted activities that are hard to resist.
Bookme is a great website to look for activities and attractions. However, it’s always advisable to call to confirm with the company directly to check that your booking is ok as the website isn’t always accurate.