Arriving in Auckland for 2 days in 2012 we were a bit disappointed, compared to everywhere else we had visited in New Zealand, we didn’t like the look of the place, and after a wander around couldn’t find anything to amuse ourselves so we headed to the safe option of Auckland Zoo. Fast forward two years and we find ourselves wanting to go to New Zealand again this time on a working holiday visa. And without too much hesitation we picked Auckland as our base. Where we would end up living for 9 months!
I won’t be able to answer why we chose to live in Auckland for so long if we didn’t like it straight away but we definitely are glad we chose it and are happy to have called it our home.
There is in fact lots of things to see and do around Auckland and thankfully for people like us on a budget there are so many things to do for free or for good value. Here is my list of all things great…
Auckland is dotted with volcanoes, which are actually classified as ‘active’ but seeing as the last one erupted over 600 years ago, it doesn’t look likely there will be an eruption soon. (Hopefully). So as the volcanoes dominate the landscape I thought that a good place to start on my list of free and cheap things to do whilst in Auckland.
Not only do the volcanic cones provide a unique landscape, but also some truly spectacular views. From the CBD you can, if you are adventurous walk to a few of the most popular volcanoes, or catch public transport. They are free to visit and you can take in the view for as long as you wish.
Mount Eden is the highest of Auckland’s volcanoes at 196metres high. At the summit you will have a panoramic 360 degree view over the city and the Waitemata Harbour and beyond. (40 minute walk from the CBD)
One Tree Hill is named so as there once stood a lone tree atop the mountain, now there is a monument and the grave of Sir John Logan Campbell, the ‘founding father’ of Auckland City. Again there are views to die for and you can see far in the distance the Coromandel Peninsula. The volcano sits amongst the beautiful grassy parkland and gardens of Cornwall Park, where as well as spotting lots of tourists and locals you will be greeted by the friendly sheep and cattle that graze the land. (1+ hour walk from the CBD)
Across the Waitemata Harbour you will find Mount Victoria which is the highest point in Devonport after a short climb to the top you will be greeted by magnificent views over the harbour and see the city across the way, as well as views across the nearby islands of the Hauraki Gulf. Here you can park your bum on the hill and start eating your picnic whilst feeding the tiny birds that are fluttering around you.
Devonport is only a short 12 minute boat ride onboard the Fullers ferry, costing $12 return. Devonport has a pretty little Victorian village with beautiful buildings and stylish boutique shops, and makes a lovely day out of the bustling city.
A little further a field is Rangitoto, which is the most recent volcano to erupt and re-design the shape of the Waitemata Harbour, sitting majestically with a unique landscape of rugged lava crops and lush greenery, Rangitoto is a must, a leisurely walk to the summit will take about an hour, you can join a tour or explore at your leisure. As well as jumping on the great network of Fullers ferry’s which for the ferry and 4WD tour costs $60, you can kayak to the island with a few tour companies although this option would cost a little more. Ferry only costs $30 return, or $20 return if you take the early bird sailing at 0730.
Sailing on Waitemata Harbour- again with Fullers you can also cruise along the harbour, getting up close the Harbour Bridge and setting sail down the coast whilst having a running commentary about the history of Auckland. For $40 you also will enjoy an afternoon tea consisting of coffee and a muffin, and a brief stop at Rangitoto and included in the good value for money ticket, you also receive a free return ticket to Devonport to use at your leisure (the ticket is rather splendidly valid for one year)
Also on the Waitemata Harbour you can sail to the second largest island on the Hauraki Gulf- Waiheke, which you can do expensively or on a budget. The budget option being, spending $55 for your Fuller’s return ferry, guided island bus tour and use of the public service bus all day. The 40 minute sail across to Waiheke is in itself a must do, as you pass by the islands and watch the city is it disappears into the distance. You are greeted off the ferry by the guided tour, which is on a small bus with a friendly local pointing out all the landmarks, beaches and local animals including Alpacas and cockerels. The island is 36 square miles with a population of 8,600. Although the population varies considerably as a lot of residents commute to the city every day for work, and many people come to the island where they have holiday homes. Waiheke is famous for its wineries but that costs money, so we found some vouchers for free wine tasting, which I had sourced from the free brochures you can pick up at tourist information sites/airport etc.
Some good tourist brochures to look at are Jasons.co.nz ‘Auckland What’s On’ and ‘The Official Guide Auckland A-Z’ both of which offer discount vouchers.
Look up the internet for local annual events which are coming up, these include NRL 9s Rugby, Tennis ASB Classics, Auckland Lantern Festival, Farmers Santa Parade, Coca Cola in the Park. The Rugby and Tennis do have a cost attached but are good long days out, and are cheaper than watching them at larger events. The others are all free events. Also look out on Facebook and TV3 website for TV shows which have live recordings and need people for the studio audience, these are free to attend and a good night out. Also look out for the special events which Sky City celebrates as the Tower will be lit up in themed colours and if it’s a very big celebration there may even be fireworks. There are lots of great places to watch the fireworks including at Victoria Park, Mt Eden, One Tree Hill (Devonport is a perfect location if you wish to pay).
If you are living in Auckland and have a postal address you can take ID and proof of residence (Water bill/IRD confirmation letter) to the Auckland Museum and Maritime Museum and sign up for a free ‘MyMuseum’ card. These museums normally charge but as a MyMuseum cardholder you can visit the museums as many times as you like for free- you are just kindly asked to leave a donation.
Auckland Art Gallery and The Navy Museum are both free to everyone, again a donation is kindly asked.
AT Hop Card (same as London’s Oyster Card, Melbourne’s Myki etc) you top it up and can use the card on trains, busses and local ferries, for a discount price. Anyone can buy the Hop Card, just find a newsagents that displays the AT top up logo or pop into a train station and put down a $5 deposit and the card is yours.
Cinema- Event cinemas are our preferred cinema but other ones such as Hoyts also offer discounts. Anyone can sign up for a ‘CineBuzz Rewards’ card which is free. This gives you cheaper cinema tickets for ‘movies of the week’ and also special deals on ‘advanced screening’ movies. In addition you also receive points when you book, these add up and you can receive a free movie ticket.
Hitting the beach or a park is always a good way to spend a day or two for free. Some of our favourites are Mission Bay Beach, Walk/cycle to Mission Bay- cycle tracks are in progress around the city but should be finished by next year (2016) making it easier and safer to cycle. Takapuna Beach and Lake Pupuke in Takapuna, Piha Beach, and Onetangi in Waiheke. As Auckland is a relatively small city it is dotted with lots of parks, the best in the city are Albert Park and The Domain. A worthy day trip out of the city to visit Kite Kite Falls is also a must.
Visiting Auckland’s suburbs doesn’t need to cost you money, most are within walking distance and it’s nice to soak up the atmosphere on the way. Ponsonby and Parnell are good ones, and look out for local markets there too. Armed with a map or not, you can do the Auckland City Heritage Walk which takes you past important places in Auckland’s history. Or just a day or night strolling around the Wynyard Quarter in the heart of Auckland is a great experience. If you want to go further afield there is the coast to coast walkway. Or if you find yourself at Piha, a must for walking/tramping is the Kitekite track-Piha.
Why not visit the Stardome Observatory and Planetarium (Tuesday-Sunday $10 or $8 with voucher) as New Zealand is a great place for star gazing.
Now normally I think Afternoon Tea should be saved for special occasions, however if you are visiting Auckland then that in itself is a special occasion. Lots of hotels do afternoon tea but none with such a view as at the Sky Tower, so that’s why I am recommending it. At only $40 (you would pay more in the UK) you get a window seat looking at the city and beyond as it revolve around you. Delicious arrays of delights are set out in front of you, but to be honest you will be too busy taking in the view and whipping your camera out every 2 minutes. Also included in the price is a free 45 minute entry to viewing floors (open Saturday and Sundays 2.30-4.30)
The price for a single admission to the Sky Tower is $28 so I would recommend the Afternoon Tea package as its more value for money, but if you are sticking around Auckland for some time I would recommend paying $84 for the annual pass (which also includes various discounts). I know this might sound expensive but you can visit the Tower as many times as you like within the year and if you are partial to a view, like getting that camera out or just a place to read your book, this is well worth the money.
My number one and only suggestion for good value food is ‘Sals’ which is a New York Pizzeria. The pizzas come by the slice or a whopping 18”, more than enough for two greedy people and a decent amount to share between 3, therefore such great value for money. And prices around $28 you can’t beat it.
I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge ‘AirBnB’ which is a great website and indeed concept, people let out their rooms/homes for x amount of time and you stay with them or whilst they are away. This is a welcome difference from a hostel and the prices are comparatively the same (more so for couples sharing)
Also and this will apply for anywhere in the world probably, but we have been lucky enough to have jobs with some perks, which is what I would encourage people to find whilst on a working holiday visa (or indeed for life). We both got jobs through ‘Madison’ which is an agency and both worked for Auckland Council, and they offer discount tickets on theatres and shows, which is a good perk. And also we both had a part time job at ‘Vector Arena’ which enabled us to not only gain extra money and be on a flexible roster, but we got to watch some of the biggest pop stars and bands, as well as some old classics, not for free but actually getting paid for it.