You are planning on visiting New Zealand, but you are on a budget? We got you. As we were in the same situation, when we did our NZ road trip. Since the country is very expensive to travel to, we looked up free activities to do in New Zealand. Basically, all of them are outdoor adventures that make you feel young, wild & free. And we also listed our favorite hikes in NZ. The best thing about this whole bucket list: It doesn’t cost anything, so these activities are perfect for explorers/backpackers like us on a budget.
1. Camp next to a lake/the ocean
New Zealand has so many beautiful camping spots. Sometimes you just need to do a little research in your camping app (we used Camper Mate) and you’ll be able to find some hidden gems. The best spots are mostly the free camping places, because these are located somewhere in nature. We once camped directly next to a lake. The view in the morning after waking up was just breathtaking and we actually ended up there by chance. So, if you take some time to research nice camping grounds, you are going to be rewarded.
Our favorite Camping spots: Lake Dunstan at State Highway 8, Cromwell Copden Tiphead (Shipwreck Point), Greymouth
2. Hike the Hooker Valley Track
The Hooker Valley Track is one of the hikes in New Zealand you can’t miss. It is a very easy 5 km walk in the valley of the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park. At the end of the track you have the best view of the biggest mountain New Zealand – Mount Cook. Also, there’s a big glacier lake at the bottom. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do the hike completely, due to the destroyed bridges from the storm earlier last year. By now the track should be open again, but we would recommend checking the situation beforehand.
Length: 5km Location: Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park Difficulty: easy
3. Sunrise hike at Roys Peak
Another point on the free activities list to do in New Zealand is hiking the Roys Peak in Wanaka. This hike is for sure not for everybody, since the elevation is pretty intense. However, getting up at 3 a.m was nothing but worth it for the view on the top. Don’t forget to bring enough food and water, since the hike can take up to 6 hours. And keep in mind, that it can get pretty cold up on the top. We were freezing so much, so that we had to hike down pretty early. (We went in May, so it was autumn already and we had about 4 degrees Celsius at the peak.)
Length: 16km Duration: 5-6 hours Location: carpark on Mt Aspiring Road Difficulty: intermediate (1300m elevation)
4. Morning Walk at Lake Matheson
On the way to Franz Josef we stopped at Lake Matheson for a quick morning walk. We actually did not expect much, but walking around the mirror lake was so peaceful and quiet in the morning. If you are lucky and it’s a clear day, you have a perfect view of the three biggest mountains in New Zealand. To see these giants being reflected on the calm water of the lake was an unforgettable moment.
Length: 2,5km Duration: 1 hour Location: Fox Glacier, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand Difficulty: easy
5. Visit Franz Josef
Franz Josef is a small town on the West Coast of the South Island. This town is so special, because you can see one of the biggest glaciers in New Zealand from there. We were told, that the glacier is most likely to be completely melted by the next five years. So, this view will soon not be the same anymore. That is why you have to see this with your own eyes, before it’s too late. We actually decided to do a Heli glacier hike, where you are taken up to the glacier by a helicopter and walk on the ice. It was pretty expensive, to be honest, so it’s up to you if you are doing the hike or if you are just enjoying the view from the bottom. We would actually recommend doing it, because it’s a once in a lifetime experience.
6. Wine tasting tour in Renwick
The North of the South Island in New Zealand is known for its vineyards and its good wine. That is why we did a wine tasting tour by bike. This is actually not completely free, but you could also just walk around the vineyards without drinking a lot of wine. It is a very chill & fun thing to do in that area. We traveled NZ in autumn and the colorful leaves shining in the sunset light felt very special. Plus it’s a lot of fun driving around on bikes and drinking wine all day long.
7. Hike in the Abel Tasman National Park
Another lovely hike to do add to your bucket list is the Abel Tasman Coast Track. We just did a day trip hike along the coast and in the afternoon we walked back to the parking lot. However, if you are enjoying longer hikes, you could do the entire track for five days. The nature in this area is absolutely unique and hiking along the ocean makes you walk with a beautiful view.
Length: 60km Duration: 5 days Location: Abel Tasman National Park Difficulty: easy - intermediate
8. Shower outside at the beach
I don’t know why, but showering at the beach at 10 degrees Celcius and blow-drying our hair with the heat ventilation of the van gave us one of the best memories. It’s moments like this that make you feel alive. If you are traveling in summer it is also not too cold to shower outside and probably much more fun (It was so cold, let me tell you!). The actual reason why we kept doing that was, so we don’t have to pay for showers at a camping spot. We enjoyed camping at free campgrounds somewhere in nature way more than paid camping facilities. However, since we had to do a shower at some point, we decided to take the free beach showers.
9. Do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
We are actually so sad, that we couldn’t do the Alpine Crossing on the North Island due to the bad weather conditions. We would have loved to climb the volcano and see the colorful lakes, the lava, and the active crater with our own eyes. However, that means we have to come back one day to do it aaand we’ll share this point of our own bucket list with you. That’s one hike you really just can’t miss on your NZ adventures and it’s completely free. Keep in mind, that you need to inform yourself about the conditions etc. before you start. Here you’ll find everything you need to know.
Length: 18km Duration: 8 hours Location: Ruapehu Difficulty: advanced
10. Explore Auckland
The capital of New Zealand – Auckland. It’s the biggest city in New Zealand and we really enjoyed our stay there. After weeks of camping, it felt good to finally be back in civilization. We both were craving good coffee, some snacks and ended up strolling through second-hand shops and the University of Auckland. Auckland has A LOT to offer. You don’t even need a real plan, just walk around the streets and you’ll find some beautiful places.
11. Visit Cathedral Cove
The Cathedral Cove lays in the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve, which is full of picturesque places. The Cove has got its name from the breathtaking cave at the beach. It looks like a big arch build in the rock. A short walk from the parking space and you are already there. During our visit, it’s been raining the whole day, but this spot has a magical vibe anyways. In summer you might even be able to go swimming and relax at the beach.
12. Bathing in natural hot tubs
The Thermal Explorer Highway on the North Island in New Zealand has many fun & free activities to offer. Don’t be fooled and pay hundreds of dollars to see geysers, hot steam, and yellow lakes. It’s actually much easier (and cheaper) to explore this area on your own, without having to pay high entrance fees for parks. We did some research on Google and found a river, that’s water is warm, because of the geothermal activity in the ground. Have you ever been bathing in a river with hot/warm water? If not, NZ is the place for that. It’s pretty cool, just try it out!
Adress: Kerosene Creek, Rotorua, Thermal Explorer Highway
13. Hike Mount Maunganui Summit
This was one of our favorite sunset hikes. Mount Maunganui lays in the city of Tauranga over which you have an insane view at the top. If you walk up in the late afternoon, you’ll have the most beautiful view over the whole area.
Length: 3,8 km Duration: 80 min (up & down) Location: Tauranga Difficulty: easy
14. Drive to Milford Sound
Milford Sound is one of the most popular tourist attractions in New Zealand. It’s a fjord with waterfalls coming down the rock walls literally everywhere. This place is magical and even the drive to the fjord is so spectacular. You will probably stop every 5 minutes to take pictures, since the scenery is just breathtaking. We actually decided to do a bus tour from Queenstown, but you could totally drive by yourself. Just be aware, that the streets are quite tight and steep. So, some parts are more for advanced drivers.
15. Take a bath in the Blue Pools glacier water
The Blue Pools are filled with crystal clear glacier water. The water is ice-cold, but I guess if you haven’t been bathing in ice water, you haven’t been doing EVERYTHING NZ has to offer. However, don’t forget to bring a towel and fresh clothes, since it’s a 30 min walk back to the parking spot.
Length: 3km Duration: 1 hour Location: Mount Aspiring National Park Difficulty: easy
So, these are 15 activities you can do in New Zealand that are completely free. They’ll give you the best memories – we promise. Actually, the most beautiful experiences and the best view in this country don’t cost anything.
We did almost every point of this adventurous NZ bucket list during our three -week road trip through the country.
Let us know which of the free New Zealand activities you are going to try out in the comments!