Kia Ora from Auckland!
As the most expensive and busiest city of New Zealand, it can be easy to burn your budget in a few short days. Here you can find the best activities to cover 4 days in Auckland from wandering the city and cultural areas, plus a few unique activities along the way – all for under $30!
Arriving in Auckland
I was up early to catch the flight to Auckland, which all went incredibly smoothly except for the fact that the clumsiness in me decided to reappear and left me tripping over my own feet (and shredding my knee in the process) and slamming my finger in a lift door on my way to the airport. Nice one. So I decided once I’d found my bearings a bit to settle in the hostel in the centre of Auckland for the night to avoid any further damage. I suddenly realised why everyone was telling me to ‘keep safe’ before departing on a solo trip, people must know about my accident prone nature.
The Attic Backpackers hostel I stayed in was really lovely, I would have liked to stay a little longer and would really recommend it to those looking for a comfortable, affordable, and central place to stay. However, the experience was slightly dampened by the very loud snoring rumbling from the bunk below mine. Now, I don’t mind a little bit of heavy breathing and light noise now and then, but this was whale calling, open mouthed, guttural, wall shaking stuff. And when the offender wasn’t snoring, they were talking in their sleep. Oh well, not the hostels’ fault so onto a better nights sleep!
My first full day in Auckland I spent walking around as much as possible. It’s always my favourite way to immediately see the key sights in the CBD, and understand where the nearest shops, parks, and cool spaces are. Being on a tight budget I was mostly doing lots of walking and lots of research to do things on my own and for free. My paid excursion that day was going up the Sky Tower which was host to the most amazing views, photos just don’t do it justice. As the tallest structure (not building though!) in the Southern Hemisphere it certainly was a must-do for any Auckland visit. A ticket to the viewing platform was just $20NZD with a student card, or $29 without. If visiting again, I might fork out a little more for the restaurant (particularly on clear day!), or visit the cafe with a companion, as both seem like a great way to make the most of the views.
Next was something a bit unusual, but something I’ve always wanted to do. I met a friend from university who also happened to be in Auckland, and went to a cat cafe! For those who don’t know, a cat cafe is like a normal cafe but with lots of cats wondering about just asking to be petted (pretty self explanatory). This particular cafe I saw completely by chance due to some excellent advertising, and the name alone convinced me to book a slot. The Barista Cats (I KNOW, GENIUS!) was adorable, relaxing and just what I had hoped it to be. With a drink of your choice included in your entry price of $15, and an hour to spend finding cats to hug and play with it absolutely was worthwhile. You don’t know how much you need some animal love until you go, honestly.
This is Banksy, who quickly became my favourite because he reminded me of my time living in Bristol, and he loved a good belly rub!
Days 2 & 3
The next two days were spent doing some new activities largely in thanks to another first-time experience of Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is the ultimate money-saver for travellers. You sign up to the website and create your profile, then approach potential hosts who are open to letting complete strangers stay at their homes, cost-free. In return, maybe some company, conversation, or cooking is reciprocated for their generosity.
I stayed with a lovely Kiwi woman named Anna, who kindly gives up her living room to lost travellers like myself to crash for a couple of nights and learn a bit more about a local way of life. teaches acrobatics with a local circus skills company, so Tuesday evening was spent learning how to fall properly, how to balance another person on your feet, and do handstands (amongst SO many other things!). I’ve never done anything remotely like acrobatics, let alone circus skill acrobatics! Once I had relaxed and got into the spirit of things, it was a really enjoyable afternoon.
I was shattered after acro alone, but that wasn’t the end of the work out. The evening was a chance to join Anna in her martial arts class, but this isn’t just your average karate, oh boy. Systema is a Russian martial art which focuses on relaxation, breathing, fluid movement and the right psychological state. It’s main points are to remain calm, without any distracting or tension building thoughts. This way, you can use an attackers momentum against them, with the correct preparation. So after some interesting and pretty humorous exercises such as crawling along the floor holding onto someone’s ankles, I learned how to punch. Luckily, Anna’s a pro and so my weak little punches were but a light poke to her, but I sure did learn a lot. This was also the time that I learned how to react to a punch, so yes, I got punched. A lot. But it’s great because then you get a massage, and you only get a punch if you want one, so I definitely got myself into it! Needless to say, after both of those activities, along with my daytime walk up Mount Eden (the highest mount in Auckland) PLUS yet more walking around the best sights of Auckland, I am really starting to feel those bruises.
Here’s the volcanic crater at the summit of Mount Eden with the Sky Tower in the distance, the view was worth the climb for sure! It only takes around 30 minutes, but in humid weather it felt rather sticky. I walked from my host’s home to reach Mount Eden, but there are regular buses, and even tours if you wish, to take you there. Of course, walking up is free to do, and with the low costs of public transport getting around the city is extremely easy.
On my fourth day I enjoyed exploring Auckland’s cultural side, heading to Auckland Art Gallery to see many interesting works by both New Zealanders and Europeans, a stroll through Albert Park, and then up around Auckland Domain to the museum, cenotaph and various beautiful walks around ponds, gardens and many statues and fountains.
Auckland Art Gallery was understated yet packed with great works. I was especially interested in a compact selection of paintings depicting Maori tribesmen, focussing on their intricate facial tattoos and their meaning. It provided a fascinating insight into a history and culture I knew nothing about, but was eager to learn more. Entry to the art gallery is free, and is well worth a visit on poor weather days or when you’re looking for something cultural. Being so centrally located makes it a great morning activity from nearby accommodation in the CBD.
The Auckland War Memorial Museum is not free for entry, so unfortunately I only saw the entrance area. I looked into the exhibitions open in case anything piqued my interest, but on further research I thought it best to wait until I visited the larger national museum in Wellington later in my trip. One of my main money-saving tips for backpackers interested in history and culture is to look into the museums and galleries around, and carefully pick where you’d like to go. There are so many amazing exhibits, but there is such a thing as being oversaturated with attractions. I prefer to plan ahead and see what might be interesting further down the line rather than pay entry fees for every single exhibit that comes along.
The botanical gardens however are also free, and are a peaceful and open space well away from the busy city life. With beautiful statues, monuments and views across the garden, I’d highly recommend a casual afternoon stroll to enjoy the pristine grounds.
I also had a good laugh to myself as I walked along Queen Street today (one of Auckland’s busiest streets with shops, offices, hotels etc in the CBD) as there are frequently people trying to sell you things or ask for donations. One particular woman stopped me and as she tried to sell me a book on Buddhism, she asked if I knew anything about philosophy. When I told her I was a philosophy graduate she looked like she didn’t really know where her pitch should go from there (muahaha). Needless to say I didn’t buy the book, but good luck to her with that!
Artwork from Auckland Gallery & Sky Tower from Albert Park
Leaving Auckland, I start my Kiwi Experience bus tour next. After a while of entertaining myself and finding things to do I’m looking forward to being guided a bit more, it should be a bit less stressful, and of course I’m excited to see more of this amazing country!
Have you visited Auckland? What were favourite activities and why? Let me know of any other budget-friendly activities in the city!