Auckland is the gateway to New Zealand for most travelers, and there's a huge amount to see and do in the country’s largest city. But, like the rest of New Zealand, it definitely isn’t the easiest place to travel on a budget. Accommodation, in particular, can be expensive and eating out for every meal is sure to cut into your trip budget.

However, there are many affordable and even free attractions in Auckland and with a little local know-how, it’s definitely possible to see the city without breaking the bank. Here are a few tips for traveling in Auckland on a budget.

Introducing New Zealand

Visit in February or March for lower prices

Auckland is definitely a summer city and the peak season for tourism runs from mid-December to the end of January. This coincides with the summer school holidays in New Zealand and it’s a particularly expensive time to travel around the country. Schools usually go back in late January or early February, so visit after the holidays for cheaper accommodation and transport.

Late February and March are lovely months to visit the city – the weather is warm and not as humid as the peak summer months, and accommodation costs are a bit cheaper. There are also many free events to enjoy at this time of year, including free music performances and outdoor movie screenings at Auckland’s beautiful parks and beaches. 

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Seek out accommodation with a kitchen

Eating out for every meal in Auckland is a surefire way to burn through your budget, so try to eat in for at least some meals during your stay. The best way to do this is to stay in accommodation with a kitchen – either a hostel with a shared kitchen or an Airbnb rental or serviced apartment.

Groceries and cooking ingredients are much more affordable than restaurant prices, so pop to the local supermarket and prepare some of your meals at home. If you prefer to stay in a hotel, try to find one with breakfast included in the rate. Often the prices are not much more than room-only rates, and the cost of buying breakfast every morning in Auckland (even just coffee and a muffin) can quickly add up.

View of Auckland from the water at dawn
If you head to the waterfront, you'll soon see why Auckland is known as the City of Sails ©Klanarong Chitmung/Shutterstock

Head to Dominion Rd or Sandringham for delicious, cheap eats

Some of Auckland’s best food is also some of the most affordable. Running southwest of the center towards Mt Eden, Dominion Road is Auckland’s version of Chinatown, and it’s the best place to sample delicious and authentic Chinese food for a very reasonable price. You’ll find food from many different regions of China represented on Dominion Road; the eateries are usually simple, but the quality of dishes speaks for itself.

Regardless of where you’re staying in Auckland, you can usually find good Asian food somewhere close by, and usually for a reasonable price. For excellent Indian food, head to the district of Sandringham, not far from Dominion Road.

The popular food markets that circulate through various suburbs in the city are also good places to get food at a more affordable price. The roving Auckland Night Market, held in different locations on different days of the week, is a good place to start.

Get lunch near the university

If you’re staying in the city, eat lunch where the students do. There several cafes and other small eateries in High St, Chancery Square and Lorne St in the city center that serve good lunch deals at bargain prices. Think dumplings, noodles or tacos, all easy to take away and eat in a nearby park – nearby Albert Park is a good option. There are also several Asian restaurants in these areas that serve authentic Asian food at pocket-friendly prices.

Aerial view of Mt Eden, Auckland
There's no charge to climb Mt Eden and admire the stunning city views © denizunlusu / Getty Images

Enjoy Auckland’s natural features for free

Many of Auckland’s best and most popular attractions are free. The city has a beautiful coastal location and you can find amazing views simply by walking up any hill (or dormant volcano). Grab a picnic from a local grocery or deli and enjoy the best of what the city has to offer – the outdoors on a sunny, summer day.

For some of Auckland's best views, head to the impressive crater at Mt Eden for just the price of a bus ride from the center. If the weather's warm, take a picnic to Cornwall Park atop One Tree Hill, or spend an afternoon relaxing at the beach – there are plenty to choose from around Auckland and all are easily accessible from the city center.

Get a HOP card for a discount on public transport

If you’re spending a couple of days in Auckland, you can save a lot by using public transport to get around the city. Just buy an Auckland Transport HOP card when you arrive in the city – they're available from many shops or from Auckland Transport customer services centers dotted around the city. HOP cards cost NZ$10 (US$6.75) and you can then add credit as needed, gaining a 20% (or greater) discount on standard bus, train and ferry fares in Auckland, excluding the SkyBus from the airport and the ferry to Waiheke Island.

HOP cards are prepaid and you can transfer between Auckland Transport buses, trains and ferries and pay just one fare across the zones you’re traveling through. You can also buy a day pass for NZ$18 (US$12) to travel as much as you like on trains, buses and ferries in the city.

People relaxing at Piha beach, Auckland
For a break from the city vibe, simply head to one of Auckland's lovely beaches © gracethang2 / Shutterstock

Take the red bus around the city center

If you'll be spending most of your time in the city center during the day, then taking the red CityLink bus is a great way to go. The bus service follows a circuit through the inner city between 8am and midnight and the fare is just NZ$1 (US$0.67), but you can travel for free if you transfer from another bus or train using a HOP card. It's a good option when you want a break from walking, but the routes aren’t always the most direct and you’ll still need to pay to travel further from the city center.

Explore Auckland on foot

There are some stunning walks in Auckland, so don't feel obliged to go everywhere by public transport. The city has a number of rewarding walkways reserved for pedestrians, offering a pleasantly traffic-free way to get around the city. How far you walk is up to you; if you’re up for a challenge, try the Coast-to-Coast walkway which takes you from Auckland city, through Auckland Domain and Cornwall Park, to Manukau Harbour.

For a pretty and accessible option starting in the center, just walk along the harbor. You can go west past Silo Park along Westhaven to the foot of the Harbour Bridge (and onto Ponsonby for lunch if the fancy takes you). Alternatively, go east and walk along Tamaki Drive to popular Mission Bay – a good place to have fish and chips (another cheap eat). If you don't want to repeat the walk in reverse, just take a bus or Uber back to the city.

Cruise the harbor for less with the Maritime Museum

The New Zealand Maritime Museum in downtown Auckland offers what is probably the cheapest harbor cruise in the city. Just NZ$53 (US$36) gets you a cruise around Auckland Harbour in a historical boat, as well as entry to the museum. You'll pay much more for a cruise with a boat operator at the harbor. Getting out on the water is a wonderful way to see Auckland from a different perspective, and the bobbing boats all around you will give you an inkling as to why Auckland is often called the City of Sails.

Visit Auckland Museum on ANZAC Day

If you find yourself in Auckland in April, head to Auckland Museum on ANZAC Day (25 April). On this important memorial day for the Kiwi and Australian troops who died in service in World War I, entry to the museum is free, and there's a beautiful dawn ceremony outside the museum in Auckland Domain park at sunrise, with smaller ceremonies taking place elsewhere in the city.

Daily budget

  • Hostel room: NZ$20 (US$13.50) for a bed in a dorm, NZ$70 (US$47) for a private room,
  • Basic room for two: NZ$150–250 (US$101–169)
  • Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): NZ$150–200 (US$101–135)
  • Public transport ticket: NZ$18 (US$12) for a day pass, NZ$10 (US$6.75) for a HOP card
  • Coffee: NZ$4.50 (US$3)
  • Sandwich: NZ$12 (US$8)
  • Dinner for two: NZ$80 (US$54)
  • Beer/pint at the bar: NZ$11 (US$7.50)

Auckland is on our 2022 Best of Travel list. For more stories from some of the world’s most exciting destinations click here.

Safety recommendations and restrictions during a pandemic can change rapidly. Lonely Planet recommends that travelers always check with local authorities for up-to-date guidance before traveling during Covid-19.

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