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Ask any adult what their student years were like, and there will almost always be two things that everyone has in common – lots of fun, and hardly any money! But if you’re new to a city or even a country, it can be hard to know where to begin when it comes to finding social activities that you can do on a student budget.
To help you out, we’ve rounded up some of our top tips for free and cheap things to do in New Zealand’s main student cities and towns to get you started!
If you’re an Auckland-based fan of arts and culture, Auckland Museum has free entry for people who live in Auckland so just make sure you and your friends have something that proves your address with you – whether it’s a power bill or just a library card! The museum itself is located in the beautiful grounds of Auckland Domain, just a short stroll away from the inner city.
You’ll find everything from our fascinating natural history to artefacts from different Pacific cultures to in-depth exhibitions on New Zealand’s military history. And the view from the front steps of the Museum is stunning – you’ll see all across the Waitamatā Harbour and the city skyline and beyond! After a trek through history, you’ll want to stay in the Domain a little longer to visit The Wintergardens – two beautiful historical greenhouses and a lush fern forest.
For something that requires a little less walking but plenty of cool atmosphere, each summer there is are free movie nights at Silo Park on Auckland’s waterfront! Get in early for the best spots and beanbags, and bring a blanket and some friends to settle in for a night of free entertainment in one of the coolest corners of the Auckland CBD! If you’ve budgeted for it, you can get a great dinner from the food trucks that pull up alongside the cinema set-up.
Further down State Highway 1 in Hamilton, students at the University of Waikato have some awesome opportunities right on their doorstep. People from outside of the Waikato make a lot of fun of Hamilton, but they don’t know what they’re missing out on. Take some mates with you and get exploring! The beautiful Hamilton Gardens are free to enter, and with a range of different themed gardens to wander through, you’re in for a treat!
Waikato Museum might not have the famous reputation that Auckland Museum or Te Papa in Wellington have, but it’s a must visit for anyone interested in Māori culture. There’s great historical material as well as some spectacular contemporary Māori art. If you have some friends who are fellow international students, why not go together and learn more about the first people who called this country home?
Students at Victoria University or one of the many other tertiary institutions in Wellington probably have more options than anyone else! As well as being the country’s capital, Wellington is really its creative hub too. A visit to Te Papa is essential for anyone visiting or staying in the city. It’s the national museum of New Zealand, and contains incredible natural history exhibitions as well as another amazing array of Māori and Pacific cultural materials and objects. It’s also home to Toi Art, the national art collection – not to mention all kinds of exciting travelling exhibitions from overseas.
Just along the waterfront from Te Papa is Wellington Museum, which focuses on the city itself and its surrounding land and ocean. It’s a delight to visit – in fact, The Times UK ranked in among the Top 50 Museums in the World. Or for something both cultural and political, take a tour of New Zealand’s Parliament, which provides plenty of political learning as well as information about the buildings themselves, including the iconic Beehive.
Christchurch is most famous these days for the devastating earthquakes that hit the South Island city in 2010 and 2011. But those earthquakes have caused an amazing renewal of the city and its culture, with all kinds of innovative and interesting things happening as buildings and places are reconstructed. Sometimes it seems as though there’s something different to visit or look at every few weeks! But for something that’s dependably there and full of amazing things to look at, Christchurch Art Gallery has free entry and contains a range of art from different eras of New Zealand.
Part of the scarfie world at the University of Otago? The Dunedin Street Art trail is a cool way to explore different parts of the city with your friends while looking at some amazing murals and graffiti art. Dunedin’s also New Zealand’s only official UNESCO City of Literature, so if you are keen on reading, have a look at the different places worth visiting with your book-crazy friends!
For culture fans across the country, if you’re after something in the evenings, why not keep an eye out for art gallery openings and book launches? These will usually be open to the public, and will give you a chance to mingle with people who you share an interest with and learn about something new. And usually there’s snacks and drinks too – win! If you’re a book fan, check out the calendar on the New Zealand Book Council website and artsdiary.co.nz has some great information about upcoming exhibitions for those of you more into painting and sculpture.
Feeling active? There are a number of amazing walking opportunities around all of New Zealand’s cities. With two coastlines – one on the Pacific Ocean, one on the Tasman Sea – as well as 53 volcanic cones and beautiful bushland and the borders, Auckland really gives you plenty of ways to get up close and personal with nature!
If you’re not sure where to start, or your friends aren’t as excited about your adventures as you are, there are plenty of groups to join in with. For something nice and central, check out Walk Fit Club, a free group that welcomes all kinds of people and is based at One Tree Hill/Maungakiekie. Or check out the popular meetup.com group Auckland Hiking Group, which is free to join and has frequent adventures.
If your idea of getting active is more about working up a sweat while dancing the night away, there’s a slightly different way to do that in Auckland – without spending up large on cover charges and drinks! Sure, there’s plenty of clubs for nights out, if that’s your thing – but how about a morning rave? Morning People is a super fun organisation who run morning dance parties every Wednesday morning!
Operating with the tag line #partyfirstworklater, these raves start at 6:30am and end by 8am. They are alcohol and drug free – instead, your $15 entry fee includes plenty of great coffee, cold juice and fresh fruit as well as awesome beats. Sounds like a lot more fun than a treadmill routine before work! The same group runs the same kind of session in Wellington slightly less frequently – check the website for details.
If you’re keen on biking and have your own gear, there are heaps of wonderful cycleways around Hamilton and the wider Waikato region! With the Waikato River running through the wide flat plains of the area, you’ll have plenty of options with gorgeous views to check out while you get that heart rate up.
Continuing down the country, Wellington, like Auckland, has quite the hilly reputation. But unlike most of Auckland’s volcanic cones, which are mostly quite bare apart from a few trees and maybe some grazing animals, Wellingtons hills have taller ridges, often totally covered in forest. Te Ahumairangi Hill rises up right behind the inner-city suburb of Thorndon, and it’s a beautiful little hike to the top – where you’ll get to see some amazing views of the Wellington Harbour.
There are also plenty of active meetup.com groups here too – WoRM aka The Wellington Running Meetup Group has over 2,300 members and has plenty of opportunities to join and meet like-minded runners while getting to know this wonderful capital city.
Of New Zealand’s three big cities, Christchurch is the famously flat one, with the Avon River flowing right through the centre of town. Hagley Park is a huge urban park and garden not too far from the University of Canterbury campus, perfect for a lunchtime walk or run. There are also some awesome beaches when the weather’s right (or if you’ve got a good enough wetsuit!). Spots like Sumner and New Brighton are easy to get to and offer awesome swimming and surfing.
Based in Dunedin and feeling competitive? The Dunedin Parkun is a 5-kilometre run held every Saturday morning at the Dunedin Botanic Garden – 8am in summer and 9am in winter, so don’t get your seasons mixed up! It’s free to participate, but you do need to register. And every week after the run itself, the organisers and plenty of runners meet up at the Croque-O-Dile café for a coffee and chat – the perfect way to bring together your fitness and socialising!
There’s many other options of course, but this should get you started. When in doubt, have a look on meetup.com or take a walk around the club stalls during your university’s orientation week – you may be surprised by the variety of interests that your fellow students may have!