The ferry from Queens Wharf isn't cheap ($23 adult return), but a visit to Matiu/Somes Island is otherwise free.
Take your own food and drink as there's nowhere to purchase these on the Island. You will start with a briefing by the Dept of Conservation rangers, who will ask you to search your bag for rats. A circuit walk around the small island takes 90mins or so if you stop to see the viewpoints and sights. There are great views of the city, you will see tree weta and kakariki (red-crowned parakeets), and you may sight a tuatara. The buildings at the top include posters about the island's history.
We saw most of the island's sights in 2 1/2 hours. For the real experience, you can book a hut (via Dept of Conservation) and stay overnight. You might even see the little blue penguins...
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