The months of December to March bring the full flush of summer to the islands of New Zealand and you could be excused for thinking that the thoughts of Kiwis (the informal name for New Zealanders) revolve entirely around food and drink. In every corner of the country, from big events with celebrity chefs to weekend markets to community gatherings in parks and village halls, there are celebrations of local food specialities and the tastes of summer.
Christmas in New Zealand is often celebrated with backyard barbecues and the holiday season, when many New Zealanders take their annual break, is a further spur for enjoying the great outdoors. At this time of year too the rugby-obsessed nation switches its attention to cricket and tennis and national and international tournaments draw big crowds. For the athletically inclined, New Zealand’s magnificent landscapes provide multi-sports challenges including some of the most gruelling endurance events in the world.
Kiwis of course like music and the arts – and they like nothing better than adding them to the other ingredients of summer in outdoor festivals. If you are travelling in New Zealand between December and March, visiting seasonal festivals and celebrations is a wonderful way to connect with Kiwi culture. The listing of events below is just a sample of what’s going on.
Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality – Wellington
15 December 2018 – 22 April 2019
New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, is hosting a touring exhibition from China that gives locals and international visitors the chance for a close-up look at some of the world-famous terracotta warriors who guarded the hidden tomb of China’s First Emperor for more than 2,000 years. The show features eight warriors and two full-sized terracotta horses as well as two half-size replica bronze horse-drawn chariots, accompanied by extravagant treasures from imperial tombs in China’s ancient capital of Xi’an.
Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality – Wellington
TSB Bank Festival of Lights – New Plymouth, Taranaki
16 December, 2018 to 3 February, 2019
For six weeks every year, New Zealand’s leading light festival transforms 52-ha Pukekura Park in the city of New Plymouth on the west coast of North Island into a night-time wonderland. The free event attracts over 100,000 visitors to its programme of daytime activities, evening entertainments and innovative lighting designs by New Zealand artists.
Rhythm and Vines Music Festival – Gisborne, Eastland
28 December to 1 January, 2019
The largest music and camping festival in the southern hemisphere takes place every new year in the Waiohika Valley near Gisborne on the east coast of North Island. The first new year destination in the world to see the sunrise, Rhythm and Vines offers its 30,000 attendees 100-plus acts on five stages during three days of performances. The event has a South Island counterpart, Rhythm and Alps, held in the Cardrona Valley near Wanaka from 29 December 2018 to 3 January 2019.
Whare Flat Folk Festival – Dunedin
30 December, 2018 to 3 January, 2019
If you like your music festivals more boutique-sized, Whare Flat attracts national and international folk music performers and fans to the picturesque surroundings of the Waiora Valley near Dunedin. The relaxed, family-friendly event includes workshops and performances and dance and jamming sessions.
Cromwell Cherry Festival – Central Otago
30 December, 2018
Held in the home of New Zealand’s best stone fruit, the Cromwell Cherry Festival celebrates the first delicious offerings of the season. It is also a unique event where contestants compete to spit a cherry stone the furtherest.
ASB Classic – Auckland
31 December 2018 to 12 January, 2019
The ASB Classic is New Zealand’s premier tennis event, attracting world-class competition and some of the sport’s biggest names. Off-court, the venue near downtown Auckland offers a range of sophisticated cafes, restaurants, lounges and entertainment.
Interislander Tauherenikau Races – Tauherenikau, Wairarapa
2 January, 2019
Pack a picnic or hire a mini marquee and get set for a day of thrilling harness and thoroughbred racing, with free kids’ entertainment and live music. The racing club at Tauherenikau is 150 years young and a complimentary bus service takes visitors to and from Featherston train station on race days. It’s a true piece of New Zealand rural life.
Bread and Circus – World Buskers Festival – Christchurch
10 January to 3 February, 2019
Reimagined and revitalised for 2019, the Bread & Circus – World Buskers Festival amplifies Christchurch’s much-loved buskers’ festival with a programme of top-of-the-line local and international street performers, comedians, fringe artists, musicians and visual artists. With performers like Daredevil Chicken Club, The Miss Behave Gameshow and Mother’s Ruin, audiences should expect the unexpected.
The Revenant – Garston, Southland
18 – 20 January, 2019
Definitely not for the unfit or the faint-hearted, The Revenant is New Zealand’s first Ultra Adventure Run where not finishing is a likely outcome for almost all competitors. Set in iconic New Zealand high country terrain with alpine tussock lands, beech forests and everything in between, the 190km-plus course with over 32,000 feet of vertical changes must be navigated only by compass and map. The local and international competitors include army and police personnel and US Navy Seals.
Gibbston Valley Winery Summer Concert – Queenstown
19 January, 2019
Gibbston Valley Winery’s ninth annual summer concert brings the past to the present in 2019 with performances from Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson, James Reyne (Australian Crawl) and Mark Seymour (Hunters & Collectors), and Toni Childs. There’s also VIP packages including helicopter transfers to the outdoor venue next to the winery, stalls by food producers from around the district, and of course Gibbston Valley Wines.
Picton Maritime Festival – Marlborough Sounds
19 January, 2019
A free, fun family event with food stalls and boat races, the Picton Maritime Festival is an annual celebration of the unique maritime heritage of Picton and the Marlborough Sounds. The town at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound has an iconic place in New Zealand life as South Island’s interisland ferry port. The glorious watery maze of the sounds was Captain Cook’s favourite place in New Zealand, and perhaps the world.
Soundsplash Festival – Raglan, Waikato
19 – 21 January, 2019
Set in a rural reserve with an adjacent ocean beach, Soundsplash is an eco-conscious, family-friendly music festival run by music lovers for music lovers. Covering all bases when it comes to genres, Soundsplash attracts well-known international performers and Kiwi artists who are making their mark.
Driftwood & Sand Beach Sculpture Festival – Hokitika, West Coast
23 – 27 January, 2019
Driftwood & Sand is a community art celebration in which artists and novices of all ages express themselves using any materials they find on a driftwood-strewn ocean beach. The nearby town of Hokitika (made famous in Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel, The Luminaries) on the South Island’s West Coast has a rich history dating back to the gold-mining era of the 19th century and as a traditional source of pounamu (New Zealand jade) for Māori.
The Hot Spring T20 Christchurch Black Clash – Christchurch
25 January, 2019
For followers of New Zealand’s world-champion rugby and cricket sides, 25 January will be a day to remember as All Blacks and Blackcaps players take part in a friendly T20 cricket match at Hagley Oval. The teams are packed with sporting superstars keen to show off their talents with bat and ball and lifetime bragging rights on the line for the victors.
Rotorua Noir – Rotorua
26 – 27 January 2019
The first-ever crime writing festival held in New Zealand takes place in the suitably atmospheric setting of a city with hot geothermal springs and pools of boiling mud. Authors from Australia, Iceland, Finland and Scotland and New Zealand will participate in public panel discussions, interviews and creative workshops.
HSBC New Zealand Sevens – Hamilton
26 – 27 January, 2019
After a stellar start in 2018, the Waikato city of Hamilton will again host the New Zealand leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in 2019. A major highlight on the summer sporting calendar, the Sevens games are typically colourful and vibrant with rugby fans flocking in fancy dress for a carnival-like weekend of partying and fun. Tickets sell out quickly.
Tamaki Herenga Waka Festival – Auckland
26 – 28 January, 2019
Auckland’s waterfront is the setting for a three-day experience of Māori culture. The festival includes performances by Māori musicians, kapa haka (song and dance) groups, and waka (canoe) sailings on the water. You can also enjoy typical Māori dishes (kai) and visit stalls selling authentic Māori arts and crafts.
Blackcaps and White Ferns vs India – Wellington
2 February, 2019
It’s the catches in the crowd, the costumes and the immaculate fields and pitches that make international cricket a highlight of the New Zealand summer. This year for the first time ever, New Zealand’s Blackcaps (men’s) and White Ferns (women’s) teams will both face rival national teams from India on the same day. It will be a festival of colourful cricket not to be missed.
Sarau Festival – Upper Moutere, Nelson
3 February, 2019
This iconic community festival is a family event with live music, a large selection of food and drink stalls and craft stalls selling everything from garlic, strawberries, blackcurrants (a local speciality) and oils and nuts to handcrafted delights. Bring the family and a blanket and enjoy the breathtaking sunset over the Nelson hills and the luscious wines for which the Nelson region is renowned.
Waitangi Day Celebrations – Waitangi, Northland
6 February, 2019
Every year on 6 February – Waitangi Day – Kiwis gather to commemorate the signing of New Zealand’s most historic document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi / The Treaty of Waitangi. Waitangi Day celebrations at the Treaty Grounds start with the traditional Dawn Service in Te Whare Rūnanga, the carved meeting house, followed by a free public festival with all-day entertainment, market stalls and children’s activities.
Burt Munro Challenge – Invercargill, Southland
7 – 10 February 2019
Following the success of the 2005 movie about Burt Munro’s inspirational life, The World’s Fastest Indian, the Southland Motorcycle Club created the Burt Munro Challenge motorcycle rally to honour the Southland speed legend whose land speed record still stands today. Now one of New Zealand’s major motorsport events, the Burt Munro Challenge offers a variety of exciting hill climb, drag racing, sprint, street, speedway and beach racing events plus plenty of entertainment and renowned southern hospitality.
Kathmandu Coast to Coast – West Coast / Canterbury
8 – 9 February, 2019
The Kathmandu Coast to Coast is New Zealand’s most famous multi-sport event with a rugged ocean to mountain to ocean course that makes it a must-do for many athletes. The two-day event traverses the South Island from Kumara Beach on the Tasman Sea across the Southern Alps to Sumner Beach on the Pacific Ocean. Elite multi-sport athletes run, cycle and kayak the 243-km route in a single day.
Tarawera Ultra Marathon – Rotorua
9 February, 2019
The 11th annual Tarawera Ultra Marathon will once again push a field of 2,000-plus international athletes to their limits. Part of the prestigious Ultra-Trail World Tour, the event includes 20km, 50km, 102km distances and the famed 100 Miler Endurance Run, considered to be one of the toughest races in the world. One of the attractions for entrants and spectators alike is the spectacular course which includes lakes, forests, mountains and waterfalls and places of cultural significance to local Māori people.
Marlborough Food and Wine Festival – Marlborough
9 February, 2019
The Marlborough Wine & Food Festival is New Zealand’s original and longest running wine festival held in the Marlborough wine region, globally famous for its sauvignon blanc. Festival-goers will get the opportunity to sample a unique selection of world-class wines and delicious local cuisine at Brancott, one of Marlborough’s oldest and most picturesque vineyards.
Tremains Art Deco Weekend – Hawke’s Bay
13 – 17 February, 2019
The city of Napier on the east coast of North Island boasts one of the largest concentrations of Art Deco buildings in the world. Each February it celebrates the glamour and style of the 1920s and ‘30s, and the Hawke’s Bay region’s culture, food and wine and hospitality, with five days of outdoor concerts, vintage car parades, fashion shows, dining experiences, and much more.
Hokonui Moonshiners’ Festival – Gore, Southland
16 February 2019
New Zealand’s only whisky and food festival is an annual day-long celebration of Southland’s colourful past – and especially the fine and then-illicit Hokonui Moonshine that turned several local people into folk heroes. Local restaurateurs bring their unique flavour to the outdoor event with themed offerings, and Monteith’s beers, Central Otago wines and Hokonui Whisky add to the festival spirit.
Meatstock Music and Meat Festival – Auckland
16 – 17 February, 2019
Calling all carnivores. Australasia’s pro-protein festival will be back, bigger and meatier than ever in mid-February for its third New Zealand edition at Auckland’s ASB Showgrounds. The two-day line-up includes competitions such as the “Barbecue and Butcher Wars” and live demonstrations and workshops against a backdrop of bands, barbecues, bourbon and beer. Over 50 teams will vie for the title of best barbecuers in the land and more than 20 butchers will go head to head for the award of New Zealand’s Best Butcher.
Black Caps vs Bangladesh – Dunedin
20 February, 2019
Summer is a busy season for the Blackcaps and their One Day International encounter with a visiting national side from Bangladesh at the University Oval in Dunedin is sure to be an enthralling day of sporting action. A sell-out crowd is expected and it is hoped the weather will play its part in the occasion as it did in matches in 2018.
Te Matatini Kapa Haka Festival – Wellington
20 – 24 February, 2019
Te Matatini (The Many Faces) is a Māori performing arts festival celebrating Māori culture held in different regions of New Zealand every two years. The world-class event is being held in Wellington (Te Whanganui a Tara) for the first time and is expected to attract over 30,000 participants and spectators. It’s a unique New Zealand experience, not to be missed.
South Island Lantern Festival – Christchurch
22 – 24 February, 2019
Vibrantly coloured lanterns will light up the Avon River Precinct of Christchurch for the Lantern Festival, now one of the city’s largest and most popular free annual events. The lanterns, which have been part of Chinese New Year celebrations since the Han Dynasty (206BC-221 AD), come in all shapes and forms including animals, insects and flowers and the displays are accompanied by a programme of music and dance performances and dining events.
Wings Over Wairarapa Air Festival – Masterton, Wairarapa
22 – 24 February, 2019
The beautiful Wairarapa region northwest of Wellington is the backdrop for North Island’s largest aviation event. It’s an exciting three days of aerial action and on the ground displays featuring WWI, WWII, agricultural, military and civil aircraft and a guest appearance of the UK Airborne Pyrotechnics gliding team.
ISPS Handa New Zealand Open – Queenstown
28 February – 3 March, 2019
The biggest event on the New Zealand golfing calendar celebrates the 100th birthday of the New Zealand Open in 2019. Held on two world-class courses near Queenstown, the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open has a pro-am format where amateurs and celebrities play alongside the pros. It is also an opportunity to experience the spectacular scenery of Central Otago and sample its superb produce and world-famous pinot noir wines.
New Zealand Fringe Festival – Wellington
1 – 23 March, 2019
Experience bold, inspiring, unexpected and daring works at New Zealand’s oldest and largest fringe festival. With over 1000 artists, the New Zealand Fringe Festival attracts talent from around New Zealand and all over the globe for a three-week season of cutting-edge performances in venues across Wellington city.
Sculpture on the Gulf – Waiheke Island, Auckland
1 – 24 March, 2019
Located on beautiful Waiheke island near Auckland, Sculpture on the Gulf is New Zealand’s foremost annual outdoor sculpture exhibition. A 2km walkway on a headland with spectacular views of the Waitemata Gulf is the setting for 26 original artworks, with more displayed in a nearby artwork precinct and in a park and gallery.
Macpac Motatapu – Queenstown and Wanaka
9 – 10 March, 2019
This iconic highlight of New Zealand’s off-road race calendar takes place amidst the spectacular high country terrain of the Motatapu, Soho and Glencoe high country sheep stations in Central Otago, at the only time of the year that this part of the world is open to the public. Seasoned racers and weekend warriors alike will have a choice of six challenging events for on foot, bike and in the water, including the 8.5km Sawpit Trail Run, the Xterra Triathlon, the Off-Road Marathon and the 51km Ultra Run.
North Canterbury Wine and Food Festival – Waipara, Canterbury
10 March, 2019
The North Canterbury Wine & Food Festival is a country fête celebrating the world-class wineries, food producers and restaurants of the Waipara Valley 40 minutes north of Christchurch. Billed as “the coolest little wine festival in the country”, the event held under the oak trees in Glenmark Domain includes market stalls, talks by chefs and wine makers and jazz, folk and singer/songwriter performances.
iD Dunedin Fashion Week – Dunedin
11 – 17 March, 2019
Emerging fashion from around the globe meets high-profile international and Kiwi designers in this unique fashion mash-up like no other. Enjoy exhibitions, designer talks, pop-up stores, fashion films and the opportunity to experience the glamorous world of fashion up close.
WOMAD World Music Festival – New Plymouth
15 – 17 March, 2019
Known as the “world’s festival”, WOMAD brings together a selection of some of the biggest artists from round the globe with the aim of celebrating diverse forms of music, art and dance. The three-day event is held in the beautiful surroundings of New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park, a New Zealand Garden of National Significance.
Havelock Mussel & Seafood Festival – Marlborough Sounds
16 March, 2019
Shell we dine? The New Zealand Green-Lipped Mussel cultivated in the Marlborough Sounds is the star of this annual culinary celebration, but there’s lots of other fine seafood on offer along with local craft beer and Marlborough wines. It’s a fun day out for the whole family with cooking demonstrations, market stalls, industry displays and live music.
Fritter Festival – Whangarei, Northland
16 March, 2019
The Northland region’s top restaurants and cafes will again battle it out for the annual Best Fritter Trophy, and fritter aficionados can vote for their favourite in the People’s Choice Award. This relaxed, family-friendly event, now in its seventh year, includes wines and beverages and plenty of gourmet fritters.
Crankworx Rotorua – Rotorua
19 – 24 March, 2019
At Crankworx Rotorua, the world’s downhill, slopestyle and enduro mountain biking legends mix with superfans, rising stars, industry innovators and the next generation of riders in five days of two-wheeled competition, concerts, and all things mountain bike. One of the four stops on the Crankworx World Tour, Crankworx Rotorua also offers visitors the spectacle of New Zealand’s geothermal city and the warmth and hospitality (manaakitanga) of Maori culture.
Balloons Over Waikato – Hamilton
19 – 23 March, 2019
Balloons over Waikato is New Zealand’s premier hot-air balloon festival. Held annually in Hamilton, this 18-year-old event attracts balloonists from all over New Zealand and around the world to demonstrate their skills in a range of competitive activities. Over 130,000 spectators enjoy the amazing site of balloons ascending through the Waikato sunrise at 7.30am every morning and the Zuru Nightglow, where the balloons glow to orchestrated music finishing with a fireworks display.
Jim Beam Homegrown – Wellington
23 March, 2019
Wellington’s summer ends on a high note with a festival of home-grown Kiwi music. Spread across multiple stages in a central waterfront location, Jim Beam Home-grown features rock, dub ‘n’ roots, reggae, electronic, pop and R&B music.
Pasifika Festival – Auckland
23 – 24 March 2019
Pack a picnic rug, slip on your jandals (flip-flops), and get ready to celebrate Auckland’s diverse Pacific cultures. No less than 11 different event villages, each with a performance stage and market stalls selling signatures dishes and crafts, represent New Zealand’s Pacific whanau (relatives): the Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Hawaii, Kiribati, Samoa, Tahiti, Tuvalu, Tonga and Tokelau. Aotearoa New Zealand’s Māori culture is right among them too at this free, family-friendly event.
Royal New Zealand Pipe Band Association Championships – Dunedin
29 – 30 March, 2019
Known as “The Edinburgh of the South” for its strong Scottish heritage, the city of Dunedin will come alive with the harmonies of hundreds of pipe bands as they vie for the top title for 2019. The two-day event will feature displays at the University of Otago Oval and a street parade down George Street. It’s a rousing spectacle that pays tribute to the long-standing tradition of pipe bands in New Zealand.
Riverton Heritage Harvest Festival – Riverton, Southland
30 – 31 March, 2019
Held in the seaside town of Riverton, this annual celebration of all that is grown and good to eat brings the local and Southland community together to celebrate the year’s home harvest. A range of practical workshops is offered along with interactive displays and competitions and the chance to purchase delicious local produce.