Celebrating the wacky way in New Zealand

New Zealanders love celebrating – almost every weekend someone, somewhere is staging a public event that not only gives visitors an insight into the Kiwi way of life but also highlights the innovative and quirky nature of local thinking.

After all, what other country in the world has made an international event out of rolling little round sweets down a steep hill?

And, which nation has become globally renowned for creating weird and wonderful wearable art that is fashioned into a multi-million dollar, sell-out show every year?

Who would have thought serving up wacky treats like wasp larvae ice-cream, worm sushi and fried locusts would turn into an over-subscribed wild foods festival that tickles the fancy of international visitors and media?

And, how many countries in the world reap vast revenue out of people dressing up in strange outfits and trying to fly home-made contraptions over an icy cold lake in the middle of winter - but the practice is alive and well in New Zealand’s adventure capital.

Weird and wacky

Weird, wild and wacky happenings dot New Zealand’s annual calendar of events and you don’t have to delve too far to discover famous Kiwi ingenuity, unique sense of humour, creative talent and bizarre appreciation lurking behind festivals, occasions and public celebrations.

Even more serious-sounding events can have a touch of eccentricity and element of fun and frivolity - like the Rugby Sevens and the world famous Round the Bays run held in Auckland every year since 1972.

The serious side of the fun run is raising money for those less fortunate but the wacky aspect is the bizarre outfits and weird ways people choose to complete the 8.4km course along Auckland’s coast. With more than 70,000 participants, the event has become one of the largest fun-runs in the world.

Charity spin-off

The serious side of any event is often the driving force - to raise money for charity - and New Zealand ranks highly on the generosity front. A recent survey of 153 countries showed New Zealanders and Australians were the first in the world to donate time and money to charity.

Through sport, art and culture, music, wine and food, environment and nature, Kiwis are constantly coming together to take part in local, national and international events that fuel community awareness and national pride.

And whether it is the No. 8 wire ‘can-do’ attitude of Kiwis, wide open spaces for free expression or just unconventional ways of thinking, New Zealand has its fair share of events that can only be described as different.

Take a festival based on volcanic activity - Taupo’s Erupt Festival; the World Heli Challenge where adventurous winter sports fans jump out of helicopters into the remote Southern Alps and ski home; the Auckland Sky Tower challenge where firemen from all over the world and wearing full fire-fighting kit run up the southern hemisphere’s tallest building; fringe and comedy festivals; nude rugby, body painting conventions and a marathon along Northland’s 90 mile beach - and you’ve got a taste of some of the more unusual events only to be found in New Zealand.

Other events have put New Zealand on the map for their scale, nature or because they err on the side of wacky.

Dunedin’s Jaffa Roll

Part of the annual Cadbury Chocolate Carnival, the Jaffa Roll is an iconic Kiwi event that takes place in the southern city of Dunedin. City promoters have very cleverly put together two of Dunedin’s unique features and come up with a hugely popular event that attracts world-wide attention.

On one hand, Dunedin has the steepest street in the world - Baldwin Street. On the other hand, the city is home to New Zealand’s Cadbury factory, home of the iconic Kiwi jaffa sweet - an orange-coated chocolate candy ball.

Put the two together and you’ve got the annual Jaffa Roll where numbered giant jaffas are sent off in a sea of orange hurtling down Baldwin Street.

Winning sweets are at the bottom in about 15 seconds - an amazing sight, huge fun but also a valuable fundraiser for local charities.

Wellington's World of Wearable Arts (WOW)

Back in 1987 in a rural art gallery near Nelson in the South Island, local sculptor Suzie Moncrieff came up with a creative way of taking art off the wall and onto the body in a live theatrical show.

From small beginnings the World of WearableArt (WOW) was born, and 21 years later is now New Zealand’s largest and most dynamic art event, as well as a global art phenomenon.

Hard to describe but best summed up as 'Mardi Gras meets haute couture', it’s a spectacular show like no other, where art and fashion collude in an audio-visual extravaganza that leaves spectators wondering at the incredible vision and talent of the creators - many of whom have no previous design experience.

Now staged in Wellington, the annual WOW event brings together more than 300 designers - with more than 100 garments from overseas contributors - and 400-plus cast and crew for a week of sell-out shows.

The event attracts increasing global interest (65% of those attending come from outside the Wellington region), gains extensive media coverage and boosts the local economy by more than NZ$15 million a year.

Hokitika Wildfoods Festival

Known as the quirkiest food festival on the New Zealand culinary calendar - and possibly anywhere in the world - the Wildfoods Festival held in Hokitika on the West Coast of the South Island, is the epitome of weird and wacky.

Twenty one years ago, a local with a cellar full of home brew made from gorse flowers and rose petals, came up with the idea of a festival to celebrate the taste of the wild West Coast.

The home brew was teamed with local delicacies such as huhu grubs, punga fern, locusts, worms, larvae, sheep’s testicles, paua and grasshoppers - all fashioned into recognisable foods like sushi, ice-cream, fritters, kebabs and wraps.

Today the event is wilder and wackier than ever and come March each year, the local sense of humour and wild spirit come to the fore as West Coasters excel in culinary creativity.

As wacky as it might be, the event is also a phenomenal success. Numbers are now capped at 15,000, the festival achieves high profile international publicity and generates about NZ$3 million into the West Coast economy on an annual basis.

Taihape's Gumboot Festival

Some people in the world may not even know what a gumboot is let alone have heard of Taihape, the North Island town that claims the title of gumboot throwing capital of the world.

But, in what has become another successful wacky New Zealand event - national and international interest centres on this small rural town and the art of tossing a rubber boot (equivalent of a Wellington boot, and uniform for Kiwi farmers and outdoor workers). Competitors of all ages vie for the coveted Golden Gumboot trophy.

But those interested in trying their hand at gumboot throwing don’t have to wait until the annual event, they can have a go anytime thanks to a special gumboot-throwing lane that has been developed behind the town’s main shopping centre.

An unusual way to attract tourists but it’s proved a boon for Taihape - now considered an ideal stop-over point for travellers through the central North Island, with good cafes and eateries.

Running of the sheep - Te Kuiti

Te Kuiti - a country town in the central North Island - is home to New Zealand’s annual ‘Running of the Sheep’ which is billed as the world’s largest sheep run.

As six truckloads of woolly jumpers make the one-kilometre dash down Te Kuiti’s main street, thousands of spectators take their turn trying to guess the exact number and win a $1000 prize.

It’s all part of the fun surrounding a more serious event - the New Zealand Shearing Championships brings together the best sheep shearers from New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom to battle it out on the woolshed floor.

As a highlight of the day-long festival, participants can also enjoy more than 100 stalls of local cuisine, arts and crafts.

Queenstown Winter Festival

What better place than New Zealand’s adventure capital and winter wonderland of Queenstown to stage a mid-winter festival? This annual event, now in its 37th year, has become the southern hemisphere’s biggest winter party.

During the 10 days of celebration, which involves events on and off the snow, as many as 60,000 New Zealand and international visitors base themselves in the Queenstown area for a carnival rated amongst the world’s Top 10 must-see festivals by Yahoo!7 Travel.

The element of weird and wacky is evident, and the extensive programme of events features some quirky highlights like the Speight’s Dog Derby which involves total confusion, barking, shouting and rustic language as dogs stay at heel with their owners who're sliding down a ski slope on their bottoms.

Mountain biking on the snow and a suitcase race also make for mad mountain fun, but one of the most visually bizarre and teeth curling occasions is the ‘MORE FM Day on the Bay’.

Entertainment starts with the birdman competition where contestants and their wacky contraptions attempt to fly as far as they can onto the icy waters of Lake Wakatipu.

That’s followed by a ‘Splash and Dash’ which sees madcap entrants jumping into the freezing water from an ex-America’s Cup yacht and racing for the finish line on shore.

Topped off with the ‘Undy500" - completing an obstacle course wearing only your underwear - the Queenstown Winter Festival rates up there with the most weird and wonderful of New Zealand’s events.

More information

Dunedin’s Jaffa roll

Putting the WOW back in Wellington

Party time at Queenstown Winter Festival