Food, festivals and fun: New Zealanders celebrate the bounty of the warmer months in the great outdoors.
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.
Pioneer Mountain Bike Stage Race, Southern Alps
1-6 December 2019
Rolling out for its fourth edition, The Pioneer MTB Race has earned a name for itself as a top mountain bike event. The 6-day event changes course each year, following in the tracks of some of New Zealand's earliest pioneers. Organisers say that 2019 will be as challenging as ever with guaranteed stunning landscapes, varied terrain and good doses of single track and epic climbs. Add to that, the traditional Kiwi hospitality at the stopover villages set up in breath-taking locations.
The 2019 course will cover 450kms with 15000m of climbing through back country New Zealand. Local and international riders must tackle the race in teams of two, staying no more than 2 minutes apart for the entire race. But, while the ride is challenging, the reward is worth it as riders cruise along backcountry trails not usually open to the public and climb to ridgelines with incredible views. Competitor numbers are limited so enter early to avoid disappointment.
The Pioneer MTB Race
South Island Wine & Food Festival – Christchurch
7 December 2019
Travellers, like armies, march on their stomachs and if you are journeying around the South Island this annual outdoor food event in Christchurch's Hagley Park is an excellent way to sample local fare and taste wines from the regions of Marlborough, North and Central Canterbury and Central Otago. The festival programme includes wine seminars, food trucks, a cooking theatre and live music.
South Island Wine & Food Festival
Wanaka Beerfest – Wanaka, Otago
7 December 2019
Wanaka's celebration of fine New Zealand craft beer is back for the fourth year, bigger than ever and showcasing the offerings of local producers in Otago and guest breweries from as far afield as Blenheim and Auckland. The family-friendly event (for anyone over 18) also serves up barbecue food and live music.
Wanaka Beer Festival
TSB Bank Festival of Lights – New Plymouth, Taranaki
mid-December 2019 to 5 February 2020
For seven weeks every year, New Zealand's leading light festival transforms 52-ha Pukekura Park in central New Plymouth into a night-time wonderland. The free event attracts over 100,000 visitors to its programme of daytime activities, evening entertainment and innovative lighting designs by New Zealand artists. Picnic on the lawns or graze the food trucks. Away from the lights, visit the stunning Len Lye arts centre, get active hiking Mt Taranaki’s iconic volcanic slopes or conquer the famed Taranaki surf breaks.
TSB Festival of Lights
Rhythm and Vines Music Festival - Gisborne, Eastland
28 December 2019 to 1 January 2020
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 2019 to 1 January 2020.
Rhythm and Vines NZ - Rhythm and Alps
Cromwell Cherry Festival – Central Otago
29 December 2019
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.
Cromwell Cherry Festival
Whare Flat Folk Festival – Dunedin
30 December 2019 to 3 January 2020
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 festival, which has been running since 1975, is a relaxed, family-friendly event that includes workshops and performances and dance and jamming sessions.
Whare Flat Folk Festival
Interislander Tauherenikau Races – Tauherenikau, Wairarapa
2 January 2020
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.
Interislander Summer Festival
ASB Classic – Auckland
6 - 18 January 2020
The ASB Classic is New Zealand's premier tennis event, attracting world-class competition and some of the sport’s biggest names. Serena Williams has been confirmed for the women's tournament which runs in the first week with qualifying sessions from 4 January. Off-court, the venue near downtown Auckland offers a range of sophisticated cafes, restaurants, lounges and entertainment.
ASB Classic - Auckland
The Revenant – Garston, Southland
17 - 19 January 2020
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.
Picton Maritime Festival – Marlborough Sounds
17 January 2020
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.
Picton Maritime Festival
Soundsplash Festival – Raglan, Waikato
17 - 19 January 2020
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.
Gibbston Valley Winery Summer Concert – Queenstown
18 January 2020
Gibbston Valley Winery’s 10th annual summer concert is set for its biggest ever with performances from Billy Idol, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Anastacia, Creedence Clearwater Revisited and Smash Mouth. 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.
Gibbston Valley Winery Summer Concert
Bread and Circus - World Buskers Festival – Christchurch
23 January to 16 February 2020
Christchurch hosts a gaggle of jugglers, musos, tricksters, puppeteers, mime artists and dancers throughout the 3-week summertime Bread & Circus Buskers Festival. Shoulder into the crowd, see who's making a scene in the middle and maybe leave a few dollars. Avoid if you're scared of audience participation. Some of the world’s best international artists are gearing up to be in Christchurch and the full programme will be online from October.
Bread and Circus - World Buskers Festival
The Gravel and Tar Classic – Manawatu
25 January 2020
International cycling event, The Gravel and Tar Classic rolls into its fifth edition in 2020 drawing a field of elite Australasian cyclists to the Manawatū region for a beautiful, if challenging, experience. And, for the second time in 2020, there will be a women’s race – La Femme – following the same arduous route as the men’s event. The Gravel and Tar Classic UCI 1.2 race is a 130km men’s race with five gravel sectors over approximately 40km and 70km on tarmac. It is gaining a reputation as the hardest single day road race in the Oceania region. Juniors, masters and weekend warriors can enter the 100km Slicks and Stones race.
The Gravel and Tar Classic
Driftwood & Sand Beach Sculpture Festival – Hokitika, West Coast
Late January TBC 2020
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.
Driftwood and Sand, Beach Sculpture Festival
HSBC New Zealand Sevens – Hamilton
26 - 27 January 2020
It's New Zealand's biggest rugby party and the city of Hamilton is set to host the 21st birthday bash of the New Zealand leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. 2020 will be even more significant as it's the first time that both the men's and women's Sevens tournaments will be hosted together. A major highlight on the New Zealand 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.
HSBC New Zealand Sevens
Tamaki Herenga Waka Festival – Auckland
28 - 29 January 2020
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.
Tamaki Herenga Waka Festival
Sarau Festival – Upper Moutere, Nelson
2 February 2020
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 2020
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.
Waitangi Day Celebrations
Burt Munro Challenge – Invercargill, Southland
5 - 9 February 2020
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.
Burt Munro Challenge
Kathmandu Coast to Coast – West Coast / Canterbury
7 - 8 February 2020
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.
Coast to Coast
Tarawera Ultra Marathon – Rotorua
8 February 2020
The 12th annual Tarawera Ultra Marathon will once again push a field of 2000-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.
Tarawera Ultra Marathon
Marlborough Food and Wine Festival – Marlborough
8 February 2020
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.
Marlborough Wine & Food Festival
Tremains Art Deco Weekend – Hawke's Bay
19 - 23 February 2020
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.
Tremains Art deco Festival
Meatstock Music and Meat Festival – Auckland
TBC February 2020
Calling all carnivores. Australasia's pro-protein festival will be back, bigger and meatier than ever in mid-February for its fourth 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.
Meatstock Music & Meat Festival
Splore – Tapapakanga Regional Park, Auckland
20 – 23 February 2020
Few festivals savour and celebrate the outdoors better than Splore which prides itself on eco responsibility, respect and fun with mindful partying. Clean, green and tidy, Auckland's summer-good-times boutique music and arts festival plays out in a sanctuary, on a sandy shore beside the safe waters of the Firth of Thames. Pitch your tent, park your motorhome or glamp – it’s family-friendly and has been proclaimed as ‘one of the best festival locations in the world’ by visiting international music acts who also get to experience a dose of Kiwiana complete with a Māori powhiri welcome.
South Island Lantern Festival – Christchurch
TBC February 2020
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.
South Island Lantern Festival
New Zealand Golf Open – Queenstown
27 February - 1 March 2020
Teeing off in late February in a spectacular alpine setting, the New Zealand Golf Open attracts some of the world’s - and certainly Australasia’s - best golfers. Competition plays out across two of New Zealand’s top golfing destinations, Millbrook Golf Resort and The Hills, both with breath-taking 360-degree mountain views - venues that are as much a destination for spectators as competitors and lauded by those who have played them. Top that up with fine wines, world-class dining, and activities that run the full gamut of adrenalin and relaxation.
New Zealand Golf Open
New Zealand Fringe Festival – Wellington
28 February - 22 March 2020
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.
Fringe - Wellington
Sculpture on the Gulf – Waiheke Island, Auckland
Biennial TBC March, 2021
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.
Sculpture On the Gulf
Crankworx Rotorua – Rotorua
2 - 8 March 2020
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.
North Canterbury Wine and Food Festival – Waipara, Canterbury
8 March 2020
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.
North Canterbury Wine and Food Festival
iD Dunedin Fashion Week – Dunedin
TBC mid-March 2020
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.
iD Dunedin Fashion Week
Macpac Motatapu – Queenstown and Wanaka
14 - 15 March 2020
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.
WOMAD World Music Festival – New Plymouth
13 - 15 March 2020
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.
WOMAD World Music Festival
Havelock Mussel & Seafood Festival – Marlborough Sounds
TBC mid-March 2020
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.
Havelock Mussel & Seafood Festival
Pasifika Festival – Auckland
14 - 15 March 2020
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.
Balloons Over Waikato – Hamilton
17 - 21 March 2020
Balloons over Waikato is New Zealand's premier hot-air balloon festival. Held annually in Hamilton, 2020 will mark the 21st birthday of this event which 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.
Balloons Over Waikato
Jim Beam Homegrown – Wellington
21 March 2020
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.
Jim Beam Homegrown
Royal New Zealand Pipe Band Association Championships – Dunedin
13 - 14 March 2020
Invercargill - New Zealand's secondmost Scottish city after Dunedin - will come alive with the harmonies of hundreds of pipe bands as they vie for the top title for 2020. The two-day event will feature displays at the Queens Park Cricket Grounds and a street parade. It's a rousing spectacle that pays tribute to southern New Zealand's strong links to Scotland and the long-standing tradition of pipe bands.
The Royal New Zealand Band Pipe's Association