Christmas in New Zealand tends to be a laid-back affair where long summer days and beach holidays provide the recipe for relaxed celebrations.
A Kiwi-style Christmas is all about making the most of sunny summer days and getting out and about in the great outdoors to enjoy the annual holiday break. In stark contrast to the northern hemisphere, the traditional New Zealand Christmas revolves around the barbeque, afternoon fun in the water, and casual evening gatherings under a starry sky.
For inspiration on how to spend the festive season in New Zealand, here’s our 2018 Kiwi take on the 12 days of Christmas - which according to Christian tradition begins on Christmas Day and finishes on 5 January.
Day One: SUPer paradise
If you haven’t tried stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) New Zealand is the perfect place to give it a go. With 15,000km of coastline and countless lakes and rivers crammed into a fit, friendly, action-seeker’s paradise, New Zealand is the ideal place to sightsee by SUP. If you’re heading to the famous tourist town of Rotorua set in an active volcanic zone, Rotorua Paddle Tours offers a fascinating evening glow-worm paddle board tour that takes you to never-before explored parts of the region’s beautiful lakes.
Day two: Thrilling new year
New Year, new adventure? Queenstown has just the thing. Launched late 2018 the Nevis Catapult is the latest world-first adventure tourism experience brought to you by A J Hackett, the people who invented commercial bungy jumping exactly 30 years ago. Set 150m above the Kawarau River in the Nevis Valley just outside Queenstown, it’s the world’s biggest catapult thrill, reaching speeds of 100kmh in 1.5 seconds, all with 3Gs of force.
Day Three: Southern gourmet discovery
Dunedin has a whole lot of new ways to welcome and refuel visitors including an impressive array of new gourmet experiences. The new Bay Road peanut butter factory, several new cafés and restaurants, health food stores, a new inner-city winery, craft breweries, dessert bar, grocery stores and soon to be opened Ocho Chocolate Factory & Café are helping the city’s reputation as a foodie destination.
Day Four: Gift of art & nature
There are two more good reasons to visit the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington. The first is a new gallery, Toi Art, which opened in 2018. Te Papa is the holder of New Zealand's national art collection and the mammoth new space – about the size of 15 tennis courts – has been billed as a game-changer for art in New Zealand. Second is a NZ$11 million nature zone, Taiao, due to open in 2019. It will bring together all of the museum’s nature- and environment-themed collections and exhibitions in one dazzling new space.
Day Five: Star gazers gazing
To wish upon a star this Christmas, head south to Lake Tekapo in the Mackenzie Country for a world-beating star-gazing experience. The lack of pollution and cloud-free night skies are recognised as an international dark sky reserve - the largest in the world. Astro-tourism company Earth & Sky and the famous Church of the Good Shepherd on the shores of Lake Tekapo have now launched night-time guided tours of the church which had formerly been closed to the public to protect the natural landscape. Wishes do come true!
Day Six: Get Christmas licked
Christmas summer holidays and ice-cream go hand in hand for Kiwis and Auckland’s Giapo Ice Cream Parlour has come up with a special festive season treat that promises to be a taste sensation. Known for creating masterpieces of flavour and design (eg ‘The Royal Pavlova’ inspired by the 2018 visit of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex), Giapo’s Christmas creation is a non-traditional version of the Christmas mince pie ... mmmm. Meanwhile, national favourites tend towards ‘only in New Zealand’ flavours like Tip Top’s boysenberry or hokey pokey but generally New Zealand ice-cream and gelato manufacturers are inventive: amongst the competing flavours in the 2018 Ice Cream Awards were Cardamom, Ginger and Turmeric Yoghurt, Maple Syrup and Bacon, and Blackcurrant and Coconut.
Day Seven: Trains and gains for Kaikōura
The charming coastal town of Kaikōura was reshaped, quite literally in 2016, by a huge earthquake but now it's well and truly back on track with the December 2018 reopening of the Coastal Pacific railway between Christchurch and Kaikōura. The popular tourist destination was virtually cut off from the rest of the country when roads subsided to the north and south after the earthquake but now the whale-watching capital of New Zealand is open for business. A new waterfront hotel, the Sudima Kaikoura, is due to open during the 2019/2020 summer.
Day Eight: Christmas cheers
Celebrate the festive season with New Zealand’s top pinot noir from the stunning Central Otago wine region. Sarah-Kate and Dan Dineen of Maude Wines are the toast of the New Zealand wine industry having taken top honour in the 2018 New Zealand Wine of the Year awards. Their 2017 pinot noir carried off trophies for Champion Pinot Noir of New Zealand and Best Wine from Central Otago, as well as the supreme Champion Trophy. Central Otago pinot noir wines rival the great wines of the Rhone Valley in quality and are often referred to as “The Fear of France”. Taste Maude Wines at the company's tasting room at popular Wanaka restaurant, Bistro Gentil.
Day Nine: Welcome to our world
Meri Kirihimete, ngā mihi o te tau hou. If you’re not sure what that translates to then delve further into New Zealand Māori culture and you are guaranteed to see life through a different lens. Great hospitality is key to the New Zealand experience and a prime example of first class hosts are Hinewai Hawaikirangi and Cameron Ormsby of Napier Māori Tours in Hawke’s Bay. Their eco-cultural tours, launched early 2018, offer an intimate and insightful experience into the significance and beauty of the region and if you don’t understand the concept of manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga now you certainly will after meeting this inspiring family.
Day Ten: Step back in time
If you’re feeling like turning back time as yet another year rolls by, step into the ancient forest at Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, a mainland ecological island covering 3400 hectares of forested, extinct volcano in the Waikato region of the North Island. Surrounded by the world’s longest pest-proof fence, Sanctuary Mountain’s environment offers a sanctuary for populations of many of New Zealand’s most endangered species such as birds, skinks, geckos, frogs, bats and insects. This is Aotearoa as it used to be. The Maungatautari restoration project is also fostering a kiwi breeding programme which will see 500 of the birds released into the sanctuary over the next five years to join the 100 already living there.
Day Eleven: Trees for Christmas
Everyone loves a well decorated Christmas tree but even better, take a walk in the forest. In New Zealand there’s a strong appreciation of the value trees bring to the environment and a visit to a native New Zealand forest is an experience to treasure. The country has vast and varied forests and 80% of New Zealand’s native plants aren’t found anywhere else in the world. The 2018 Royal tour by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex highlighted New Zealand’s conservation efforts especially in Rotorua when the couple visited the Whakarewarewa Forest to walk amongst giant trees on the Redwoods Tree walk.
Day Twelve: Sustainability first
With the Christmas holiday season in full swing, it’s important to be mindful of the impact the busy season has on the environment. Hoteliers in New Zealand are putting planet before profit by embracing the sustainability trend and one of the latest examples includes recently opened Camp Glenorchy near Queenstown. It is built to a world-first sustainability code and features energy-efficient building designs, smart lighting systems, composting toilets and a solar garden. New Zealand’s tourism industry launched a major initiative in 2018 inviting visitors to care of its unique land and environment. It’s called the Tiaki Promise.