A New Zealand Christmas is essentially an outdoor experience that’s likely to include a leisurely lunch on the barbeque, afternoon fun in the water, and casual evening gatherings under a starry sky.
For a glimpse of what’s on during New Zealand’s Christmas New Year season, here’s a Kiwi take on the 12 days of Christmas which according to Christian tradition begin on Christmas Day and finish on 5 January.
Day one: White Christmas dreaming
In the Wairarapa region - just north of Wellington - the folks at Pukaha Mt Bruce Wildlife Reserve like to celebrate a rather special white Christmas.
The star at the top of their Christmas tree is a precious and very rare white kiwi called Manukura - the first all white kiwi hatched in captivity in the world.
Since Manukura arrived in 2011, several brothers and sisters have arrived. They are not albino but rather their pure white feathers are the result of a recessive white feather gene carried by both parents. Maori elders consider the little white kiwi is a special omen. Visitors to the wildlife centre - open 364 days a year - can visit Manukura in the nocturnal kiwi house.
Pukaha Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre
Day two: Hug a giant
Get some friends together, link hands and wrap your arms around one of the big green trees in the Northland kauri forests.
The kauri is a giant of the forest, and Northland has the biggest and most ancient specimens of this native tree species that once covered much of the North Island’s northern coastal regions.
At 51m high and with a girth of 13.8 metres, Tane Mahuta - in the Waipoua Forest of the Hokianga - is one of the world’s largest living trees, believed to be about 2000 years old. In the daytime, it’s a short walk from the carpark on SH12, or take a guided night time walk with Footprints Waipoua.
Day three: Soak your cares away
Soak your cares away in steaming mineral waters at Rotorua’s iconic Polynesian Spa.
Rotorua - in New Zealand’s volcanic central North Island - has long been attracting tourists looking for a relaxing and therapeutic experience in the legendary hot springs and bubbling pools of sulphurous mud.
The Polynesian Spa is built on natural hot springs at the edge of Lake Rotorua. There are 26 pools and an international day spa offering unique local therapies. Nearby Hell’s Gate and Wai Ora resorts also offer special mud baths and mineral hot pools.
Polynesian Spa Rotorua
Day four: Stars in your eyes
Turn your eyes to the heavens for a world-beating star-gazing experience at Mount John Observatory, Tekapo - in the South Island’s Mackenzie Country.
Lake Tekapo’s pollution and cloud-free night skies are recognised as an international dark sky reserve because the region offers some of the world’s best star gazing conditions in an easily accessed location.
Mount John Observatory is a research facility, and a centre for astro-tourism experiences run by Earth & Sky.
Earth & Sky Tours
Day five: Chill out
Chill out with the penguins at the International Antarctic Centre at Christchurch Airport - gateway to Canterbury and Antarctica.
Deep freeze experiences like the penguin encounter, rides on the Hagglund all-terrain vehicle, a 4D movie adventure that includes a blizzard, and the chance to play in snow and on ice, make this a popular family destination.
The New Zealand Penguin Encounter is New Zealand’s first combined indoor/outdoor penguin viewing area with capacity to hold up to 26 little blue penguins.
International Antarctic Centre
Day six: Savour the moment
Discover the sun soaked Marlborough terroir where New Zealand’s now world famous sauvignon blanc varietal was pioneered.
The spectacular new Brancott Estate Heritage Centre is a unique destination for cellar door wine tastings or a complete restaurant experience matching top regional produce with premium New Zealand wines.
Visitors can also watch native New Zealand falcons while they soak in the breathtakingly beautiful surroundings of Brancott Vineyard.
Brancott Vineyard Heritage Estate
Day seven: Dip your toes
If you like to dip your toes in the water, it’s hard to go past Cleopatra's Pool - an oasis of spring water in Abel Tasman National Park, near the top of New Zealand’s South Island.
Abel Tasman National Park is rich in natural wonders, and Cleopatra’s Pool is one of the jewels in its crown. The pool under the trees has the added bonus of a natural waterslide lined with moss. If that’s too adventurous, the crystal-clear waters are ideal for bathing.
Day eight: Hunt a Hobbit
Pssst … there are Hobbits about and the place to be is Hobbiton - mythical home of Hobbits - on the green hills just outside Matamata.
The extensive Hobbiton movie set, originally created for Peter Jackson’s film trilogy of Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings, was significantly expanded for The Hobbit Trilogy. This is a film buff’s dream and must-do for all LOTR fans seeking the party tree and Bilbo Baggins’ front door.
The guided experience includes visits and stories about the stars and filming - during the day or evening, and the rural location on a working sheep and beef farm is a bonus for international visitors.
Hobbiton Movie Set
Day nine: Pick a shady tree
For the ultimate Kiwi beach experience, find a grove of native pohutukawa trees and settle yourself into a comfy position below its crimson blooms.
A native of the northern coasts, the prolific red blooms of the pohutukawa and the closedly related rata that inhabits southern coastal regions are an iconic symbol of the Kiwi Christmas and summer holiday memories.
Tuhua / Mayor Island - a volcanic outcrop off-shore from Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty - has the world’s largest pohutukawa forest. It’s also a sanctuary for kiwi and other rare New Zealand birds.
A warm climate, beautiful beaches and matching lifestyle make the Bay of Plenty a year-round destination for active or relaxing Kiwi holidays.
Tourism Bay of Plenty
Day ten: Downhill thrills
Queenstown - a year-round resort town - is a cycling mecca with tracks for every thrill level from downhills for serious mountain bikers to long stretches of gentle well formed trails for leisurely jaunts. vineyards and along the waterside.
The Queenstown Trail has 110km of dedicated cycle route over easy and intermediate gradients and linking some of the region's popular tourism activities including cellar doors, waterside dawdles, and the famed Kawarau Bungy Centre,
The iconic Queenstown Skyline Gondola has custom-built bike hooks so that riders and their bikes can take in some cool alpine scenery as they’re lifted from town into the southern hemisphere’s hottest new biking destination - Queenstownz Bike Park. High above the resort town, the bike park offers year-round action on over 30-plus kilometers of tracks graded for all levels of riders.
Queenstown Bike Park
Day eleven: Cruise about
Cruise about the Otago Peninsula - just east of Dunedin - and discover some of New Zealand’s unique and fascinating wildlife.
Award-winning Monarch Wildlife Cruises & Tours takes visitors out on the water for unrivalled wildlife viewing experiences. The Otago Peninsula is a rich marine environment that is home to albatross, penguins, dolphins, and other ocean species.
Monarch Wildlife Cruises
Day twelve: Spin into New Year
Pull on the big red suit, zip up and spin into New Year with a high-speed adventure on Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour.
The Auckland Adventure jet will have you hanging on tight as you head into a 360-degree turn under the Harbour Bridge.
Jet-boating on the harbour is just one of Auckland’s thrills and the Waitemata - which means sparkling waters - also offers a different perspective on New Zealand’s biggest city. You can bungy, bridge climb or watch dolphins and whales all in the sparkling Waitemata and within sight of downtown Auckland.
Auckland Adventure Jet