Sun shines on festive season Down Under

Christmas and New Year celebrations in New Zealand offer a summer twist on the traditional festive season.

Christmas and New Year celebrations in New Zealand offer a summer twist on the traditional festive season.

As temperatures begin to rise, December starts the countdown to the holiday period, marked by barbeques, outdoor music festivals, summer sports and an en masse migration to the beach.

The festive focus is on the outdoors as Kiwis wind up business for the year to enjoy Christmas holidays of long, hot sunshine-filled days.

December sees the end of the academic year and, with school and university students on holiday, the major urban areas empty out as families relocate to bachs and cribs (holiday houses) or camping grounds in smaller coastal and lakeside towns.

Holiday options

A popular holiday option for many New Zealand families and groups of friends is to rent a house or pitch a tent in a camping spot.

Websites such as Bachcare, Holiday Homes, Holiday Houses and New Zealand Holiday Homes provide a network of holiday rentals, while Top 10 Holiday Parks coordinate 48 camping grounds across the country. The Department of Conservation manages over 250 vehicle accessible camping grounds, providing access to more remote camping locations.

As the temperature rises, the proximity to beaches, lakes and coastal areas allows Kiwis as well as international holiday-makers to indulge in a range of water sports. Boating, water-skiing, fishing, diving, kayaking, surfing and swimming are all popular recreational activities during summertime, with many of the larger settlements providing equipment for hire.

Festive events

In the build-up to Christmas, cities and towns partake in a range of local celebrations, including Christmas carols in public parks, Santa parades through main streets and Christmas light festivals, usually involving local icons and celebrities. Typically free of charge, these events are advertised locally around the end of November and beginning of December.

Christmas Day itself is much more low-key than traditional overseas celebrations. Presents are generally opened mid-morning followed by a large lunch meal of traditional Christmas fare with some Kiwi twists such as salads, a barbeque, fresh seafood and pavlova. While many families decorate a traditional pine or fir tree, New Zealanders regard the native pohutukawa as their unofficial Christmas tree owing to its scarlet blooms.

The following day is Boxing Day, which sees many Kiwis attending race meetings, one-day cricket tests, family picnics, flocking to the Boxing Day sales at retail centres, or simply recovering from the excesses of Christmas Day.

New Year parties

New Year’s Eve is party time in New Zealand and many of the country's premier music festivals are held at popular coastal settlements. The best known event is Rhythm & Vines, a three-day outdoor festival set in a vineyard in Gisborne on the east coast of the North Island - the first place in the world to see the sun each day. More than 20,000 people gather to hear bands from all over the world and see the new year in at a typically Kiwi outdoor event.

Many popular New Zealand music artists and bands also team up and spend the Christmas and New Year period touring local pubs and bars across the country. Touring information is usually available at the bars or in local newspapers.