Oh where to even start……there are literally hundreds, possibly thousands, of festivals in New Zealand and annually recurring celebrations which take place all over the North and the South Islands of New Zealand. Some are steeped in history and tradition, many are food and wine orientated, while there are an endless variety of music, arts and culture and any-excuse-for-a-party events which range from the sombre and serious to the totally bizarre.
Here is a small taster of some of the better known, bigger or more interesting choices on offer.
Bluff Oyster and Food Festival – Bluff, South Island
Apparently, Bluff oysters are considered some of the best in the world and annually this fact is celebrated with an ‘unsophisticated and proud of it’ food festival. Local foods, with focus on the famous oysters and other seafood, ale and country wines are all available for sampling as well as festivities including live music and competitions.
Summerdaze – Queenstown and Wanaka, South Island
All of January
A month long summer festival which features music, sports, arts and crafts, a Teddy Bears’ Picnic, skateboarding competitions, outdoor theatre, mountain biking events, triathlons, rodeo, markets, outdoor cinemas and more.
Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow – Wanaka, South Island
Easter weekend in even numbered years
This biennial event which takes place at Wanaka Airport highlights historic and contemporary aircraft and typically attracts crowds numbering around 100,000.
Arrowtown Autumn Festival, Arrowtown, South Island
Autumn/April – 10 days
This festival, which has been running for more than 25 years, has more than 50 events which include a street parade, entertainment, vintage cars and art exhibitions.
Auckland Anniversary Regatta – Auckland, North Island
On or around 28 January
This traditional regatta is New Zealand’s oldest sporting event and one of the world’s largest single day regattas, taking place on Auckland’s Anniversary Day and begun in 1840. The number of water-craft involved in displays and racing is astounding – tall ships, gaff riggers, sloops, racing keelers, multi-hulls, sailing dinghies, radio controlled boats, waka ama, sea scout craft, restored classic yachts, vintage tugboats, dragon boats and America’s Cup prototypes.
Waituhi Festival – New Zealand Festival of Body Painting, Lake Taupo, North Island
February – 1 week duration
This is a relatively new to New Zealand, international festival which attracts visitors from all over the world. The main focus is creativity through face and body painting with workshops, competitions, music, fire shows and food and drink. The event finales with a Fluro Dance Party in which party-goers paint their faces and/or bodies and dance through the night.
Fire in the Sky – Gisborne, North Island
Essentially a huge fireworks display set to music, the tradition of which began in 2001, Gisborne’s Fire in the Sky has become an event which has escalated into a whole party vibe for this one night (despite the fact that many are still recovering from the excesses of New Year’s Eve).
Beach Horse Races – Kaiaua, Eastland, North Island
It’s part beach party, part family fun day and very definitely horse racing (where no-one takes themselves too seriously) along the long crescented stretch of Kaiaua beach.
Bay of Islands Country Rock Festival – Paihia, North Island
May – 3 days
Street music and dancing, as well as performances from country music artists – local and international – are all part of the fun here for a festival which is now more than 20 years old.
Mid-winter Carnival – Dunedin, South Island
On or around 21 June – the shortest day
A carnival atmosphere and party just when everyone needs it – right in the heart of winter designed to create ‘a magical and awe-inspiring experience’. Workshops, dancers, drummers, entertainment, sky-lantern releases and quite a lot more with each year’s carnival carrying a different theme.
Golden Shears – Masterton, Wairapa, North Island
First weekend of March – 3 days
Since 1960 farmers, sheep shearers and wool workers from around the world gather here annually to show off their dexterity in competitive events where the sheep are shorn and the wool prepared, all in the fastest possible time.
Maori Kai Food Festivals
Dating back in time to the earliest history of human settlement in New Zealand, the kai food festivals, once the private preserve of Maori communities, has now evolved into a large calendar of events for all to enjoy with music, dancing, entertainment and, of course, food.
Listed here are some of the main festivals;
Kāwhia Kai Festival – Hamilton, Waikato, North Island – early Feb
Te Ra o Waitangi – Wellington, North Island – Waitangi Day, 6 February
International Kai Festival – Nelson, South Island
Maketu Kaimoana Festival – Bay of Plenty, North Island
Hokitika Wildfoods Festival (worm truffles, huhu grubs, and sheep testicles for example) – Hokitika, West Coast, South Island – March
Kai in the Bay Festival – Hawke’s Bay, North Island
Tauranga Moana Seafood Festival – Bay of Plenty, North Island
Nelson Arts Festival – Nelson, South Island
October – 2+ week duration
A masked parade, theatre, music, dance, cabaret, literary events and workshops are all showcased in this annual event which takes places at various Nelson venues and is finished with a street party.
World Buskers Festival – Christchurch, South Island
Fun, fun, fun is the main ingredient of this much loved annual festival where the parks and streets of Christchurch are taken over by musicians, acrobats, jugglers, fire show performers and comedians.
The Marlborough Wine and Food Festival – Blenheim, Marlborough, South Island
Every second Saturday in February
Widely recognised as New Zealand’s biggest wine festival, the day long event provides music and entertainment as well as all things wine orientated including sales, tasting and seminars.
A word on public holidays
Most of the public holidays will be familiar to western visitors (Easter, Christmas and so forth) but New Zealand has some of its own too.
Waitangi Day – 6 February – always commemorated on the exact date this historic treaty was signed in 1840 between Maori chiefs and representatives of the British Crown. Celebrations include formal ceremonies as well as more light hearted music and fun.
Anzac Day – 25 April – a national remembrance day in both New Zealand and Australia to honour those belonging to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli in the First World War. It now encompasses remembrance of the fallen from all armed conflicts in which New Zealand has since been involved.
Labour Day – fourth Monday in October
Provincial Anniversary Days – all New Zealand regions have one day which commemorates the first landings or founding of their communities which is recognised as a public holiday.
Schools’ Summer Holidays – these typically run from the week before Christmas until late January or early February.
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