As the first country in the world to see in Christmas day, New Zealand is a fun and friendly destination that loves to celebrate the festive season in its own distinctive style. If you’re thinking about heading south for a Christmas season with a difference, here’s a guide on what to expect in this diverse country.
What you’ll be doing
With temperatures averaging the mid-20’s, it’s very likely that you’ll be spending your Christmas day heading to the beach! New Zealanders love getting active on the coast with plenty of water sports on offer, or simply relaxing on the sand and working on their tans.
If you don’t fancy sea and sand then you can head inland to make the most of the summer weather, with plenty of fun activities like kayaking, hiking, or outdoor games and parties in the park.
As Christmas is the start of the school summer holidays, many Kiwis also love to go camping over the festive season, as there are countless beautiful national parks with both free and paid campsites to enjoy. Be aware that campsites book up early, so you’ll need to plan well in advance to celebrate Christmas in the wild.
What you’ll be eating
With a huge British influence in New Zealand, many still favour a traditional roast dinner with turkey, ham or pork, as well as vegetables such as pumpkin and potatoes. Dessert is usually a typical hearty dishes like warm Christmas pudding or Christmas cake.
However, when the weather is warm and people are celebrating outside in the sunshine, many are now favouring barbecues and picnics with friends or family. These types of gatherings call for a lighter dessert, so a traditional New Zealand Pavlova topped with whipped cream, strawberries and kiwifruit is the perfect treat.
Where you’ll be going
If you’re heading out with a tent or campervan, there are plenty of spots available around both islands for pitching up. Queenstown is a great area, with lots of campsites around this buzzing mountain town. Or head to Kaiteriteri at the top of the north island, which is considered to be one of the country’s most popular seaside areas, with plenty of activities on offer and sun-kissed beaches to enjoy over the festive season. It’s also just a short hop to Wellington to enjoy the city’s amenities and bars.
For a festive event with a difference, pay a visit to New Plymouth on the west coast of the north island for the annual TSB Bank Festival of Lights in Pukekura Park. Spectacular lighting displays create colourful glows in the trees and waterways and the live entertainment and events keep the crowds coming each year.
If you’re a lover of Christmas music, Auckland in the north island is the home of the Coca-Cola Christmas in the Park on December 14th. This huge music extravaganza sees singers, dancers, musicians and choirs all ringing in the festive season in style.
What you will see and hear
Don’t be surprised if you see Santa popping up in a few unexpected locations – he’ll generally swap his cosy red outfit for speedos and flip flops to take in a spot of sunbathing, surfing and jet-skiing on the beach. He also features heavily in each town’s Santa Parades, which take place throughout November and December and have been a tradition in the country since the early 1900s. These elaborate pageants involve hundreds of floats and acts, drawing thousands of spectators.
Keep an eye out for the native pohutakawa tree, which flowers with a mass of bright red blossoms throughout the season, signalling that Christmas is here and it’s time to celebrate. The pohutakawa, also referred to as ‘Antipodean holly’, is
well-loved by locals and regularly features in songs and on Christmas cards, thanks to its colourful and iconic look.
Also listen out for a variety of New Zealand adaptations of classic Christmas tunes. The locals regularly tweak the traditional carols and songs to reflect their own landscapes and wildlife. For example, in the classic ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’
they replace ‘a partridge in a pear tree’, with a ‘pukeko in a ponga Tree’, featuring gifts such as ‘eleven haka lessons’,
‘ten juicy fish heads’ or ‘five big fat pigs’!
If you’re keen to see plenty of the country and camp, then hire a campervan or car and explore independently. If you prefer to take it a little easier on your holidays then there are plenty of New Zealand tours companies, such as Contiki Holidays, that will help you travel around the country and see as much as possible. For a speedier option, there’s also a great internal flight network, leaving you more time to enjoy the festivities.