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New Zealand's Best Festival & Events

Ahhh.....where to begin? If some-one were to actually count there would be many hundreds and possibly even thousands of festivals, parties and annual celebrations which kick off at various times of the year all over both North and South Islands in New Zealand.

Many festivals are food and wine themed, some celebrate history and tradition while the majority fall into the categories of music, arts, culture and everything else which could be collected under the umbrella of lets-have-a-party-for-no-particular-reason. Events cover every mood - from the sombre to the totally bizarre - and January to December are particularly jam-packed as this is both mid-summer and holiday time.

Here's a quick run-down through the year of some of the biggest, the best and the alternatively interesting.

Fire in the Sky – Gisborne, North Island

When: 1st January

What better way to rattle the brain back into gear after New Year's Eve excesses than a giant firework display. Set to music, Fire in the Sky has been running since 2001 and although its initial purpose might have been simply to get people aaaahhhing their way through a pyrotechnic display things have escalated since then. Expect a party vibe – if you still have any energy left.

Summerdaze – Queenstown and Wanaka, South Island

When: 1st - 30th January

Why festival for a day or two when you could festival for the whole month. There is a bit of everything at Summerdaze with rodeos, triathlons, skateboard competitions and mountain biking for the energetically inclined or outdoor cinemas, a Teddy Bears’ Picnic and arts for those who like things a little more sedentary. And of course there is music.

World Buskers Festival – Christchurch, South Island

When: January

Fun runs through the core of this super-popular annual event in which Christchurch's green spaces and streets are colonised by troupes of musicians, acrobats, jugglers, fire show performers and comedians. 

A Low Hum – Wellington, North Island

Month: February

The must-go-to music festival for all those fed up to the back teeth with the eternal queueing, full-on security and extortionate drink prices of the mega-festivals. This three week long festival still has a distinct tone of under-the-radar and allows BYO alcohol.

The New Zealand Festival and the New Zealand Fringe Festival – Wellington, North Island

When: February and March

These two giant events both run for a three week duration beginning in February and finishing in March with the Fringe first to kick off. The New Zealand Festival just happens to be New Zealand's longest running and biggest multi-arts festival. Prepare to be dazzled and enchanted by high quality non-stop internationally sourced offerings of music, theatre, dance and literature.

The New Zealand Fringe Festival also stakes its claim as a festival of arts but encapsulates and showcases the wonderful ethos of 'fringe' in the extreme. It is one of the top ten things in the whole world to do in February according to the National Geographic and if you enjoy your arts sprinkled liberally with the original, the experimental and off-the-wall risky from a creative point of view this is the place to be. Every genre known to the world of performing arts is found here and it is highly possible you'll also find a few things which defy any kind of categorisation at all. Performances of comedy, music, circus, puppetry, cabaret, busking and fair dollops of astonishing spring up all over Wellington in cafes bars, parks and in the street.

Credit: CubaDupa
Credit: CubaDupa

Homegrown Music Festival – Wellington, North Island

When: March

Another capital based festival, Homegrown has been going for ever and, as the name might suggest, is the venue where home-grown talent throws out beats of varying musical genre to get the crowds rocking. Typically scheduled for early March, Homegrown plays host to almost 60 acts across its 7 stages.

CubaDupa Street Festival – Wellington, North Island

When: March

This festival is the most shiny-new of all our listings here, born just one year ago in 2015. But if ever anything promised to become the next big thing this two day street festival is it.

Quirky and quintessentially Kiwi, Cuba Street and its myriad of alleys and laneways are the outdoor venue here and who knows where you might just happen upon some impromptu stage. CubaDupa’s spirit takes Cuba Street's well-loved alternative Bohemian vibe and party-time air and shapes it into solid form. During both day and night time hours might be heard musical performances from rooftops or streets. Restaurants and bars spill out into the streets while moving past, weaving around and sometimes situated bang in the middle you will find dance, circus, theatre, carnival, processions and magical vignettes.

Winter Festival, Queenstown
Winter Festival, Queenstown

Queenstown Winter Festival – Queenstown, South Island

When: June

Essentially an event to kick off Queenstown's ski season, the Winter Festival has morphed into something much more and which has appeal not simply for the snow-junkies but also for the party-animals and all kinds of fun seekers alike. Of course the Winterfest games are a focus for competing international snowboarders and skiers but also on the menu are live bands, parties a plenty, fireworks, hot-tub events and a film festival. The event runs for a week so you might need to pace yourself.


Mid-winter Carnival – Dunedin, South Island

When: June

Get yourself south on the shortest day of the year – around 21 June – for a party to chase away the winter chills. A carnival atmosphere pervades at this annual event which changes theme from year to year. Expect workshops, dancers, drummers, entertainment, sky-lantern releases and whatever else may have been dreamed up for this year's party.

Credit: Rhythm & Alps
Credit: Rhythm & Alps

Rhythm and Alps – Wanaka/Queenstown Region, South Island

When: December

New Year's Eve celebrations among some of the most beautiful scenery found in the country are the focus of this two day camping and music festival. Line-ups are typically impressive with both home sourced and internationally known acts.

Rhythm and Vines Music Festival – Gisborne, North Island

When: December

Gisborne is a fun place to be no matter what the time of year but it has a special significance over new year when this three day event takes place. Thanks to its location with regard to world time it is THE first mainland place on the planet to see the sunrise so you get to say happy New Year before anyone else in the world. Your vineyard setting (hence the 'vines' part of the title) offers camping and big-name line-ups making up around 70 artists performing across 5 stages.

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