Celebrating summer in NZ

Northern hemisphere visitors heading to New Zealand for Christmas should plan for a relaxed affair, especially if they want to blend in with the locals. For many people Christmas Day is just as likely to be spent outdoors with a barbeque, or a trip to the beach, than it is to be a formal, traditional celebration.

The festive season coincides with summer holidays so, as well as present buying and enjoying Christmas parties, families are preparing for their annual sojourn to the bach, crib or holiday house.

In the coastal regions of the North Island, pohutukawa trees flower from November to January. Their canopy of brilliant red crimson flowers gives the pohutukawa its nickname as New Zealand's Christmas tree.

Festive celebrations

Celebrations focus on the outdoors with crowds converging on public domains and beaches to enjoy open-air concerts and festivals. In the build up to Christmas, Santa parades are held in towns and cities nationwide - the irony of sleighs and winter suits lost on the crowds watching in the summer heat.

In the run-up to Christmas, the Coromandel, one of the country’s most beautiful coastal regions, hosts its annual Pohutukawa Festival. A series of local events, including a winemaker’s’ dinner, a wearable art competition, picnics and concerts, kicks off the summer festival season.

New Zealand is also one of the best places in the world to celebrate New Year. Head to Gisborne on the east coast of the North Island and you can be the first in the world to see the sun come up on New Year's day.

Gisborne also stages New Zealand's largest New Year festival. Known as 'Rhythm & Vines' the three-day event is held in the vineyard at Waiohika Estate, attracting more than 20,000 people eager to hear famous acts from all over the world.

Kiwi summer culture

For overseas visitors keen to get the feel of Kiwi summer culture, the list of local events throughout each region is long and varied. From sporting attractions, to arts festivals and sculpture walks, from jazz festivals to food and wine events, New Zealand is alive with summer activity and entertainment.

Mixing wine and music is a favourite pastime of Kiwis. For those visiting New Zealand later in summer, the 2012 Winery Tour consists of 16 shows in 14 of the country’s biggest wineries. Some of New Zealand’s best acts perform while the audience indulges on picnic rugs amidst the vines.

Most of the country’s wine regions also hold food and wine festivals, with the biggest and best being those in Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough, and Martinborough.

Keen sailors should plan to be in Auckland on January 30, 2012 for the Auckland Anniversary Day Regatta. The event attracts a huge fleet of vessels including, tall ships, gaff riggers, sloops, racing keelers, multi-hulls, sailing dinghies, waka ama, perfectly restored classic yachts, an armada of over 20 vintage tugboats, and America’s Cup prototypes.

And those with an interest in New Zealand’s bi-cultural history will find plenty to absorb them on Waitangi Day, a national holiday to commemorate the signing of New Zealand's founding document - the Treaty of Waitangi.

Official celebrations are held at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in the Bay of Islands. A three-day festival combines music, dance, food, and traditional Maori cultural performances, with speeches from Maori and Pakeha (European) dignitaries and a naval salute.