What to do for Christmas in New Zealand

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Christmas is about spending time with friends and family. But Christmas in New Zealand is also about getting out and about and having a great time in the great outdoors. Check this list twice for the best way to spend Christmas in New Zealand.

What to do for a New Zealand Christmas

Outdoor activities during Christmas in New Zealand

Christmas Kayaking in New Zealand
When the Pohutukawa (known as the New Zealand Christmas tree) shows its amazing red flowers, you know it’s time to get into the festive mood and get out of the rat race. From kayaking the Pelorus River to surfing the Coromandel, a 3-day alpine hike to a night camping under the stars, there is no shortage of options for how to spend a relaxed but exciting Christmas break in New Zealand.

Where to go for a New Zealand Christmas

The best places in New Zealand to spend Christmas

Christmas Penguins in New Zealand

It’s summer, and in New Zealand that often means the best place to be is by the water. And the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a kiwi summer is the beach. The subtropical Bay of Islands, picture-perfect sands of Northland and the Coromandel Peninsula are some of the country’s best — and busiest — beaches at this time of year. Hire a kayak in Paihia or book a surf lesson in Whangamata. It’s a great way to burn off Christmas dinner!

Those northern hotspots are, however, far from the be all and end all for a Christmas beach holiday in New Zealand. With more coastline than the USA, New Zealand is spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches, so whether it’s watching the world’s first sunrise in Gisborne, kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park, watching penguins on Caroline Bay in Timaru, or learning to surf at St. Clair in Dunedin, there’s an endless array of great beach spots around the country to park your beach bod over Christmas.

The ocean is not New Zealand’s only body of water, of course, and it’s just as popular for water babies to spend the silly season at the lakes or by a river. Wanaka and Queenstown are the jewels in the South Island’s laketown crown, and they are brilliant for boating and water sports like wakeboarding and waterskiing, with ample boat access. But Wanaka and Queenstown are really just a few of a staggering number of brilliant lakes for boating, bathing and barbecuing throughout Central Otago. The unique, extreme climate of the Mackenzie Country makes it one of the hottest places in New Zealand in summer, so it’s a good thing there are plenty of lakes dotted around this area with smaller crowds, and all just an easy drive from Mount Cook.

Christmas Paddling in New Zealand

The combination of high mountains and ample rainfall should tell you straight away that there’s also an abundance of beautiful New Zealand rivers, which are ideal for enjoying a Christmas barbecue with family while having a bit of fun on the water. Book in for the Hobbit Kayak Tour on the Pelorus River, from Pelorus Eco Adventures in Havelock, to work easily around spending Christmas and/or New Year in Wellington, Nelson or Marlborough without going too far. Otherwise, head north for Christmas and tackle the mighty rapids of the Kaituna River from Rotorua in a single day (including the tallest commercially ragged waterfall in the world, the Tutea Falls) —like a reindeer takes on the task of shooting around the globe in a single night.

Another option for a beachside Christmas in New Zealand is to venture over to one of the many many gorgeous islands dotted about the country’s coastline. Here you’ll find everything from native bird watching and kayaking to camping and Christmas markets. Some are even within easy spitting distance of the major cities — Waiheke from Auckland, Kapiti from Wellington, and Quail from Christchurch, for example.

What to eat over Christmas in New Zealand

The Best New Zealand Christmas food

Christmas Dinner in New Zealand

A barbie (otherwise known as a BBQ) is a typical event on Christmas in New Zealand. As quickly as the red Pohutukawa blossoms bloom and fade each year, so too does New Zealand’s enthusiasm for its most famous food item peak at Christmas: pavlova. Despite the name, a creamy puffy pav is as kiwi as it gets at Christmas time. And wherever you are, you should be able to get your hands on this iconic white dessert, whether it’s the homemade real deal or a passable store-bought version.

A traditional New Zealand Christmas dinner has a few overhangs from the European winter tradition: ham, turkey, and roast potatoes are a mainstay. But there are loads of summery Antipodean additions that have become standard staples. Christmas in New Zealand is cherry and strawberry season across the country, so fresh fruit is abundant. Combined with the onset of the avocado season in the north, plenty of fresh herbs and, if you’re lucky, a few lingering fresh asparagus, some pretty colourful and very tasty summer salads are a common part of New Zealand Christmas food spreads. And don’t forget about whitebait — a world away from its European namesake, West Coast whitebait is a world-class specialty, and freezers are still packed with it at Christmas because the short West Coast whitebait season finishes around late November.

Wherever you choose to spend Christmas in New Zealand, you’ll no doubt have a merry old measure of good times and great tucker nearby. Book in your New Zealand Christmas trip now!