Marlborough Wine & Food Festival, February
Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival, March
NZ Tattoo & Art Festival, November
New Zealand peels its eyes open after New Year's Eve, gathers its wits and gets set for another year. Great weather, cricket season in full swing and happy holidays for the locals.
Festival of Lights
New Plymouth's Pukekura Park is regularly plastered with adjectives like 'jewel' and 'gem', but the gardens really sparkle during the Festival of Lights. Pathways glow and trees shine with thousands of lights and there's live music, dance and kids' performances. Sometimes twinkles until early February.
World Buskers Festival
Christchurch hosts a gaggle of jugglers, musos, tricksters, puppeteers, mime artists and dancers throughout the 10-day summertime World Buskers Festival. Shoulder into the crowd, see who's making a scene in the middle and maybe leave a few dollars. Avoid if you're scared of audience participation…
The sun is shining, the kids are back at school and the sauv blanc is chillin' in the fridge: this is prime party time across NZ. Book your festival tickets (and beds) in advance.
It's not rugby season, but early February/late January sees the world’s seven-a-side rugby teams crack heads in Hamilton as part of the HSBC Sevens World Series: everyone from stalwarts Australia, NZ and South Africa to minnows like Kenya and Canada. Great excuse to party.
On 6 February 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed between Māori and the British Crown. Waitangi Day remains a public holiday across NZ, but in Waitangi itself (the Bay of Islands) there's a lot happening: guided tours, concerts, market stalls and family entertainment.
A self-described 'celebration of mindful living', Wanderlust (www.wanderlust.com/festivals/great-lake-taupo) combines relaxing and recharging music with yoga, meditation and a focus on natural health. Held in Taupo across four days in early February.
Marlborough Wine & Food Festival
New Zealand's biggest and best wine festival features tastings from more than 40 Marlborough wineries, plus fine food and entertainment. The mandatory overindulgence usually happens on a Saturday early in the month. Keep quiet if you don't like sauvignon blanc…
New Zealand Festival
Feeling artsy? This month-long spectacular (www.festival.co.nz) happens in Wellington in February to March every even-numbered year, and is sure to spark your imagination. New Zealand's cultural capital exudes artistic enthusiasm with theatre, dance, music, writing and visual arts. International acts aplenty.
Wellington simmers with music, theatre, comedy, dance, visual arts…but not the mainstream acts gracing the stage at the New Zealand Festival. Fringe shines the spotlight on unusual, emerging, controversial, low-budget and/or downright weird acts. In other words, the best stuff.
Art Deco Weekend
Napier, levelled by an earthquake in 1931 and rebuilt in high art-deco style, celebrates its architectural heritage with this high-steppin' fiesta, featuring music, food, wine, vintage cars and costumes over a long weekend in mid-February.
Explore Splore (www.splore.net), a cutting-edge but family-friendly three-day outdoor summer fest in Tapapakanga Regional Park on the coast east of Auckland. Contemporary live music, performance, visual arts, safe swimming, pohutukawa trees, plus a wellness zone and 'listening lounge'. Party on (but mindfully, man...).
Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival
Two weeks of music, comedy, theatre, dance and movies are all served up al fresco amid the verdant and fragrant surroundings of the Hamilton Gardens at this arts festival (www.hgaf.co.nz).
March brings a hint of autumn, harvest time in the vineyards and orchards (great if you're looking for work), long dusky evenings and plenty of festivals plumping out the calendar. Locals unwind post–tourist season.
Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival
This engrossing Māori haka (war dance) competition (www.tematatini.co.nz) happens in early March/late February in odd-numbered years: much gesticulation, eye-bulging and tongue extension. Venues vary: it's in Wellington for 2019. And it's not just the haka: expect traditional song, dance, storytelling and other performing arts.
Artists Open Studios & Festival of Glass
Whanganui has earned its artistic stripes as a centre for gorgeous glass, myriad local artists and workshops gearing up for this classy glassy fest (www.openstudios.co.nz) in March. Expect lots of 'how-to' demonstrations, exhibitions and open studios.
Eat worms, baby octopi and 'mountain oysters' at Hokitika's comfort-zone-challenging food fest. Local classics like whitebait patties are represented too, if you aren't hungry for pork-blood casserole. Tip: avail yourself of quality NZ brews and wines to wash down taste-bud offenders.
Local and international music, arts and dance performances fill New Plymouth's Bowl of Brooklands to overflowing at WOMAD. An evolution of the original world-music festival dreamed up by rock and art aficionados including Peter Gabriel, who launched the inaugural UK concert in 1982. Perfect for families.
With upwards of 140,000 Māori and notable communities of Tongans, Samoans, Cook Islanders, Niueans, Fijians and other South Pacific Islanders, Auckland has the largest Polynesian community in the world. These vibrant island cultures come together at this annual fiesta at Western Springs Park.
Auckland City Limits
Get yer rocks off! Auckland City Limits is an international indie-rock festival loosely modelled on Austin City Limits in the US – the NZ version occupying four stages at Western Springs Stadium for a day in March every two years (next event in 2020).
April is when canny travellers hit NZ: the ocean is still swimmable and the weather still mild, with nary a tourist or queue in sight (…other than during Easter, when there's pricey accommodation everywhere).
National Jazz Festival
Every Easter, Tauranga hosts the longest-running jazz fest (www.jazz.org.nz) in the southern hemisphere. There's a dedicated Māori jazz stage, a New Orleans–style village and plenty of fine NZ food and wine to accompany the finger-snappin' za-bah-de-dah sonics.
Clyde Wine & Food Festival
Easter is harvest time (www.promotedunstan.org.nz) around little Clyde in Central Otago, where the historic main street fills with more than 40 tables and trestles hocking the best of regional food and wine...don't leave without a swig of its pinot noir.
Party nights are over and a chilly winter beckons. Thank goodness for the Comedy Festival! Last chance to explore Fiordland and Southland in reasonable weather (though some trails are already off limits). Farmers markets overflow.
Bluff Oyster & Food Festival
Truck down to the deep south for some slippery, salty specimens at this unpretentious event (www.bluffoysterfest.co.nz). It's chilly in May, but live music and oyster eating/opening competitions warm everybody up. Non-guzzlers of bivalves can enjoy their pick of gourmet burgers, cheese rolls, chowders and more.
New Zealand International Comedy Festival
Three-week laugh-fest (www.comedyfestival.co.nz) with venues across Auckland, Wellington and various regional centres: Whangarei to Invercargill with all the midsized cities in between. International gag-merchants (Arj Barker, Danny Bhoy, Bill Bailey) line up next to home-grown talent.
Time to head south: it's ski season! Queenstown and Wanaka hit their stride. For everyone else, head north: the Bay of Plenty is always sunny, and is it just us, or is Northland underrated?
Māori New Year (www.teara.govt.nz/en/matariki-maori-new-year) is heralded by the rise of Matariki (aka Pleiades star cluster) in May and the sighting of June's new moon. Three days of remembrance, education, music, film, community days and tree planting take place, mainly around Auckland, Wellington and Northland.
New Zealand Gold Guitar Awards
These awards in chilly Gore – NZ's country and western capital, if you didn't know – cap off a week of ever-lovin' country twang and boot-scootin' good times, with plenty of concerts and buskers.
LUMA Southern Light Project
Get set to sparkle during four nights of illuminations (http://luma.nz) across the Queenstown Gardens over the Queen's Birthday public-holiday weekend. The festival began in 2015 with four light installations, and had grown to 38 by 2017.
Ski season slides on, reaching its peak with Queenstown's Winter Festival. If you want to avoid crowds, hit Mt Ruapehu on the North Island. Alternatively, stay cosy at NZ's international film festival.
Queenstown Winter Festival
This southern snow-fest (www.winterfestival.co.nz) has been running since 1975, and now attracts more than 45,000 snow bunnies. It's a four-day party, with fireworks, live music, comedy, a community carnival, masquerade ball, and wacky ski and snowboard activities on the mountain slopes. Sometimes starts in late June.
New Zealand International Film Festival
After separate film festivals (www.nzff.co.nz) in Wellington, Auckland, Dunedin and Christchurch, discover which regional towns are brimming with film buffs when a selection of flicks hits the road from July to November (Gore and Masterton, we're looking at you).
Birdman rallies are so ’80s, but they sure are fun to watch. This one in Russell (www.russellbirdman.co.nz) features a cast of costumed contenders propelling themselves off a jetty in pursuit of weightlessness. Discos, cake-decoration and spaghetti-eating contests for kids round out a satisfying, family-friendly fest.
Land a good deal on accommodation pretty much anywhere except the ski towns. Winter is almost spent, but tramping season's a long way off. Music and art are your saviours…or cosy up in a pub to watch some rugby!
Taranaki International Arts Festival
Beneath the snowy slopes of Mt Taranaki, August used to be a time of quiet repose and reconstitution. Not anymore: this whizz-bang arts festival (www.taft.co.nz) shakes winter from New Plymouth with music, theatre, dance, visual arts and parades.
Bay of Islands Jazz & Blues Festival
You might think that the Bay of Islands is all about sunning yourself on a yacht while dolphins splash you with saltwater. And you'd be right. But in winter, this jazzy three-day festival (www.jazz-blues.co.nz) provides a toe-tapping alternative, showcasing over 45 acts from around NZ.
Attain beery nirvana at this annual craft-beer guzzle fest (www.beervana.co.nz) in Wellington (it's freezing outside – what else is there to do?). Sample the best of NZ's booming beer scene. Not loving beer is heresy, but yes, it also has cider and wine.
Spring is sprung. The amazing and surprising World of WearableArt is always a hit. And will someone please beat Canterbury in the annual ITM rugby cup final?
Auckland On Water Boat Show
Auckland harbour blooms with sails and churns with outboard motors. It doesn't command the instant nautical recognition of Sydney or San Diego, but Auckland really is one of the world's great sailing cities. And Auckland On Water (www.auckland-boatshow.com) is proof.
World of WearableArt
A bizarre (in the best possible way) two-week Wellington event featuring amazing hand-crafted garments. Entries from the show are displayed at the World of WearableArt & Classic Cars Museum in Nelson after the event (Cadillacs and corsetry?). Sometimes spills over into October.
Post-rugby and pre-cricket, sports fans twiddle their thumbs: a trip to Kaikoura, perhaps? Around the rest of NZ October is 'shoulder season' – reasonable accommodation rates, minimal crowds and no competition for the good campsites.
Nelson Arts Festival
We know, Nelson is distractingly sunny. But it's worth stepping inside for two weeks of comedy, cabaret, dance and rock opera at Nelson Arts Festival (www.nelsonartsfestival.co.nz).
Kaikoura is a town built on crayfish. Well, not literally, but there sure are plenty of crustaceans, many of which find themselves on plates during Seafest (www.seafest.co.nz). Also a great excuse to raise a few toasts and dance around to live music.
Across Northland, the Coromandel Peninsula, the Bay of Plenty and the East Coast, NZ's iconic pohutukawa trees bloom, the weather picks up and tourists start to arrive. Lock in your trail bookings early, trampers.
Swirl a wine glass, inhale deeply, pretend you can detect hints of berry and oak...it's time to practise your wine connoisseur face in upmarket Martinborough. The Wairarapa region produces some seriously good pinot noir, and it's every wine lover's duty to sample some.
Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebrations
The good old days… When Queen Vic sat dourly on the throne, when hems were low and collars were high. Old Oamaru thoroughly enjoys this tongue-in-cheek historic homage (www.vhc.co.nz): dress-ups, penny-farthing races, choirs, guided tours and more.
NZ Tattoo & Art Festival
Australasia's biggest tattoo culture festival (www.nztattooart.com) attracts thousands of tatt fans to New Plymouth every November. It's hugely popular with ink aficionados and their admirers (not necessarily family viewing). Enquire ahead if you're hoping to get inked by one of many international tattooists in attendance.
Get your motor running for Highlands 101 (www.highlands.co.nz/highlands-501), a supercharged rev-fest in Cromwell featuring 40-odd cars racing a 101-lap endurance circuit, as well as stacks of other events and entertainment.
Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge
Feeling fit? Try cycling 160km around Lake Taupo in NZ's largest cycling event, and then come and talk to us. Held on the last Saturday in November for more than 40 years, Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge (www.cyclechallenge.com) is open to individuals and teams.
Summertime! The crack of leather on willow resounds across the nation's cricket pitches, and office workers surge towards the finish line. Everyone gears up for Christmas and shopping centres are packed out.
Rhythm & Vines
Wine, music and song (all the good things) in sunny east-coast Gisborne on New Year’s Eve. Top DJs, hip-hop acts, bands and singer-songwriters compete for your attention at Rhythm & Vines. Or maybe you'd rather drink some chardonnay and kiss someone on the beach.