Editor’s note: This story appeared in News Corp Australia newspapers and websites on February 28, 2016. It was originally titled “12 reasons…” but two events – Crankworx mountain biking festival and Warbirds over Wanaka – have been held since ;-).
BY JOHN CORBETT The off-peak months of autumn, winter and spring are ideal for visiting New Zealand. Its mind-blowing landscapes are less crowded and from the top to the bottom of the country there are great events to lure travellers across the Ditch. Here are some highlights:
WAIHEKE WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL, 2 APRIL
A quick zip from downtown Auckland by high-speed ferry, lush green Waiheke Island is a downunder version of The Hamptons. Along with the mega-mansions and artists’ colonies there are top-class vineyards and cellar doors and on 2 April the inaugural Waiheke Wine & Food Festival (part of the Waiheke Harvest Festival from 29 March to 6 April) gives visitors the chance to taste many of the island’s boutique wines in one place. Waiheke is also known for its fine artisan foods and they’ll be there too, along with live music.
HAWKE’S BAY INTERNATIONAL MARATHON, 14 MAY
There is a very good reason why you should participate in this inaugural marathon, half-marathon, 10km run and kids’ course event: it’s in one of New Zealand’s premier wine regions. The easy-running trail winds through the late-autumn countryside and along the coast, finishing in the vineyards of Sileni Estates Winery. Wonderfully scenic and famously hospitable, Hawke’s Bay is the home of some of the finest Art Deco-era architecture in the world. If you are in the region in June, a four-week winter version of F.A.W.C., the Hawke’s Bay Food & Wine Classic, complements the larger summer event (4-13 November).
BLUFF OYSTER FESTIVAL, 21 MAY
Every year, seafood lovers from everywhere pour in to the salty seaside township of Bluff on New Zealand’s southernmost tip to celebrate one of the world’s great seasonal delicacies. Harvested between March and August, “Bluffies” are the star of this iconic New Zealand food event which also features crayfish, abalone, scallops, blue cod and wild foods washed down with local ales and New Zealand wines. Live music and the Oyster Sack Creativity awards add to the fun.
ALL BLACKS INTERNATIONAL MATCHES, JUNE-SEPTEMBER
With cricket done and dusted till next summer, Kiwis focus on their major national obsession: rugby union. This winter, the Wallabies’ keenest opponents face a succession of touring teams including Wales (18-25 June in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin); Argentina (19 September, Hamilton); South Africa (17 September, Christchurch) and the ones you’re waiting for: Australia (27 August, Wellington) and the 3rd Bledisloe Cup Test (22 October, Auckland).
QUEENSTOWN WINTER FESTIVAL 24 JUNE-3 JULY
Forty-two years young, this ten-day extravaganza of street parties, fireworks and performances is New Zealand’s – and possibly the southern hemisphere’s – biggest celebration of winter. Nearby are the superb ski fields that draw thousands of Australians on direct flights from capital cities on the East Coast.
BEERVANA, WELLINGTON, 12-13 AUGUST
Hmm, hops with a touch of lemongrass – or is it lychees? Beervana is a two-day celebration of craft beer like no other and a beer lover’s chance to get amongst the biggest, broadest range of tipples you’ll find under one roof. Masterclasses, seminars and fine food offerings draw devotees from Australia, the USA and beyond. Your trip will also coincide with the famed Visa Wellington on a Plate food event, held between 12 and 28 August.
WORLD OF WEARABLE ART, WELLINGTON, 22 SEPTEMBER-9 OCTOBER
A world-class cultural event, WOW draws around 60,000 show-goers every year to see its fantastical range of garments made from an extraordinary array of materials. Fashion designers, artists, costume-makers and gifted unknowns compete to take part and the sell-out shows of the top garments are a theatrical extravaganza, with breathtaking choreography, lighting and soundscapes.
HELENA BAY LUXURY LODGE OPENS NOVEMBER 2016
Here’s your chance to live like an oligarch. Set on the unspoilt east coast of Northland, the latest addition to New Zealand’s impressive collection of luxury lodges will host a maximum of ten guests at a time for NZ$3,000 per person per night. The secluded property is the brainchild of Russian billionaire Alexander Abramov (Forbes list: steel, mining) and features three stand-alone waterfront villas, a fully equipped health spa and a staff-guest ratio of 5:1. Catering includes an on-site chef from the three- Michelin-starred Don Alfonso 1890 restaurant in Southern Italy. Auckland is just 40-minutes away by high-speed helicopter.
LAKE TAUPO CYCLE CHALLENGE, 26 NOVEMBER
Attention all MAMILs (middle-aged men in lycra): around 8,000 of you (and others) will converge on the centre of the North Island for the 40th anniversary of the Lake Taupo Challenge this November. The challenge: an epic 160-kilometre ride around New Zealand’s biggest lake. The payoff: some of New Zealand’s most scenic cycling. Should you prefer a more leisurely ride, The Great Lake Trail can be tackled year-round in two days and a night, or split into sections. Any way you do it, it’s cycle heaven.
THE GREAT WAR EXHIBITION, WELLINGTON, TO NOVEMBER 2018
Lord of the Rings director Sir Peter Jackson brings his inimitable touch to this multimillion-dollar, Government-backed commemoration of the courage and sacrifice of New Zealanders during the First World War. Visitors are invited to journey through the conflict year by year, seeing the challenges faced by soldiers on battlefields like Gallipoli, and the hardships at home. The journey includes an interactive evocation of the trenches that conveys the sounds and scents of warfare. Visually and emotionally, it’s immersive. www.alimentary.co.nz
Photos in order from top:
blacklabelexperience.com; Tim Whittaker Photography for Hawkes Bay Tourism; John Corbett; Youtube.com; queenstownnz.com; beervana.co.nz; Martin de Ruyter / The Nelson Mail; helenabay.com; Yuzuru Sunada; The Australian.com