Autumn in New Zealand is an idyllic time. In March, April and May, the weather is warm and settled, the summer crowds have gone and the countryside is bathed in hues of red and gold. It’s a time for celebrating the annual harvest, taking on a sporting challenge and enjoying the many festivals honouring New Zealand’s special character.
ARTS, HISTORY, CULTURE
From lively parties in the street and high up in the sky to displays of fine art and fashion, world-class events are staged the length and breadth of New Zealand during autumn.
Auckland Arts Festival – Auckland
8 – 25 March, 2018
Auckland’s cultural diversity and vitality are on show in March, when more than 100 venues and locations across the city host hundreds of arts festival events, including international performers and world premieres of New Zealand works. Free and ticketed performances and displays range from fine art exhibitions and classical dance, music and drama to street theatre, pop-up art projects and installations, and circus and puppet workshops. Music and outdoor activities at Silo Park near the city centre will be a focal point for the festival.
Dunedin Fringe Festival
8 – 18 March, 2018
Experimental and innovative works by emerging contemporary artists draw thousands of people to what is the southernmost festival of its kind in the world. Dozens of acts and installations are offered over the festival’s 10 days, bookended by an Opening Night Showcase that launches the event with bite-sized previews of all that lies ahead, and an Awards Night to wrap up.
WOMAD – World of Music and Dance – New Plymouth
16 – 18 March, 2018
Recognised as New Zealand’s Best National Event last year, WOMAD is a great reason to visit Taranaki – the region Lonely Planet has named as the world’s second best destination. For 30 vibrant hours over three days, dozens of international and home-grown performers appear on six outdoor stages set up within beautiful Pukekura Park. Festivalgoers wander happily between the family-friendly venues, past pop-up villages that offer arts, craft, tasty eats and drinks, wellness therapies and sustainability advice, a craft beer garden, and a host of engaging workshops and talks. Camping and glamping are available nearby, with the options of bedding down in a teepee or Wildernest village.
Balloons Over Waikato – Hamilton
21 – 25 March, 2018
Balloons climbing through the sunrise, a choreographed “basket burn” and mass lift-offs contribute to a carnival atmosphere that makes Balloons Over Waikato one of Hamilton’s most popular events. The Zuru Nightglow, accompanied by soaring orchestral music and a firework finale, is the city’s biggest night of the year.
CubaDupa – Wellington
24 – 25 March, 2018
Cuba Street is a haven for the capital’s fun seekers, and the fun rises to fever pitch over CubaDupa’s two exuberant days. High-spirited crowds join in the hundreds of high-octane performances and street parades or watch from the sidelines. International artists join the act, and cafés, bars and restaurants take their treats out onto the street.
Pasifika Festival – Auckland
24 – 25 March, 2018
The largest gathering of its kind in the world, the Pasifika Festival started life a quarter century ago as a picnic day for families. Now hundreds of thousands of people head to Western Springs Park to enjoy the ultimate big day out. Eleven stages resonate with the sounds of brass bands, drummers, ukuleles and melodic voices raised in harmony, with dozens of performances showcasing the traditions and prowess of the Pacific peoples, including the Maori of Aotearoa New Zealand. Each nation is represented by a traditional village, and hundreds of stalls offer Pacific delicacies and heritage dishes such as marinated fish and chop suey.
Wairarapa Balloon Festival – Wairarapa
29 March – 2 April, 2018
All eyes are raised skyward during five days of hot air ballooning events at venues across Wairarapa. Highlights are the mass balloon launches at sunrise, balloon rides, a Burner Parade featuring a fiery display by balloon pilots and crew through Greytown and Carterton, and the Night Glow, when tethered balloons are illuminated against a backdrop of music.
Warbirds Over Wanaka
30 March – 1 April, 2018
Easter marks the thirtieth anniversary of what many consider to be the world’s most unique airshow, with some of the world’s rarest flying machines presented within a breathtaking mountain amphitheatre. Flight enthusiasts can get up close to the likes of a P51 Mustang, Spitfire, Corsair, P40 Kittyhawk and Catalina Flying Boat, take a flight, pick up a flying jacket, check out the latest avionic technology, peruse used aircraft or parts for sale, see the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s new Black Falcons in action, and watch aerobatics and skydiving displays. Among the entertainment and activities on the ground will be re-enactments of World War 1 and 2 skirmishes, a rare line-up of 50 classic Packard cars, and offerings by craft brewers and the makers of New Zealand’s celebrated pinot noir wine.
iD Dunedin Fashion Week
3 – 4 May, 2018
Now in its 14th year, a new-look iD Dunedin Fashion Week will focus this year on emerging international designers, with shows staged in the Town Hall over two nights. Local designers feature in catwalk shows ahead of the award show for Emerging designers, which has drawn 170 entries from 22 countries and 56 fashion shows.
The great outdoors loses none of its appeal in autumn, when roads, mountains and vineyards become race circuits for thousands of enthusiastic runners and cyclists, and elite competitors and supporters gather for international sporting meets.
Volvo Ocean Race Stopover – Auckland
Late February – mid March, 2018
Yachts in the world’s toughest sailing race will begin to glide into Auckland Harbour from 24 February onward. The seven teams competing in the year-long round-the-world race will stop over while they undertake maintenance and prepare themselves and their vessels for the next leg to Brazil. New Zealanders own the most boats per capita in the world and with their passion for sailing reignited by Emirates Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup win in Bermuda in 2017, there will be keen interest in visiting the boats docked in the race village at Viaduct Harbour and enjoying the planned programme of events.
New Zealand Open – Queenstown
1 – 4 March, 2018
Professionals and amateurs play together for the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open, held on two world-class golf courses, The Hills and Millbrook Resort. There’s a minimum field of 140 professionals and 140 amateurs, with the professionals competing for the New Zealand Open title at the same time as pairs comprising one professional and one amateur play a best-ball format for the New Zealand Pro-Am Championship. The Korean golfing great K.J. Choi is among the internationals confirmed to play this year.
Crankworx – Rotorua
17 – 25 March, 2018
Recognised as the biggest competition of its kind in the world, Crankworx kicks off the first round of its four-stop world tour in Rotorua. This year the dual slalom race, when riders compete side by side, has made a comeback and an entirely new race has been added, the Redwoods Downhill through the Whakarewarewa forest. As well as the anticipated racing thrills and spills, lots of off-track activities are planned.
Le Race – Christchurch to Akaroa
24 March, 2018
In this unlikely antipodean take on a race from England to France, cyclists head out from the heart of Christchurch across steep hills and green valleys to the comely French seaside town of Akaroa, 100 kilometres away. Le Race, for individuals, tandems and teams, is the modern version of a race that began in 1935 and until 1959 involved shingle roads. A shorter event, Le Race Petite, ends at Little River after a less daunting 53 kilometres.
The Big Easy – Hawke’s Bay
31 March, 2018
Everyone’s a winner in the Big Easy, a cycling event like no other in which riders are encouraged to take their time and enjoy the tastes, treats and other distractions along the way. The 42 kilometre route from Black Barn Vineyard in Havelock North along Hawke’s Bay Trails is lined with temptations in the form of food and drinks and special deals. At the destination, Church Road Winery in Napier, riders are treated to a wrap-up party and concert. Families can opt for The Little Easy, starting from Clive and covering 28 kilometres.
Golden Oldies Sports Celebration – Christchurch
1 – 29 April, 2018
This year for the first time ever, all 10 sports in the Golden Oldies competition will be played in the same city – Christchurch – and in the same month. The fun, friendship and fraternity promised by the competition is attracting retired professional and keen amateur athletes aged over 35 from as far afield as Canada, Argentina, South Africa and Russia, along with thousands of other international visitors as supporters and spectators. The sports are basketball, cricket, football, golf, hockey, lawn bowls, netball, rugby, softball and squash.
Forrest Graperide – Marlborough
7 April, 2018
Cyclists are invited to sip, savour and cycle in this event, which starts and finishes at Forrest Estate. The 101 kilometre ride crosses the Wairau plain to Picton then winds around the bays of the Marlborough Sounds to Havelock. You can do it twice if you’re keen to complete the Magnum course (202km) or just take the Taster (42 km) alongside Wairau River. Returning riders may be invited to crush grapes for the Hundred Virgins wine.
Contact Epic Ultimate Mountain Bike Challenge – Wanaka
14 April, 2018
An endurance event for mountain bikers, the Contact Epic challenge has several options for circumnavigating Lake Hawea in splendid isolation on unspoilt high-country routes. For 100 competitors for whom 95 or 125 kilometres aren’t enough, the Centurion race encompasses 160 kilometres and all three courses in a single day. The 35 kilometre Traverse for novice and intermediate riders crosses private farmland and the Clutha and Hawea rivers.
100K Flyer – Taupo to Rotorua
14 April, 2018
Thousands of cyclists of all abilities gear up for the chance to pedal the 100 kilometres from one tourist hotspot to another, through some of the most picturesque scenery New Zealand has to offer. The Moa 100K Flyer changes direction each year, departing this year from Taupo. Bike solo, in tandem or as a relay of two – all you need is a bike and pedal power.
Hawke’s Bay Marathon
12 May, 2018
Marathoners and fun runners make easy work of the flat Hawke’s Bay terrain as they trek past olive groves and through private vineyards, along the oceanfront and down country roads and bike trails. A prize-giving and post-race festival await at the finishing line at Sileni Estates Winery in Hastings. Competitors in the Air New Zealand Hawke’s Bay Marathon can choose from the full 42 kilometres or shorter runs of 21, 10 and (for children) 3 kilometres.
Waiheke Half Marathon – Waiheke Island, Auckland
5 May, 2018
Waiheke’s half marathon skirts the island’s beaches and vineyards, with some country roads along the route surfaced only with hard-packed dirt. Runners can attempt 21 or 10 kilometres, while for the first time this year a 5 kilometre course is offered for walkers.
St Clair Vineyard Half Marathon – Blenheim
12 May, 2018
Gorgeous autumn landscapes cradled by mountain ranges provide a visual treat for walkers and runners setting off on the 21 kilometre course from and back to St Clair Cellar Door. Competitors can run, walk or mix the two as they traverse celebrated Marlborough vineyards. Finishers receive a trophy bottle of wine and can savour gourmet treats and live music as they catch their breath.
Growers and gatherers invite all comers to sample New Zealand’s bounty, against a backdrop of brilliant blue skies and burnished golden landscapes.
Framingham Harvest Concert – Renwick, Marlborough
9 March, 2018
An annual harvest celebration at Framingham Wines, offering lively music and fine food and wine for over-18s. Tickets are limited.
Hokitika Wildfoods Festival – West Coast
9 – 11 March, 2018
Sink your teeth into something wild and wonderful at this quirky West Coast festival, where enthusiastic visitors challenge their palates with huhu grubs, fish eyes and chicken feet, pigs’ ears and duck heads, scorpions and other exotic foods. Less adventurous diners can opt for game meats, Maori hangi, smoked salmon and whitebait. Find out what to do with your wild beasties in the Demo Zone, and dress up or down for the Feral Fashion Competition. There’s also a weekend-long market and line-up of local and international performers.
Wairarapa Wines Harvest Festival – Gladstone
10 March, 2018
Fine wine, food and music are served to festivalgoers in a stunning riverside setting beneath ancient native trees. Visitors can sample wines from the biggest and best-known wineries and from the region’s smaller boutique producers, as well as having the opportunity to meet the wine makers. On the menu are dishes from the region’s finest restaurants and food producers and might include such delicacies as crayfish and wild pork, rabbit pie, goat’s meat brochette or venison burgers. Tickets are limited and sell out quickly.
North Canterbury Wine and Food Festival – Waipara
11 March, 2018
Enjoy tunes and talks and local drinks and delicacies under the oak trees at what’s billed as the “coolest little wine festival” in the country.
Havelock Mussel and Seafood Festival – Marlborough Sounds
17 March, 2018
Go green for St Patrick’s Day in the Marlborough Sounds, where green-lipped mussels are the highlight of the festival menu. Mussel in on the full day’s action at Havelock Domain – kapa haka performances, bands, a comedian, cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs, competitions and market stalls.
MarchFest – Nelson
24 March, 2018
Craft beer is the top drawcard for MarchFest – naturally enough, as Nelson-Tasman is New Zealand’s only hop-growing region. All beers have been commissioned especially for the event in Founders Park, and not previously tasted by members of the public. There’s beer and food matching and a Brew Zone for home brew fans. For the unconverted, local cider and wine also feature, along with food stalls, a Kid Zone and high-profile musicians performing live.
Soljan’s Berba Croatian Harvest Celebration – Kumeu
31 March – 2 April, 2018
Soljan’s Estate Winery marks its grape harvest with three days of traditional Croatian festivities during Easter. Visitors can join in with grape stomping, take winery tours with the owner, dine on harvest platters, and enjoy live music and Dalmatian and Croatian dance performances.
Clyde Wine and Food Harvest Festival – Central Otago
1 April, 2018
This festival, held on Easter Sunday just before the major grape harvest gets underway, features labels from the world’s most southerly vineyards, including acclaimed pinot noirs. Sample the best from more than 20 local wine producers.
International Sauvignon Blanc Day – Marlborough
4 May, 2018
This event is the centrepiece of 16 days of celebrations at Marlborough’s medal-winning wineries from 19 April to 5 May, honouring the wine for which the region is known around the world.
Bluff Oyster Festival – Southland
26 May, 2018
For an experience that’s really worth its salt, you can’t go past Bluff – not just because it’s at the southern tip of the South Island but because of the famed plumpness and delicacy of its oysters. The small town’s population explodes as planeloads of visitors disembark from specially scheduled flights for the Bluff Oyster Festival. They’re here to feast on oysters and other sparkling fresh seafood such as crayfish, blue cod, paua, scallops and whitebait, and on wild foods such as muttonbird and venison. The festivities are rounded out with local ales, live music and competitions to shuck and eat oysters, including in relays and blindfolded. By day’s end, up to 30,000 oysters will have been eaten.