New Zealand may be blessed with spectacular scenery and world-class food and wine but the country is also brimming with events and itineraries to delight every visitor. From mud and snow (not together) to the arts and beer, here are 17 fantastic reasons to visit Aotearoa New Zealand in 2017.
1. The Lions Tour
Even though there's no Rugby World Cup in 2017, The British & Irish Lions Series (nzlionsseries17.com) visit to New Zealand in June and July is the next best thing. The Lions will play 10 matches, including five against Super Rugby teams, three against the All Blacks and one each against the Barbarians and the Māori All Blacks. With fixtures in Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, going to every match and striking out beyond each city – from the Bay of Islands north of Auckland to the Central Otago wine region inland from Dunedin – will make for a brilliant tour of the country.
2. The 9th World Masters Games
Featuring more athletes than the Olympics and reputed to be the world's largest multi-sport event, World Masters Games (worldmastersgames2017.co.nz) are coming to Auckland in 2017 (21 – 30 April). With minimum ages for each discipline ranging from 27 to 35 years, the sports include archery, athletics, badminton, canoeing, cycling, surf life saving and weightlifting. First staged in Toronto in 1985, the games will feature 25,000 athletes from over 100 countries participating in 28 sports across 45 disciplines. If you'd like to do more than just watch, the organisers rely on the goodwill of a huge team of volunteers so put your hand up now.
3. Audi Quattro Winter Games NZ
The Audi Quattro Winter Games (wintergamesnz.kiwi), in the hills above picturesque Wanaka, is set to take place from 25 August – 10 September. Attracting top-class competitors from the Winter Olympics, Paralympics and X Games, the Winter Games are considered one of the top five winter sports events in the world and the only one of their kind in the southern hemisphere. Athletes battle it out in everything from freestyle and snowboarding to alpine and cross-country skiing. The festival attached to the Games boasts as much action off the snow as it does on, with music, DJs, dancing and films featured all across town. If you're travelling on a budget, the Winter Games also relies on the hard work of over 500 enthusiastic volunteers.
Preview video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnlCX9LKDuw
4. Rotorua Mud Festival
Rotorua is best known for its Māori culture and rich sense of history, its many lakes and bubbling geysers. It's also famous for a wide array of adventure sports from luging to zorbing, as well as some of the best mountain bike trails in the world. Now the city's famed hot mud springs get their time in the sun thanks to the inaugural Mud Festival (rotoruanz.com) to be held in December 2017. The festival is an international partnership with South Korea's Boryeong City which attracts more than three million people to its own mud festival. Taking place in various locations around downtown Rotorua, activities include a mud-arena, inflatable slides leading into pools of delicious mud and spa and wellness experiences.
5. TRUE Food & Yoga
The new True Food and Yoga (truefoodandyoga.co.nz) studio is the latest arrival in Auckland's burgeoning wellness scene. Set in a heritage-listed building looking across the sparkling Waitemata Harbour, this magnificent venue in a former seafood restaurant is now in the hands of the personable Nic and Kelly Watt. With Nic, an award-winning chef, and Kelly, a qualified yoga teacher and Harley Street-trained reflexologist, it's no surprise that True Food and Yoga is all about supporting an active and healthy lifestyle through good food and exercise. With a range of yoga styles taught in the two studios, the facility also has an 80-seat café, a wellness room, a chiropractor and a retail section. The kitchen serves brunch and dinner with a focus on seasonal, locally-sourced, nutrient-dense offerings paired with biodynamic wines and craft beer.
6. Disney's Pete's Dragon movie locations
Disney's Pete's Dragon (movies.disney.com.au/petes-dragon-2016) is a live-action, family adventure film about a young boy and his dragon named Elliot. Starring Robert Redford and Bryce Dallas Howard, it showcases spectacular New Zealand locations with special effects by Weta Digital. So why not see the film then fashion your New Zealand itinerary to take in some of the landscapes as seen from Elliot's dragon's-eye view? Visit Queenstown, New Zealand's adventure capital and set your pulse racing in Skippers Canyon with a bungy jump, or visit Rotorua in the North Island to admire the majestic Redwood Forest, home to some of the best mountain biking in all of New Zealand. There's also Wellington, the nation's film and political capital and small town Tapanui in the southern South Island.
7. Vector Wero Whitewater Park
Dip your toes in Wero Whitewater Park (wero.org.nz) - New Zealand's first purpose-built whitewater playground, a $37-million marvel found in South Auckland's Manukau City. Opened in April 2016, the park is managed by Ian Ferguson, the Kiwi Olympic kayaking legend, who describes it as the “most amazing whitewater park in the world”. As the country's only artificial river and watercourse, it's perfect for recreation and sports. With a Grade 3-4 river, as well as a tamer Grade 2 river, activities are accessible to people of all ages and abilities. If you've always wanted to have a go at rafting, kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), this is the ideal place. Wero Whitewater Park is free to wander around and watch the action however, if you intend on getting wet, you'd be wise to book ahead because this is already a hugely popular attraction.
8. Ride the Alps 2 Ocean
The secret is out with New Zealand's new Alps 2 Ocean cycleway included in the Lonely Planet 'Epic Bike Rides of the World'. This 301km multi-day cycle trail is an achievable adventure set in an epic landscape that travels from the mountains of the magnificent Southern Alps, past alpine lakes and down a river valley all the way to the sea. You can camp along the way or choose from a growing selection of lodgings from holiday parks to B&Bs or luxury lodges. Five-star options include just-opened Lakestone Lodge (lakestonelodge.co.nz), on Lake Pukaki, and conveniently located Pen-y-bryn luxury lodge (penybryn.co.nz) at the end of the trail in seaside Oamaru.
9. New 5-star luxury in wine country
Create fine food memories staying in glamorous 5-star luxury in the midst of a famed New Zealand wine region with two amazing new openings scheduled - The Marlborough Lodge (themarlboroughlodge.co.nz) in heartland sauvignon blanc country (Luxury Travel Guide's 2016 Culinary Destination of the Year) and Porters Boutique Hotel (portershotel.co.nz) in Hawke's Bay.
The Marlborough Lodge (opening in November 2016) is a grand country estate on 16 acres of secluded parklands, located in the heart of the famous Marlborough wine region and billed as “the ultimate retreat in New Zealand's gourmet province”. Ten contemporary suites are elegantly designed to ensure every comfort while there's an in-house bar and a stunning private dining room serving fresh local cuisine. Explore the region's gourmet delights cruising on a luxury launch or a private gourmet wine and food tour.
Porters Hotel (opening in December 2016) is nestled at the foot of Te Mata Peak and close to some renowned Hawke's Bay vineyards. Featuring sublime furnishings, original works of art and sophisticated styling, the hotel will provide 42 guest rooms including four 'Royal Suites' and six 'Premier' one-bedroom suites with sensational views across the village to Te Mata Peak or over the courtyard towards the Ruahine Ranges. There's a restaurant and bar, 24-hour room service, a gymnasium and state-of-the-art conference facilities.
Heading to Auckland's ASB Showgrounds in February 2017, Meatstock (meatstock.com.au) is a festival of meat and music. Featuring a menu of smoked, grilled and barbequed meats, cold beers and loud music, Meatstock is a spinoff of the successful Sydney-based venture. In the words of Meatstock's co-founder, Simon Luke, “We will stick to the same sizzling event recipe and provide an awesome line-up of blues and country bands. Punters can enjoy their favourite cuts of meat along with a side serving of great music – there'll be plenty to digest!” Set over two days, competitions including the hotly contested “Barbeque, Butcher and Barber Wars”, as well as demonstrations, workshops, food trucks, craft beer and plenty of dancing.
11. Paepae in the Park
With the release of the heart-warming documentary Poi E in 2016, the small Taranaki town of Patea in the North Island found itself back in the spotlight. Patea was made famous in 1984 thanks to the international success of the song “Poi E”, a tune that saved the town's fortunes following the closure of the freezing works. Nestled in the shadow of soaring Mt Taranaki, Patea comes alive every year on the weekend closest to Waitangi Day (February 6) with Paepae in the Park (facebook.com/paepaeinthepark), a festival of music, food and fun. Held behind the impressive Aotea Waka gateway, the festival features everything from country music, R&B, reggae, pop and the beloved Patea Māori Club. Be sure to take a little cash for the various stalls that sell all manner of toys, jewellery and knick-knacks. The food runs from Spanish churros and sushi to decadent watermelon halves topped with cream and food cooked in the traditional hangi (Māori earth oven).
12. 30th Anniversary of NZ Cycle Classic
Drive over the rugged hills of the Rimutakas from Wellington and you'll be rewarded with views of the Wairarapa district, a region of rich farmland and award winning vineyards. But the Wairarapa is also home to an annual international cycling event, The New Zealand Cycle Classic (cycletournz.com) and in January of 2017, the race will be celebrating 30 years of two-wheeled fun. This cycle celebration is described as New Zealand's premier road cycling event with several riders from the Classic going on to win stages of the Tour de France and the Tour of Italy. Wairarapa's reputation as one of the country's most cycle-friendly regions also comes from Wairarapa's Bike Festival known as The Huri Huri. Held at the same time as the NZ Cycle Classic, this colourful celebration of Wairarapa's bike-focused roads, tracks and trails includes numerous events and activities aimed at winning the hearts of riders at all stages and ages.
13. Dunedin Street Art Trail
Famous for its Scottish heritage, student culture and bracing climate at the head of the Otago Harbour, Dunedin is also home to New Zealand's first public art gallery and art society. Those artistic roots are now seeing art springing up all over the city in the form of impressive wall murals. Two years ago, the city's art scene enticed celebrated Belgian artist ROA to paint a tuatara (local reptile) on the side of a building in historic Bath Street. Thanks to the popularity of that work, a swag of other pieces have been added to surfaces all over town. Today the Dunedin Street Art Trail (dunedinstreetart.com) takes in 25 walls and includes everything from the ferocious (now extinct) Haast's eagle, the aforementioned tuatara and a painted pipe organ that sends native birds into the sky. Helping to preserve the city's heritage buildings, the 90-minute walk meanders from the harbour to Queens Gardens. Art lovers can either download the map or collect a printed edition from venues around the city.
14. World-class Weta Workshop
Wellington, aka Wellywood, is home to the award-winning Weta Workshop (wetaworkshop.com), mostly notably responsible for effects on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and winners of five Academy Awards. Recently ranked by The Guardian newspaper as one of the top 10 film studio tours in the world, a guided tour around the Workshops is a must-do for movie lovers. The various tours include the 45-minute guided tour as well as a riveting, behind-the-scenes Thunderbirds Are-Go experience and glimpses into the making of King Kong. Guides explain how various films were made using props, models, weapons and special effects, and depending on what the talented team is working on at the time, you can take a peek through windows to watch the skilled technicians at work.
15. Rugby League World Cup
New Zealand will welcome a horde of Rugby League fans in 2017, with seven major matches in the Rugby League World Cup 2017 (rlwc2017.com) being hosted in four different cities across the country. New Zealand will co-host the tournament with Australia as well as Papua New Guinea, where 14 teams will play 28 games over five weeks to vie for the most coveted prize in international rugby league. Aside from the sport itself, the tournament also aims to celebrate the diversity of cultures and countries that play the game around the world.
Beer is big business in New Zealand these days, with imaginatively crafted boutique beers springing up all over the country. To celebrate the amber liquid, Wellington hosts the 16th Beervana (beervana.co.nz), New Zealand's most popular beer festival. With brewers descending on the capital from sunny Northland to the deepest nooks of Southland, you'll discover creative beer made with imaginative ingredients including lemongrass and lychees. With groovily themed bars, seminars, tours, music and plenty of good food, it's expected that more than 60 breweries will be serving up over 300 different types of beer.
17. Three New Zealand seafood festivals
Seafood – or kai moana as it's known in the Māori language – is one of the most delectable pillars of New Zealand's culinary culture. From mussels to paua (abalone), scallops to crayfish, immersing yourself in the country's oceanic delights is not only a must but, thanks to the numerous seafood celebrations, relatively simple. Here's a sample of three signature events but look out for other seafood celebrations in Port Chalmers, Kaikoura and Auckland.
- The Bluff Oyster and Food Festival (bluffoysterfest.co.nz) held in the South Island town of Bluff is set for May 2017. Described as “unsophisticated and proud of it”, there will be music, competitions and demonstrations as well as Bluff's famous oysters.
- Whitianga's Scallop Festival (scallopfestival.co.nz) is held each September and attracts big-name chefs and renowned musicians to the North Island township. It also makes for a superb introduction to the Coromandel Peninsula's charms.
- Known as the Green Shell Mussel Capital of the World, Havelock's Mussel and Seafood Festival (havelockmusselfestival.co.nz) each March, is all about good fun and good food. As the gateway to Pelorus Sound, there are few more beautiful places on earth to express your affection for molluscs.
18. The Auckland Arts Festival
Between 8 - 26 March, New Zealand's largest city will be buzzing with a huge range of performances at The Auckland Arts Festival (aaf.co.nz). From dance to poetry and visual arts to circus, the Festival is one of the biggest arts festivals in the southern hemisphere drawing performers and audiences from around the world. The multi-disciplinary spectacular features as many free events as ticketed including lots of family-friendly offerings to keep younger audiences transfixed. And, as festival director Carla van Zon's last year after six years at the helm, you can be sure that proceedings will go off with a bang.