If you’re celebrating this New Year’s Eve in New Zealand, then you want to make it one of your most memorable! The 31st December falls in New Zealand’s summer season, which can be a definite change of pace for people visiting from the Northern Hemisphere.
To determine where you want to be in the country and what you should be doing, consider if you want to be in the midst of a massive music festival, partying it up in one of the big town centres, or somewhere off the beaten track enjoying a more intimate, but undoubtedly once-in-a-lifetime experience with your new best travel buddies.
New Years Eve festivals
Summer in New Zealand is music festival season. There are plenty of great festivals in all corners of the country from December through March, but two of the most notable happen at New Year’s.
Location: Gisborne, East Cape
Renowned for being the first music festival in the world to greet the New Year, the legendary Rhythm and Vines festival is a 3 day camping and music extravaganza amongst the vineyards on the North Island’s East Cape. You can get there on Stray’s East Coaster route, but keep in mind that accommodations and campsites fill up quickly out there and this one may involve a little more pre-planning than other options due to its remote location.
Location: Cardrona Valley, Wanaka
The South Island’s answer to Rhythm and Vines, Rhythm & Alps definitely wins for one of the most scenic places to spend New Year’s in New Zealand. This 3 day annual festival takes place just 15 minutes outside Wanaka and usually draws crowds of around 10,000 to see a mix of international and local Kiwi artists. Again, camping is part of the experience, but if you choose to stay in Wanaka township you can catch a shuttle bus to the festival.
If you like being in the heart of the action with plenty of spur of the moment options for New Year’s Eve, then you should check out one of the country’s main city centres. You can expect almost every town and city to be putting on some sort of public event, but here are some of the top places we know Stray passengers choose to be for the countdown.
If you’ve ever watched a TV broadcast highlighting New Year’s celebrations, Auckland is usually in the mix because it’s the first major city to celebrate the start of the New Year and the famous Sky Tower looks pretty spectacular against a backdrop of fireworks. There will be plenty of parties happening around the city, including a new music festival called Wondergarden down in Silo Park on the Viaduct. Regardless of where you celebrate, make sure you head outside half an hour before midnight to score a good spot to view the fireworks around the Sky Tower!
We have to mention Queenstown as one of the top NYE spots because New Zealand’s party capital definitely pulls out the stops for the occasion. You are guaranteed that that the bars around town will be hosting their biggest parties of the year. Find one you like and stay put or do a backpacker NYE pub crawl if you want to keep things moving. Those wanting to avoid too many teapots should head down to Earnslaw Park on the lakefront for live music and free public events, as well as a place to watch the fireworks at midnight.
Not a major city centre, but there’s something special about the little town of Paihia in the Bay of Islands and we’ve found that a lot of Stray travellers choose to head up there for New Year’s before setting out on the rest of the main circuit. You can spend the day relaxing on the beach or cruising around the islands of the Bay, then catch the ferry over to Russell to raise a glass at the famous Duke of Marlborough pub in the evening. Paihia has one of the best NYE fireworks displays, which can be seen from Paihia, Russell, Waitangi and any of the beaches along the Inner Bay. Just make sure you head down to the beachfront early to stake out a prime viewing spot. Bonus: even if you’re catching the Stray bus back to Auckland the next day, the bus doesn’t leave until early afternoon, so you can sleep in that morning or maybe even go for a New Year’s skydive!
Festivals and bar crawls have their appeal, but there is something to be said for doing things a little differently this New Year’s, especially as a foreign visitor. Heading somewhere completely off beat will stand out in your memory for years to come! The best part about getting off the beaten track with Stray is that you will have automatically have a group and your Driver Guide to party with, and the accommodations usually plan something special in honour of the holiday.
While every Strademark stop is fabulous, we’ve found that the two night stops are usually the best ones for New Year’s celebrations, because you don’t have to worry about catching a bus the next day! You can take a day to recover before carrying on – although most travellers end up doing something adventurous with their free day too!
If you want a really unique Kiwi NYE experience, you can’t beat Blue Duck for being way off the beaten track and totally different from anywhere else. It’s ideal for nature lovers who want a more low-key, but still incredibly memorable experience. There’s usually a group meal and bonfire to get things started and then you can party the night away under the stars with the station crew who embrace any opportunity for a bush party. Just make sure to stock up on snacks and drinks beforehand since there aren’t any convenience stores around!
With beautiful beaches and plenty of sunshine, Abel Tasman is a fantastic place for New Year’s. Enjoy the festivities with your group on the night – usually with some sort of fancy dress party – and then head out into the Abel Tasman National Park the next day. Depending on how active you’re feeling, choose from canyoning, hiking, kayaking, sailing or skydiving and have the time of your life in one of New Zealand’s most beautiful spots. Talk about a special way to start a new year!
The Coromandel is one of the tops spots for local Kiwi families to go for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, but Hahei will still feel more intimate than one of the big towns. Have a traditional Kiwi BBQ with your new friends, maybe venture to the local pub to mix it up with some of the other holiday-makers, and then wake up to see the sunrise on Hahei Beach before spending the day exploring the marine reserve and venturing over to nearby Cathedral Cove for New Year’s photos that will make your friends back home jealous.
Want to start the year off with a bang?
There’s no better way to start a cracking new year than by ticking off a big bucket list item. The good news is pretty much every activity operator will be open for business on New Year’s Day. Our best recommendation is to clear the cobwebs of your hangover by doing something really unique or challenging, such as:
- Climb a mountain – The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Roys Peak and the Mueller track in Mt Cook are all Stray fan faves!
- Bungy jump or canyon swing in Queenstown
- Do the heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier
- Skydive at any of the amazing jump locations around the country
Top Planning Tip
No matter what you plan to do, our best advice is to book your accommodation early, especially if you’re planning on staying in one of the main city centres or attending a music festival. Keep in mind that it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere and you’ll be competing with plenty of locals, as well as foreign visitors, for space at some of the most popular destinations.
Also, past years have shown that many Stray travellers pick a spot to stay for a few days for the holidays and then as soon as the calendar ticks over into a new year, it’s time to travel, travel, travel! If you can, it’s a good idea to book your buses in advance to avoid disappointment, especially after you’ve had such an amazing time celebrating with new friends.
What do you think, Stray fans? Where will you be spending your New Year’s Eve in New Zealand?