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Christmas holidays in New Zealand are all about spending time outdoors. Christmas is in summertime in New Zealand and the days are long – the sun doesn’t set until around 9 p.m. During this time New Zealanders (or “kiwis” as they are called, after the country’s national icon the kiwi bird) love to spend as much time as possible outdoors; preferably at a beach, lake or river, or relaxing at home in the backyard.

Kiwis are very laid back, and even more so during the summer holidays. This laid-back vibe is contagious, so it’s a great time to be in New Zealand for a vacation.

Advice For Your Christmas Day in NZ

A typical Christmas day for New Zealand families involves a barbeque and a makeshift cricket game on somebody’s lawn. So, if you’re used to wearing a Christmas sweater and sitting by a fire in the US, you’re in for a very different and memorable Christmas in New Zealand.

Unless you have an invitation to join a local family gathering, you will want to plan your own Christmas day fun. Most importantly food. You could either cook your own Christmas feast (if you have access to a kitchen where you’re staying, or even better, a barbeque) or make a reservation at a restaurant. Both these options come with a warning: be organised or be hungry!

All shops close on Christmas day. If you don’t get everything you need by Christmas Eve in New Zealand, it’s too late. Most restaurants will be closed too, just a few (and only in the bigger cities) are open for Christmas. Hotel dining rooms are also likely to be open and serving Christmas dinner, but make sure you check in advance and make a reservation. Be aware that restaurants that open on public holidays often have public holiday surcharge.

Everything re-opens the next day for Boxing Day Sales, so the stores will be packed (Black Friday style).

To give your Christmas Day a New Zealand flavour eat your Christmas lunch or dinner in the open air if possible, and spend some time outdoors (go to the beach or take a stroll somewhere nearby).

If you’re cooking, you might be able to create your traditional American Christmas meal; New Zealand Christmas meals are often very similar (unless it’s a barbeque), so you should be able to get most ingredients.

Pohutukawa New Zealand Native Christmas Tree

Look Out for New Zealand Christmas and Summer Holiday Icons

Just like in The States, you can find Santa Claus in a shopping mall (in case you have kids who want to make Christmas wishes), but Christmas looks a little different in New Zealand to in the USA. Here are some of the things that Kiwis associate with Christmas and the summer holiday season.

  • The Pohutukawa tree “The New Zealand Christmas Tree” – With its stunning red flowers that bloom during Christmas time the Pohutukawa tree is a Christmas symbol in New Zealand. This tree often features on Christmas decorations and greeting cards instead of the classic snowy scenes.
  • Pavlova – A meringue and whipped cream based dessert covered with fruit, usually strawberries or kiwifruit. Pavlova is a traditional Christmas dessert. It was named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova in the 1920’s when she did a tour of NZ and Australia. Both countries claim it as part of their national cuisine (an unresolved argument).
  • Roadside stalls – In summertime New Zealand fruit growers set up little stands with summer fruit for sale. These mini stalls are unattended, and you pay for your produce by putting money into a small “honesty box”. Perfect for a quick stop for road trip snacks.
  • Jandals – What New Zealanders call flip-flops (short for Japanese sandals). The humble jandal is the most popular type of footwear in New Zealand, you can get away with wearing jandals most of the time (not at fancier restaurants and bars, but pretty much everywhere else). Don’t forget to pack yours.

Pavlova organic homemade traditional meringue dessert sweet cake

Top Christmas Holiday Activities in New Zealand

Beaches and Water Activities

In New Zealand, it is not possible to be more than 120 km from the sea, so naturally, there are beaches everywhere. There are also some beautiful lakes and rivers. Try kayaking or standing up on a paddle board safely or just find a place to swim. Here are some of the best areas to visit to enjoy beautiful beaches and spend time in and on the water.

The Coromandel Peninsula

Located on the upper east coast of the north island; this area is famous for its spectacular white sandy beaches. Cathedral Cove is one of New Zealand’s most photographed beaches. Visit Hot Water Beach and dig your own hot pool; just be there at low tide, dig a shallow hole, and you’ll find hot water bubbling up from under the sand.

Couple taking pictures at scenic Cathedral Cove New Zealand

Related: Check out our 8-Day North Island Highlights Private NZ Tour.

Bay of Islands

Situated the “winterless north” The Bay of Islands is known for its undeveloped, subtropical beaches. Here you will find beautiful beaches, ancient native forest and important New Zealand historical sites. The towns of Paihia and Russell (the country’s first capital) both offer a range of picturesque beaches that are perfect for swimming.

Traditional kiwi summer beach with flowering red Pohutukaka tree, sea and boats - in Russell, Bay of Islands, Northland, New Zealand, NZ

Related: See our 5-Day Winterless North Explorer Private NZ Tour.

Tasman Region

The Tasman is in the north of the South Island. Its famous coastal hiking track in the Abel Tasman National Park attracts visitors from all over the world. The trail leads alongside idyllic golden beaches and through lush native bush. A favourite spot for swimming and kayaking, Tasman offers loads of amazing beaches to choose from throughout the region.

Tasman Region in South Island, New Zealand

Related: Check out our 16-Day South Island Adventure Tour.

Winery Visits

New Zealand wine is world renowned. If you love wine (or even if you don’t), visiting a winery is a great way to spend time outdoors, enjoy delicious food and sample some New Zealand wines. New Zealand has many wine regions, so there are endless options for winery tours.

New Zealand winery landscapes

Related: See our New Zealand wine tours.

Adventure Activities

New Zealand is full of outdoor adventure activities in spectacular locations. White-water rafting, jet boating, bungy jumping, volcano hikes, zorbing, caving, sky-diving, you name it – you’ll find it in New Zealand. If you have a passion for adventure, your Christmas holiday in New Zealand will offer plenty of opportunities to have an absolute blast.

New Zealand Rotorua zorbing

Related: Check out our adventure tours.

If you’re planning to spend your Christmas in New Zealand, we can help you make your Christmas holiday an amazing adventure that you’ll never forget. Customise your ideal private guided tour to make your Christmas holiday spectacular and stress-free. Or, plan your perfect summer road trip with our tailored self-drive tours. We’ll make sure you find all the best spots. Contact us to talk about your New Zealand Christmas vacation plans; you can call us at +64 2191 0433, send us an email to [email protected] or drop us a line on our contact form.