Christmas in New Zealand is a different experience for many visitors. Even getting here can be disconcerting, if you are travelling from the Northern Hemisphere. Time it wrong, such as leaving on Christmas Eve from your home, you will cross the dateline and arrive on Boxing Day, missing the big day altogether.
If you are looking for familiar sights in this upside-down Yuletide celebration, take comfort that red is still an important Christmas colour in New Zealand. It’s not holly or mistletoe that you’ll see. New Zealand’s Christmas tree is the Pohutukawa, a gnarly spreading tree that has vibrant red flowers throughout summer. It’s a barometer for the type of weather to expect during the festive season. “The Pohutukawas are out early,” soothsayers will comment, “gonna be a long hot summer.”
While you can see the trees in pretty much any coastal region, there are some places with plenty. The Pohutukawa coast is an area to the east of Auckland. It’s very accessible to the city and includes the areas of Beachlands, Maraetai and Whitford. A great spot there is the Omana Regional Park, where you can sit in the shade of the trees, with fantastic views to the Sky Tower, and have a gentle swim at high tide.
The Coromandel Peninsula is a popular summer getaway spot for New Zealanders. If you drive the challenging but scenic Thames Coast road, you’ll have arching boughs of red blooms on one side of you, and the ocean very close on the other side of the road.
Expect to eat differently too. While some families still like a traditional roast lamb with all the trimmings, a Christmas feast in the heat of summer is more likely to be of lighter fare, and often cooked on the barbeque. Seafood, or Kai Moana in Te Reo Maori, is often a prized ingredient. If you are travelling in the South Island, make sure you eat some crayfish in Kaikoura, it is what the town is named after.
Another centrepiece on the Christmas table is New Zealand’s famous desert, Pavlova. This sweet meringue desert is a bit of an art to whip up. Better to let the experts do it for you…drop into Floriditas Café and Restaurant in Cuba Street in Wellington. They serve a brown sugar pavlova with strawberries, pistachios and cream.
To get to all these great Christmas spots, you are going to need serious transport. Hiring a car is the best way to get around New Zealand independently, and VroomVroomVroom can hook you up with a suitable car for a great price.