There is something irresistible about the meticulously organised, sun-dappled affairs of summer festivals. Nostalgia, perhaps? The fact that they remind us of the lazy, carefree summer days of our childhood? It’s little surprise that a massive RV road trip destination like New Zealand is fecund with them. Where else can you pull your campervan hire into to rub elbows and party with similar minded folks fresh off your long haul drive?
Three-day music festivals, exotic food feasts, and even events that celebrate ancient local cultures—whatever your fancy, New Zealand has got them. Here are some of the best ones.
Rhythm and Vines
Where best to ring in the New Year, well into New Zealand’s summertime, than in one of the first cities to see it? Tucked into New Zealand’s East Cape, Gisborne greets a fresh year with Rhythm and Vines, which brings in international acts as well as homegrown artists for a three-day summer music festival. It’s one of the country’s most famous festivals, so much so that it’s almost a rite of passage, held annually from December 28 through January 1. Music may be the headliner, but it’s also got other aces up its sleeves. Expect art installations, comedy, camp bars, delicious nosh, fireworks, and even waterslides. Top it all off by watching the first sunrise of the year.
Hokitika Wildfoods Festival
Push past your culinary boundaries at the annual Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. While technically not held in the summertime, the South Island food fest is a breathtaking New Zealand festival during which a mishmash of strange dishes and bites take centre stage. Believe it or not, chicken feet, crocodile bites, grasshoppers and snails are probably the most normal fare here. Ready your palates for boiled possum, mountain oysters, sheep testicles, colostrum cheesecake, and stallion protein shots. There’s a Demo Zone as well, if you fancy yourself an exotic food chef. It’s a family-friendly event, one with a bouncy castle, animal farm, balloon twister and animal painter, so bring the kids round.
Good vibes all around at the three-day weekend musical festival held in Orere Point, 70 kilometres out of Auckland. Splore isn’t just any other music festival; it’s one for the more discerning, leave-only-footprints festivalgoers who respect the environment and ancient cultures as much as they love music. Held in February at the Tapapakanga Regional Park, a spectacular coastal site steeped in Maori history, Splore aims to celebrate music with local and international acts, all while communing with nature, preserving an ancient land, and perhaps in the future, successfully becoming a Zero Waste festival. If you think that’s a bit of a bore, think again. Steam-punk time machines, burlesque beach nymphs, and Indian head massages are only just the beginning.
If the sounds of beating drums don’t clue you in, the graceful dancers and the vibrant traditional clothing just might. The mesmerising two-day festival, held in Aukland’s Western Springs Park near the end of March, showcases and celebrates the cultures and cuisines of 11 Pacific villages from 11 Pacific island countries including Cook Islands, Fiji, Tahiti and Hawaii. There are more than 220 performances, about 200 food stalls selling treats, music and musical instruments, and traditional art and handmade crafts. It’s just the ticket if you’re looking to immerse yourself in Polynesian cultures, or really just feast on good food.
Balloons Over Waikato
Think of a cross between a kite festival and a traditional hot air balloon festival, and you’ve got Hamilton, New Zealand’s Balloons Over Waikato. The annual five-day festival likes to show off its creative skills, with hot air balloons shaped like alien rockets, Angry Birds, helicopters, clowns, elephants, royal carriages, birthday cakes, and even recently hatched baby dinosaurs. The showstopper, however, is the Zulu Night Glow, held on campus at the University of Waikato, when fireworks paint the sky and 17 or so balloons are inflated and lit up like herculean Chinese lanterns. Food stalls and kid-friendly rides are also on hand. Much like the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival, it’s a family affair.