If you’re in New Zealand when the clock strikes midnight on the 31st of December you will be one of the first people in the world to celebrate the start of 2017.
As the rest of the world prepare for their celebrations you’ll be waking up well into the first day of 2017 ready for a Bloody Mary or strong cup of coffee. New Zealand is one of the best places in the world to celebrate New Year’s Eve because it is in the middle of our summer and nearly everybody is on their holiday. Depending on where you are the sun doesn’t set until 9:00-9:30pm so you can enjoy the sunshine right up until a few hours before midnight.
Because it is usually nice and hot you won’t see many people in the cities as most Kiwis get out of the metropolises and head out into our beautiful landscape of beaches, lakes and mountains. Our cities aren’t that big anyway but they become ghost towns over the Christmas and New Year break.
Here are some of the best places to have New Year’s Eve on the Kiwi Experience circuit from North to South:
Up in the sunny Bay of Islands the population explodes over summer because of its many beautiful beaches and islands, the water sports and fishing, attracting a lot of New Zealanders and tourists alike. The small settlement of Paihia is right on the beach and has a number of restaurants and backpacker bars where there will be a lot of action. The bars have special licenses allowing them to be open later! Plus, at midnight there is a fireworks display which is best viewed from the beach. Spend a few extra days up here, or if you have to leave the next day it’s no problem because the bus doesn’t leave until 2:30pm.
If you do find yourself in the City of Sails the viaduct area of bars down on the waterfront will be the place to be. You will find most of the other people around will also be tourists and the bars will probably be quieter than the usual Saturday night. At midnight make sure you have a good view of the 328m Sky Tower (the tallest building in the Southern hemisphere) which is the centre of a large fireworks display.
Hot Water Beach
Starting your Kiwi Experience on New Year’s Eve? The Coromandel peninsula where Hot Water Beach is situated is a very popular destination for Kiwis and tourists alike over summer, with the population exploding by 500%. The Peninsula is surrounded by beautiful white sand beaches nestled amongst the red blossoming Pohutukawa trees known as the New Zealand Christmas tree. What a great start to your holiday it would be, arriving in the early afternoon, the option of kayaking along the beautiful coastline into a marine reserve and seeing the famous Cathedral Cove. Then digging and soaking in your own natural hot pool right on the beach during low tide between 3.00pm and 5:00pm. Then fish and chips for dinner while socialising with the rest of your bus at the cool campsite just off the beach as you count down to midnight. If you want to watch the sunrise, head down to the beach at 6:00am and be the first in the world to watch the start of 2016 before the bus leaves at 7:30am.
On the shores of our largest lake, the ‘Adventure Capital of the North Island’ is another attraction for both New Zealanders and tourists for the holiday period. With so many things to offer on and around the lake, this is another small town that booms at this time of year. There is so much to do from water sports such as parasailing, water-skiing, sailing tours, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking and fishing; land activities such as hiking, mountain biking, golf, mini-golf and checking out the geothermal features at Craters of the Moon; and extreme air activities include skydiving and bungee-jumping. With beautiful views across the lake towards the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park, Taupo is renowned for its majestic sunsets so watching the sun go down from the lakefront as 2016 draws to a close would be amazing before getting into the festivities of the night. The main street of bars is 2 minutes walk from the lakefront and with DJs and live bands there will be plenty of choice to see out 2016. At midnight there is a big bang fireworks display down on the lakefront.
Want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the New Year’s hotspots but still enjoy the festivities in a place where there are no lines (queues) for a drink and you can actually socialise with your newfound friends on the bus? Then out in River Valley is a great spot! Tucked out in the country amongst the rolling green hills of farmland the River Valley Lodge is fully equipped with a bar and large social area to play games or chat. No bouncers, no packed bar, cheap drinks, fun and entertaining locals, and plenty of room to have as much fun as you want. The next day you can see in the New Year with a thrilling, hungover-curing White Water Rafting trip through Grade 5 rapids and Lord of the Rings scenery. There is a late departure the next day after lunch at 1:00pm.
One of New Zealand’s favourite beaches in terms of the amount of New Zealanders, heading there to the golden shoreline is a great place to celebrate the New Year. The hostel is just off the beach and has a bar and restaurant with a large outside socialising area. It takes most of the day to get there from Wellington but the beauty of the beach will soon make you forget about travelling and ready to see out 2016. Just before midnight the bar empties and everybody makes their way down to beach to watch the 10 minute fireworks display out in the bay. The first sun of 2017 comes up out across the glistening waters of Tasman Bay at 6:00am and can be watched right there on the beach. No need for a rush this morning as the bus leaves at 11:30am.
Experience the end of 2016 in small town New Zealand with the wicked hospitality that the West Coast is renowned for. How about going for a surf in the relatively warm waters of the Tasman Sea as the last activity you do for 2016 as the sun makes it's way towards the horizon. The hostel we stay at is run by a couple of the local surfers and has an amazing atmosphere. Chill out with some drinks while lounging in the hammocks or team up and cook an awesome barbecue with some beers. Head down to the beach, light a bonfire and toast marshmallows as you watch the sunset then when it gets dark head to the main street of town (just behind the hostel) and celebrate the coming of the New Year in the bars with real Kiwi locals and their hospitality.
Want a unique way to see in the New Year? Have your own exclusive Kiwi Experience costume party at a cool little pub in the Wild West Coast. Situated next to beautiful Lake Mahinapua you can spend the afternoon jumping off the jetty into the lake, playing beach volleyball outside the pub or carving a greenstone (jade) pendant for yourself or a loved one. This stop is only for Kiwi Experience so you’ll be there celebrating with your newfound friends on the bus. Included in the accommodation package is a huge roast pork group dinner so no worries about have pasta or noodles as your last meal of 2016. The beach is also 3 minutes walk from the pub so you can watch the sunset out over the Tasman Sea at 9:15pm. Then it will be time to celebrate the beginning of 2017 as the pub hosts a costume party. See the New Year in as a pirate, a zombie or wearing Anything But Clothes. The next day enjoy the included breakfast of toast, cereals, pancakes and bacon before you start the short drive to Franz Josef at 10:00am.
The tiny village of Franz Josef is made for tourism! Nestled amongst the ancient rainforest at the foot of Franz Josef glacier, it is a beautiful spot to relax and enjoy the end of another year and celebration of a new one. Before the celebrations get going you can go on one of the amazing walks in the region or soak away in the free 20-person hot tub at the hostel. The local hotspot is the Monsoon restaurant and bar which has two outside bars and one inside. Watch the sun set over the forest with the last rays of sunlight of 2016 creating awesome colours on the snow-capped mountains. As the day turns to night a DJ will crank up the tunes and you can dance the night away inside or sit outside next to the roaring fire socialising with the locals or other tourists from all over the planet. Because we spend two nights in Franz Josef you’ll have a free day to check out one of the world’s most accessible glaciers by helicopter and foot. What a spectacular way to see in 2017!
Don’t get sucked in to Queenstown!
Any time of the year Queenstown is the place you want to be to celebrate and party. That is why you don’t need to be there for New Year’s Eve. Every other day is just as good to go out there as every night can be a Saturday night. Being the tourist mecca that it is, so many people head to Queenstown for New Year’s Eve. New Zealanders usually avoid it at this time because it gets so busy. Busy may sound good but that means all the bars are packed with little room to dance and long waiting lines at the bar and for the toilets. Accommodation is also limited so prices go up a lot for a bed. The town is also heavily policed with a strict zero-tolerance policy on public drinking and behaviour. During any other time of the year you are allowed to sit on the beachfront and watch the sunset with a few drinks until 10:00pm but this changes over the New Year period due to anti-social behaviour and there is a 24 hour liquor ban in public places. Queenstown is awesome for its beauty, adventure sports and party scene but usually best experienced at other times rather than New Year’s Eve.