Cityscape scopes out the city’s top festivals and few worth travelling for. If ever there was a season for festivals, it’s summer! Nothing beats getting out in the sunshine and sacking out with a few vinos, beers and awesome eats, all set to the sweet sounds of a sensational live music line-up.
Best of the Fests
Your festival dollars can only stretch so far; step away from those second mortgage documents and tap our top six – a mix of sights, sounds, film, eats and drinks.
1) Live in Lincoln: Selwyn Sounds
The inaugural outing of what is planned to be an annual event (fingers crossed!) for the uni town of – you guessed it – Lincoln, this sparkly newbie music fest is serving up a killer line-up of mostly 80s retro tunes alongside some of Canterbury’s finest food trucks, three licensed bar areas and stalls in the Lincoln Domain. Included in the epic nine-hour, nine-band line-up of New Zealand music legends are headliners Mi-Sex, recently re-formed 'April Sun in Cuba' crooners Dragon, local icon and former Exponent Jordan Luck, fronting his new Jordan Luck Band (pictured above), three of the five former When the Cats Away supergroup members Annie Crummer, Margaret Urlich and Debbie Harwood, the legend that is Sharon O’Neill, and local boy made good/multi-award winning singer-songwriter of Opshop fame Jason Kerrison.
Where: Lincoln Domain
When: 4 March
Why: 80s music lovefest
2) World Buskers Festival
Taking street theatre back to the street, the World Buskers Festival is not only one of the best of its kind in the world, but also your best chance of getting up close and personal with some fierce fringe talents. Roll up and witness the likes of the jaw-dropping acrobatic antics set to cock-rock with Pants Down Circus: ROCK!, insane amounts of comedy from New Zealand and around the world including James Nokise, Ben Hurley and more, the genius of ventriloquist queen Nina Conti (pictured above) and the seriously saucy talent of the ever-popular Buskers Burlesque, featuring boundary-pushing WBF first timers The Two Wrongies and self-titled raunchy Romeo of burlesque Chris Harder. The 10-days of epic daredevilry and high-octane bedazzlement traditionally sells out, meaning you’ll want to book your tix early – super early – or miss out.
When: 19 – 29 January
Why: NZ’s got (gnarly) talent
3) Alliance Francaise French Film Festival
Injecting an infusion of French cool into the city’s cinema scene, the Alliance Française French Film Festival is a godsend to cinephiles, Francophiles, and those just in need of a France fix. It rocks an epic line-up of French language films over its fortnight-and-a-bit, including comedy, drama, genre fare and titles that have premiered at the likes of Cannes and Toronto. Early announcements among the more than 30 feature films on offer include the award-bound Monsieur Chocolat (pictured above,the story of France’s first black circus artist, starring Omar Sy and James Thierrée), writer-director Rachel Lang’s heart-warming comedy-drama Baden Baden, the star power of French cinema royalty Nathalie Baye, Vincent Cassel and Marion Cotillard in It’s Only the End of the World, and gripping revenge thriller Dark Diamond.
Where: Hoyts Northlands
When: 9 – 26 March
Why: So Frenchy, so chic!
4) Hokitika Wildfoods Festival
A food festival for the brave, Hokitika’s annual Wildfoods Festival is a world famous event that channels the wild West Coast spirit. While festival-goers can enjoy exquisite gourmet options including marinated tuna, whitebait patties, gourmet sausages, smoked salmon, wild game meats, traditional Maori hangi and more, it’s the out-there fare that has really made the festival’s name. It’s famous for serving up native New Zealand huhu grubs, but that’s just the beginning; last year’s fest put such delicacies as duck heads, crocodile bites, fish eyes, scorpions, pork blood casserole, baby octopus, worms, deep fried pigs ears, snails, and ‘mountain oysters’ on the menu. The festival’s always a chance to expose your palate to something new, and with music and cooking demos throughout the day as well, there’s never a dull moment.
Where: Cass Square, Hokitika
When: 11 March
Why: Fear Factor on ‘roids
5) The Great Kiwi Beer Festival
With a well-earned reputation as being the country’s largest outdoor beer festival (and some – in fact, us – would say the best), this epic afternoon and evening dedicated to the nation’s favourite amber liquid is heaven for hopheads. You’ll navigate more than 300 beers and ciders on tap from 40 breweries – add in some of the region’s and city’s top eats and shoulder-tap some of the country’s best musos including The Mockers (specifically reformed after 30 years for the day!), The Chills, Katchafire and Delaney Davidson, and you’ve got one heck of a beerstravaganza. You can even further your education by attending Pomeroy’s Craft Beer Academy and pick up some tips from Josh Emett in the Cooking Theatre or from the craft brew knights of the (round?) SOBA Brewer’s Table – it doesn’t get any better.
Where: Hagley Park
When: 28 January
Why: 300+ beers and ciders
6) Rhythm & Alps
The South Island’s leading New Year’s Eve and Day music festival Rhythm & Alps (or R&A among the cool kids) is also the largest staged in the mainland. It attracts thousands of music fans/revellers/campers to the stunning scenery of the Cardrona Valley near Wanaka, Central Otago for two days and nights of massive on-stage action from a huge line-up of New Zealand and international musos. This year the line-up includes Devilskin, Cut Snake, Dub FX, Six 60, Sachi, Dusky and Arma Del Amor, among others. With a legendary party atmosphere, a wide range of options for stepping up your experience to VIP status, accommodation options ranging from camping, glamping, teepees (!) and hotels, and a truly wondrous location (the heart of the South Island, no less), this is one for every festival-goer’s bucket list.
Where: Robrosa Station, Wanaka
When: 30 & 31 December
Why: 41-hour party people!
Kick back to the sounds of summer with the day-long Nostalgia Festival (4 March, Ferrymead Heritage Park), a celebration of independent music set within the replica 1900s township that’s backed by the soundtrack of New Zealand’s top indie artists busting out some top tunes over two stages. Adding international artists to the mix, Electric Avenue Music Festival (25 February, Hagley Park) rocks three stages and features 30 performers over 12 hours in the heart of Hagley Park, while Live in Lincoln: Selwyn Sounds (4 March, Lincoln Domain) winds back the clock with an epic retro offering of some of the country’s most famous hitmakers, including Mi-Sex, Dragon, Margaret Urlich, Jordan Luck and Sharon O’Neill.
Food & Drink
There can be no better reason to get your festival on than an epic line up of eats and drinks! Kick back in the sun and eat and drink your way around The Great Kiwi Beer Festival (28 January, Hagley Park), which sees the nation’s finest craft brewers showcase their wares in a cornucopia for hopheads. Dubbed the coolest little wine festival in the country, Waipara’s North Canterbury Wine & Food Festival (12 March, Glenmark Domain) showcases the outstanding wines of the Waipara region and gourmet treats from the region’s local producers and top Christchurch chefs and restaurants. And the unforgettable Hokitika Wildfoods Festival (11 March, Cass Square) serves up some offally good fare; enough to test the mettle of the most cast-iron-stomached gourmand. Fortunately the heaping helping of the famous West Coast hospitality that you also get is very palatable indeed!
Sometimes out of town festivals are just so awesome you’ve really got no choice but to pack up the car and make tracks across the country – road trips and festivals go hand-in-hand (though flying is acceptable for the time poor). Here’s our pick of the hottest.
Highlights on the culinary festival scene include the Wellington Wine & Food Festival (10 – 11 March, Wellington), which pairs the region’s best local gourmet producers and restaurants with local wineries and breweries in a showcase of the tastiest in local goodness; in the South Island, the Gibbston Wine and Food Festival (18 March, Queenstown) is Queenstown’s premiere wine and food festival and showcases the region’s finest, while the Marlborough Wine & Food Festival (11 February, Blenheim, pictured below) is New Zealand’s longest-running wine festival – with a natural home in Marlborough, it invites festival goers to Brancott Vineyard (one of New Zealand’s oldest and scenic wine estates) to enjoy not only the world-famous products of the many vineyards in the region, but also delicious local cuisine.
For music-driven shenanigans, look up the Rhythm siblings: Rhythm and Alps (30 – 31 December, Wanaka, pictured below) is a New Year music festival that is the largest staged in the South Island, and attracts thousands of eager festival goers to the jaw-slackening natural environment and wonder that is the Cardrona Valley in Central Otago. It's two days and nights of awesome music from a huge line-up of Kiwi and international acts. North Island counterpart Rhythm and Vines (29 – 31 December, Eastland), meanwhile, is arguably New Zealand’s most renowned music festival, and makes the most of the natural charms of another stunning part of the country, basing itself at the Waiohika Estate vineyard. In Auckland, Laneway Festival (30 January), part of an international circuit that sees similar events staged in Singapore, Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Fremantle, and Melbourne, is one of the country’s premier music events, while the city’s reggae and roots outing RaggaMuffin (18 February) celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2017. In Wellington, the gigantic annual music festival Homegrown (4 March) rocks six specialist stagesand up to 50 local acts spread around the city’s waterfront during a 10-hour non-stop party dedicated to Kiwi music.
Combo festivals offering a little of everything include rising star on the country’s festival calendar, Sundaise Festival (10 – 12 March, Waihi), a three-day celebration of music, art, and sustainability in the Coromandel, and Auckland’s waterfront New Years Eve bash Wondergarden (31 December), which fuses an epic musical line-up with roaming performers and lighting installations. Also in the City of Sails is the Auckland Arts Festival (8 – 26 March, pictured below) an 18-day bonanza of theatre, concerts, art installations, exhibitions, performances, and much more, while the Takaka hilltop Luminate Festival (1 – 8 February) on Canaan Downs is a week-long music, visual and performing arts and lifestyle (read: hippie) festival where attendees camp amidst native bush. For a retro-fuelled extravagance, head to the party weekend that is Napier’s Art Deco Festival (15 – 19 February), an annual heritage celebration of the 20s and 30s that plays host to a raft of events that includes grand balls, street parties, banquets, costumed events, flight displays, and a hugely popular soapbox derby. If the obscure, strange and unusual is more your thing, you need to hit up the Dunedin Fringe Festival (9 – 19 March) where experimental contemporary art is served to a wider audience, celebrating the new, quirky, out-there, bizarre and exciting over an action-packed 10 days in the funky southern city.
The VIP Experience Increasingly festivals offer a VIP package – yes, they’re expensive and ‘VIP’ might not necessarily be the best descriptor when you’re 3 deep at the bar – but they do have benefits, including all-day food and swanky chill zones. VIP zones near the stage also offer uninterrupted views of all the action. To work out if the VIP experience is for you, use A) Economics – are you likely to spend more than the cost of the VIP ticket with entrance, food and drinks? If so, the all-inclusive VIP package could even save you a few dollars; or B) Psychology – if standing shoulder-to-sweaty-shoulder amidst the heaving masses sounds too much (are festivals really your thing?), the VIP area offers an excellent reprieve – and will also drive non-VIP friends mad when you swan off to hit up the open bar.
Surviving the Day/Night Festival season offers a gazillion opportunities to become a social media statistic, but this minefield is easily navigated with a little common sense. First thing’s first – be your own best friend and ward off sunstroke and killer hangovers by slapping on some sunscreen. Enjoy the occasional glass of water (hydration is key, people – beer is not a water substitute!) and wash a pre-emptive painkiller down with an electrolyte drink before calling it a day. Rock some headgear, whether wacky or tres chic – a hat will not only keep off the sun, but give your besties something to spot in the crowd. Finally, layer up – the weather can get real, real-quick yeah? Give yourself some ensemble options. Multi Staging Sometimes music festivals have such epic line-ups they just can’t be contained on one stage! While this might seem like a first-world gripe, the introduction of a second or third stage can mean you might be faced with some tough calls – particularly if two or more of your faves are rocking similar timeslots. But it doesn’t have to be all Sophie’s Choice – you can watch it all, and it doesn’t involve cloning yourself! Firstly, check the timetable and pull together your hit list – it’s worth noting that things will be running on ‘festival time’ and will generally be running later than anticipated. You’ll also note that these are also timed to overlap, meaning you can catch the start and end of most gigs – when they’ll be pulling out the big guns. Another way to keep tabs on what’s going down is finding the ‘sweet spot’ – a place where you can see multiple stages and keep tabs on what’s happening on each, then move in for the killer tracks.