Have you ever imagined a hot Christmas — a summer Christmas — a Kiwi Christmas in New Zealand? The Land of the Long White Cloud lives up to its nickname over this jovial time of year, often serving up balmy beachgoing weather.
If you’re planning to take a campervan rental or motorhome hire over the Christmas period, you’ll want to know what’s going on.
In this blog, we chat about why Christmas is a special time to be in a campervan in New Zealand. We also discuss the weather at this time of year, what places are open, the traditional Kiwi Christmas meal, and what you can do on Christmas Day — including services you can attend.
Christmas holidays are a busy time of year in New Zealand. Be sure to plan well in advance and book early so you don’t miss out.
A summer Christmas in New Zealand
Christmas in New Zealand is all about sunshine, barbecues and beaches. It also signifies the start of the summer holidays, with kids out of school for up to eight weeks. Most people try to take several weeks' vacation — returning to work once January is well underway.
Check out our top five must-see beaches for some of the best places to camp at Christmas.
You can expect busy roads full of holiday travellers, particularly near popular Kiwi hotspots. In saying that though, Christmas Day itself is strangely quiet on the road — offering you an opportunity to cover some distance in your campervan. This could be especially appealing if you prefer to catch up with loved ones later in the evening to suit your home time zone.
The Christmas holiday period can be an ideal time to visit New Zealand’s largest cities — Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton. Popular attractions will be open and the city will feel less populated due to many locals heading out of town on their summer travels.
Time with family and friends
Like many western countries, New Zealanders tend to spend Christmas Day with their family or friends. Some may celebrate at home — others head to the beach or a park for a picnic or barbecue.
The Kiwi Christmas tree
Keep your eyes peeled for Aotearoa’s native Christmas tree — the pōhutukawa. These impressive evergreen trees are found along the coast in the North Island, north of New Plymouth and Gisborne.
From early December until early January, they’re ablaze with scarlet-coloured flowers. Eventually, each pōhutukawa will drop a carpet of crimson on the ground below. Long-lasting fun for kids looking for a tree to climb, they also provide welcome shade on hot summer days.
New Zealand’s Christmas weather
Although the first of December is officially the first day of the Kiwi summer, the last month of the year offers typically changeable weather. But there are plenty of benefits too, like:
- Water temperatures that are very swimmable
- Lengthening days — December 21 is the country’s longest day
- Mild nights
- Average high temperatures between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius.
You can expect to be applying sunscreen at the beach and taking dips in the sea to cool down. However, keeping a warm change of clothing on hand is necessary if the wind changes or the temperature drops.
December can also bring rain so there’s always a chance of precipitation. Get an overview of New Zealand’s seasons for planning your motorhome trip.
Christmas opening hours
The lead-up to Christmas involves a fair bit of shopping hustle and bustle. Many stores will stay open late in the days before Christmas Day.
Many tourist attractions stay open late on Christmas Eve but always check their websites for opening hours.
Most shops in New Zealand are required to close on the big day itself — which is a day off work for a lot of people. If you need basic provisions like bread, eggs or milk, petrol stations and the local dairy (convenience store) will be open.
Supermarkets are overwhelmingly busy on the days prior to Christmas — and will all be closed on Christmas Day. The smart move is to do your big shop a few days before then park up somewhere remote and enjoy the peace of the season.
The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day in New Zealand. Many shops will be open again with shoppers enticed to spend up large on Boxing Day sales. If you’re planning a relaxing motorhome travelling experience, you’d be best to avoid malls and stores on Boxing Day.
Celebrating Christmas Day Kiwi style
A few restaurants will be open on Christmas Day but these usually book out by October. So to enjoy the treat of someone else cooking for you, ensure you plan well ahead of time.
Decorations on the road
Christmas isn’t quite the same without a few decorations to get into the spirit of the season.
Rather than buying cheap, disposable decorations like tinsel and baubles, consider decorating your campervan living space with foliage. Pōhutukawa flowers and native ferns make for a very festive green and red palette — and you’ll feel great about reducing your footprint at the same time.
Readying kids for Santa
If any of your younger travel companions are concerned that Santa won’t find them in a motorhome, reassure them by:
- Placing a little sprig of pōhutukawa flower on the door or window of your vehicle
- Hanging their stockings somewhere Santa will be able to see them.
In spite of his long beard and warm clothing, there’s no doubt that Santa loves a beachy Christmas in New Zealand.
Christmas Day at the beach
Like Santa, many New Zealanders head to the beach on the 25th — with families generally opting for one big mid-afternoon meal as a late lunch or an early dinner. Then they’ll enjoy spending time outdoors participating in some:
- Backyard cricket
- Swimming in the sea
- Kuub A game where the object is to knock over wooden blocks by throwing wooden sticks at them — or another challenging outdoor game like pétanque.
Traditional New Zealand Christmas meals
The Kiwi Christmas feast has its origins in the traditions that colonial arrivals bought with them from the Northern Hemisphere. Roast turkey and ham are still common regardless of the heat.
However, you’re now just as likely to find seafood or barbecued lamb on the menu. Māori adoption of the Christmas feast is also often celebrated and is known as a hāngīcooking meat and vegetables on heated stones in an earth pit.
Deserts are guaranteed and common delicacies include pavlova and cream, fresh berries and Christmas pudding.
Learn more about cook the New Zealand way here, how to best shop for Kiwi produce, and how to indulge in the many foods and drinks across the country.
Christmas Day services in New Zealand
If you want to attend a Christmas Day church service, you’ll be delighted to know that churches of most denominations celebrate Christmas across the country. And in the spirit of Christmas, everyone is welcome to share fellowship with their congregation.
Other options are attending a midnight mass on Christmas Eve or joining an early morning service on Christmas Day.
You may have opportunities to visit some of the more impressive historic churches around New Zealand, such as the:
- Adorably quaint Christ Church in Russell — the oldest existing church in the country, built in 1835
- Sublime gothic church of Old St Paul’s in Wellington
- Church of the Good Shepherd on the shores of Lake Tekapo — the most photographed house of prayer in the country.
You’ll also find Christmas Day services at each of the cathedrals in New Zealand’s main centres, including Christchurch’s interesting Transitional Cathedral — locally known as the Cardboard Cathedral.
Organise your campervan itinerary.
There’s no better time than now to plan your Christmas visit so ring your jingle bells, download one of our itineraries and book your sleigh ride to New Zealand.