12 Epic Things to Do on Christmas Day in New Zealand

If you find yourself in Aotearoa during the festive season, you might be a bit unsure of how to spend Christmas Day.

In New Zealand, the vast majority of shops, restaurants and paid attractions close on the 25th of December. This allows staff well-deserved time off with their families but can leave visitors to NZ at a loose end.

We’re here to save your Yuletide season with a list of memorable things to do on Christmas Day – perfect if you’re travelling in New Zealand, if you don’t have a permanent base, or if you’re just looking for a way to entertain yourself on this summer-time public holiday.

A snowman built out of ice, wearing a santa hat, sitting on a sandy beach with gentle waves.
A Christmas in New Zealand looks a bit different to most places.

Memorable Things For Travellers to Do for Christmas Day in New Zealand

In no particular order, join us as we share our top tips for festive fun.

Don’t let closed shops stop you from enjoying a beautiful Christmas Day in Aotearoa New Zealand – there is plenty of fun to be had and memories to make, if you know where to look…

Red pohutukawa flowers in bloom with the waves of Hahei Beach washing up against the cliffs.
Hahei Beach on Christmas Day. Photo: Kirsty Tennent, NZTT member.

1. Head to the Beach

Perhaps the most iconic of all NZ Christmas Day choices, many locals and travellers choose to head to a beautiful Kiwi beach.

As we celebrate Christmas here in the summertime, you won’t get the stereotypical white Christmas, but we have something that’s arguably better – sun and surf!

A family sitting on the shore of Rabbit Island in Nelson, with beach chairs and kayaks.
Enjoy a day in the sun, like this whānau at Rabbit Island, Nelson. Photo: Siobhan Doak, NZTT member.

We recommend packing up a picnic or grabbing kai for the BBQ (many beaches and parks supply these for free or for a small fee) and heading to a sheltered bay or a safe surf beach.

With pōhutukawa flowers in full bloom along the shoreline, there really is no better way to spend a kiwi Christmas.

Did you know? Pōhutukawa are known as New Zealand’s Christmas tree. This is because of their bright red flowers that bloom in December and January.

A sunny Christmas day at Tairua, with red blooming pohutakawa, NZ's Christmas tree.
Pohutakawa in full bloom at Tairua. Photo: Kirsty Tennent, NZTT member.

When you’ve finished your meal, hop in the ocean for a swim and enjoy soaking up the sun for a bit (but only while covered in sunscreen – our sun here is very harsh).

If you’re a local, we’d also recommend taking boogie boards, kayaks or a ball to kick around. If not, you can pick up some fun (and affordable) summer gear from places like the Warehouse. Alternatively, make friends with a friendly local on the beach and you never know your luck.

Keep your eyes peeled for locals standing out in the shallows too… if they’re digging their toes into the sand, they might just be looking for pipi.

If you spot people (like the photo below), ask them for tips and follow suit. You might just catch yourself a yummy seafood dinner.

Lots of people collecting pipi on Papamoa Beach on the 25th of December.
Why not head out and collect some pipi on the 25th of December? Photo: Kylie Greig, NZTT member.

2. … Or a Garden, River, Lake, Waterfall, Volcano, mountain, Regional Park or National Park

If you like the sound of spending the day in the sunshine but have a beach nearby, you’ve still got plenty of options across the country.

Blessed with stunning rivers, lakes, waterfalls, mountains and more, wherever you are, you’re likely to have a scenic spot close to hand.

Somone jumping off the wharf at Bobs Cove in Queenstown while others watch. The water is a beautiful blue colour.
Bobs Cove in Queenstown – what a place to spend an NZ Christmas! Photo: Jo Harvey, NZTT member.

In Auckland, we particularly love Duder Regional Park (and the drive around the Pōhutukawa Coast, including a visit to Maraetai Beach) and the lovely views from Mt Eden (one of Auckland’s many volcanoes).

You’ll find regional parks, botanic gardens, national parks and stunning sights all around the country though!

A couple standing in front of McLaren Falls in Tauranga.
Two visitors enjoy McLaren Falls, just outside of Tauranga, on Christmas day. Photo: Marne McCann, NZTT member.

3. Enjoy a Meal at a Restaurant

Though most restaurants will be closed on Christmas Day, some remain open. These are most likely to be hotel-based restaurants and those in popular tourist centres (like Auckland, Rotorua, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown).

Restaurants that are open are most likely to serve a set menu or buffet on Christmas Day, and prices are likely to be higher than normal to cover the additional cost of staff and festive fare.

To get you started, here are some (but not all) of the restaurants likely to serve guests on Christmas Day 2023.

Restaurants likely to be open on Christmas Day in Auckland

  • FISH, Hilton Auckland
  • Esther, QT Auckland
  • Cooke’s Restaurant, Fable Auckland
  • La Marée, Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour Hotel
  • Onemata, The Park Hyatt Auckland
  • The Sugar Club, SkyCity
  • BODA, Mövenpick Hotel Auckland
  • Grand Harbour yum cha
  • Mudbrick, Waiheke

Options to dine in Rotorua

  • Peppers On The Point Lake Rotorua
  • Atlas Restaurant, Novotel Rotorua Lakeside
  • Chapman’s Restaurant, Rydges Rotorua
  • Pātaka Kai, Te Puia
  • Stratosfare Restaurant & Bar, Skyline (with amazing views)

Wellington Christmas-friendly options

  • Logan Brown Restaurant
  • Artisan, Bolton Hotel

Restaurants likely to be open in Christchurch for Christmas

  • Garden Court Brasserie, Chateau on the Park (by DoubleTree by Hilton)
  • Eliza’s Manor
  • Union Fare Eatery
  • Pedros House of Lamb (take-away only)

Queenstown dining likely open on the 25th

  • The Grille, Eichardt’s
  • Pier
  • Boardwalk Queenstown
  • Wakatipu Grill, Hilton Queenstown
  • Stacks Pub, Hilton Queenstown

Or, if you’re looking for something easy (that doesn’t need to be booked in advance), most takeaway chains, including McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut and Domino’s, have stores open. Particularly in main centres and busy transport links.

Whatever you choose, kick back and relax while someone else does the hard work. What a great way to see the year out!

Pro Tip: If you plan on dining out on the 25th of December, be sure to book well in advance. Many of these restaurants will be sold out months and months in advance.

Many of the restaurants/hotels that offer Christmas dinner book out months in advance (I know, because I tried to book several in Christchurch a month ago, and none had availability).

Terri Hygate, NZTT member

4. Spend the Holiday Season on a Hiking Trail

New Zealand is home to world-class hiking (or tramping, as we say here). Given our amazing scenery, this is barely surprising.

If you enjoy spending time in nature, a day or two on the trail over the Christmas period could be just the ticket to festive fulfilment.

Choose from memorable day walks that don’t require booking (like the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook, or Roys Peak in Wānaka), or multi-day tramps.

The first terminal lake on the Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook National Park. Mountains behind a lake that flows into a beautiful rocky river.
The Hooker Valley Track in all its glory on Christmas day. Photo: Summer Gallant, NZTT member.

Many lesser-known multi-day walks do not require advance booking, instead operating on a first-in, first-served basis.

However, if you plan to take on a Great Walk over a number of days, you’ll need to be well-prepared. These famous tracks require walkers to secure their huts/campsites in advance, paying a reasonable fee for the privilege. Bookings normally open in May, but unused spots are put back into the system periodically so it’s worth keeping an eye out, even if you miss out initially.

If you like the sound of a multi-day walk, learn more about booking and completing a Great Walk.

Or if you’d rather, there is no cost to enjoy part of a Great Walk as long as you just make it a day trip.

Though these walks are considered the pinnacle of NZ’s multi-day tramps, we have so, so many worthwhile walks.

5. Volunteer and Help Make Someone’s Christmas Magical

Seeing the joy that Christmas brings out in others is a real highlight for many during the festive season, so why not help make someone’s day extra magical?

By volunteering at a local community centre or homeless shelter, you’ll help ensure someone has Christmas kai and company.

Many people in New Zealand report feeling lonely and struggling financially, so this is an amazing way to make a difference in someone’s life.

We really can’t think of a more rewarding way to give back to the community.

Pro Tip: If you’re keen to volunteer your time, ensure you get in touch with a local centre in advance.

6. Spend Christmas Under Canvas

As Christmas down under falls in the middle of summer, many people choose to go camping.

Whether you choose to stay in a tent, campervan or caravan, camping can be a great way to disconnect from the stress of life and reconnect with nature and loved ones.

And at Christmas time, there’s an extra special buzz around the campsite!

Campervans, caravans and tents set up beside the beach in New Zealand.
camping holiday in new zealand

Some spend just a few days away but many opt to combine Christmas and Boxing Day with New Year’s Eve/Day, allowing them to set up once and really enjoy the break.

Whatever you do, be sure to book well in advance (unless you’re planning to freedom camp, then pre-booking is seldom possible) as camping sites are always in high demand.

7. Visit a Popular Tourist Attraction

Though much of New Zealand closes on Christmas day, some key tourist attractions remain open to cater to visitors.

If you find yourself in one of our most tourist-friendly cities, you may well be in luck!

The Skyline gondola, luge and restaurant remain open on Christmas day (and is found in both Rotorua and Queenstown)

We’ve just had a buffet Christmas lunch at Skyline Queenstown, followed by luge rides. It was awesome and so nice to let someone serve me Christmas lunch with no cleanup!!

Skye Fairney, NZTT member

Talking about Rotorua, you’ll find Wai-o-Tapu (a geothermal park), Polynesian Spa [discounted], Paradise Valley Springs and the National Kiwi Hatchery Aotearoa open for Christmas.

A brown and tan goat wearing Christmas decorations at Paradise Valley Springs.
Even the animals celebrate Christmas at Paradise Valley Springs. Join them on Christmas Day to see the residents get their gifts. Photo: Paradise Valley Springs.

In Queenstown, some day tours also run, so it’s possible to join a group heading to the likes of Milford Sound.

In Auckland, you’ve got SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium, Auckland Botanic Gardens and the Sky Tower. Plus the ferries to Waiheke Island run, so popping over to this island paradise is a real option.

Other popular tourist activities are open around the country (in limited numbers), so be sure to keep an eye out ahead of your visit to plan accordingly.

A lot of fish swimming in an aquarium in Auckland, New Zealand.
SEA LIFE, in Auckland, is a popular choice for families travelling on Christmas Day. Photo: SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium.

8. Continue on Your Road Trip

Though it mightn’t be the first thing to come to mind, Christmas Day is actually a great day to spend on the road (or on the train or ferry).

As most locals will be celebrating at home or at a nearby park or beach, the roads are nice and quiet – especially when you consider the few days before and after!

If you don’t have other plans, the 25th of December is a great day to continue your road trip. You’ll cover plenty of ground in less time, and still have the opportunity to stop off along the way.

Just remember to stock up on picnic supplies the day before, or be willing to tuck into takeaways or petrol station meals.

A car driving on a road in New Zealand, past a kiwi road sign.

9. Connect with Others through NZTT and Have a Kiwi Chrissy

Whether you’re keen to experience a true-blue New Zealand Christmas, or you’d just like some company, you’re welcome to connect with others in the New Zealand Travel Tips Facebook community.

In the past, we’ve had members offer up their homes to travellers. We’ve also had travellers looking to connect with other travellers on the road.

Whatever you prefer, you’re more than welcome to reach out to others in our community – you never know, you might just make friends for life!

A family that lives in New Zealand celebrating Christmas at the beach in the South Island.
How would you like to join a wonderful whānau to celebrate next Christmas? Photo: Veena Somani Rhodes, NZTT member.

10. Head Along to a Christmas Service

With so much fun and festivity going on, it’s important not to forget the true meaning of Christmas for Christians.

Many churches open their doors for Christmas service (on both Christmas Eve and Day). Some also run Christmas carol services.

If you are interested in attending, you’re sure to find a local church that will welcome you with open arms, helping you to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

11. Cook Up a Kiwi-Inspired Festive Feast

Kiwi love their food – especially on Christmas Day!

If you have access to a kitchen in your motel, hostel, campsite or campervan, why not cook your own NZ-inspired festive feast?

Common cuisines served in New Zealand at Christmas time include ham, lamb, seafood, potato salad, green salad, pavlova and brandy snaps.

You’ll need to consider your cooking facilities (and abilities) when planning out your menu, but even if you keep it simple, we think it’s fun to incorporate some kiwi favourites if you can.

Just be sure to hit the supermarket, local butcher and/or fruit and veggie shop no later than the 24th of December as they’ll be closed on Christmas Day.

If you forget something or need a little top-up, petrol stations are open on the 25th and carry basic supplies.

12. Enjoy a Christmas Movie Marathon

If all of the other ideas sound a bit much for you, we’ve saved the most relaxed option until last…

All of your most popular streaming services should work in New Zealand (though some titles may be different), so bring up Netflix, Prime Video or Disney+ and settle in for a day of Christmas movies!

Our favourites include:

  • Klaus
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Die Hard
  • Home Alone (1 and 2)
  • Edward Scissorhands
  • Gremlins
  • Elf
  • Love Actually
  • Last Christmas

As this ranked list of Christmas movies will attest, there are so many to choose from. You’re sure to find something you like.

A Christmas tree on a TV and a person holding a TV remote.
Blob out with a great Christmas movie (or five!)

New Zealand is an amazing place to spend Christmas.

Though an antipodean holiday might feel different to what you’re used to, with these suggestions you’re sure to have a day to remember.

As we say in New Zealand, Meri Kirihimete!

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