Aotearoa New Zealand is a nation that embraces a wide variety of musical genres.
New Zealand Music Month is celebrated in May, but anytime is a good time to check out the country’s diverse music scene. From jazz and grunge, to classical and some unique Kiwi sounds, there’s always something amazing being played somewhere. Here’s a music lover’s guide to visiting New Zealand.
1. Enjoy some homegrown tunes in Wellington
This small nation has produced some astounding musical artists, including Lorde, Crowded House, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Split Enz and Kimbra, who have all found international success. Well-known local artists such as Six60, Dave Dobbyn, Bic Runga, Stan Walker, Maisey Rika, and Tiki Taane also have no problem packing in the crowds. The Homegrown festival is the ultimate one-stop shop for the best of Kiwi music. It takes place in March. From humble beginnings in 2008, this event has grown in popularity. Sell-out crowds enjoy music across several stages on Wellington’s waterfront. Book your stay at Quality Hotel The Angus.
2. Uncover Auckland’s underground music scene
Auckland is home to the best of the country’s underground music scene. Many successful artists have begun their careers here in one of the many notable venues around the city. The Powerstation is cosy and intimate, and attracts both local and international artists. There are several live performances each week, and you can purchase tickets online or at the door (although shows often sell out, so it’s best to book).
Galatos is where it all began for Lorde. This venue has been around for a long time and is a stalwart on the Auckland live music scene. There are several shows a month. The Wine Cellar is a dimly lit underground bar which not only hosts great live music, but also offers a fabulous craft beer and wine list. Metal, rock and indie music fans should make their way to the Whammy Bar – another very cool underground venue. This bar is popular with locals and a worthy option for a top night out. Book direct and get the best value at one of these accommodation options in Auckland.
3. Check out Christchurch’s diverse live music scene
Christchurch attracts a wide variety of local and international acts across a number of outstanding music venues. Darkroom was the first dedicated live music venue to open after the devastating earthquake of 2011. Enjoy free entry and a great line-up of acts from Thursday to Saturday. The historic Isaac Theatre Royal underwent four years of painstaking restoration and now hosts music recitals and concerts. It seats 1,300 patrons over three levels. The iconic Christchurch Town Hall re-opened in early 2019 with a concert by well known local band Shapeshifter, who performed with the sublime Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.
4. Experience Māori musical culture
Kapa Haka is the heart of Māori music and performance, and seeing it is an extraordinary cultural experience. From waiata (songs) to haka (dance), these performances are often held on a marae (communal meeting place). You can also see performances at cultural attractions and special events. The biggest event is the biennial Te Matatini festival, where the best of the best gather to perform over a multi-day event. In alternate years, you’ll find these groups performing in regional competitions to qualify for the privilege of performing at Te Matatini. The next Te Matatini will be hosted by Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) in 2021.
5. Get classical with orchestral and chamber music
A night with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) is an incredible experience. One of the world’s oldest national orchestras, the NZSO has a respected international reputation and was nominated for the Best Orchestral Performance at the Grammy Awards in 2016. The NZSO has a jam-packed calendar and performs more than 100 concerts a year in some splendid venues. The New Zealand chamber music scene also has oodles to offer. Chamber Music New Zealand stages and promotes performances by local and international ensembles throughout the year.
6. Seek out the smooth sounds of jazz
New Zealand loves its jazz, and you’ll find performances on offer everywhere from city bars to big festival events. Here are two great festivals that are well worth attending.
National Jazz Festival – Hosted in the city of Tauranga over the Easter weekend, this is one of the oldest jazz festivals in the world – and the longest running in the Southern Hemisphere. Having celebrated its 50th anniversary back in 2012, it draws performers and jazz fans from all over.
Wellington Jazz Festival – This mid-winter festival is a highlight on Wellington’s annual calendar. With over 100 gigs staged across the city in streets, cafes, bars and music venues, the capital truly comes alive with music.
7. Go to a festival
Festivals are a major part of New Zealand’s music scene and attract a wide variety of ages. Here are some of the key events to look out for.
Rhythm and Vines (Gisborne) and Rhythm and Alps (Wanaka) – These three-day camping festivals are held at New Year and attract mostly young party-goers from all over the country. Rhythm and Vines has been going strong for over 15 years, and brings in a star-studded international line-up. Gisborne is the first city in the world to see each new day, so it’s the perfect place to welcome in the new year with friends and some festival fun. Rhythm and Alps is the sister festival to Rhythm and Vines, and has been running for eight years. Held in the Cardrona Valley, just out of Wanaka, the festival attracts upwards of 10,000 people and more than 50 local and international acts.
Bay Dreams North and South – These strictly R18 music festivals take place at the beginning of January. The North event is hosted at Mount Maunganui, and the South event in Nelson. Bay Dreams North began in 2016 and now attracts crowds of 30,000+. Bay Dreams South kicked off in 2019 with 20,000 music fans in attendance. These events are expected to get bigger and better each year.
WOMAD (World Of Music, Arts and Dance) – WOMAD festivals are held in several countries, and New Zealand has been hosting one since 2005. Held in New Plymouth during the month of March, WOMAD offers a diverse programme of music, staged over three days. This festival is perfect for all ages, and includes an over 65s’ viewing platform and a kids’ zone.
About the writer
Hailing from Aotearoa New Zealand, Karllie Clifton is an avid midlife traveller and blogger who loves an adventure. In the past few years alone, Karllie has visited over twenty countries and ticked off over more than 50 cities across three continents. She loves the great outdoors – especially hiking and anything to do with the ocean.