Australia and New Zealand 6 – The best of the rest

The best of the rest (2)

Melbourne Cup

Where? Melbourne, Australia

When? November

How long? 4 days

The highlight of Victoria’s spring racing carnival, the Melbourne Cup is one of the world’s great race meetings, held at Flemington race course (®www.vrc.net.au), just outside Melbourne. The whole of Australia stops to watch the Cup itself, one of the most lavish events in the world, with prize money of around AUS$5 million, and the event is subtitled a “carnival” for good reason: fashion values are high, and people scramble to get trackside to drink champagne, have barbecues and make merry. Not to be missed.

Melbourne International Arts Festival

Where? Melbourne, Australia

When? October

How long? 3 days

First staged in 1986, Melbourne’s annual arts festival (®www.melbournefestival.com.au) is twinned with Spoleto’s in Italy, and like Adelaide, its high culture agenda is leavened by the coexistence of a vibrant fringe event (©www.melbournefringe.com.au), which takes place at roughly the same time.

Moomba Waterfest

Where? Melbourne, Australia

When? March

How long? 3 days

Field every March over the Labour Day weekend, the Moomba Waterfest turns the stereotypical Aussie reputation for making everything a giant piss-up on its head. Driven by civic pride, this fifty-year-oid event is a deliberately wholesome family occasion, and gives Melbourne a chance to show off and prove that it’s the match of its more international rival, Sydney. The key events are the opening night’s huge fireworks display over the Yarra River; the Garden Party at the city’s Treasury Gardens, where you can rock away the afternoon to Aboriginal bands or spend an hour trying to master the intricacies of the didgeridoo at one of the many music workshops; and the parade that passes down Swanston Street on the Monday, in which Melbourne’s iconic trams appear dressed to the nines, and people don budgie suits and giant puppet outfits to stalk passers-by.

Mount Isa Rodeo

Where? Mount Isa, Australia

When? August

How long? 3 days

Australia’s most remote inland city hosts this huge rodeo event every year at the beginning of August (®www. isarodeo.com.au). Attracting competitors from overseas as well as from Australia, the event features a two-day country music festival in addition to the traditional rodeo activities; there’s also a Rodeo Queen Quest and various kitsch cowboy and cowgirl stunts.

New Zealand International Arts Festival

Where? Wellington, New Zealand

When? February/March

How long? 3 weeks

New Zealand’s premier arts festival (®www.nzfestival. telecom.co.nz) showcases theatre, music and dance events at a variety of venues around central Wellington, along with readings by New Zealand writers, and temporary exhibitions of paintings and photographs. A deliberately homegrown event on the whole, there are usually some biggish international talents in attendance too, and a good diversity to the scheduling, with world music and jazz names sitting alongside more local experimental theatre and music productions (a jazz Tristan and Isolde anyone?), and a big free outdoor opener on the first Saturday in Waitangi Park.

Pasifika

Where? Auckland, New Zealand

When? March

How long? 2 days

Auckland’s attempt to celebrate the traditions of the Pacific island communities with which New Zealand historically has such close cultural ties, Pasifika has grown into the region’s largest such event, with representation from Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and the Cook islands, among other others. There are hundreds of stalls selling food, crafts, clothes and ewellery, and lots and lots of live music, with four stages on the Saturday itself hosting everything from Pacific pop to traditional dance and war chants, and a grand opening- night concert kicking things off on the Friday evening.

Queenstown Winter Festival

Where? Queenstown, New Zealand

When? End June

How long? 9 days

This thirty-year-old event makes the most of the things that bring people to Queenstown all year: adventure activities and good nightlife – and oddly enough, it was started originally to perk up what used to be a quiet time of year. Nowadays, Queenstown Winter Festival (®www. winterfestival.co.nz) heralds the start of the town’s important winter season, celebrating its arrival with mountain biking, snowman-making, dog-racing and any number of wacky outdoor events during the day, and winding up at night with music gigs, comedy nights, off-the-wall dinner balls, and big firework displays, which keep the place bubbling all week.

Sydney Festival

Where? Sydney, Australia

When? January

How long? 3 weeks

Sydney Festival (©www.sydneyfestival.org.au) is less highbrow than its counterparts in Melbourne and Adelaide, an eclectic event that makes the most of the city’s great array of locations, with concerts in the Opera House and Hyde Park Barracks and outdoor events in The Domain, in Hyde Park itself and in the park at Darling Harbour.

Wildfoods Festival

Where? Hokitika, New Zealand

When? March

How long? 1 day

Now almost twenty years old, the Wildfoods Festival held in the small town of Hokitika, on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, is one of the country’s biggest annual events, attracting twenty thousand or so people, who come for miles to tuck into all sorts of food they’ve never tried before – larvae, shark’s penis, scorpions and other such gourmet delights. There’s less exotic, but probably more digestible, fare on offer, too, alongside live music and a general ambience of all­round self-indulgence. A good example of a small town deliberately reinventing itself with a slightly bogus theme, but a successful and fun event, nonetheless.

World Buskers Festival

Where? Christchurch, New Zealand

When? January

How long? 10 days

This annual competition aims to find the world’s best street entertainers – and let’s face it, you’ve got to be pretty good (or pretty mad) to make the trip to New Zealand just to strut your stuff. Masters of the arts of unicycling, escapology, comedy, mime and acrobatics battle it out for laughs and applause in parks and street venues around Christchurch to claim the title. The event (©www.worldbuskersfestival.com) takes place during the height of the Kiwi summer, at a time when all sorts of special wine and food promotions are going on in the city – so there’s plenty to keep you entertained.

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