I often get asked by friends and family back home if I miss the vibrant culture I experienced when living in London.
There is a common misconception that by moving to a small country on the other side of the world, you give up any chance of finding enlightenment or fun. The idea that Auckland is a backwater where people live a 1950s existence makes me laugh. For my family and I, Auckland really does have it all, with festivals, films, theatres, great cuisine and more on offer throughout the year. There is literally something for everyone.
One of the greatest things about living in New Zealand and particularly Auckland is that people go out of their way to bring entertainment to the city. In fact, there is so much choice, it’s challenging to find the time to head along to everything that’s on offer!
My latest cultural find has been experiencing the delights of Elemental AKL. In its inaugural year, the festival was developed to make Auckland a more vibrant and compelling place to spend time during July (if you didn’t know, it’s winter here in the Southern Hemisphere.)
More than 60 free and ticketed events transformed eateries, bars, theatres, public spaces and galleries across Tāmaki Makaurau, including a captivating line-up of dazzling light shows, delicious culinary events, spectacular cultural performances and uplifting entertainment.
Here are my Elemental AKL highlights:
Ice skating in the Square
Aotea Square, in the central city, housed the Elemental Hub – a festival base camp featuring entertainment, food and unique interactive experiences. As part of the Hub, Auckland's magical winter playground, the Aotea Square Ice Rink and Ice Slide, lit up the Square with icy adventures, themed parties, skating lessons and a hugely popular 35-metre, multi-level ice slide.
This year’s festival coincided with the Māori New Year – Matariki, which was reflected throughout the festival themes, with Elemental AKL co-hosting several events. This included an innovative giant-scale puppet show rich in Māori mythology, a magical illuminated parade and a breath-taking contemporary storytelling experience at the Auckland Concert Chamber.
Lighting up the night sky
Dazzling light shows and installations featured across Auckland’s parks, waterfronts and city streets.
Great Barrier Island hosted a series of fascinating astronomy-themed events and Smales Farm, a next generation business park on Auckland’s North Shore, ran Stellar, a three-day event featuring stunning, innovative and interactive light installations, entertainment, food and music in celebration of Matariki.
In Manukau, Haiku-inspired projections and animations lit up the Civic Square, and an interactive, immersive light playground illuminated the city centre’s Albert Park for the three-day event, Tūrama.
For those living closer to the city centre, Auckland Harbour Bridge was lit up with an innovative light display to celebrate Matariki.
Thought for food
Delicious dining and masterclasses, curated menus, local wine, craft beer festivities and food shows were on the menu for food lovers. The Craft’d Wine + Spirits Festival hosted more than 40 independent and boutique wine and spirits producers, offering masterclass sessions, food trucks, and light entertainment.
Eat Drink Love Ponsonby had a series of special events, masterclasses, workshops, and progressive dinners.
Fans of Frida Kahlo participated in a culinary exploration weaving time, space and place into an exclusive dining experience at one of Auckland’s favourite Mexican restaurants. While Elemental Feast brought together Auckland’s fine dining restaurants, cafés, food trucks, bars and pubs by plating up unique festival dishes using locally sourced ingredients inspired by the elements.
Entertainment and culture aplenty
The festival welcomed Auckland’s smash-hit sensation Pop-up Globe, with its first ever winter season in the unique, newly roofed Shakespearean playhouse.
At Silo Park, there was a parade in honour of Matariki, with a mix of art, sensory installations and live performances. The Civic played host to War Horse, the multi award-winning theatrical event from the National Theatre of Great Britain.
During the month, Māori culture, including performances, theatre, and interactive events were showcased, and Te Taumata Kapa Haka shared the dynamic art form of kapa haka with exhilarating live performances.
Winter fun for everyone
Elemental AKL proved to be an instant success, with visitors and Auckland locals alike. I can’t wait for next year’s programme to be announced so I can start planning.
Liz Price moved to Auckland from London in 2010. She lives on Auckland’s North Shore with her husband Ryan, a builder, and their two young daughters.
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