On New Year’s Eve at 11 a.m., the supply of craft ale in liquor stores in the popular beach town of Raglan was already a bit exhausted as many New Zealanders prepared to be among the first to say goodbye to a thoroughly unusual year.
With the threat of the pandemic banned from their shores, at least for the time being, New Zealanders have moved closer to Christmas time as usual.
From mid-December onwards, the country gets into a kind of summer daze for weeks as city workers flee to picturesque locations along the coast and countryside. Schools close through February, public radio picks up summer programming – less news, more music, and cricket commentary – and dry cleaners and cafes on Auckland’s busiest streets that are closed for weeks.
On New Year’s Eve, Aucklanders gathered in beachfront areas to watch five-minute midnight fireworks over the harbor. Groups of friends toasted the New Year, which arrived in the east at 6 a.m., with a barbecue in rural vacation homes. And in Gisborne on the east coast, thousands of night owls counted together until 2021 at Rhythm and Vines, what is known as “the first festival in the world to be welcomed in the first sunrise of the new year”.
Masks remained optional throughout and were rarely worn.
To avert the threat of another coronavirus outbreak in the summer months, the New Zealand government has implemented improved Bluetooth-based contact tracing and has made efforts to maintain high levels of hand washing. Ashley Bloomfield, the country’s general manager for health, appeared on a video to cheer the crowd at Rhythm and Vines and other events across New Zealand when he urged them to stand up against Covid-19 over booming, dubstep-influenced beats unite.
The promise of a warm New Zealand summer along with its Covid-free status has lured many New Zealanders home for weeks or months over the Christmas and New Years break.
After Jack Murphy, 33, a Dublin-based advertising planner, was released from mandatory two-week hotel quarantine, he spent the evening with friends from high school in a vacation home in Raglan.
Experiencing the pandemic in Ireland, which will usher in another strict lockdown, made the summer in New Zealand even easier, he said. “It is all the more special how privileged and happy we are to be here and to come home.”