Story: Holidays

Page 7. Holiday activities

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Relaxation, having fun and taking a break from the routines of everyday life are important aspects of holidays for most people.

I see the sea!

Often families have traditions which help to generate a holiday feeling. During the drive over hills towards Waihī Beach, some have a competition to see who in the car can be first to spot a glimpse of blue ocean.

Active pursuits

For many New Zealanders sports are an integral part of a holiday – and for those going on a climbing or cycling holiday, for example, they are the central focus. At the beach activities can include swimming, surfing, waterskiing, windsurfing and boating, or an impromptu game of cricket or rugby on the shore. Other less strenuous pastimes include paddling, beachcombing, fishing and making sandcastles. Essential equipment for family beach holidays includes buckets and spades, boogie boards, Frisbees and beach balls.

Bush walking and tramping are popular in most locations at all times of the year, and winter mountain sports include skiing and snowboarding.


Entertainment has always been provided at the height of the summer season at major beach resorts. Especially since the 1950s this has included beauty contests, sand sculpture contests, treasure hunts and concerts in the ‘Sound Shell’ (an outdoor stage). Dances used to be especially popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Lavish entertainment is often planned for New Year’s Eve.


Sunbathing on the sands – now frowned on because of the risk of melanoma skin cancer – was considered both healthy and relaxing from the 1930s until the 1970s. It was also often a chance to catch up on light reading. As well as developing a tan, people could show off their bodies to attract the attention of other beachgoers. A holiday romance was an ever-present possibility. Lazing around in a hammock or deckchair continues to be an attractive prospect for many.

Holiday style

Holidaying at Piha in the 1960s, teenagers Sabrina and Pamela Hamilton took well-planned wardrobes, bearing in mind the possibility of meeting boys and going to the Surf Club dance on New Year’s Eve. They made bikinis, Bermuda shorts and tops with dangling bobbles at the midriff – the latest fashion.


In the heat of summer, holidaymakers usually don skimpier, more casual clothes than they would for school or work, but this does not mean they do not care how they look. In the 2000s some items of beachwear, especially togs (swimsuits), are designed to be eye-catching, but most people opt for shorts, T-shirts and hats. Jandals, which first appeared in the 1950s, remain popular holiday footwear, along with sandals and trainers.

Food and drink

Because cooking facilities can be primitive at holiday places, food tends to be simple. Gas or charcoal barbecues have now taken the place of campfires and primus stoves. By the sea, freshly caught fish, shellfish, kina and crayfish may figure on the menu, while those taking holidays beside a river or lake may be lucky enough to dine on trout. Salads, sandwiches, cold cuts of meat and takeaways make life easy, and cold beer and wine feature in many a summer feast.


In New Zealand the early summer weather can be unpredictable, and torrential rain often threatens to spoil a holiday, especially a camping one. A series of bad summers in the early 2000s led to calls by some to shift the traditional January school holiday to February, when the weather was thought to be more settled.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Holidays - Holiday activities', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 7 December 2023)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 5 Sep 2013