Pohutukawa on the beach at Cathedral Cove, on the Coromandel Peninsula. Pohutukawa on the beach at Cathedral Cove, on the Coromandel Peninsula. CREDIT: 100% Pure New Zealand
Pohutukawa on the hills above Whangapoua Beach, on the Coromandel Peninsula. Pohutukawa on the hills above Whangapoua Beach, on the Coromandel Peninsula. CREDIT: 100% Pure New Zealand
Pohutukawa flower Pohutukawa flower CREDIT: 100% Pure New Zealand

Red blooms signal New Zealand Christmas

Saturday 19 November 2011, 1:09PM
By 100% Pure New Zealand


Pohutukawa Festival - Coromandel
18 November - 4 December, 2011

When New Zealand’s pohutukawa tree lights up with crimson blooms, Kiwis know that summer’s here and the festive season is just around the corner.

A native of the northern coasts, the prolific red blooms of the pohutukawa and the closedly related rata that inhabits southern coastal regions are an iconic symbol of the Kiwi Christmas and summer holiday memories.

Early European settlers were quick to label the pohutukawa as the New Zealand Christmas tree, and most Kiwis share the memory of summers spent on the beach in the shade of the crimson canopy.

Pohutukawa and rata also hold a prominent place in Maori tradition.

The connection is especiallly vivid on The Coromandel peninsula - a favourite North Island holiday destination - where the arrival of the vibrant pohutukawa blooms is celebrated with an annual festival.

Pohutukawa Festival 2011
The Pohutukawa Festival, which runs for two weeks over the last week of November and the first week of December, is the real beginning of summer on The Coromandel.

With the trees as an ever present backdrop, the celebration covers a wide range of events reflecting the region’s stunning beaches, seafood and artistic community and including art exhibitions, open gardens, concerts, food and wine.

Throughout the festival, Whitianga Glass Bottom Boat Cruises will run Crimson Cruises in Mercury Bay - the best place to view the flowering pohutukawa from the water, and including marine wildlife, and some of the stunning caves and coastal scenery that starred in the Narnia movies.

Money raised during the festival goes to charities including pohutukawa re-planting in the area.

2011 festival highlights

  • Coromandel Dive Festival (18 - 20 November) at Whitianga is a fun filled weekend of dive related activities including underwater photo competitions, dive hunting competitions, treasure hunts, scuba Olympics and a fancy dress party.
  • Pauanui Launch & Wine Trail (19 November) cruises through wine tasting experiences at four waterside properties on the Pauanui Waterways canal system.
  • Sileni Winemakers Dinner (19 November) is a 3-course degustation matched with wines from the Sileni Estate in Hawke’s Bay, and hosted by winemaker Rachel Garnham.
  • Picnic in the Park (19 November) is a fun family day out at Victoria Park, Thames, featuring local music, typical Kiwi picnic fare and traditional family games such as sack races, gumboot throwing competitions, and a tug of war.
  • Soul Sax Plus (20 / 27 November, 4 December) presents a lazy Sunday afternoon at Tairua Landing with live music by local duo Soul Sax Plus playing popular jazz standards, Latin, blues, soul, reggae and originals.
  • Pohutukawa Wearable Art (26 November) at Thames is an evening of artistic spectacle and competition where art and fashion meet.
  • Music Picnic at the Point (3 December) at Pleasant Point Reserve, Pauanui, is a relaxed event that involves family fun, music and water frolics.

Pohutukawa Festival - full programme

Background: Pohutukawa - NZ Christmas tree

The pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) is the best known of New Zealand coastal trees because of its attractive wide-spreading habit and the profusion of red flowers it bears around Christmas time.

Although confined naturally to the Three Kings Islands, the North Island coast down to Eastland, and the shores of lakes on the volcanic central plateau, the tree is widely planted throughout New Zealand.

The pohutukawa can grow to 60ft high and the trunk, which divides, may reach 6ft through at the base. It is an evergreen with long elliptic leaves. Flower buds are whitish before they break and the many stamens, which give the flower its colour, are shades of crimson and red.

The genus Metrosideros contains other outstanding native trees, in particular the northern rata / M. robusta and southern rata / M. umbellata.

The pohutukawa is the subject of the Project Crimson environmental programme which is dedicated to the protection and enhancement of New Zealand’s pohutukawa and rata trees.

Project Crimson supports active campaigns around planting and protection, and public awareness work to highlight the ecological, cultural, historic and aesthetic value of these trees to New Zealand.