New Zealanders have been celebrating Labour Day since 1890. Back then, when the eight-hour working day was a freshly won marvel, the day off was celebrated with festive parades with a political flavour. There were coloured banners and ornate floats, large crowds and displays of craftsmanship: carpenters would build miniature houses laying the foundations at the start of the parade and roof at the end; bakers would throw buns from large baskets to waiting children.

Historian Mark Derby posits we should really call the holiday “freedom from labour day”, in recognition of what the early settlers fought for.

Paihia is a great three-day break from Auckland. Walk to Haruru Falls from the Waitangi Treaty Grounds while you're there.


Paihia is a great three-day break from Auckland. Walk to Haruru Falls from the Waitangi Treaty Grounds while you’re there.

It was, he says, a great breakthrough. In Britain 12,14 even 18-hour days were common and New Zealand was one of the first countries in the world to legislate shorter working hours.

“That’s something we can feel very proud of.”

These days, people are more likely to celebrate by heading away for the long weekend. As the first holiday since the dreary depths of winter it’s the perfect time to jump-start the good vibes of the summer holiday season.

Whether you’re planning a couple’s retreat, catching up with friends, family fun or looking for thrills – we’ve got destination suggestions. Just make the most of your 72 hours of freedom.

Family Fun: Paihia, Northland

Close enough to Auckland to make a three-day weekend worthwhile, Paihia, in the subtropical north, is a beautiful destination for families. Nature, history, adventure, take your pick or mix it up for a fun filled Labour Weekend. Walking is good and free! Try the Paihia to Opua Coastal Walkway, walk to Haruru Falls from the Waitangi Treaty Grounds keeping an eye out for shags and kingfishers or gaze up at the mighty, ancient kauri trees on the Manginangina Boardwalk in the Puketi Forest.

Kids will love taking the ferry to historic Russell. Picnic on Long Beach, visit Pompallier Mission to check out the working printing press and look for musket ball holes in Christ Church – evidence of the 1845 Battle in Kororareka.

Cycle along the Tasman Great Taste Trail.

Marion van Dijk

Cycle along the Tasman Great Taste Trail.

Waitangi is a must: learn about the Treaty signed in 1840; see the world’s largest ceremonial waka; visit the impressive new Waitangi Museum.

Go fishing. Swim with dolphins. Or visit Action World for some thrills on trapezes and trampolines and if the weather isn’t cooperating make the 30-minute drive to the geothermal pools at Ngawha Springs.

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Family Fun: Nelson, Tasman

Small, charming and located in a stunning part of the country Nelson makes a relaxing city getaway for families.

Explore the town by foot wandering around the shops, including the excellent op shops or visit WOW museum– where entries into the World of WearableArt competition and classic cars coexist.

Sea, surf, bush and a Bohemian atmosphere make Raglan a sweet spot.

Rebekah Parsons-King/Fairfax NZ

Sea, surf, bush and a Bohemian atmosphere make Raglan a sweet spot.

Make the Saturday market a priority – get lunch at one the tasty food stalls, stock up on delicious local produce and peruse the assortment of crafts on display.

Then it’s beach time. Nelson’s main beach Tahunanui is perfect for families: soft sand, blue sea, piles of driftwood for making huts, the mountains in the background. The playground is big and suited to all ages and there’s often a mobile coffee truck parked up. Make sure to spend a morning, afternoon or evening at nearby pint sized Mapua. Quality cafe’s line the peaceful wharf, watch the tide go in and out, skim a few stones, eat fish and chips as the sun goes down or catch the ferry to Rabbit Island and bike part of the Tasman’s Great Taste Trail.

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Just You and Me: Raglan, Waikato

At the end of State Highway 23 where the road meets the Whaingaroa Harbour lies the beachside town of Raglan. Sea, surf, bush and a bohemian atmosphere make this small town (population approximately 3000) a sweet spot in the Waikato for a long weekend with your favourite person. Mooch around town looking at the shops, galleries and cafes on Wainui Road and Bow Street. Stroll along the black sand beach and watch the waves roll in west coast style. Learn to surf or head to Manu Bay to see the pros tackle the legendary long left hand break.

Just out of Raglan is Solscape, offering quirky, up-cycled accommodation which includes train cabooses and earth domes in a tranquil setting. Or you can sign up for yoga classes with a view at the onsite studio.

Just out of Raglan is Solscape offering quirky, up-cycled accommodation.

Rebekah Parsons-King/Fairfax NZ

Just out of Raglan is Solscape offering quirky, up-cycled accommodation.

Walk to the Bridal Veil Falls, a 10-minute drive from Raglan, and see the water drop a stunning 55 metres from different viewing platforms.

Keeping it simple is good. Grab some fish ‘n’ chips right on the wharf in town and watch the fishing boats come and go.

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Have a drink at the Library Bar in Wellington.

Chris Skelton/Fairfax NZ

Have a drink at the Library Bar in Wellington.

Away with Friends

City Culture: Wellington

“Oh I wish was in Wellington, ’cause then I’d be with you”, sang the Mutton Birds. Okay it’s really a love song but it works for friends too. Vibrant, compact and cultured Wellington is a fun urban destination for friends wanting to catch up and unwind over a long weekend. And it has the added bonus of a having a historical connection to Labour Day – Samuel Parnell, a carpenter credited with establishing the culture of the eight-hour working day, was a Wellingtonian. In 1840 he famously accepted his first job in Aotearoa on the condition that he only work eight hours – and then went on to tell all arriving workers that this was how things were done in the new country and rallied their support.

If it’s more history you’re after then Te Papa Tongarewa, our national museum is a good start. Check out the newly refreshed Nga Toi national art collection, or gaze out the windows at the harbour. There’s nothing like the capital on a fine day and if Labour Weekend grants you sunshine walk, run or bike around the waterfront, a true tribute to carefully planned, people friendly urban design, the kind of thing that made Lonely Planet call Wellington “the coolest little capital in the world”.

Having a harbour view from your lodgings is a bonus. Try QT Museum Wellington (formerly Museum Art Hotel), CityLife from Heritage Hotels for a central location, or the boutique ohtel on Oriental Parade with its mid-century aesthetic.

Shop, shop, shop: choose from designer; vintage; music; gifts; the varied boutiques on Cuba St. Then eat, eat, eat. Wellington is often referred to as New Zealand’s culinary capital: enjoy dining at classic Italian bistro Capital; recently opened Shepherd; all those cafes; or have a drink at the book-filled Library Bar.

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The Great Outdoors: Kaikoura, Canterbury

The famous Nins Bin in Kaikoura Coast.

Derek Flynn/Fairfax NZ

The famous Nins Bin in Kaikoura Coast.

Sparkling sea on one side, mountains on the other and a rugged rocky coastline between – Kaikoura is a choice setting for a three-day weekend with your mates. Kai means food and koura means crayfish hinting at the abundance of marine life along the small town’s coast. Fish off the wharf or a charter boat and if that doesn’t work out, feast on someone else’s hard work. Nins Bin, housed in a classic caravan 20 minutes north of Kaikoura, enjoys an almost cult status, thanks to its fresh cray and mussels,and sea view,  and has been in business since the mid-70s.

At Waikoura Springs you can see a working fresh water crayfish farm in action. The huge sperm whales that grace the Kaikoura coast, flukes visible against a mountain backdrop, are synonymous with the town. See them by boat or air. Swim with dolphins or seals. Explore under the water with a snorkelling tour or scuba dive. Kayak or walk around the ruggedly beautiful peninsula, keeping an eye out for seals and the tide if you’re on foot. Climb the seaward Kaikoura Ranges and marvel at the view.

Or hang out in town, taking in the view and getting a history hit at the museum or explore Kaikoura’s whaling past at Fyffe House.

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Adventurous at Heart: Arrowtown, Queenstown District

Historic Arrowtown, 20km from Queenstown, makes the perfect base for an epic Labour Weekend – indulge in all the adrenaline the wider district offers before retreating to the tranquil village to recuperate.

All adventures need a good breakfast so start the weekend at one of Arrowtown’s eateries. The hearty brunches at The Chop Shop Food Merchants have been generating buzz.

Keeping it local, The Queenstown Trail – a 120km walking and biking track traversing private land through stunning scenery including three iconic rivers and two lakes – is accessible from Arrowtown. Plan your own route or book a tour.

The famous Kawarau Suspension Bridge, home to 43m Kawarau Bridge Bungy is only 10 minutes drive away or book a quad bike tour along the Arrow River.

Otherwise there’s enough blood-pumping adventures within easy travelling distance: jet boating; rafting; skydiving; heli tours. For something different, glide through the trees on a kind of extreme flying fox with Ziptrek Ecotours or take a ride on a Seabreacher x watercraft run by A Hydro Attack – it’s a shark-shaped fully submersible “boat” that dives under, leaps out of, and skims across the top of Lake Wakatipu (Google it to believe it).