Toward the end of his life, New Zealand composer Jack Body's thoughts were not solely on his battle against cancer. He wanted to ensure the world would get to hear his final composition, Passio.

Now as Carla van Zon, prepares to stage her final arts festival, she's fulfilled her friend's wish. While Passio was performed in Wellington, thanks to help from a number of local composers van Zon has been able to include it on the Auckland Arts Festival's 2017 programme.

Van Zon, artistic director of the Auckland Arts Festival since 2011, retires after the 2017 event and says ensuring audiences get to hear Passio was important for her to do. Featuring 46 brass instrumentalists, it will be performed by Auckland Chamber Orchestra and Voices NZ Chamber Choir and is one of the largest musical events planned for next summer's festival.

Carla van Zon.
Carla van Zon.

Spectacular as Passio promises to be, it is far from the only large-scale performance or exhibition planned for AAF 2017. Released this week, the programme is packed with great and grand concerts, stage shows, outdoor events and stunning exhibitions.

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"I always think about the people of Auckland when I am planning a festival and what we can bring that is new and tempting enough to encourage them to try something different," says van Zon, who oversaw the move to make the festival annual.

"I look for work, both from New Zealand and around the world that reflects this place and all who live here."

Last year, some 166,000 attended an AAF event. Those lucky enough to have a sneak look at the 2017 programme have described it as one of the most accessible ever, combining the contemporary and traditional and offering the chance to see a variety of work.

So what can we look forward to? While it's all in the programme, here's our categories and picks for making the most of the biggest arts event in Auckland.

Armchair travelers:
•The Encounter: new-to-the-New Zealand-stage technology is used to take audiences to the Brazilian Amazon in 1969, where National Geographic photographer and explorer Loren McIntyre finds himself lost in the jungle. Based on a true story and so realistic you can almost feel the heat and humidity.

•Rice: One of Asia's leading contemporary dance companies, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, pays homage to rice on a stage where two-years worth of footage from actual rice paddies forms an immersive backdrop that will make you feel you're actually planting and harvesting the grain.

The Bone Feeder.
The Bone Feeder.

•The Bone Feeder: It's a new home-grown opera performed in three languages with Western, Maori and Chinese instruments. Why include it under armchair travel? Because it will take you back to 1902 and one of the most moving stories in our history as it explores the meanings and mysteries of home and belonging. Composer Gareth Farr, playwright Renee Liang, director Sara Brodie and conductor Peter Scholes are the masterful creative team behind it.

Curious kids:
•Power Plant: a nocturnal bushwalk through the Auckland Domain, where critically-acclaimed artists, including our own Phil Dadson, create dazzling light and sound installations. Art meets nature as you encounter gramophones that spin, haunting whistles that rise and fall from trees and shimmering flowers that dance to their own tune.

•Lost at Sea: based on the true story of 28,8000 bath toys that accidentally ended up flung into the Pacific Ocean, Scotland's Catherine Wheels theatre company returns to Auckland to uncover the mysteries of the sea.

Cirque Eloize's.
Cirque Eloize's.

•iD: Cirque Eloize transforms the Civic Theatre into an urban streetscape where 15 performers juggle, spin, skate, bike, balance, contort and fly their way through a jaw-dropping parade of tricks. Should probably come with a "don't try this at home" warning.

Date Night:
•Natalie Osipova & Guests: The world's greatest ballerina comes to Auckland accompanied by Sergei Polunin, dubbed the "James Dean" of the ballet world, for a triple bill choreographed by superstars of the dance world.

•La Soiree: The best of former La Clique stars - Miss Behave, Ursula Martinez, Frisky, The English Gents, Mario - Queen of the Circus - perform delicious, deviant and delirious cabaret, circus and contemporary burlesque.

•Prima Donna and selections from Rufus does Judy: Award-winning composer-performer Rufus Wainwright creates musical alchemy with opera and orchestra, big bands and show tunes. Established NZ opera star Madeleine Pierard stars alongside talented newcomers Cameron Barclay and Madison Nonoa.

•Horror: Guaranteed to get your loved one to hold your hand, this razor-sharp live show pays homage to horror movies. Expect spine-chilling visuals, arterial splatter and genuine jump-out-of-your-seat moments from The Netherlands most visceral theatre-makers.

•Peter Gynt: Banished for seducing a bride of her wedding day, the bad-boy of playwright Isben's 1867 play wanders the world from Arabia to America in search of love, fame and fortune. Re-imagined by Auckland Theatre Company and Eli Kent to celebrate a lust for life.

Home-grown:
•Cellfish and The Biggest: Two hard-case comedies written and performed by stars of our stage and screen, guaranteed to make laugh even when you think you shouldn't.

•Awa: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and Atamira Dance Company join forces once again on a new work which utilizes the talents of rising young singing and dancing stars. This time, they're exploring NZ's sacred Tongariro River and China's Huang He (Yellow) River.

•Whanui: You can't get more home-grown than in your own neighbourhood and, in 2017, established artists and creative communities to present Bollywood karaoke in Sandringham; large-scale korowai (cloaks) in Glen Innes, Pasifika theatre in Mangere and grassroots MC-ing in Central Auckland.

Music lovers:
•Mexrrissey: Who knew Indie rocker Morrissey was big in Mexico? A seven-piece group of Mexican musicians come to Auckland to honour the Smiths iconic frontman.

•Respect and Revolutions: Two world premieres made right here span genres and generations to ask what have music and musicians added to poetry and politics of years gone by.

Afghan Girl. Photo / National Geographic
Afghan Girl. Photo / National Geographic

Seeing is believing:

•Picturing Asia: Brian Brake and Steve McCurry are known and noted for documentary photography of Asia. McCurry, famous for his photo of Sharbut Gula, Afghan Girl, was inspired by Brake, a former Titirangi resident. Photos by both feature in this exhibit at Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery, which asks how do you get someone to stop and really look at a photo?

•Transit: Using the kind of steel tubing you find as barriers and handrails in train stations and airports around the world, Yona Lee creates a vast, entangled structure big enough to walk through and sit in. You'll find it at Pakuranga's Te Tuhi Gallery.