Stocked up with Santa hats, blankets and hot chocolates, we brave the wet weather for a Christmas Lights tour of Auckland.
Our first stop is 25 Prospect Terrace, Pukekohe. It's billed as "The Christmas Lights House", so we have high expectations. We arrive in a quiet suburban street to find a small house swamped by hundreds of fairy lights placed in every position, as well as Christmas motifs in front of net curtains. A man on a ladder smiles and waves, as I worry about his electricity bill.
After such a long drive, we're a bit disappointed, but it may be more worthwhile now with a live Santa onsite, a coffee van and a Find the Peg competition up and running. Hopefully, a few more people in the street will get behind this household's efforts and join them in raising money for the Pukekohe Fire Brigade to create more impact.
Kids bounce back easily and soon they spot a huge blow-up Santa at 1 Blair Ave, Pukekohe. We do a u-turn and head towards the house to watch Santa skiing on the chimney roof, before heading back to town for the crowd-pleasing Franklin Rd lights in the heart of Ponsonby.
First up is a white bungalow with lit-up fairy penguins diving from the roof. It's so simple and whimsical; we're in love with this street from the very first sight. Head down the week before Christmas and you might also get a free lolly from Santa and his elves.
Further along, we spot a lounge window with "such fun" written in neon, as well as giant flashing pohutukawa shapes, advent candles, Santa arriving in a helicopter over a doorway, Santa gnomes, a beautiful mother reindeer and her baby, a Santa train, "happy holidays" written on Santa's backside as his trousers fall down, a corrugated iron nativity scene and one house wrapped in a ribbon with the words: Today is a present.
As we try to concentrate on the road ahead in the pouring rain, people with huge camera lenses rush across our path. As we leave the lights behind, our 5-year-old daughter says: "I think we should live there.
Over on the Shore, we pass by Smales Farm with its advent candles and trees swaying in the wind lit up in every shade of Christmas. Above a concrete slab in the carpark is a star centrepiece, seemingly suspended above us in the dark. It's well worth a look.
We find festive families around the corner in Corunna Way, Milford, with a display of dripping fairy lights startling against the real stars twinkling in the sky behind.
One house even has brightly lit falling stars above their garage to wish upon.
Driving through quaint Mairangi Bay village, we turn right at the red Christmas tree in the window of Sole Sisters, the shoe store. We drive past the colourful baubles contrasting against the white of the tiny Mairangi Bay Presbyterian Church and on towards Honeysuckle Lane, the most apt street name of the night for good cheer.
The road curves around a bend, so many of the lit-up homes come upon you as a surprise.
We see colourful lanterns, flashing deer, dripping fairy lights off terraced balconies, an outdoor flashing Christmas tree frame and a few houses lit up like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.
On Mairangi Bay's Maxwelton Drive, just up from the beach volleyball courts, we spot a blow-up surfing Santa. Back on Beach Rd there's a lit-up nativity scene at the NZ Kwang Lim Methodist Church and pretty lights along the way at selected homes.
Over in Greenhithe, we find one of the best houses of the night - complete with a large lit-up Christmas tree frame, candy canes, half a dozen Santas - including one stuck in the tree and one ice skating - as well as dancing reindeer and plenty of fairy lights. There's also a snow machine at this amazingly festive home. It's just up from Bernard Magnus Lane on Upper Harbour Drive.
We head home happy that we found so many festive folk lighting up Christmas for the community. As we pull into our road with two sleepy children in the back seat, the rain stops. We're left with just the lights of the city down the valley to admire, with memories of the seasonal displays still flashing in our minds.
Light up your world
Other options to try:
• Howick Village is the picture of Christmas with the large pohutukawa on Stockade Hill boasting coloured lights and Santa's Snow Cave, which looks amazing, but, was not open because of the rain on the night we visited. It's open from 8pm-11pm in Picton St, Howick.
• Celebrate the true meaning of Christmas with one of the drive-through nativity plays. The Greenlane Christian Centre is running its play from 7pm-10pm (December 17-22). Groups of eight cars and three trucks (you can sit up on the back of the trucks on hay bales for a better view) take in the show, which runs for about half an hour. On the Shore, try the Northcross Church drive-through with lights, music and a free cafe serving coffee and cake. This one takes about 10 minutes to drive around and there are Christmas carols on the radio to tune the car into. It's on from December 20-24 from 8.30pm-10.30pm (extended to 11pm on Christmas Eve). gcc.org.nz northcross.org.nz
• Glow: Carols by Glowstick is on tomorrow night at Vector Arena. Watch as around 10,000 Aucklanders light up to help the Tear Fund in their work in Sri Lanka to help locals get back on their feet after 30 years of civil war. Vector Arena, 6pm, tickets $6. glow.org.nz
• Motat Nights, Christmas Lights. The Motat village is lit up with 6500 sparkling fairy lights, as well as live entertainment, music, night-time tram rides, Christmas displays and Christmas treats like mulled wine. Tonight and tomorrow, then December 20-24, 8pm-11pm. Entry $2. motat.org.nz
• Head to the entrance of Queen's Wharf today and you'll see a giant bike made up of hundreds of balloons lit up with LED lights. It's in aid of ChildFund's Gifts that Grow, which you can gift to a child in need - choose from gifts such as vege seeds ($5), a share in playground equipment ($7) or an orphan scholarship ($340). There will also be live music, gifts to buy and theatre on the day. childfund.org.nz
• Fratley Ave in Farm Cove, Simon Owen Place in Golflands and Monde Place in East Tamaki/Clover Park are also good bets for Christmas light displays.
• The Bay of Plenty Times has a downloadable Christmas Light Trail featuring areas such as the Kiwi village of Bethlehem, Mt Maunganui and Katikati: bayofplentytimes.co.nz