A big part of the Auckland Lantern Festival is the festival experienced as a whole - being surrounded by the lights of all the collective lanterns, the noise from the different stages and performances, and the smells of the cooking from the street stalls.

You'll be experiencing all this this with tens of thousands of fellow Aucklanders around you, sharing in the celebration, strolling through one of Auckland's most stunning heritage parks. It can be intense if you're unused to it, but wonderful to experience once you know what to expect.

1 The twin dragon lanterns on the reflecting pond by the rose garden can't be missed. They look amazing with their articulated heads and reflections, and have been an icon at the festival for some years now. Dragons are the most revered animals in Chinese mythology and are an iconic symbol of China.

We always get a new lantern for the animal of the year, which is a dog this year. We're doing something a bit different with Vector and the focus is on sustainable energy.


2 Don't miss Lao Qiang, the group from Shaanxi, an area famous for the Terracotta Warriors. Lao Qiang music is best described as traditional rock music - really boisterous village folk music, a raucous, rollicking singalong. It is a style many won't have experienced before. Every year our international performances show some of the cultural differences of China's provinces.

3 I'd have to pick tong yuen as my favourite festival food. This Chinese dessert is a sweet syrup with glutinous rice balls which can be filled with things like red bean paste or peanuts. The round shape of the balls symbolises the full, tightly knit family unit - a key part of the Chinese New Year is families coming together. The sweetness of the dish references the sweet life and sweet conversations of the time with family.

A savoury option would have to be pork buns - it's the Chinese pie. Every culture has its pie equivalent, a tasty meat filling in a dough casing, which is easy to eat on the go - in this case as you walk around enjoying the lanterns.

4 For most people, the festival is the only chance in a year to see a Lion Dance live and up close. Lions are an iconic symbol associated with Chinese New Year, and these dances are exciting and colourful, accompanied by live musicians. They are performed at the festival by local Auckland groups, people in the community committed to maintaining these traditions, who put in hours of practice. Some of the more vigorous dances are pretty acrobatic.


Our new Cultural Courtyard brings together demonstrations of age-old arts and crafts, and there's no substitute for seeing a craft that has taken years and years to perfect happening right in front of you. We have two artisans from Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province - one a dough artist and the other a melted sugar artist - whose work will surprise and delight, especially children.


Auckland Lantern Festival, March 1-4, Auckland Domain