Thousands are expected to attend the four-day Auckland Lantern Festival in February after it was cancelled for two years in a row because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Organisers of this year's festival, which will be held at the ASB Showgrounds for the first time from February 10 to 13, are promising a very different experience for festival goers - with most of the lantern displays being showcased indoors.
The annual festival, which had previously been held at the Auckland Domain, celebrates Chinese New Year with lantern displays, music, dance, arts, crafts and food. Chinese New Year falls on February 1 this year, and will be the Year of the Tiger.
The free festival is New Zealand's largest cultural festival and more than 100,000 Aucklanders and visitors are expected to attend.
Eric Ngan, event producer, said the showgrounds will provide an opportunity to introduce new highlights and features, as well as having the space and facilities for all the traditional lantern festival favourites.
New at this year's festival includes panels and talks with speakers and panellists from the Asian-NZ creative community, film screenings and an audio-described lantern tour.
More than 800 handmade Chinese lanterns will illuminate the lantern pavilions where visitors can follow an indoor lantern trail to experience stories of the lanterns and Chinese culture in themed and imaginary settings.
"Having the lanterns in the halls mean we don't have to wait for nightfall to illuminate the lanterns," Ngan said.
"It also means we can have longer hours for people to view and enjoy the lanterns."
After a three-year wait, food stall operators are also excited about returning to the festival.
Patrick Leung, 67, whose food truck business Mama's dumplings will be one of 29 stalls selling Chinese and Asian food there.
"The vibe at the lantern festival is always very exciting, we never expected to be waiting three years to return," he said.
The dumplings are made by his wife Lily Wen, 47, and are usually a hot seller because of the significance of eating Chinese dumplings during Chinese New Year.
Dumplings are shaped like ingots, or ancient Chinese money, and people who eat them during the festival are believed to have good wealth headed their way in the coming year.
Wen, originally from Sichuan, said dumplings are her must-have dish to eat on Chinese new year's eve and during Chinese New Year as their tradition.
There will also be 13 stalls selling traditional and contemporary crafts and gifts, and local artisans will demonstrate traditional Chinese calligraphy, kite-making, fan painting, and embroidery, and visitors can solve Chinese riddles.
With borders still closed to most international travellers, the main stage this year will instead feature top NZ-Chinese performers, who will provide entertainment ranging from Chinese folk, opera and orchestra to modern pop, dance and martial arts.
"The festival team is buzzing and can't wait to join the Auckland Chinese community in celebrating the Chinese New Year in spectacular fashion at the Auckland Showgrounds," Auckland Unlimited director of arts, entertainment and events, Richard Clarke.
"So much hard work and mahi has gone into the planning and programming of the event – from all-new lanterns being commissioned to more craft and food stalls and new features including talks and films, group tours, an audio-described tour of the Lantern Pavilion, and extended weekend hours."
An online lantern festival programme on aucklandnz.com will also feature festival videos, Chinese craft and cooking classes, galleries, playlists, and performers.
This year a ticketing system will be used to help with crowd management and contact tracing and demand is expected to be heavy. People are advised to book early and tickets will be available from 9am Monday, January 24 on aucklandnz.com/lantern.