With so much festive entertainment on in the Auckland region over the next few weeks, we've done the research for you and come up with a dozen cool festive must-dos to complete your Christmas countdown. (This list has been updated on December 15)
1. CHRISTMAS AT AUCKLAND ZOO
The Auckland Zoo is hosting Christmas activities from 9.30am until 5.30pm until this Sunday.
As well as the regular stars on display- the animals - they're running a 12 Days of Christmas puzzle trail. Much more fun than traipsing through an over-crowded, overheated shopping mall, families take a leisurely stroll around the zoo to find letters to crack a code. Zookeepers will say a special hello for Christmas, and there will be Christmas-themed animal encounters. Santa will also make an appearance during a special interactive show at 10.30am, 11.30am and 1.30pm daily.
Plus you can get the Christmas photos over and done with, with a family photo from QuikPix while you are there.
The puzzle trail map and family photo is free for Friends of the Zoo, and $5 for non FOTZ visitors (plus regular zoo admission price).
WHAT: Christmas at Auckland Zoo
WHEN: December 14-18, 9.30am-5.30pm
2. END OF THE GOLDEN WEATHER
Head out to Takapuna Beach Reserve on Christmas Day to watch a live scene from the Kiwi classic End of the Golden Weather, in a free performance.
"People love it; some come from as far as Waiheke to attend," says event organiser and playwright, Roger Hall.
"One of the great pleasures I get is seeing people meet old friends, they arrive early and catch up with each other and exchange Christmas greetings."
End of the Golden Weather is set at Te Parenga beach in the 1930s, where two boys experience the excitement of Christmas Day. It explores the exhilaration and apprehension as they wait for the day, the church service, present-giving and Christmas dinner.
Mr Hall says the performance is a fitting commemoration to the play's author, Bruce Mason, who grew up in the area.
Actor Stephen Lovatt will again perform the narrative piece solo, his sixth year of doing so. Donations can be made at the event and gifted to Mr Lovatt's charity of choice, Oxfam.
If weather is poor, the scene will be performed in the nearby War Memorial community hall on The Strand, near the Takapuna Library.
When: 10am, Christmas Day. Takapuna Beach Reserve.
3. FAIR TRADE GIFTS
The Save the Children store at 359 Remuera Rd has been there for more than 30 years, but its newer, improved store is celebrating its first Christmas. Store manager Ann-Marie Hoekstra says it has a lot of new items that would appeal to younger customers.
"We've got a whole range of products, from sock monkeys to teas to candles and baby clothes, all sourced in New Zealand," she says.
Everything sold in the shop is also either Fair Trade, environmentally friendly or organically grown - or all three. "Not only are you buying local products, you are helping save children all over the world," she says.
4. GIFTS THAT GROW
Here's an interesting gift to give - buy a live animal for a family in need overseas. Aucklanders have given around 20,000 farm animals to poor people by buying a ChildFund gift card.
All you do is choose the animal you want to buy, and give the gift card for that animal to a like-minded friend.
ChildFund then buys and delivers the animal to a third world family in need wherever their organisation can reach.
For example, goats are in big demand for their milk. In a pilot project buying goats for one region, child malnutrition dropped from 20 per cent to zero in two years.
Aucklanders can buy a pair of goats for a family scraping a living in a third world country for just $67.
Purchasers receive a special gift card explaining the gift and how it will benefit the recipient.
To order ChildFund Gifts That Grow, see: www.childfund.org.nz or call 0800 223 111.
5. SANTA CLAUS SHOW
This show is celebrating its 10th year, but writer and director Tim Bray says the play never gets old.
"We are always amazed we find new things in the play that we've never seen before. Even in the character of Santa himself," says Mr Bray. "That's why we love doing it. It's got a nice heart. It's very joyous."
The Santa Claus Show tells the story of a young girl, Kelly, who has written the longest Christmas wish-list Santa has ever seen. So the cheery gent flies Kelly to the North Pole so she can learn for herself the true meaning of Christmas. "It's about that intangible specialness of the season," says Mr Bray.
When and where: The PumpHouse, Takapuna from Mon Dec 5 to Fri Dec 23. Shows: 10.30am and 1pm daily except Sundays.
How much: $15.50-$21. Book by phoning (09) 489 8360 or on the Web: www.pumphouse.co.nz or www.timbrayproductions.co.nz Group, school and pre-school concessions available.
6. CAROLS, CAROLS, MORE CAROLS
There is nothing like Christmas Carols to put you in the holiday mood. There will be a carol-singing gathering in the park nearest you, although some communities have already held theirs. Here's a selection:
Carols by the Sea, Dec 14, 6.30pm-8:30pm at the Maraetai Beach Park.
Waiuku Community Carols, Dec 17, 7-8.30pm, at Tamakae Reserve.
Carols by Candlelight, December 18 from 8pm-10.00pm at the Stockade Hill in Howick.
Carols at the Falls, December 10, from 4pm-9pm, at the Falls Park in Henderson.
Avondale Carols by Spiderlight, December 11 at the Town Square from 7pm-9pm.
Waiheke by the Sea, December 10, 6-8pm at the Little Oneroa Reserve.
Carols on the Green at Vellenoweth Green in St Heliers, December 11.
Balmoral Carols by Candlelight, Potters Park in Mt Eden, 7pm-9pm on December 18.
Carols on the Green, Browns Bay Village Green on December 9, 7pm-9.30pm.
Carols by Candlelight, Marlborough Park in Glenfield on December 11 from 7.30pm-9.30pm.
Carols in the Park, Windsor Reserve in Devonport on the 16th from 7pm-9pm.
Carols by Candlelight, December 18, Little Shoal Reserve from 8pm-9.30pm.
Greenhithe Community Carols, December 18 Greenhithe School Hall, 6pm-8pm.
Carols in the Park in Orewa, December 18 Main Orewa Reserve near surf club, from 5pm. With fireworks.
7. FESTIVE FARMERS' MARKETS
Auckland is teeming with arts and crafts as well as farmers markets, like the Birkenhead Artisan Market. It's doing a special Christmas market on December 17 from 9am to 1pm.
The market carries artisan and organic foodstuffs from New Zealand producers as well as homewares, art, jewellery and ceramics from around the world.
Organisers promise the products sold there are are not widely sold throughout New Zealand and some are sold only at this market.
If you want fresh produce for your Christmas table, the Clevedon Village Farmers Market will hold a twilight market on December 23 from 4pm-7pm.
Fresh vegetables, meat and cheeses all available for that special Christmas dinner.
The Oratia Farmers' Market will also hold its Twilight Christmas Farmers Market at 5pm-8pm on the 23rd. Apart from having a choice of the the freshest produce and gourmet products, you can relax with a drink while listening to a band (Gone West) on the lawn.
8. LIGHTS ON FOR CHRISTMAS
The TelstraClear Christmas Laser Event is on Tuesday December 20 at the TelstraClear Pacific Events Centre. It has sing-a -long Christmas carols with the words beamed onto the roof by laser projection and the unveiling of a Christmas laser animation designed by an Auckland primary school child.
It's a smoke-free, alcohol free event with acts fromThe Polkadots;world champion hiphop crew Request; free sausage sizzle;Kidz First Children's Hospital will be collecting donations.
When: 6.30pm Tuesday December 20 (rain or shine)
Where: TelstraClear Pacific Centre, Manukau
On the Shore, Northcross Community Church is telling the Christmas story with lights and with people dressed up in costumes.
Sandra Buetow, the church's business administrator, says what is unique about this presentation is that it's a drive-through. "As you drive around the church, there is a canopy of lights above you. You will see Mary on a donkey, the camels with the three kings, and a couple of angels. The carpark has a village scene with a blacksmith and people selling bread," she says.
The Christmas light show runs from 8.30pm-10.15pm, Dec 20-24.
Motat Nights, Christmas Lights: On Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings until December 24, Motat's Victorian village comes to life with Christmas lights, live entertainment, music, night tram rides and Christmas displays, from 8pm to 11pm.
Apart from the sparkling lights, there's Victorian games, and Christmas treats like mulled wine and shortbread. Entry to Motat Nights, Christmas Lights is by gold coin donation with the proceeds going towards buying children's gifts for charity.
Franklin Rd in Freemans Bay is already lit up with thousands of lights for its annual Christmas extravaganza. The event that has become a tradition attracts 100,000 visitors a year from Auckland and beyond.
This year, the Rob Roy Hotel at the foot of the street is also decked in lights resembling gift wrapping, to add to the festive spirit.
And of course the gorgeous Telecom Christmas tree is all lit up in the Wynyard Quarter, at the north end of the Viaduct wharf, across the bridge. You can loll around in a beanbag looking up at it, and make a call to Santa through the phone box.
9. EXPLORE THE ENCHANTED FOREST
Visit Santa at his Enchanted Forest at Smith and Caughey's department store in the city. As you follow the path, you will find all his helpers making everything ready for the big night. There will be Santa Claus in his cosy little house, waiting for you to share your Christmas wishes with him.
The walk-through costs $10 a child and includes entry for up to 2 adults, a keepsake photo with Santa and one collectible gift. (Gift only available while stocks last.)
10. BOLD AS BRASS MUSICAL FESTIVITIES
The Papakura-Hawkins Theatre will feature the South Auckland Choral Society and Papakura RSA Brass Band in concert. It's the NZ premiere of a specially commissioned work by David Hamilton for brass and choir, as well as favourite Christmas music, old and new. It's on December 18 at 2.30pm.
Tickets are $25 with special rates for students. Ph 298 3536, 298 6634, or 298 9012 for further details.
COCA-COLA CHRISTMAS IN THE PARK
One of the most popular events of the Christmas season, Christmas in the Park is now in its 18th year.
This year features plenty of popular performers, including Hollie Smith, pop-rock band The Earlybirds, rapper Young Sid, the cast of hit musical Jersey Boys, including Kiwi Vince Harder (opposite page), MASSAD, Michael Murphy and Ainslie Allen plus mandolin player, Marion Burns.
The musical evening in Auckland's Domain will be topped off with fireworks and special effects.
This year Christmas in the Park will benefit Surf Life Saving NZ.
How much: Free
When and where: Dec 11, 7.30pm
11. BE AN ANGEL
Head to Silo Park in the Wynyard Quarter and show your support for the Auckland City Mission.
For a donation of $2 or more you buy a set of angel wings, on which you can write a wish. The Angel Wings were created by nine Auckland artists. Buy one, write on it and tie it onto the gantry to help build three white Christmas trees.
The initiative is Auckland City Mission's Christmas appeal for Aucklanders to step up and make a difference for people finding life particularly hard at this time of year.
"Everyone who donates is an angel to people who are struggling on a daily basis just to provide the basic necessities of life," says City Missioner Diane Robertson.
Angel Wings runs Monday to Friday until December 24.
12. KEEP CHRISTCHURCH IN YOUR HEART
Last but not least, February's deadly earthquake affected all of us - but especially the children of Christchurch, many of whom still struggle to deal with the aftermath.
Talented artists from New Zealand and around the world have created artworks to be sold in the Arts and Hearts exhibition. Proceeds from sales go to Variety - The Children's Charity. Curator Mahnoosh Dordahan was inspired to raise funds for Christchurch after seeing a town in her home country of Iran also suffer from a devastating earthquake. "I want to show children and families that there are people outside Christchurch who think about them."
Arts and Hearts runs at the Aotea Gallery, Aotea Centre, on Dec 15, 16 from 6pm-9pm; Dec 17, 18 10am-2pm.