Of all of New Zealand’s New Year’s Eve music festivals, none are as picture-perfect as Rhythm & Alps. Nestled in Cardrona Valley in the Southern Alps, this is the South Island’s biggest New Year’s party. This artfully curated event has an international reputation for its diverse line-up, quality production levels, and happy vibes. While the 50+ international and homegrown artists play over two days, we recommend stretching that to three by camping from 29th December. So read the skinny on the festival, as well as our top picks for road trip fun en-route.
THE R&A SKINNY
Robrosa Station has to be one of the top ten festival locations in the world for its epic views and it’s only 40 minutes from adventure capital Queenstown, 15 from Wanaka. It’s the ultimate alpine festival playground with attractive mountain scenery, fiery-red sunsets, and no neighbours around to call noise control.
Stellar artists have headlined Rhythm & Alps since 2011, including legends like Grandmaster Flash, Carl Cox, Disclosure, and NZ-faves, Shapeshifter. Performing over four stages, the wicked sonic sound system and orchestrated visuals amplify the beats to the filthiest level. Watch out for celestial stars too as the famous southern skies often put on a show to rival the headliners.
At 2,000m in elevation, you’ll probably need sunscreen for the day and your onesie for nighttime as the temperatures can plummet at night. Get your crew together to coordinate costumes because, unless you told your mum you were fishing this NYE, you can be proud if you make it into one of R&A’s ‘best of’ photos.
A NEED-TO-KNOW BASIS
R&A is usually a sell-out. Early bird tickets go on sale in April, with GA or VIP tickets on offer. If you’re able to, the VIP is worth the extra cash as you’ll get the best stage views, exclusive bar, private portaloos, phone charging, coat check and hair pampering.
The organisers have sorted the flow of food and drink purchases so you can spend your time where the action is, not in a queue. R&A is cashless, using the Glownet system for all onsite purchases. The bar is open from 10am-4am and drinks are set below standard NZ bar prices. Food can be sometimes be a little pricey - but hey!
With a camping attendance at 7,000 out of a 10,000-attendance festival, raucous fun and campground camaraderie is guaranteed. R&A offers five accommodation options – the most basic being standard tent. GA campers enjoy hot showers (bring jandals), charging stations, food vendors, store, and picture-perfect swimming hole. If you’re bringing a campervan, only one person in your group needs to buy the upgrade ticket. The campground opens at 3pm on the 29th with exclusive artists playing for the early birds.
If you’re more into just rocking up and partying on, then choose Teepees (air mattress and LED light) or Glamping (deluxe air mattress, bedding, carpet, exclusive showers, express check in and more). Glamping is how you festival in style.
Just a campground heads up - you can bring food/snacks with you, though no meals that require cooking (no gas cookers too). Leave the alcohol or glass at home and instead enjoy the campground bar from 10am-3pm.
If lying in a field in the middle of the Southern Alps is not your cuppa, there are 2-night hotel packages, including breakfast, at the legendary Cardrona Hotel. Alternatively, Wanaka and Queenstown offer hostels, hotels, and the traditional Kiwi bach (that’s a holiday home) and there is a Yello bus if you don’t have your own wheels. If you do, there is free onsite parking.
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
No one likes packing up and going home, especially on 1st January, but prep for it by ensuring your sober driver is ready to go before kick-out time as there will be police checkpoints. Once on the road, stop off for brunch at the Cardrona Hotel or head into Queenstown for a feast at the iconic Ferg Burger.
THE RHYTHM ROADIE
Unless you’re short on time, you’ll likely want to add in some of the region’s incredible attractions to your trip. While many fly into Queenstown directly, consider travelling from Christchurch (5+ hours direct) or Nelson (10 hours) and take a few days to reach Cardrona.
For a West Coast adventure, start in Nelson and head down along the dramatic coastline. Expect stunning gorges, fur seals, peculiar pancake rocks and other natural wonders. Allow time at Franz or Fox Josef National Park for glacier hiking and – if you dare – one of New Zealand’s best skydives.
To reach Cardrona from Christchurch you’ll head inland to soak up some of NZ’s finest scenery, including the picture-perfect Lake Tekapo, and it’s worth a detour to splurge on a glacier helicopter ride over Mt Cook - if you’ve got the spare cash.
If you’re short on time, then Cardrona Alpine Resort offers R&A peeps discounted mountain biking, tubing, and carting with free shuttles direct from the festival.