South is said to be a lucky direction for the Chinese zodiac rabbit, so there are auspicious signs for the popular annual Auckland Lantern Festival ­which is set to move to Manukau for the first time since the event began in 2000.

The Manukau Sports Bowl has been selected as the venue for the free event, which will be a highlight of the Auckland Chinese community’s celebrations to welcome the ‘year of the rabbit’.

The region’s largest cultural festival will be held from 2-5 February, with Aucklanders and visitors able to enjoy hundreds of elaborate handmade Chinese lanterns displayed in the bowl’s park-like setting – along with cultural music and dance performances, craft demonstrations, sponsor activations and competitions, retail and the festival’s renowned food stalls.

The event will be delivered by Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, the region’s economic and cultural agency, on behalf of Auckland Council – with founding partner Asia New Zealand Foundation.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says Auckland Lantern Festival is one of the city’s best-loved cultural events and the move to Manukau is a new direction and a fresh start after three consecutive cancellations due to COVID-19.

“Auckland is renowned for hosting world class events, and with the city’s pandemic recovery now well underway and most restrictions lifted, it is fantastic to be able to come together once again to celebrate our diversity and the richness in culture the Chinese community brings to our city.

“Taking the event outside the central city for the first time and into the heart of south Auckland will add a new vibe and flavour to the festivities and better cater to the large crowds that the Lantern Festival attracts,” he says.

The festival typically attracts 160,000-200,000 people. When it outgrew long-time venue Albert Park in 2015, it was then held at Auckland Domain; but the 2020 Domain event, and the 2021 and 2022 festivals – which were set to take place at Ports of Auckland, and Auckland Showgrounds respectively – were cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Chris Simpson, Head of Major Events at Tātaki Auckland Unlimited says: “While we delivered successful online celebrations to replace the past two cancelled events, we can’t wait for Aucklanders to again experience the unique sights, sounds and aromas of an in-person Lantern Festival.”

He says Tātaki Auckland Unlimited considered a range of venues for next year’s festival and discussed options with key partners before settling on Manukau Sports Bowl with the support of Chinese community leaders who have a long association with the festival, the Asia New Zealand Foundation, and the Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board.

“Manukau Sports Bowl has great outdoor spaces which are ideal for housing a large festival and it is close to both the Southern Motorway and public transport hubs, with ample parking. We’re excited about an opportunity to take the festival to a new area of the city.

“The event will take place in the four days leading up to Waitangi Day, so New Zealand’s largest Chinese New Year celebration and largest cultural event is another great reason for visitors to book a Waitangi weekend trip to Tāmaki Makaurau – and for Aucklanders to have a staycation to enjoy our region’s rich Chinese and Māori cultural heritage across the same long weekend.”

Stallholder applications are now open for the 2023 festival (find out more here), and further event details will be announced in the coming months under the direction of new Tātaki Auckland Unlimited

festival producer Jep Savali, who has previously produced events for a range of organisations.

He says he is relishing the opportunity to curate the festival’s fresh start: “It’s important to me that I honour the core values of this much-loved cultural festival and bring to life some new and exciting initiatives, while recognising the proud history of our region’s Chinese community. And, of course, our fundamental objective is to ensure we make the most of a great new venue so that Aucklanders and visitors alike have a great festival experience.”