A picturesque island sunset.
Sun-seekers are looking for island time. (Photo: Getty / Treatment: Archi Banal)

BusinessJune 16, 2023

Summer’s rubbish weather has driven sun-seeking New Zealanders overseas

A picturesque island sunset.
Sun-seekers are looking for island time. (Photo: Getty / Treatment: Archi Banal)

For the many who missed out on their regular dose of summer sun, the lure of a winter break is stronger than ever.

Sophie is the kind of person who likes to go to the beach every day. Before or after work, she enjoys feeling the sand between her toes while her dog Zeb frolics in the waves. This summer, as rain fell and floods caused havoc around the region, the Aucklander’s regular beach trips just weren’t possible. Sophie estimates she managed just a handful of trips. “Perhaps five,” she says. 

As summer gave way to autumn, then kicked into winter, she realised she didn’t feel as energised as normal. Something seemed off. “I was really tired,” says Sophie, “and really pale.” So, to recover, she and her partner decamped to Rarotonga at the beginning of June. There, they swam and snorkelled, went on a lagoon tour and took a scenic flight over the island.

Mostly, though, their holiday consisted of naps on the beach and the same fish sandwiches for lunch. “I swam every day,” she says. “I saw a moray eel.” When she talks to The Spinoff, Sophie’s been back home about a week. Now back at work, she says she feels fully recuperated. “I feel like I can start my year,” she says. “I feel totally reborn.” 

A girl enjoys the snorkelling in Rarotonga.
Snorkelling opportunities abound in Rarotonga (Photo: Getty Images)

She’s not the only one seeking some sun to recover from the pummelling weather that kicked off 2023. A terrible North Island summer that included record rainfall and the devastating impact of Cyclone Gabrielle meant many didn’t get their regular dose of vitamin D. Not only did the weather flood homes and cause slips, it cut access off to regular Auckland beach spots Muriwai and Piha.

So, many are making like Sophie and taking off overseas. Flight Centre’s general manager Heidi Walker says the travel agency is seeing plenty of holidaymakers leaving the country. “I don’t really feel like we’ve had a summer so we’re definitely seeing Kiwi travellers wanting to get away from that,” she says. “[They want] something that they think is gonna be sun-kissed.”

She lists Fiji and the Cook Islands as popular destinations, as well as Australia’s Coral Coast. Needing her own refresh, Walker just got back from Fiji herself. She travelled with family who based themselves in the resorts of Denarau, taking advantage of nearby restaurants and enjoying day trips out to the islands. “Mala Mala Island was really beautiful, and a really nice day trip.”

A spokesperson for House of Travel says they’re seeing the same trends. “Sunny closer-to-home destinations are as popular as ever,” says customer engagement director Celeste Ryall. “The Pacific Islands, Australia [and] Southeast Asia continue to drive strong bookings as Kiwis chase the sun after the wet summer in the north and as temperatures drop in the south.”

A blue lagoon in Fiji.
The crystal clear water of Fiji is proving to be a popular attraction (Photo: Getty Images)

It’s true: just in my small sphere I know of one family heading to Vanuatu for a week, another taking their kids over to the Sunshine Coast, a couple who just returned from Tahiti and another pair who enjoyed three weeks in Japan. One Spinoff editor recently rented out her Christchurch home and is based indefinitely in Greece. Another is heading to Spain.

But all of those trips cost more than they used to. Airfares and accommodation are up, so too is food once you get there. A recent Southern Cross survey showed while many still want to travel, they’re trying to do it more cheaply by taking shorter trips and staying in hostels. “We’re seeing people look for ways to cut costs while still trying to make those trips happen,” confirms Southern Cross travel insurance CEO Jo McCauley.

Walker says travelling is still expensive compared to pre-Covid prices. But she believes prices are starting to come down as capacity rebuilds. She says the biggest concern is currency conversions. Travellers can get around that by searching for bundles. “A lot of our destinations you can buy a meal and drink package that you pre-pay before you go,” she says. “Cruising is another great option for people who are price conscious … you can make sure you don’t overspend on your holiday.”

For many, the temptation to go further afield after three years of lockdown is too tempting. Walker says “bucket-list” travel destinations are being ticked off by those who can afford it. “People are travelling to Rome for the first time and seeing the Colosseum, or travelling to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower,” she says. “Egypt is actually a destination that we’re selling a lot of … we’re seeing a 26% increase month-on-month for people wanting to travel to America.”

There’s one travel tip that will always remain relevant: once you’ve chosen your destination, get in early to nab the best prices. Some are anticipating they’ll need another dose of sun this time next year, says Ryall. “In the last few weeks we have seen a significant lift in inquiries for the 2024 school holidays,” she says, “particularly for the Pacific Islands.”

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