Beautiful Awards 2023 – Finalists of New Zealand’s Most Beautiful Towns and Cities announced

Keep New Zealand Beautiful have announced the finalists and recipients of their Beautiful Awards 2023, including Aotearoa’s Most Beautiful Towns and Most Beautiful Cities.

The iconic not-for-profit organisation has held the Beautiful Awards annually since 1972. For over half a century the Awards have provided a benchmark for environmental excellence, celebrating the sustainability achievements of the many individuals, schools, communities, towns and cities across the country, who have put in the mahi over that time to Keep New Zealand Beautiful.

“New Zealanders across the country have nominated the people, projects and places that they believe illustrate the height of environmental excellence in Aotearoa into this year’s Beautiful Awards”, says Keep New Zealand Beautiful CEO Heather Saunderson. “The Awards are a chance for Kiwis to put their community on the map and to celebrate a stand-out sustainability initiative in their town or city.”

“Through the Beautiful Awards we’re able to celebrate the efforts of local government as well as those made by community groups, schools and individuals who are all striving to maintain and improve New Zealand’s environment,” said Ms Saunderson. “This collective contribution is key to maintaining the biodiversity of Aotearoa and to creating a waste and climate conscious future for the next generations of Tidy Kiwis.”

The pinnacle of the Awards is the Most Beautiful Towns & Cities category, which recognises and rewards councils who’ve demonstrated a commitment to environmental improvement over the past 12 months. Kiwis were asked to nominate an urban area that they believed stood out for its excellence in sustainability and to provide an explanation as to why, with a specific focus on litter prevention, waste minimisation, community beautification and recycling initiatives.

“We’re thrilled to have had such an enthusiastic response, with so many impressive nominations across each Award category flooding in right up until the close date,” said Ms Saunderson. “It’s incredibly heartening to see the commitment and innovation that councils have shown across beautification and waste minimisation initiatives, as well as the way in which they’ve tackled many of today’s environmental issues through their climate change strategies.”

Judging criteria

The Awards judges chose the Towns & Cities finalists based on the number of nominations as a percentage of population, the strength of their litter prevention/waste minimisation initiatives, community beautification projects and recycling projects. All four categories held an equal 25% weighting.

This year, the Most Beautiful Towns & Cities Awards were aligned with the urban area classifications used by Stats NZ for statistical purposes:

  • Most Beautiful Small Town (small urban area with 1,000 – 9,999 residents),
  • Most Beautiful Large Town (medium urban area with 10,000 – 29,999 residents),
  • Most Beautiful Small City (large urban area 30,000 – 99,999 residents) and
  • Most Beautiful Large City (major urban area with 100,000 or more residents).

An award for the Most Beautiful Tiny Town was added to the Towns & Cities category this year, in acknowledgment of the many tiny towns throughout New Zealand with populations under 1,000 who are punching above their weight with regard to their environmental achievements.

Once again this year, the Supreme Towns & Cities Award, proudly sponsored by Resene, will celebrate the overall winner of the Most Beautiful Towns & Cities category. The Supreme Award recipient will win a mural painted in their town or city by a local artist, valued at up to $10,000.

All Beautiful Awards winners and recipients will be announced at the Beautiful Ball to be held at Parliament House on Thursday 9 November 2023.

The finalists

The two finalists for Most Beautiful Tiny Town this year are Awanui and Leigh.

  • The tiny township of Leigh, located approximately 100kms north of Auckland and with a population of around 600, is actively involved in a host of environmental initiatives to protect their unique natural surroundings. The small coastal community is home to Goat Island Marine Reserve, New Zealand’s first marine reserve which was set up in 1975 and which plays a vital role in marine conservation and research. Leigh promotes sustainable tourism practices to the Island, while residents are engaged with various conservation programmes including the Leigh Penguin Project which helps to create a safe habitat for endangered Little Blue Penguins. The community of Leigh are also involved in regular beach clean-ups, tree planting, and pest eradication to maintain the ecological balance of this seaside town.
  • Awanui, situated in Te Hiku o te Ika (Far North) of Northland, is known as a small town with a big heart. Awanui recently completed an ‘experiment’ in which the local community was able to revitalise its own backyard and establish a working group, responsible for the installation of major public and cultural artworks, playground equipment, cycle tracks, public seating, water fountains, barbecues and more across Kaitāia, Awanui and Ahipara. The revitalisation project was centred around sustainability and improving environmental, social and governance outcomes.

The two finalists for Most Beautiful Small Town this year are Tūrangi and Arrowtown.

  • Tūrangi has been focused on introducing recycling, composting and innovative ways to reduce waste across bokashi (compost) bins, replacing disposable cups with reusable cups, reusable containers for takeaway lunches and encouraging the community to use their own cups at local cafes. They are holding composting workshops at Tūrangi permaculture garden, running community litter pick up events, and have implemented Resource Wise Schools Programme, which helps educate students and minimise waste to landfill. In late 2022 they launched a major recycling education programme ‘Sort It Out’, encouraging people to correctly sort recycling to reduce cross-contamination and contractor’s time at the kerbside through a series of educational videos. The ‘Sort It Out’ campaign is an ongoing initiative and has led to a measurable improvement in recycling sorting.
  • Arrowtown won the title of Most Beautiful Small Town in 2020. This year Arrowtown’s submission had the support of its community to win back the title, with an overwhelming number of nominations being made for the small town. Of note throughout the nominations were Arrowtown’s ongoing commitment to food waste minimisation and projects such as SUC (Single Use Cup) Free Arrowtown, which focuses on minimising single-use plastics within the community, promoting responsible consumption, and reducing plastic pollution.

Both Taupō and Whakatāne will be going head-to-head again to compete for this year’s title of Most Beautiful Large Town. Both towns were finalists at the Beautiful Awards 2021, with Taupo taking out the title. Whakatane was the 2021 Supreme Towns & Cities Award winner.

  • Wanting to defend their title of Most Beautiful Large Town in 2021, Taupō was selected as a finalist this year for the ongoing work the council and partnering community groups are carrying out to look after the jewel in their crown, Lake Taupō, and to ensure its pristine water quality can still be enjoyed for generations to come. Waste minimisation projects have included the installation of more solar powered Big Belly Bins along the iconic Great Lake Pathway and a new ‘Downstream Defenders’ project, which remove small waste items from stormwater before it enters Lake Taupō.
  • Whakatāne’s District Council has been working on its Climate Change Strategy to build climate change resilience now, so that there will be more options to meet challenges later. The Climate Change Strategy aims to save ratepayers money by reducing emissions through innovative programmes that address better options for transport, reducing energy usage, diverting waste from landfill and educating the community about the measures they can take to offset their carbon footprint.

It’s a North Island, West Coast battle for this year’s Most Beautiful Small City with Whanganui and New Plymouth going head-to-head.

  • Whanganui won Most Beautiful Small City in 2020 and Most Beautiful City in 2019. This the fourth time the city has been selected as a finalist in the Towns & Cities category. Whanganui residents came out in full force to support Whanganui District Council’s submission this year, sending in their own individual nominations for the River City! The Whanganui community recognise their role as kaitiakitanga, which is evidenced through their ongoing beautification efforts and implementation of initiatives aimed to preserve their environment for future generations. The council has recently funded projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and which build the community’s resilience to the effects of climate change, such as developing the Green Bikes Project (which empowers the community to fix and ride bikes), launching Predator Free Whanganui and 24 heritage restoration projects across the district with a focus on environmental impact.
  • New Plymouth was selected as a finalist due to the city’s vision to be the Sustainable Lifestyle Capital, where people want to live, learn, work, play and invest in the future. Over the past year, New Plymouth City Council have been working with their residents to help them become New Zealand’s first city with 10% native tree cover. In 2022, their Ngāmotu New Plymouth City Centre Strategy won an Award of Excellence Master Planning and Urban Design Strategy in the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architecture Awards. The strategy aims to enhance the city’s green links between their parks and coast and revitalise the city centre.

The finalists in the Most Beautiful Large City category are Tauranga and Christchurch.

  • Christchurch was selected as a finalist because of the council’s focus on sustainable local food production and distribution systems, aimed at ensuring that the community can easily access low cost, healthy, fresh fruit and vegetables, whilst building strong personal relationships and experiences within their community gardens. Their community gardens are neighbourhood hubs, which empower residents to solve local problems and reduce food waste in many creative ways. Their school gardens enable children to learn where their food comes from, the natural cycles of life, composting, reducing food waste, as well as about the traditional and cultural uses for plants.
  • Tauranga is working to enhance nature and biodiversity at the heart of its community through their ‘Our Direction Project’. Through the project, the council aims to harness the love of nature within their community and turn it into action by incorporating more tree plantings in their designs for roadways, stormwater and public areas. This aims to enhance how they look after areas in the city that are recognised as being special or ecologically significant. The council and community are looking to international best practice to ensure that they are enabling nature to flourish throughout the city, including having healthy, diverse, connected and accessible greenspaces.

What’s next

The last phase of judging for the Towns & Cities category will involve the Beautiful Awards judges meeting with representatives from the finalist towns and cities in late September. The winners will be announced at the Beautiful Ball at Parliament House on Thursday 9 November 2023.

A full list of finalists and recipients can be viewed here.

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