Winter can only mean one thing: snow! And with so many epic ski resorts to choose from, there’s no excuse not to shred some powder during your visit. Even if you’re a beginner, most of the terrains in the North and South Islands will cater to your demands – many of them have separate runs for different skill levels, and guided instruction is an option, too. Mount Ruapehu is your key destination in the North Island, while popular South Island fields include Cardrona, Mount Hutt and Treble Cone.
Autumn and winter are the best seasons to head down to Kaikoura for whale watching. These majestic creatures are at the peak of their migration period in July, so you’re likely to see a number of different species at once. Other places to catch sight of the whales include Wellington and Picton.
Matariki (the Maori New Year) is celebrated countrywide and marks the beginning of the winter solstice. This ancient festival observes the arrival of the Matariki (Pleiades) constellation to the southern skies, and thus the end of the harvest season. Various community festivities are held each year, which usually include dawn ceremonies, cultural performances, art exhibitions and the sharing of local myths and legends.
Too cold, too soon? Not to worry – New Zealand’s geothermal springs will come to the rescue. Rotorua is famous for its hot-water wonders, as is the South Island’s Hanmer Springs. The latter is close to a ski field, too, making it a perfect stopover after a day hitting the snow. Taupo, Tongariro and the Bay of Plenty’s White Island are other thermal treasures to discover on your travels.
The vines may be bare, but the wineries are a treat all year round. If you want to explore New Zealand’s best wine producing destinations, there are various tours that will help you make the most of your visit. Central Otago is a good place to try a variety of reds, while Marlborough is home to some of the land’s most famous white wines. Most wineries you’ll come across will have their own restaurants, with plenty of indoor seating to keep you snug on the coldest days.
The South Island is exquisite all year long, but there is a special sparkle along its alpine ranges in the winter. Queenstown comes to life in the colder seasons, as does the neighbouring lakeside town of Wanaka. Many Lord of the Rings film locations, such as Glenorchy and Aoraki/Mount Cook, will also be at their best in the snow.
It’s not just whale watching that you can experience in the colder months. Be sure to stop by the various nature reserves right on your doorstep, including Wellington’s Zealandia, Rotorua’s Rainbow Springs or even Auckland Zoo, filled with interesting critters from New Zealand and abroad.
While the Great Walks aren’t suitable for hiking in winter, Milford Sound is a great place to visit in the colder months. It will be less crowded, meaning you’ll get to fully appreciate the landscapes and unique bird life that come out during this season. Some tracks near Routeburn remain open, too – just be careful of those slippery surfaces, and remember that daylight won’t be lingering for as long as in the summer months.
Granted, you would need to be extremely resistant to cold temperatures to go for an ocean swim – but even so, a visit to the beach is never a bad idea. As with Milford Sound, dropping by New Zealand’s lovely beaches in the colder months will give you a less crowded view of your surroundings. Long coastal walks are ideal for appreciating the exquisite scenery, and a serene beach-side picnic is always a good idea.