Top 10 South Island winter experiences in New Zealand

Experience New Zealand's South Island transform into a winter wonderland with these top 10 things to do.

1. Admire the winter night skies

The dark, clear skies of New Zealand provide magical stargazing experiences. Take a tour at Tekapo's Dark Sky Project(opens in new window) or Tekapo Star Gazing(opens in new window) and bask in the starry night in a hot pool! Visit Aoraki/Mount Cook Village and gaze into the wonders above through powerful telescopes with Big Sky Stargazing(opens in new window)Longer winter nights can also mean that you might be lucky enough to catch the symphony of colour that is the Aurora Australis.

Winter is also a time to celebrate Matariki, the Māori new year. During the months of June and July, the Matariki star cluster reappears in the skies, ushering in a new year according to the Māori lunar calendar.

Discover the night skies

2. Explore glaciers that are over 1,000 years old

New Zealand is home to many stunning glaciers, most of them are located near the Main Divide in the Southern Alps. Glacier country lies on the west coast, where the two most accessible glaciers – Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier – are found. Follow the walking tracks up to the terminus of either glacier to view up close or hike through the bush to a viewing point. Or if you wanted to really get up close, book a heli hike guided tour and explore the ice caves and icefalls (frozen waterfalls).

Discover South Island glaciers

3. Warm up in beautifully located hot tubs

Warm up in one of South Island's many hot tubs and hot springs. Soak in Hanmer Springs(opens in new window)' mineral-rich hot pools that are surrounded by native gardens with mountain vistas. Go off the beaten track and immerse yourself in the wilderness at Maruia Hot Springs(opens in new window). Bask under the clear, winter starry nights at Hot Tubs Omarama(opens in new window) or indulge in a luxurious Onsen by lantern light(opens in new window) experience and surround yourself with Japanese lanterns from sunset.

Explore NZ's top hot pools

4. Admire Fiordland's wintry scenes

Fiordland is one of the most dramatic and beautiful parts of New Zealand. Experience its magical treasures by water, air or on foot. Speed across the picturesque Lake Te Anau on a jet boat tour(opens in new window) or change the pace and go for a relaxing boat cruise(opens in new window) in one of the majestic sounds. Book a scenic flight(opens in new window) and view the world of lush peaks, sparkling lakes, glaciers and spectacular fiords from above. 

Explore Fiordland

5. Ride on one of the world's greatest train journeys

Ride one of the world's greatest train journeys on the TranzAlpine train(opens in new window), traversing through the Southern Alps. Travel through the patchwork Canterbury Plains up into Arthur’s Pass National Park. From here, you’ll journey down into the wild beech forests of the West Coast, finishing in Greymouth. The train stops at several remote stations along the way, so you can have the option to get off and explore more of the area. This is no ordinary train trip - venturing past the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps, the ice-fed Waimakariri River, and dramatic viaducts. It's an unforgettable journey from the East Coast to the West Coast of the South Island.

6. Have some fun in the snow

For those who'd like to spend time in the snow but skiing and snowboarding isn't their thing, there are plenty of other snow activities on offer! Feel the thrill of a sled dog team running through the trails of the Southern Alps with Underdog tours(opens in new window) or experience a backcountry snowmobiling adventure with Queenstown Snowmobiles(opens in new window). Or meet the dog sledding team on the kennel tour experience with Real Dog Adventures(opens in new window) in Central Otago. If you're up on the ski fields, go tobogganing down the slopes of Mount Hutt(opens in new window), Cardrona(opens in new window), Coronet Peak(opens in new window) or The Remarkables(opens in new window)

Ride the gondola(opens in new window) up Bob's Peak, up above Queenstown to the skyline complex. From the top enjoy panoramic views of the Southern Alps and Lake Wakatipu.

Find more snow activities

7. See the whale migration

New Zealand is internationally known for amazing whale watching opportunities, complete with marvellous natural surroundings. You'll be spoilt for choice in seeing whales, especially in the South Island. During the winter months, humpback whales migrate from Antarctica and travel north to the warmer waters of New Zealand to breed. They stay in warm waters and migrate back south to feed as winter comes to an end, making winter the best time to see these majestic giants. The cooler months will treat you to stunning crisp blue skies and snow-capped peaks.

Find where to spot whales

8. Be adventurous this winter

Are you brave enough to do something adventurous this winter? Will you take on the challenge of bungy jumping in Queenstown, skydiving in Wānaka, or paragliding and ziplining across the South Island? Take in the breathtaking views with tandem paragliding(opens in new window) or try hang gliding 5,400 feet above sea level. Feel the exhilaration of a jet boat ride(opens in new window) and journey deep into the heart of Mount Aspiring National Park. For something truly unique, experience WildWire(opens in new window) in Wānaka - the world's highest waterfall cable climb.

Find more adventure activities

9. Ride the Tasman Great Taste Trail

Tasman’s Great Taste Trail is a network of cycleways threaded inland and along the coast, linking Nelson, Wakefield, Richmond, Motueka and Kaiteriteri. Looping through the region’s charming countryside and along its enviable coastline, postcard-perfect views are only part of the story. This leisurely trail network is a terrific way to tour the region’s attractions, ranging from art galleries and boutiques to fruit stalls, fish & chip shops, craft breweries and wineries. The full trail is 174 kilometres long and can also be tailored to day rides allowing plenty of time for enjoying the sights.

Discover the Great Taste Trail

10. Go walking and hiking

Whether you’re looking for easy scenic tracks or backcountry trails you will find plenty of hiking trails in the South Island this winter. Queenstown and Wānaka offer plenty of hiking trails with spectacular scenery around every corner, be sure to take a moment to embrace Mother Nature and explore! Take in the panoramic views from Queenstown Hill Time Walk(opens in new window) or take on the challenge and climb up the famous Roy's Peak track(opens in new window). If you're staying near Mt Hutt, check out the Rakaia Gorge Walkway(opens in new window) and marvel at the blue-green waters of Rakaia River.

Hiking safely in winter

Make sure to always be prepared when going on hikes, especially in winter

Know before you go

Discover South Island winter deals

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