Top 10 Winter Activities in the North Island

Your ultimate winter playground awaits. Whether you seek adventure or relaxation – or both, New Zealand’s North Island has everything for the winter traveller.

1. Visit award-winning wineries

There’s no bad time of year to visit a New Zealand winery. In fact, for many wineries in Hawke’s Bay, winter is the perfect time to go.

The Heretaunga Studio at Smith & Sheth is a great place to seal yourself away to focus on the job in hand. Think leather sofas, dark wood panelling, and lots of velvet.

Multi-award-winning Craggy Range has much to commend it. Globally celebrated food and wine, stunning views of Te Mata Peak, and a cellar door that feels both exclusive and chilled out. There is no better to place while away a cold winter’s afternoon.

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2. Head for warmer climes in the far north

Northland might be off the beaten track, but it is home to some of New Zealand’s most remarkable sights – including untamed beaches, ancient Kauri forests, and the renowned Poor Knights marine reserve.

Head to the very tip of the North Island for the Cape Reinga Lighthouse, one of Northland’s most enduring symbols. This lonely spot overlooks where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet, and is, according to Māori tikanga (sacred tradition), where the spirits of the dead depart the world – making it the most sacred site in New Zealand.

Travel from one charming seaside town to another with a short ferry ride from Paihia to Russell.

Or visit Waipoua Forest to find New Zealand's largest kauri tree, Tāne Mahuta (God of the Forest). It stands at 51 metres tall and is estimated to be 2,000 years old.

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3. Get cosy in Wellington’s bars and restaurants

Wellington prides itself on being a foodie city. With more cafés per capita than New York and restaurants on every laneway, it has good reason to. What’s more, Wellingtonians claim to be the inventors of the flat white – but this is a hotly debated topic.

Try Prefab Eatery for coffee roasted on site and seriously delectable baked goods.

Hang out with Wellington’s trendiest people at the Night Flower, a cocktail bar specialising in cocktails from mid-1800s to 1930s. Insider tip: look up terms like syllabubs, possets, and milk punches before you go.

Dine at Wellington’s cutest little restaurant Boulcott Street Bistro. It is home to award-winning chef Rex Morgan, whose classic and contemporary French cuisine has become something of a Wellington institution.

4. Discover hidden worlds

Enter a subterranean labyrinth of tunnels and rivers, and discover enchanting little blue lights, twinkling like the night sky.

The lights are, of course, bioluminescent glow-worms hard at work. Collectively they produce an electric blue glow that no photograph has ever quite captured.

To see these amazing creatures for yourself, visit the world-famous Waitomo Caves. The guided boat tours are legendary, but if you’re feeling extra adventurous try a blackwater rafting tour. To find out why these tours have names like The Black Labyrinth and The Black Abyss, you’ll just have to go and see.

5. Hike one of New Zealand’s most scenic alpine spots

New Zealand’s temperate climate makes it the ideal place to get stunning alpine views without having to endure bitterly cold temperatures.

At the top of most lists for best day walk is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. And it’s not hard to understand why. The 19-kilometre trek covers an alpine landscape that has an almost otherworldly beauty – where bright emerald lakes stand out against a bleak volcanic landscape.

If you’re looking for a shorter journey, try the Taranaki Falls Track. It’s also in the Tongariro National Park but, due to its lower attitude, covers a remarkably different landscape of native beech forest and alpine scrubland.

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6. Unwind with natural hot springs

New Zealand is famous for its hot springs. To find out why head to Rotorua, the hot spring capital of New Zealand.

For the ultimate bathing experience, visit Polynesian Spa(opens in new window). You can choose from 28 hot pools, which are fed from two natural mineral springs – one acidic, one alkaline.

Or for a more low-key bathing experience, try Waikite Valley – a pretty little spot located near Te Manaroa Spring, New Zealand’s largest source of thermal water.

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7. Hit the slopes

For skiing and snowboarding in the North Island, head to Mount Ruapehu. The mountain is home to three ski fields, which collectively provide 1,000 hectares of ridable slopes full of bowls, hits, and drops – natural features of volcanic terrain.

The two largest ski fields are Whakapapa and Tūroa. Whakapapa is well set up for beginners, while Tūroa’s claim to fame is a vertical descent of 722 metres – New Zealand’s longest drop. If you’d prefer something more low key, head to Tukino Skifield(opens in new window). This resort is owned by a ski club, so it doesn’t have the same facilities as the commercial fields, but it’s a great place to avoid the crowds – especially on a powder day.

8. Find sanctuary at a cosy retreat

Nestled at the foothills of the Remutaka Mountain Range is one of New Zealand’s grandest hotels, Wharekauhau Country Estate. The hotel’s remote location and views of the rugged Palliser Bay coastline make it the ultimate place to reinvigorate body and mind.

Tairoa Lodge, which is more of a Victorian villa than a lodge, is the epitome of friendly sophistication, offering tastefully decorated heritage accommodation surrounded by award-winning gardens. In short, it is perfect for a weekend getaway.

9. See the awesome sights of Taupō

With a lake the size of Singapore and Mt Ruapehu on its doorstep, Taupō is perhaps one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets. Your first stop should be the Ngatoroirangi Māori Rock Carvings at Mine Bay. The carvings are only accessible by boat, which adds to the mystique of the experience. Next up should be the Huka Falls. The volume of water barrelling through this narrow ravine is genuinely mesmerising. Then head to Taupo DeBretts Hot Springs – it is the ultimate way to end a cold winter’s day.

10. Feed body and soul with traditional Māori cuisine

Let’s face it, everybody finds comfort in good food – especially in winter. For cuisine that is unique to New Zealand try kai Māori, traditional Māori cooking. 

At Te Pā Tū guests are treated to kai horotai (indigenous canapes), hāngi (food cooked underground), and fusion dishes developed by top Māori chefs.

If you’re in Auckland, head to the Blue Rose Café for a hāngī pie. Filled with smoky pork, pumpkin, potato and kumara, these pies are the ultimate comfort food.

If you’d like to have a go yourself, enroll at the Wild Food Cooking School at Treetops Lodge & Estate. You’ll learn how to prepare native plants and herbs, which you’ll get to sample at the end of the day when you sit down to a group feast.


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