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If you’re anything like me, summer holidays are for spending somewhere hot. We get enough cold weather in the UK, after all, so why spend summer trying to keep warm when you could be lying on a beach soaking up the rays, right?
Yep, that was pretty much my train of thought. So I was incredibly excited when I found out I’d be spending a week in New Zealand in June. Until it slowly dawned on me: New Zealand is in the Southern hemisphere. Their seasons are opposite to the UK. So in December and January they’re soaking up the sun, and from June – August… you guessed it, it’s the middle of winter.
But guess what? New Zealand in June was so beautiful, so snow-covered, so full of amazing outdoor activities that could only happen in winter and so much fun that hitting the beach was the last thing on my mind.
11 REASONS TO TURN YOUR SUMMER INTO WINTER AND HEAD TO NEW ZEALAND
Spending a winter week in a place that embraces the great outdoors and nature as much as New Zealand was inspiring. In fact, it was one of the best weeks I’ve spent on my travels anywhere, full stop. It may not have been scorching, but the sun certainly shone, and made each day one of those perfect winter scenes where the sky is blue and the sun is bright.
1. PICK AND CHOOSE YOUR ACCOMMODATION
Off-peak travel means less people. Which means less demand for hotels and hostels. Which means lower prices, better rooms, emptier dorms, more food at the breakfast buffet and more money in your pocket for you. YES!
2. HIT THE SLOPES
New Zealand’s slopes are legendary. The South Island boasts the most resorts, with 5 across Queenstown and Wanaka alone. Alternatively, head to Mount Cook Mackenzie and hit the powder as Mount Cook soars above you, or combine a city break in Christchurch with skiing or boarding at Mt Hutt, just 1.30 hours from the city. The North Island doesn’t let the South take all the glory, though. Step forward the country’s only skiable volcano at Mt Ruapehu! Half pipes on old lava flows, anyone?
3. EMPTY ROADS
New Zealand is home to just 4 million people, which means much of the country is incredibly sparsely populated. Take hordes of tourists out of the question, and you’ll find that in winter, you’ll have many of the roads to yourself. Making our way from Christchurch to the West Coast on our Kiwi Experience bus, I could count the number of other vehicles we saw on two hands – and it’s a 5 hour drive! For the ultimate wilderness experience, cruise along in a campervan and feel properly at one with nature, with no other traffic to ruin your epic road trip shots.
4. THE GLACIERS ARE AT THEIR BIGGEST AND THEIR BEST
Taking a hike on the Franz Josef or Fox glaciers is at the top of many travellers’ New Zealand must-do lists, and there’s no better time to make the trek than in winter. First of all, the chances that it will rain are considerably less in winter, so a drizzle-free hike is on the cards, and the ice won’t be as slippery. Secondly, the ice that makes up the glacier is much more, well, icy in winter! The glacier will be at its biggest and best, meaning you get the best possible glacier experience. WIN.
5. TWO WORDS: HOT POOLS
What could be better after a winter’s day outdoors than stepping into an outdoor hot pool surrounded by snow? Not a lot, that’s what. New Zealand has hot springs all over the place – my kinda country. Making the dash through the cold air from the changing rooms at the South Island’s Tekapo Springs makes those piping hot pools all the more rewarding, and with awesome views of Lake Tekapo and the snow-covered Southern Alps, you may never want to leave.
6. WATCH A WHALE
Going whale watching is a really unique New Zealand experience, and there’s no better time of year to spot a humpback, blue or southern right whale at Kaikoura than in June and July. It’s bang in the middle of their migration period y’see, and they’re often spotted closer to shore in winter than at any other time.
7. THE QUEENSTOWN WINTER FESTIVAL
Every year, backpacker hot spot Queenstown celebrates the start of winter with a 10 day extravaganza of parties, fireworks, music, comedy and plenty of mountain based fun. I was lucky enough to witness this year’s Dog Derby, where anyone with a dog can get involved racing down Coronet Peak with their furry friend. The winner is the first person across the finish line still holding their dog – cue one of the funniest things I’ve witnessed in ages, and a few hairy (‘scuse the pun) moments where dogs looked as though they were going to take out a few skiers. Hilarious.
8. IT’S NOT EVEN THAT COLD!
Especially on the North Island. The average winter temp at the Bay of Islands is 16 degrees. 16 DEGREES! That’s a balmy British summer day at the best of times.
9. PRETTY, PRETTY SNOW
Snow makes everything more beautiful, fact. Driving around the country becomes even more of a feast for eyes than usual, and you’ll get breathtaking views from the plane as you soar over snow topped peaks. And if a skydive is on the agenda, brace yourself for some seriously amazing views.
10. LESS PEOPLE AT TOURIST HOTSPOTS
Since New Zealand in winter isn’t at the top of the list for loads of backpackers (fools), you’ll find you’ll have many of the tourist hot spots practically to yourself. No waiting in line to bungy; a practically empty day relaxing in the hot springs of Hot Water Beach; less people to get in the way of your pictures at Milford Sound… you get the idea.
11. OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES YOU CAN ONLY DO IN WINTER
New Zealand is all about the outdoors, and the fun doesn’t stop in winter. In fact, it gets even better, with an array of activities that you can only do when it’s cold. In the beautiful town of Wanaka on the South Island, for example, you’ll find sled dog or snow mobile tours, and snow and ice driving experiences. Over at Tekapo Springs or the Ozone Tubing Park near Queenstown, you can try your hand at snow tubing – yep, like the tubing made famous in Laos’ Vang Vieng, but over snow instead of a river. Too much fun.