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If you’re traveling to New Zealand from the northern hemisphere, you’ll probably end up visiting during your own summer vacation–also known as the dead of winter in New Zealand.
But never fear! Skiing isn’t the only reason to visit New Zealand in winter (though it’s a pretty good one, for sure).
Did you know that most of the country never gets snow? That’s right–only the mountain slopes are covered in wonderful powder, while the rest of the land (all of the roads and valleys) stays clear. So you can drive, hike, and even camp in winter without dealing with a bunch of snow and ice.
In saying that, winter isn’t ideal for some activities. Here are a few ideas for maximising your winter visit–without missing out!
1. Visit Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound
Already stunning in summer, these fiords are 10x more captivating with a cap of snow. Take a cruise in one of the fiords, or stay overnight at Milford Sound to catch the prettiest times of day–sunrise and sunset.
2. Soak in a hot spring!
Sitting right over the Ring of Fire, New Zealand is brimming with geothermal activity. And in winter, that means you can enjoy the nippy air from the comfort of a steaming hot pool!
In the North Island, don’t miss Rotorua, the city you can smell from miles away. When you’re not easing your muscles in the soothing hot springs, you can wander around and check out the strange plethora of bubbling mud pools, geysers, and turquoise springs.
And if you’re in the South Island, head to the cute mountain town of Hanmer Springs, which has plenty to offer besides its namesake hot springs.
While you’re in the area, check out Maruia Springs, a hidden gem just a short drive past Hanmer Springs. Here you’ll have the natural stone-lined hot pools to yourself, with lush forested mountains rising directly before you. Complete bliss.
3. Go for the ski trip of a lifetime
That’s right–I’m talking about Heli skiing. With plenty of near-vertical mountains that can’t be accessed except by helicopter, the whole South Island will be your playground. What better place to try this once-in-a-lifetime skiing experience than in New Zealand, where you’ll be surrounded by a fantastic range of craggy peaks?
Even the non-skiers will want to hop on for the views!
4. Chase the sun
Wanaka and Queenstown are blessed with plenty of sunny days, thanks to the nearby mountains that trap most of the clouds. You could be skiing in the morning, and sitting by the lake in shorts that afternoon!
If you want to avoid the cold temperatures altogether, head straight for Nelson. This paradise of golden-sand beaches, flourishing orchards, and famous wines has mild weather year-round.
The North Island has even milder temperatures, though it can get a bit rainy in winter. How else do you think the island stays so beautifully lush?
5. Go for a hike!
If you’re the adventurous type, you don’t have to sit inside just because it’s winter. From the St. James Walkway to the Aspiring Hut Track, and the Copland Track to the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, many fantastic hikes are still safe and snow-free in winter.
And you’ll be able to warm up beside the cosy fire when you arrive at your hut! No camping here–these tracks mean backpacking in luxury.
If you really do want to combine hiking with snow, go for a guided trip across the Tongariro Alpine Crossing! You’ll have the mountain to yourself, something that doesn’t happen often.
6. Do a wine tasting tour
Winter is the perfect excuse to stay inside and drink wine all day! You can bike between vineyards if the weather is nice, or book a guided driving tour.
Marlborough is one wine region you won’t want to miss, with splendid views of the rolling hills and 20 vineyards crammed in 5 square kilometres.
If you’re already in Queenstown for the skiing, why not spend a day touring around the Gibbston Valley of Wines? Wine-growers once thought Central Otago wasn’t suited for wine growing–until this region proved them wrong.
On the North Island, visit Napier, where you can enjoy the coast and the wineries all in one stay.
7. Visit Queenstown for Winterfest
If you don’t mind a crowd, Winterfest (usually held in late June) is a fantastic time to visit Queenstown. With all the charming atmosphere of a European Christmas market (think Christmas lights, ice skating, mulled wine, and market stalls galore), Winterfest will put you in a festive mood!
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