Top 10 Winter Activities in the South Island

There is nothing quite like a South Island winter. To find out why, try these must-do winter activities.

1. Find sanctuary at a cosy retreat

Here’s how to hide away from the cold and still feel connected with nature. Book into the Hermitage Hotel and you’ll want to spend the whole time looking out the window. The views, which include New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki/Mount Cook, are beyond stunning.

Try a PurePod. These little glass houses are found in ten locations across the South Island. For an added bit of intrigue, you won’t be informed of your pod’s location until after you’ve booked. Plus, each pod is equipped with a pair of binoculars, so you can observe wildlife without getting out of bed.

Explore NZ's top hot pools

2. Check out New Zealand’s slowest moving rivers

If you can’t make it to Antarctica, visiting a New Zealand glacier is the next best thing.

To see New Zealand’s largest glacier, Tasman Glacier, book a Glacier Explorers Tour at Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. You’ll learn about the ever-changing glacial landscape and discover there’s more to know about ice than you could have imagined.

To explore glaciers off the beaten track, hike the Rob Roy Glacier Track in Mount Aspiring National Park or take a helicopter tour over a remote high-country station to see the hanging Mount Earnshaw Glacier.    

Discover South Island glaciers

3. Find inspiration in the night sky

There’s no better time for stargazing than winter. Visibility improves due to lower humidity and the nights are longer, so you don’t have to stay up as late!

For some of the world’s best dark sky reserves, head to Lake Tekapo/Tākapo or visit the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve(opens in new window), New Zealand’s largest dark sky reserve.

Discover the night skies

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.

Make sure you're prepared when hiking in winter.(opens in new window) 

You may also be interested in

Find more activities in Queenstown and Fiordland