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Planning a trip to New Zealand in winter? You’re in for a treat!

Having lived here these past 27 years – living in the North Island but frequently travelling to the South Island, I would thoroughly recommend a trip here in the colder months.

The South Island is blessed with snow in lots of areas. The North Islanders flock to volcano Mount Ruapehu – the tallest summit on the island – which has two ski-fields on it. North of the mountain does not get the snow, but does boast a bunch of natural hot springs – if you know where to find them. (Is there anything better than soaking in hot water on a cold day?!) And then, if you’re neither a skiing nor a hot tub fanatic, we still have beautiful beaches and bush that can be enjoyed year round. The options are endless!

New Zealand In Winter

Before I start rattling off ideas for your New Zealand winter holiday, it’s worth mentioning when exactly you’d want to go. Our best months for the snow are July, August and September. For us, that’s mid to late winter, and the beginning of spring. Come earlier, and certain places will reward you with beautiful autumn colours – (and often stable, crisp, autumnal weather in the South Island). However, you may be disappointed if the snow has not yet fallen. We had to forego skiing in Queenstown one year as we went in the last week of June .. and the snow fell the day we flew out.

Conversely, come too late into our spring – October onwards – and you may find that the snow is a little less powdery and more on the icy side. (In the past, skiing in October was fine on Mount Ruapehu, but the last couple of seasons have been short ones and, again, the group I was with had to find other activities on last year’s ski trip as the mountain was too rocky and no longer covered enough in snow.)

What is the weather like in New Zealand in winter?

Our weather is getting harder to predict and more and more variable, but you take the good with the bad. Our winters generally have more rain than our summers. We are in the Southern Hemisphere, which means the more south you go, the colder it gets.

July is our coldest month. The towns near our skifields in the north are likely to be breezy and around 3°C to 9°C (which is 38°F to 49°F). Our geothermal district of Rotorua generally experiences temperatures of 6°C to 11°C at its coldest (which is 43°F to 52°F), and our more southern gems in the crown, like Queenstown and Wānaka, generally experience temperatures of -1°C to 8°C (which is 30°F to 47°F).

13 Best Things To Do In New Zealand In Winter

There are lots and lots of options if you plan to visit New Zealand in the winter. Here are my top 13 activities to add to your winter itinerary to enjoy the season to its fullest:

1. Soak in Geothermal Water

Warm up from the cold weather by soaking in hot, mineral, geothermal waters, in either our natural springs, or our man-made pools that are heated by those underground hot springs. New Zealand has so many of these areas, and the stretch between Taupō and Rotorua (an 80km, 50mi, or a one hour drive) is called the Thermal Explorer Highway because of it. Use either town as a base for visiting these hot springs, or head south to Hanmer Springs or Tekapo (Takapō) for the best South Island hotspots.

There are also great hot pool options in Queenstown, Taranaki, Methven and Tokaanu (use National Park Village or Whakapapa as a base for visiting Tokaanu as it is a small settlement and a bit of a one-hit wonder, whereas there is comparatively lots more to do in Whakapapa or National Park Village). Plus, all of these locations have an abundance of other cold weather activities, not just hot pools – a win!

➡️ Rotorua has a lot going on under the surface – why not jump on a tour of some of the best hot springs?

Swimming in hot rivers, a superb winter activity in New Zealand.

2. Hit the Slopes for Skiing or Snowboarding

We have lots of skiing and snowboarding options in New Zealand.

If you are travelling through the North Island, your best option is to pay Mount Ruapehu a visit, and use National Park as a base, which is nearly equidistant to both Whakapapa, which is the village at the foot of the northern facing slope, and to Ohakune, which is the town at the foot of the southern facing slope. (Or, you can pick one and still make the drive if you change your mind! Sometimes skiiers prefer Whakapapa, with its abundance of windier, narrower, tracks, and snowboarders prefer Turoa, with its wide, open tracks and natural half-pipes.)

Taranaki may also be worth a visit as Mount Taranaki has a smaller and cheaper skifield, Manganui Ski Area, but it is not open as frequently as Mount Ruapehu and they are much more reliant on there being adequate snow to be able to enjoy it fully. (I have been trying to go for a couple of seasons but have still not been able to time it with their snowfall.)

If travelling through the South Island, you are best to use Wānaka, Queenstown or Methven as a base. From Wānaka and Queenstown, which are not far apart (68km, 42mi or a one hour drive), you will have access to Cardrona Alpine Resort, The Remarkables Ski Area, Treble Cone Ski Resort, and Coronet Peak Ski Area. From Methven, you will be as close as is possible to our largest ski area, Mount Hutt Ski Area.

And if you are after smaller, and perhaps less crowded, ski resorts, Kaikōura (with the Mount Lyford Ski Area) and Tekapo (Takapō) (with the Roundhill Ski Area and the Mount Dobson Ski Area) might be a better fit.

➡️ Heading to Queenstown but can’t choose between Coronet Peak Ski Area or The Remarkables Ski Area? This three day package includes passes for both, and airport transfers, and food, and accommodation! Sorted!

Author sits down to strap on her snowboard bindings before descending down the Whakapapa skifield.

3. Try your hand (well, foot) at snowshoeing!

Snowshoes – these are a little shorter than a ski, and designed for ease of walking across snowy hills and trails. It’s a unique alternative to your usual snow sports, and it is offered at Snow Farm in Wānaka.

Undoubtedly one of the best way to explore the many trails of the Pisa Range, and a fun addition to your winter bucket list that you may not have tried before. Snowshoeing can allow you to get off the beaten path in a way thats more difficult on skis or snowboard, and you can of course trek across flat fields, which is just a pain when skiing or snowboarding! It’s also a great group activity as people’s pace is more likely to be matched, and the range of ability across the group is not going to be as large – it’s just like hiking, but in the snow, afterall!

➡️ New to snowshoeing? This tour will include your pick up and drop off, all your equipment, as well as a guide to show you the best of the Pisa Ranges!

4. Go Night Skiing

Something a little different – hitting the slopes once the sun has gone down! This is offered at Coronet Peak Ski Area, so if this is something that’s on your list, Queenstown is the place to visit. After dark, the slopes are illuminated for skiiers and snowboarders alike. After the day-visitors head back to the bottom, night-time snow-bunnies can head on up for five hours of freezing fun.

This is a great option for those with limited time, as there is so much to do in Queenstown, that the days can be spent exploring, and the nights can be your chance to squeeze in a snow fix before bedtime. You’ll be up there early enough to catch the sun setting over Lake Wakatipu as well, which has got to be one of the most magnificent sights. Truly a travel-hack to maximise your time here.

➡️ Queenstown company Going Blue offer shuttle services from the town to Coronet Peak. Be sure to go from here to their website to make sure it is the night-ski shuttle you book!

In New Zealand, night skiing is an activity offered only at Coronet Peak. Two skiiers descend down the slopes under a dark sky.

5. Traverse the Southern Alps by Scenic Train

New Zealand’s Southern Alps run nearly the full length of our largest island, the South Island, and cutting through the middle of them is one of the best ways to get right in amongst them.

One way to do this is to jump aboard the TranzAlpine Railway, a scenic train trip that will take you from Christchurch on the east coast, over to Greymouth on the west coast – and back again, if you would like. It is five hours across and five hours back, and very scenic the entire way. When I did this trip, it was July, which meant that all the mountains we wound through were absolutely covered with snow, and all the paddocks, too. It was so beautiful, and a really good option for a day trip from Christchurch, as well a lovely way to see Arthur’s Pass Village, which is in the middle (which would otherwise have been a 148km, 92mi, or two hour drive in).

➡️ This link will allow you to book the journey east (Christchurch to Greymouth) if you are wanting to just go one-way! From Greymouth you will be in an excellent position to rent a vehicle and drive south down the coast through glacier country.

The TranzAlpine train that crosses through New Zealand's southern mountains is recommended in winter, when there are a lot of snowcapped peaks to be seen. The picture shows the train coming towards the camera over one of the braided rivers.

6. Stay up for your chance to see the Southern Lights

I don’t know many people who have seen the Southern Lights – so don’t come with high expectations of seeing the Aurora Australis, but the possibility is definitely there if you are in the right place at the right time. To give yourself the best chance of seeing them, visit our Southland region – get yourself into the Catlins Coastal Area in the south east corner of the South Island, or out onto the Otago Peninsula, or right down to Stewart Island (an hour’s ferry ride from Bluff at the bottom of the South Island). Being in these locations will all improve your chances of seeing the Southern Lights.

Another option is to take an Air New Zealand dreamliner aircraft from Christchurch Airport, which will fly you right down towards Antarctica accompanied by astronomers and astrophotographers who help advise you of what you are seeing and how best to photograph it. Just note that this special trip is something that only gets offered in September and would sell out fast.

➡️ While it’s never guaranteed, seeing the Aurora Australis is most likely when with a guide, in the right part of the country, at the right time. Booking a tour like this one will improve your chances!

Air New Zealand, New Zealand's national carrier, offer flights down to Antarctica and back to see the Aurora Australis, pictured beyond the tip of the plane wing here.

7. Spot Whales – Potentially even Humpback Whales

New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere, which means whales go north in winter for the warmer waters. This migratory period coincides with our colder months, and although sperm whales can be seen year round in Kaikōura specifically, on the east coast of the South Island, the area just off the coast forms part of the Humpback Highway in winter, so your chances of being able to see humpback whales migrating north increases.

This is also the time of year when you are more likely to see baby whales with their mothers, and it is easier to spot them in general, without having to go as far offshore (which means you can maximise your viewing time if you are headed out on a boat for the day). If this is a bucket list item for your winter holiday, include Kaikōura on the itinerary.

➡️ Prone to seasickness? Try a whale watching tour from above! The whales are tracked and they get to see not just the sperm whales but the migratory whales, too, in season.

Six tourists watch whales from the side of their boat on a Kaikoura whale watching expedition.

8. Soak in a hot bath .. of mud!

A geothermal mud bath is something that is uniquely offered at Hell’s Gate in Rotorua, so add Rotorua to the itinerary if this is something you’d like to do. It’s not everywhere in the world you can do something like this, so do consider it!

The mud bath is geothermal, meaning the mud has been heated beneath the earth’s surface, which is made possible by Rotorua’s geothermal location. The water and mud have a lot of healing properties – black mud is recommended for arthritis and rheumatism, white mud for burns, and grey mud for exfoliating the skin. Visitors to Hell’s Gate can also be guided around to view the hot lakes and bubbling mud that is present in the reserve, to experience the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere, and to cool off and (clean off) in a plunge pool afterward. Quite the day out!

➡️ Book Hell’s Gate mud spa here!

Muddy hands are pictured as visitors learn about the healing potential of the mud found at Hell's Gate in Rotorua.

9. Alpine Walking

There are lots of alpine walk options in New Zealand, but two of my top recommendations would be the three hour, moderately easy Hooker Valley Track, and the overnight Mueller Hut Hike, both found in Aoraki (or Mount Cook) National Park.

The Hooker Valley Track is a favourite with many because it is only 10km return and graded ‘easy’ by the Department of Conservation. The trail is located right in the Southern Alps and leads out to Hooker Lake. Even wheelchairs and buggies will be able to easily get to the first lookout and back. You may hear or spot avalanches at a distance, and you will pass icebergs, a glacier, and alpine lakes on the way, so it is an awesome little excursion obviously best done in winter.

The Mueller Hut Hike is not far away, and is also 10km return, but considered ‘advanced’ by the Department of Conservation. It starts at Mount Cook Village and winds up to the Sealy Tarns (which are mountain ponds). The hut at the top has water, lighting and cooking gas, and is worth making a stop for the night, so that you can make the most of being in the area.

Although the track is open year-round, it is important to read the Know Before You Go sections on the Department of Conservation website and consider hiking it in spring, instead, if you do not quite have the experience required. November or early December are recommended times where the weather is warmer but the snow is likely to still be on the ground for just a bit longer. And you do want the snow, for those beautiful shots with the famous red hut contrasting against the landscape.

➡️ If you’ve come straight to Queenstown, but are still wanting to fit in the Hooker Valley Hike, use this full-day return trip tour that includes guide, snacks and water!

Two walkers cross one of the swing bridges on New Zealand's Hooker Valley Hike, done in winter, when the glaciers are at their most majestic.

10. Gazing at the Stars

Stargazing can be beautiful year round, but what with Aoraki (Mount Cook) National Park and Tekapo (Takapō) both coming under the umbrella of the Aoraki MacKenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, I’d recommend adding stargazing to your winter bucket list if you are already in the region for winter. There is limited light pollution here and this has earned it its spot as one of eight International Dark Sky Reserves – and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere – making it the best place to view the Milky Way and Southern Cross, constellations that you can only see from our half of the globe.

If in Aoraki, Mount Cook Station is the place to go, and if in Tekapo (Takapō), Dark Sky Project is who you want to be in contact with. (You can even soak in Tekapo Springs at night and take in the skies from there!)

➡️ An alternative to going up Mount John is to visit Cowan’s Observatory, located in the township of Tekapo (Takapō), using this guided option, so that you can identify what you are seeing in the sky!

Two swimmers stargazing from their spot in the Tekapo Hot Spring at night, a unique activity offered in this part of New Zealand.

11. Curling

Another thing to add to your winter activity list is to try out the traditional winter sport of curling, something there is not often opportunity to do in many other parts of the country.

Tekapo Springs offers this activity at their ice rink, which is perfect if you are already in the area. It’s a great group or family activity, as everyone can play, and it is easy to learn. It’s one way to stay warm in cold weather, and can actually be a good workout. It also doesn’t consume the whole day, as skiing and snowboarding tend to. There are weekly competitions in the evening, which are social and fun, or the option to enjoy it during the day, too, if you are just learning. You couldn’t find a more picturesque spot to learn, however, and so doing some curling makes for a good addition to your winter itinerary.

➡️ No vehicle? No problem. If you’ve found yourself in Queenstown but still wanting to pay a visit to Tekapo, a two day tour like this one can take all the hassle out of it.

12. Cycle the Alps2Ocean Trail

Another activity I would recommend for winter would be to cycle part of, or all of, the Alps2Ocean cycle trail, which runs from the Southern Alps out to the ocean on the east coast of the South Island. Naturally, the alpine parts are very scenic in winter, and perhaps the best leg to do is Section One – from Aoraki (Mount Cook) to Braemar Road, or the Alternate Section (which splits off in another direction) – from Tekapo (Takapō) to Twizel.

Section One is only 35km (or 22mi) and is graded ‘easy’. It’s necessary to helicopter across the Tasman River for this section, however, and this is at additional cost. In good weather, this part of the trail will afford you magnificent views of our tallest mountain, Mount Cook, turquoise coloured alpine lake Lake Pukaki, and the Tasman Glacier.

The Alternate Section – which is the part I have ridden – starts at Tekapo (Takapō) and carries on to Twizel. It is graded ‘easy’ but is a 55km (or 34mi) stretch, so it is much longer. You will still get awesome views of Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki, and be treated to views of Lake Tekapo (Takapō), which is an equally dazzling shade of turquoise, and not having to helicopter makes it far more affordable.

➡️ Cycling not as appealing as a helicopter ride? Opt for just the helicopter landing on the Tasman Glacier instead of crossing the Tasman River for an experience that is going to make everyone at home jealous!

Two cyclists pass Lake Pukaki in a brilliant shade of turquoise on the Alps2Ocean trail.

13. Ice Skating

Ice Skating would be my final recommendation for this list of activities to build your winter itinerary. There are indoor rinks around the country, but for the true experience, pick an outdoor rink, either in Alexandra, or in Tekapo (Takapō), where you may already be staying for to the plethora of cold weather activities on offer there (and in the surrounding Mount Cook National Park area).

Tekapo Springs has its own ice rink where you can not only go curling, but ice skating too, and with the hot springs and the lake right next door, what more could you want for your pick of iceskating spot? The ice rink also has an open fire to warm up by, for when your muscles need a break.

Alexandra is a little more south east of Queenstown, if that is where you have based yourself, but you’ll likely be going through it if you are headed to the Catlins Coastal Area anyway, so Alexandra IceinLine Rink could be worth adding to the list. It’s the largest outdoor ice skating rink in the Southern Hemisphere! You don’t need to book, but you do need to visit before the middle of August, which is when they close.

➡️ This day trip includes return transport to Tekapo (Takapō) from Christchurch, taking the hassle out of having to drive, as well as a drive up Mount John, a visit to neighbouring Lake Pukaki, Geraldine Cheese Factory and includes your Tekapo Springs entry, where you can skate.

Best Places To Go In New Zealand In Winter

There are lots of places in New Zealand that would make an excellent base for your winter holiday. Each of them are naturally very beautiful, and while also lovely in warmer months, they’re best experienced in the colder months.

Here are a few recommendations of towns and regions you should consider for your winter holiday. Each has something special about it that can only be experienced in the winter. Whether you pick one, two or three – or try to do them all, travelling to these will ensure you see New Zealand showing off on the things that make the cold season here so unique and special.

📍Hanmer Springs

Just 13km, 84mi, or 90 minutes north of Christchurch (where you can fly in from overseas) is a little alpine village called Hanmer Springs. Hanmer is gorgeous and comes alive in autumn when its pines, spruces and oaks that line the streets turn fabulous shades of red and orange. It’s namesake, Hanmer Springs, feed the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools, which are a collection of lots and lots of hot pools set amongst beautiful gardens – as well as hydroslides and heated rock pools.

Overlooking the town is Conical Hill, which is a 3km, 1.8mi, 30 minute walk to the top, providing stunning views. The forest walk on the way up is utterly beautiful, planted with non-natives that will transport you right over to central Europe.

There are also a lot of adrenaline-pumping activities on offer here, including the shortest bungy jump in New Zealand at 35 metres off the bridge over the Waiau River (so if you’re keen to tick off that bungy jump from the bucket list, but feeling a bit anxious about the height, this is your place to do it!).

Hanmer Springs is a great winter destination in New Zealand with its thermal resort and its small ski area.

Budget Option: YHA Hanmer Springs Kakapo Lodge
This backpacker’s hostel is right in the township with good proximity to everything, and a shared dorm room can be booked for as little as $50.00 NZD per night. It’s 550m to the thermal pool resort and surrounding shops, so not far at all. Kakapo Lodge also offers luggage storage, free onsite parking and bicycle storage! Guests can make use of the BBQ, free movies and the games and book exchange in the communal areas.

Somewhere to stay in winter: a budget-friendly dorm room at Kakapo Lodge.

Mid-Range Option: Hanmer Springs Top 10 Holiday Park
Hanmer Springs Top 10 has a wide variety of accommodation options in the $50.00 NZD to $200.00 NZD per night range. Whether you’re after an apartment, a motorhome park, a motel room, or a simple cabin or studio, they can cater. We stayed here in a motorhome in 2022 and really enjoyed the use of their woodfired hot tubs each night! For families, they have trampolines, a jumping pillow, playground, sandpit and table tennis. They also have bicycles for hire and BBQs and pizza ovens for use free of charge.

Somewhere to stay in winter: an affordable studio unit at the Top 10 Holiday Park.


Luxury Option: The St James
Winner of the TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Best of the Best Award for three years consecutively, The St James is an idyllic spot to stay if you are looking for five stars and mountain views. Pick from any of their gorgeous suites or even consider one of their packages: $720.00 NZD for two nights inclusive of a café breakfast and thermal resort pass for two, or $1020.00 NZD for a third night for the two of you.

Somewhere to stay in winter: a luxury five star suite at The St James.

📍Wānaka

Wānaka is another of our South Island resort towns and is best reached by flying into Queenstown (only an option if you’re flying in from Australia or elsewhere in New Zealand), where upon landing, you would need to drive one hour (68km, 42mi) over the Crown Range to reach Wānaka. It’s namesake, Lake Wānaka, is famous for ‘that Wānaka tree’, a semi-submerged willow tree that has been backdrop to millions of photos of both global and domestic visitors.

Wānaka hosts visitors to Treble Cone Ski Area, the country’s largest ski area, (which is 36 minutes drive from town and towers over the lake) and the Cardrona Alpine Resort skifield, (a 40 minute drive from town back into the Crown Range that you likely drove across on your way in).

Visitors to Wānaka can also spend time at Snow Farm NZ, which offers cross country skiing and snowshoeing as unique alternatives to spending time in the snow.

📍Taupō

Taupō is another of our lakeside towns, but located in the North Island. It’s namesake is Lake Taupō, New Zealand’s largest lake. From its shores you can see the snowcapped peaks of Mount Ruapehu, Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe – three of our four biggest volcanoes.

Taupō sits on a geological hotplate – it’s along our famous Thermal Explorer Highway – and because of its position, there are a lot of options nearby for soaking in geothermal waters.

For a free soak, you can’t beat Otumuheke Stream. You can sit under the small waterfall and let the hot water run over your shoulders. The stream feeds the mighty Waikato River, so the water gets cooler with the distance you are from the source. This hotspot is only a couple of minutes drive from town so well worth a visit.

Otumuheke Stream near Taupo is a great stop in the winter as it flows hot!

For paid hot pools, Taupō has Taupō DeBretts Hot Springs (with hot pools, private pools, a warm water playground and a hydroslide), and Wairakei Terraces (note that these pools are all adult-only).

Taupō is not far from Whakapapa Skifield on Mount Ruapehu (more on that a bit further down) so a great place to stay if accommodation closer to the mountain is a bit out of budget for you. (It’s still only 90 minutes drive, or 104km, 64mi, from Taupō to the base of the mountain).

And, like many places around New Zealand, Taupō also has a smorgasboard of activities like bungy jumping and skydiving, for those that need a little adrenaline rush!

📍Queenstown

Queenstown (also known as The Adventure Capital of the World!) is the jewel in our crown. It’s world famous for its beauty – and for being the birthplace of bungy jumping!

It’s a stunning place to spend any season, but it is especially magnificent in winter because it sits at the foot of the Remarkables – a mountain range that runs directly north to south. The Remarkables Ski Area is just out of town, though it will take you 40 minutes to drive to the top (24km, or 15mi from town). Coronet Peak Skifield is even closer, at just 20 minutes drive away (16km, or 10mi)! Because of proximity, it is not hard to find a shuttle bus to either ski field from Queenstown.

Coronet Peak is famed for night skiing – so definitely something different for your winter bucket list.

Queenstown has a few places where you can go and take a hot soak, but the most famous is Onsen Hot Pools, located just at the bottom of the Coronet Peak Skifield. Private cedar tubs overlook the beautiful Shotover River and surrounding valley and patrons can choose whether they would like to soak at daytime or at nighttime with candles lit for the most romantic setting. You only have to glance at their instagram page to see what a magical place it is.

Budget Option: Nomads Queenstown Hostel
I can recommend Nomads from personal experience! This hostel is in a great location – while many other hostels are further up the hill and involve an uphill walk back from the waterfront, Nomads is at the level of the lake, just further along toward the end of the restaurants, so only involves a short walk back to your accommodation after a meal out. The front desk staff are so friendly and always ready to help you book an activity.

Somewhere to stay in Queenstown in winter: the budget-friendly Nomads Backpackers, just 100m from the lake.

Mid-Range Option: Sherwood Queenstown
I can recommend this from personal experience, too! The Sherwood rooms are lovely. A studio for two will often cost between $200.00 NZD and $300.00 NZD a night, although costs in Queenstown are very seasonal. The Sherwood is a little further up the Frankton Arm, away from the lake, so 5 km (3 mi) away from downtown Queenstown, meaning an hour’s walk, or a 10 minute drive down if you have a car. It’s right on the bus route (Goldfield Heights Bus Stop) and this is an excellent way of getting around town, as it is so cheap and easy to navigate. (Look into getting a pre-loaded Bee Card for the bus system!)

Somewhere to stay in Queenstown in winter: the affordable rooms at Sherwood Queenstown, with views of the Frankton Arm part of the lake.


Luxury Option: Pepper’s Beacon
There are so many luxury places to stay in Queenstown! Pepper’s Beacon is right there in terms of location, with lakeside views of Lake Wakatipu from its suites. It is less than a kilometre from downtown Queenstown, so a very easy walk along the waterfront to get to all the main restaurants. Suites go for upward of $300.00 NZD per night, depending on what specifics you are after, and your group size.

Somewhere to stay in Queenstown in winter: the luxury Pepper's Beacon, less than a kilometre's walk from downtown Queenstown.

📍Arthur’s Pass

Arthur’s Pass carves through the mountains between the east and west coasts of the South Island, the Southern Alps, and it is one of only a few cross-routes that you can use to cross the South Island. Arthur’s Pass Village is located in the middle of the pass, and is a good place to stop for a hot drink and a waterfall walk if you are driving the route.

Undoubtedly the best way to go – especially for a winter trip – is to take the TranzAlpine Scenic Railway train from Christchurch, through the pass, to Greymouth on the west coast (and then back again in the afternoon). I did this trip in July 2009 and could not stop taking photos of the snowy mountains and snow-covered fields. Coming back east, at the tail end of the day, the sun had lit everything up and the snow just sparkled with the day’s last rays, so it was truly unforgettable.

The train trip is 223km (138mi) one-way and takes five hours each way. If driving the route, take your time and spend a night in Arthur’s Pass Village itself.

📍Taranaki

Taranaki, the region surrounding our fourth major North Island volcano, Mount Taranaki (or Mount Egmont), is a beautiful, largely rural area, with most of its inhabitants living in the city of New Plymouth. The mountain is perfectly cone shaped and looks like a perfect circle from above.

Although it’s not too common to go there for the skiing, it does have a small skifield, Manganui Ski Area. There’s 59 ha of ski area but most of it is for advanced snow-bunnies – but it is significantly cheaper than Mount Ruapehu! It is not as reliably open as Mount Ruapehu as tends to have a shorter season, requiring more snowfall. (I have been eager to check this skifield out for a couple of years but have not been able to time a trip with it being open yet!)

That aside, the region is undoubtedly still a great place to visit in winter, as no matter where you are in the region you can always see the snow capped cone on a clear day, dominating the horizon. There are lots of rugged beaches that can still be enjoyed for walking, and lots of little activities to choose from in the main city of New Plymouth. And Taranaki Thermal Spa offers both private and public soaking sessions, if that’s more your thing!

Mount Taranaki, New Zealand in winter is a majestic snow capped cone that you can see on a clear day from anywhere in the region.

📍Methven

Methven is the accompanying resort town to the Mount Hutt Ski Area. Mount Hutt is your most accessible ski field from Christchurch (where you can fly in from overseas). It’s a 90 minute drive (95km, or 60mi) out to the west and has been voted as the country’s best ski resort for the last eight years running. It’s a large area boasts 365 ha of ski area!

Those wanting to sit and soak can do so at Methven’s Ōpuke Thermal Pools and Spa which have both family friendly and adults-only options. They even have a swim-up bar!

If the weather is fine, you can walk along the Rakaia River, which is turquoise in colour, or see the region from above, in a hot air balloon. Doing so will give you magnificent views of the Southern Alps and the Canterbury Plains (New Zealand’s largest area of flat land, mostly comprising green pastures and stunning braided rivers).

📍Southland

The Southland Region is on this list, because, if there is any chance that you might get to see the Southern Lights – or the Aurora Australis, it’ll be in Southland, right down the bottom of New Zealand. This is definitely a highlight reserved for the colder months, and it is most certainly never guaranteed. Being away from city lights is important, so the highest likelihood of viewing them would be out on the Otago Peninsula, or well into the Catlins Coastal Area, or down on Stewart Island – which is our third, and littlest island, right at the bottom of New Zealand (and a one hour ferry trip away from Blluff, on the mainland).

It is also possible to fly further south with our national carrier, Air New Zealand, who do special Southern Lights flights a few times a year with meals, an astronomer on board, and astrophotographers to help you with your pictures. This is not something I’ve done yet, but it is most certainly on the list! These flights depart from Christchurch, (which is somewhere you can fly into from overseas) but are only offered in September.

📍National Park

No, not just any national park – an actual village, named National Park! It sits on this list because of its proximity to both Mount Ruapehu’s skifields, though you would be closer still to Whakapapa Ski Area (the northern slope) if you stayed in Whakapapa Village, and closer to Tūroa Ski Area (the southern slope) if you stayed in the town of Ohakune.

National Park, however, sits right on State Highway 1 (our national north-to-south highway) and is just a 20 minute drive up to the Whakapapa ski lifts (22km, or 13mi). It’s also where you would disembark the train, if you were to take the Northern Explorer train right down from Auckland City (a 5.5 hour trip) or up from Wellington City (also a 5.5 hour trip).

Whakapapa Village is nestled right at the foot of Mount Ruapehu and has a lot of short walks in the vicinity that are very pretty (think beech forests and clear alpine streams). Whakapapa is also home to the Tongariro Chateau, which, until early 2023, was a famous old-glamour hotel and resort, complete with chandeliers and vintage furniture for a special stay.

Around the other side of the mountain is the Ohakune township, which is also just a 20 minute drive from National Park (36km, or 22mi). (The drive up to the skifield is longer on this side, however, adding another 25 minutes to the journey.) Ohakune is the best place to stay for those wanting to ski the Tūroa side (my favourite side, as a snowboarder, with its natural half-pipes and bowls).

If you have a day off the slopes, or if it’s just not your thing, you can get amongst Tongariro National Park in another way – by rafting the Tongariro River, which is well worth doing, and a lot of fun. Those wanting to soak muscles would typically go to Tokaanu (a 35 minute drive from National Park, 50km or 31mi) to sit in the cheap hot pool there (or rent a private one!).

📍Kaikōura

Kaikōura is a coastal town on the South Island and is a 2.5 hour drive north (183km, or 113mi) of Christchurch (where you can fly in from overseas). It is famous for whale watching and is a particularly special place to go in the winter because the sperm whales come closer to the shore – meaning less boat travel to get out there and more time to observe them!

Kaikōura is also on the Humpback Highway during our winter months, as the humpback whales head on up past us, from Antarctica to the tropical waters north of New Zealand. Locals say it’s not uncommon to see them daily at this time of year and that it is also the best time of year to see the bigger pods of dolphins!

For those hankering to get some skiing in, look no further than Mount Lyford Ski Area, which is a 90 minute drive from Kaikōura (73km, or 45mi). It’s a tiny little ski resort (75 ha), but a third of it is suitable for beginners, and over a third of it is suitable for intermediates. Snow tubing is available here, too.

📍Rotorua

Rotorua sits inland on the North Island, 2.5-3.5 hours drive south of Auckland (227km from the CBD, or 141mi), and is best known for its sulphuric smell that permeates the entire small city, but the smell is so prevalent precisely because it is such a hotspot for geothermal activity. Sitting on the Thermal Explorer Highway, it provides heaps of options for those wanting to relax in a bit of hot water – the ultimate winter’s day activity!

25 minutes drive south (27 km, or 16mi) is an increasingly well known spot called Kerosene Creek, where the stream runs hot and people like to sit under the waterfall and dig their toes into the gravel on the bottom, where it’s hottest. Unfortunately this hidden secret is not so much of a secret any more, but for a free activity, is a good spot to go to.

Rotorua’s Hells Gate Geothermal Reserve also has a mud spa where you can pay to go and soak up all the mineral goodness. There are so many benefits for our skin that you will learn about.

For other soaking options, you have the Polynesian Spa, which is a lakeside complex with private and public soaking options, Secret Spot Hot Tubs, which are a series of secluded cedar hot tubs nestled amongst native ferns, overlooking the Redwood Forest (Whakarewarewa Forest), or the Waikite Valley Hot Pools, which have several soaking options, too.

Just under an hour’s drive away (37km, or 23mi) you have the Waitangi Soda Springs, which are large, hot and spacious, with nowhere near as many visitors – oh, and only for the price of a koha! (which is a monetary gift, an amount you choose).

Budget Option: Rock Solid Backpacker’s Rotorua
This backpacker’s accommodation is an excellent choice for those wanting to spend $43.00 NZD to $50.00 NZD on a dorm room. It adjoins an indoor climbing facility, The Wall, and if you stay here you can get a discount and enter and climb for only $12.50 NZD. The front desk can also secure discounted activities if you need some help booking things to keep you occupied.

A place to stay in Rotorua in winter: the budget-friendly Rock Solid Backpackers, where a dorm room costs you less than $50.00 a night.

Mid-Range Option: Capri on Fenton Motel
Winner of the TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Best of the Best Award in 2023, Capri on Fenton offers affordable mid range accommodation on Fenton Street, the main street in Rotorua, so an excellent location. The best part is that every room has a private hot tub. They are a pick up and drop off location for any visitor who has also booked a Māori hangi (underground oven) experience, and they offer barbecue facilities at the motel also, if you are eating in.

A place to stay in Rotorua in winter: the affordable Capri on Fenton Motel, with its excellent location and hot tub in every room.


Luxury Option: On The Point
This luxury retreat on the lakeside will set you back upwards of $900.00 NZD a night, but for the price tag, you will have the option to enjoy a book from their library and sit by the fire, enjoy the food cooked by international chefs at their restaurant, or pick a pampering experience from their spa menu.

A place to stay in Rotorua in winter: the luxury On The Point Lakeside Retreat, previously a manor with all the antique furnishings to make you feel a little bit special.

📍Aoraki (Mount Cook)

Aoraki (Mount Cook) is New Zealand’s tallest mountain, and is situated in the Southern Alps, which is our mountain range that runs most of the length of the South Island. It forms part of Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, which is an excellent place to visit in winter, and the country’s only International Dark Sky Reserve (which means the stargazing is out of this world). Ten short walks start at Mount Cook Village, so there are several to choose from.

The Hooker Valley Track (two hours return or 5km, 3mi) is very popular because of the icebergs and glaciers that are visible as you walk along the Hooker River with magnificent views of the mountain.

There are also glaciers you can view by helicopter, or, if wanting to explore on foot, the Mueller Hut Track is very popular. It takes 4-5 hours to hike up to the hut, with an elevation of 1 km (a 10km loop, or 7mi). Winter is absolutely the most magical time to do this hike but it does require some special gear (which can be rented) and well-thought out preparation for the cold. If you are game for a walk up wearing crampons, you will be rewarded with the most breathtaking vistas, and the most iconic view of the little red hut sitting in the snow.

It’s best done as an overnighter so the skies can be appreciated from up there. I have definitely heard that at least once the Southern Lights were visible from up there, so you never know! If you don’t have the mountaineering experience, walk up there a bit further into the spring (September onwards). It is expected you would still have some snow on the ground to enjoy right up until the end of November or very early December.

📍Tekapo (Takapō)

Tekapo (Takapō) is a three hour drive from Christchurch (226km, or 140mi) – but not too far from Mount Cook, and it is definitely worth doing as well, if you are already in the region. It falls under the same International Dark Sky Reserve as mentioned above – the largest in the world – and is an excellent place for star gazing.

Dark Sky Project offers star gazing in Tekapo (Takapō), if you are wanting a guide and telescope. They have evening sessions at the top of Mount John, and other options from within their observatory. When the weather is cold, nothing beats soaking in a hot pool, and Tekapo Springs delivers. Sitting at the base of Mount John, they’re in the right place to offer a stargazing and soaking combination package, which is another awesome option, if you’d like to soak at night.

Tekapo Springs also has a Winter Park, which has an ice rink for skating and curling. Plus, they have a 100m slope for tubing down – yes, adults can do this too!

Tekapo (Takapō) also sits on the Alps2Ocean cycle trail, which is a multi-day cycling trip made up of nine legs. Tekapo (Takapō) to Twizel would be among the prettiest, with scenic views of the Southern Alps and the turquoise coloured lake that Tekapo (Takapō) is so known for – and named after. It also passes Lake Pukaki, equally blue and equally pretty. This stretch is 55km long but is easy terrain – I have cycled it in reverse, and it is an excellent day out.

Tekapo (Takapō) is also close to some smaller, lesser known skifields! Roundhill Ski Area is a 40 minute drive away (34km, or 21mi). It’s privately owned and has lots of space for beginners. Mount Dobson Ski Area is a 44 minute drive away (29km, or 18mi). There’s no public shuttles to either, so driving up is necessary. Mount Dobson has a quarter of its slopes that are suitable for beginners, half are suitable for intermediates and the other quarter is for advanced snow-bunnies.

Roundhill is 550 ha and Mount Dobson is 400 ha big, and are fantastic options to make your mountain holiday a well-rounded trip – with lots of different magical moments to create.

Visiting New Zealand: FAQs

Now that you have come to know a bit more about what makes New Zealand so special in the winter, let’s plunge into some of the most frequently asked questions.

Is New Zealand worth visiting in winter?

Yes! For some special experiences, like watching humpback whales migrate north to warmer waters, or skiing or snowboarding, or having a shot at seeing the Southern Lights (the Aurora Australia) you will only want to visit in the winter! We have geothermal areas from which lots of natural hot springs have popped up, and, while these can be enjoyed in the summer, too, who wants to sit in a hot pool on a hot summer’s day? I would argue for visiting these in the winter, too, when they can be enjoyed with a hot beverage!

How cold is New Zealand in winter?

It can vary, depending on the area! The North Island is closer to the tropics, and the South Island is closer to the Antarctic, so it is the North that is warmer and more mild than the South.

The towns near our skifields in the north are likely to be breezy and around 3°C to 9°C (which is 38°F to 49°F). Our geothermal district of Rotorua generally experiences temperatures of 6°C to 11°C at its coldest (which is 43°F to 52°F), and our more southern gems, like Queenstown and Wānaka, generally experience temperatures of -1°C to 8°C (which is 30°F to 47°F).

Is New Zealand still pretty in winter?

Absolutely! Arguably New Zealand in some parts are the prettiest in winter. We are well known for our mountains, our glaciers and our alpine lakes, which are all gorgeous at this time of year. The snowfall we experience only adds to the magic of some of these locations, and to make sure you really experience the wow-factor on your visit, I would recommend allocating the most time to our glacial and alpine regions, and getting amongst some of the activities above that are extra special, or, in some cases, only possible, in the winter.

Does it snow in New Zealand?

Yes! Not so much in the North Island, and not so much in our coastal areas – of which we have a lot! However if you hang about in our mountainous areas, the inland regions of the South Island and the Central Plateau of the North Island in particular, you won’t be disappointed. I would recommend visiting Queenstown and Wānaka, Mount Ruapehu and Methven in particular, to experience our snow.

Conclusion

This is New Zealand in the winter, and everything it can offer! We may be far away from the rest of the world but we are well worth making the trip, particularly for some of our more unique experiences that can only be had in our corner of the world.

It may be a bit of a journey to get down here, but many tourists combine a New Zealand trip with a trip to Australia or the Pacific Islands, so there are options for maximising your time in this part of the world – just save enough time to see us so you can leave with no regrets!

Whether you pick and choose from the options above, or decide to do them all (which is so doable!), enjoy the planning – and .. see you on the slopes!