Winter in New Zealand is from June to August and the country is a lot quieter at this time of year. It’s the slow season for tourism so if you do venture to our shores you will find yourself rewarded with some bonuses for coming when most people don’t. Not only is it emptier (meaning you’ll find you’re the only one amid breathtaking scenery), but you’ll experience things that are just not the same, or you can’t even do in the warmer months. Here’s a guide to some of the best things to do in New Zealand in winter that will make your trip unforgettable.
The mountains are truly at their best. You will be awestruck as you step off the plane in Queenstown and look around and the beautiful surrounding mountains any time of the year, but in winter it’s something else! There are fantastic ski fields in New Zealand. This is about the only place you’ll find the odd crowd of people, all gathering to ride those magical slopes covered in pretty, pretty snow. There are around 20 ski fields in New Zealand. The top spots for skiing and snowboarding in New Zealand are Cadrona, The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Treble Cone in Queenstown, Mt Hutt which is a 1 hour 45 min drive from Christchurch, and Whakapapa in the North Island.
Related: See our 16-Day South Island Adventure Private tour.
2. Hot Pools
New Zealand is dotted with thermal activity which means hot springs are everywhere, some are well known, and some are smaller, lesser-known spots, while some you even have to dig yourself. Not only are hot pools uber relaxing but thermal waters have therapeutic benefits. Rotorua, in the North Island, is located on New Zealand’s volcanic plateau. It’s the centre for geothermal activity, and there are various hot pools to enjoy and natural hot springs if you know where to look. Some places in the South Island to get cosy and relax in the thermal waters are; Tekapo Springs, Maruia Springs, Hanmer and Glacier Hot Pools at Franz Josef Glacier.
Related: There are loads of opportunities to relax in hot pools on our 15-Day Best of Both Islands Self-Drive Tour.
The best time to explore the ancient glaciers is winter time. New Zealand’s glaciers, Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are on the West Coast of the South Island where the weather is more settled in winter. That means the skies are clearer which makes for fantastic glacier hiking and helicopter tours. The glacier looks most spectacular with a snowy mountain backdrop, and the beautiful blue ice is less dusty in winter, so it looks more pristine.
Related: Check out our 9-Day South Island Adventure Private Tour.
4. Celebrate Matariki
The Maori New Year festival, Matariki is marked by the rising of the Matariki star constellation (aka the Pleiades or Seven Sisters) in mid-winter. Matariki is an important marker in the harvest calendar, it signifies the new year (based on the Maori lunar calendar) and is a time for reflection and acknowledging loved ones passed and our relationships with each other and the natural world. Festivals are held all over the country throughout Matariki which occurs annually in June and July.
Related: You can discover more about Maori culture and traditions on our 8-Day North Island Highlights Private Tour.
5. Watch a Rugby Game Live
Another bonus of visiting New Zealand during the winter months, winter is rugby season. Watching the All Blacks play on their home soil is one of the most iconic ways to experience New Zealand. Get chills as you watch the famous Haka performed live and get a taste of New Zealand rugby spirit as you soak up the exciting atmosphere of the grandstand. Visit the All Blacks website for their games dates or the New Zealand Rugby Union and New Zealand Rugby League to check out dates for other important games.
Wine tours are a classic summer activity, yes, but the wineries are still charming during winter. Despite the vines being bare, you’ll still experience some stunning vistas and sample world-renowned New Zealand wine. New Zealand has numerous wine regions spread throughout the country. Most wineries have restaurants offering delicious food and cosy indoor seating.
Related: See our New Zealand Wine Tours.
7. Festivals & Events
There are several festivals held during the winter throughout New Zealand. From food festivals to arts, fashion and film. Some favourites include;
- The Waiheke Arts Festival
- Wellington Jazz festival
- Food festivals; Wellington on A Plate, Beervana Wellington, Hawkes Bay Food and Wine Classic
- New Zealand International Film Festival
- Dunedin Readers and Writers Festival
- Steampunk Festival
- NZ Fashion Week
Related: See our guide to popular events throughout the year.
8. Walking Tracks
New Zealand’s “Great Walks” are not suitable for hiking during winter, but if you’re into hiking, shorter walks are usually accessible and safe, and they’re just as spectacular in the winter. Perhaps just an hour or maybe a full day’s hike. Keep in mind that it will be colder, some paths may be a bit slippery, and the sun sets earlier in winter, so be prepared. Wherever you are there is bound to be a walking track that takes you through the beautiful native bush and stunning scenery not too far away. Listen out for the unique birdsong of some of New Zealand’s native birds.
9. Dog Sledding
Yes, dog sledding. Traditionally from the northern hemisphere, but you can experience a tour through stunning New Zealand landscapes aboard a sled with traditional arctic sled dogs. Underdog New Zealand, near Wanaka in the South Island of New Zealand, is run by a dog-loving couple who have run their dogs all over North America. Of course, this is a more authentic experience when there is snow.
10. Southern Lights in Winter
Commonly known as The Southern Lights, Aurora Australis is caused by solar wind reacting with the gases in our atmosphere causing the skies light up with displays of pink and green. This is a rare sight to see because it is difficult to get far enough south and the conditions have to be just right. The winter months are the best time to see them. New Zealand is one of the countries closest to the South Pole so if you head far south enough you might see this incredible phenomenon. The best places to spot the Southern Lights include Stewart Island, Lake Tekapo, The Catlins, Lake Wakatipu, Invercargill and Dunedin.
Related: See our 9 Day Exclusive Southern Lights Luxury Tour.
At The Road Trip, we love sharing the best things to do in New Zealand in winter. If your planning to visit New Zealand during the winter months can help you customise your adventure to include the best of winter in New Zealand, according to your interests. Call us at +64 2191 0433, email us at [email protected] or use our contact form.