There’s a reason New Zealand’s scenery was chosen to be a playground for hobbits, wizards, elves, and orcs. The land of the long white cloud is home to breathtaking topography that ranges from indigenous beech forests (magical even when Galadriel isn’t in residence) to scorching beaches to wine country.
It all has its charms, but come winter, only one landscape matters: the mountains.
New Zealand’s coldest season heralds snow, sports, arctic adventures, and relaxing spa days. With the wealth of activities on offer, sunbathing on a beach will be the last thing on your mind. Pack your warmest wool and experience one of the best snow getaways in New Zealand before it all turns to slush.
Skiing & Snowboarding
NZ’s not-so-hidden winter treasures revolve around skiing and snowboarding. Snow bunnies have their pick of a long list of resorts and runs, where postcard views appear at every turn. A short journey from Christchurch takes you to Mount Hutt, Porters, Craigieburn, and Mount Olympus. Further south, in Queenstown, world-class resorts await at Treble Cone, Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, and Cardrona. More advanced athletes can skip the lift ticket in favour of the ultimate snowsports undertaking: heli-skiing on New Zealand’s most off-the-grid terrain.
Hiking Franz Josef Glacier or Fox Glacier is on the to-do list of many a tourist, and there’s no better time to make the trek than winter. Sadly, climate change has caused rapid melting that makes it practically impossible to trek up the mountains towards the glaciers. Adventurers who want to experience the ice must now arrive via helicopter. Those who brave the journey (and its prohibitive cost) can arm themselves with an ice axe and explore the fascinating and terrifying crevasses of one of the country’s greatest natural wonders.
Even underwater, New Zealand’s reputation for adventure holds strong. Those who are part polar bear can take a crack at ice diving in the alpine town of Wanaka. Beginners need not apply. Ice diving is extreme and potentially perilous (not to mention frigid), but your reward for confronting the conditions is a beauty few will ever experience. Dive master Steve Traynor, who owns a PADI Dive Centre in Wanaka, leads annual expeditions below the iced-over surface of Lake Alta for a small group of lucky (or looney) divers.
After a long day of outdoor exploits, a dose of relaxation is in order. New Zealand’s hot springs are especially inviting when snow is on the ground. Take the plunge in the piping hot pools of Hanmer Springs or Tekapo Springs, where a soak is a winter rite of passage. Both offer a variety of thermal pools, saunas and steam rooms, and indulgent spa services – because if you haven’t earned a bit of spoiling after swimming under ice or barrelling down a mountain on planks of wood, when have you?
Join man’s best friend for an unforgettable winter adventure. Both first-timers and experienced mushers can spend quality time behind a dog team on the spectacular trails of the Southern Alps. Choose from a short trip, a multi-day sled dog training camp, or a scenic flight by helicopter that brings you in to your four-legged crew high up in the mountains. You’ll learn about these phenomenal animal athletes while feeling the thrill of riding in the basket of the sled or taking command of your own sled dog team.
If you were inspired by our coverage of the world’s most epic rail journeys, this is the NZ winter getaway for you. The TranzAlpine train links the South Island’s east and west coasts, from Christchurch to Greymouth, via the Southern Alps. Over the course of the 4.5 hour journey, you’ll cruise through frosty fields, climb snow-capped peaks, trace the Waimakariri River, and descend through thick beech forest before arriving at your final destination. Be sure to secure a spot in the open-air carriage to maximise your scenery viewing opportunities.