Banish all thoughts of the soggy British winter from your mind. In New Zealand, the winter months of May to August are great for outdoor adventures, from soaring over a glacier by helicopter to skiing down some of the most unspoilt mountain slopes in the world. With fewer tourists around, there are bargain rates to be found – and when it’s frosty, the scenery is more beautiful than ever.
Relax: when it’s cold out, New Zealanders have the perfect natural antidote. This strikingly beautiful nation has no shortage of geothermal and naturally heated pools, many of them with views to make you sigh with bliss.
Try the famous pure-water pools at Tekapo Springs
, right in the heart of the South Island, for stunning views of the brilliant blue waters of Lake Tekapo and the Southern Alps. In case the imaginative, bird-friendly landscaping and awesome mountain panoramas aren’t soothing enough on their own, you could treat yourself to a hydrotherapy massage under the warm-water jets.
Sperm whales, dolphins and other cetaceans play in New Zealand’s clear waters all year round, but the action steps up a notch in the winter months of June and July. Each year, migrating humpback, blue and southern right whales pass close to the east coast of the South Island, making this a superb time for a marine wildlife-watching trip.
The best place to catch sight of an acrobatic humpback or a southern right’s mighty fluke is near the Kaikoura Peninsula, where ocean currents create waters rich in marine life. Once a whaling station, Kaikoura has reinvented itself as an ecotourism hub with an excellent reputation for trips which disturb the wildlife as little as possible.
Kiwis like to say that sport is their favourite therapy. But unlike those sport-loving Brits who are content to spend the winter parked on the sofa, watching the pros do their thing, New Zealanders prefer to get out and flex their muscles. From June to October, skiing and snowboarding top the agenda, both in the South Island and in the more mountainous areas of the North Island.
Top spots to sample include Wanaka’s Treble Cone and the superb ski fields in the Canterbury region near Christchurch, including Mount Hutt and Aoraki Mount Cook, the nation’s highest mountain. For something totally different, ski down Mount Ruapehu – an active volcano – or test your mettle on a supercharged snowmobiling excursion from Queenstown.
Move over northern lights – the southern hemisphere has its own celestial spectacle. The aurora australis, or southern lights, are formed in pretty much the same way as the aurora borealis, flooding the lower part of the sky with a mesmerising curtain of colour. But the fact that there are so few places on dry land where conditions are just right for a satisfying viewing means the australis has extra cachet for sky-gazers. New Zealand’s far south has some of the best aurora-watching spots. Try the Otago Peninsula, or the lookout at Oban on Stewart Island.
The Franz Josef Glacier in Westland Tai Poutini National Park is a marvel of natural architecture. At 7.5 miles (12km) long, the most inspiring way to appreciate its scale and might is to hop aboard a Glacier Helicopter
for a 30-minute scenic flight. Or, for the ultimate adventure, book a heli-hike
to explore its icy pinnacles and vivid blue caves.
Queenstown Winter Festival
No other Kiwi town celebrates winter with quite as much gusto as Queenstown, the nation’s top destination for adventure activities. Not only is it the gateway to a winter wonderland – Coronet Peak and The Remarkables, two of New Zealand’s most popular skiing and snowboarding resorts, are right on the doorstep – but it also has its own Winter Festival
. Expect parties, fireworks, music, comedy and a hilarious dog derby, with dogs and owners racing pell mell down Coronet Peak.
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