Picture this… striking snow dusted mountains; fresh powder sprinkled across them like icing sugar. A steamy rugged coastline; an almost sub-tropical temperate climate coupled by a crisp arctic chill. The charming landscape flirting with your senses, the refreshing sea air showering you with wanderlust. Snowflakes twirling around the icy ground, sunshine streaming through the cloudless skies. Your flip flops then your ski boots running amuck!
You’re probably scratching your head wondering how many countries we’ve referred to here, surely we must be describing more than one? Well, fortunately you are mistaken, this majestic wonderland is what we call a winter season in New Zealand.
Without being biased, there are plenty of reasons to visit Aotearoa, the ‘land of the long white cloud’, during the winter months, but before we launch into why, here’s some quick facts about New Zealand in winter:
• Winter months are June, July and August.
• With a maritime climate, the average temperatures across New Zealand can range from a high of 16 degrees Celsius (61 Fahrenheit); to a low of around 0 degrees Celsius (45 Fahrenheit). Typically though, temperatures during the day are around 10-15 degrees Celsius.
• The ski area temperatures may range from -6 to 10 degrees Celsius (21 Fahrenheit to 50 Fahrenheit).
• Eastern areas can be cooler than the West. Parts of the central South Island experience continental-like conditions, with crisp, clear days and frosty nights.
• Traditional celebrations for ‘Matariki’ – the beginning of the Maori New Year takes place in the winter. Matariki is the arrival of the star constellation in the southern skies, Pleiades.
• Queenstown Winter Festival – look no further for a 10 day extravaganza!
• Hit the slopes! Whakapapa, Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Cardrona, Ohau Ski Field…to name a few.
• New Zealand’s full length mountain chains divide the country quite dramatically; with the West Coast of the South Island at times the wettest, and just over the divide on the East Coast, the driest.
• Having a relatively friendly and kind climate, visitors to NZ can participate in a lot more outdoor sporting activities all year round
So what separates our unique and distinctive traits from the rest of the world?
Reason 1: Hiking in Winter
Are you a lover of a decent hike? Well you’ve come to the right place. At a whopping 952 metres, Mt Te Aroha is your highest point in the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park. With its 360 degree views spanning across the central North Island, on a clear winter’s day you may be lucky enough to see Mt Ruapehu and Mt Taranaki. The Tongariro Crossing is also one not to be missed, considered one of the best one-day mountain hikes in the country (but be sure to go on a guided expedition as crampons and an ice axe will be essential!). Did you know that Mangatepopo Valley in Tongariro, is believed to have been carved out during the last ice age?!
Reason 2: The slopes are at your beck and call
The main commercial resorts are Mt Ruapehu in the North Island; Whakapapa and Turoa. In the South Island we have Coronet Peak, the Remarkables, Cadrona, and Treble Cone. New Zealand’s premier ski fields down South are just a stone’s throw away from central Queenstown. We also put a bit of a Kiwi spin on our version of après-ski. With a back drop of The Remarkables in your view, whilst you’re snuggled up with a nice ale, there’s no better way of letting your hair down under that ski hat than enjoying what Queenstown’s nightlight has to offer. From the Bungy Jumping, adrenalin pumping surge, to the pristine golf courses, to the abundance of activities for the whole family, you will see why Queenstown was named as New Zealand’s number one destination in the 2014 Travellers’ Choice Destinations by TripAdvisor.
For those looking for something extra special, there’s a boutique ski field called Ohau, tucked away on the shores of the milky blue Lake Ohau, with spectacular views across the lake and north to the majestic Aoraki Mount Cook. You‘ll experience the diversity of New Zealand’s world class ski resorts and our little known gems, like Ohau, on Active’s Winter Rimu trip.
As you can see, from the avid skier right down to the novice, we can cater for all levels. Hey we can also equip you with all the gear if you fancy!
Reason 3: Boating
Kayaking, jet boating, and rafting are all activities to be enjoyed during winter in New Zealand. Kayaking the Okarito Lagoon on the West Coast of the South Island, will offer you a front row view of the untouched coastal wetland. On a crystal clear day you’ll catch another quite different glimpse of Aoraki Mount Cook and the Southern Alps. You’ll most likely be greeted by the White Heron (kōtuku), its rarity has almost attained a mythical status amongst the Maori and Pakeha people. Not far from Okairto Lagoon is where the White Herons main nesting site is; on the banks of the Waitangituna Stream.
If you’ve ever wondered what a braided river channel is, well here’s your chance, get the family, and jump on our family adventure trip, the ‘Kea’, to experience one of the biggest thrills of a lifetime; jet boating in the Rakaia Gorge. The excitement of winding in and out of narrow and shallow rivers, will have the whole family smiling from ear to ear, with charged endorphins! As you duck and weave along the glacial-fed river you’ll all be holding on tightly to the heated boat railing – but don’t worry, these drivers know what they’re doing and will deliver you safely to begin the next stage of your adventure; to hike Peel Forest, amongst ancient podocarp trees and Jurassic-like ferns.
Reason 4: Heli-Hiking
Last but not least, an experience like no other, is the Heli-Hike on Franz Joseph glacier. The modern turbine helicopter will take you to the highest peaks of the Southern Alps, 4000 feet above sea level! You’ll witness ice formations that are reshaped daily due to the constant movement of the glacier and you’ll gain a unique and privileged appreciation for this world-famous glacier. If you’re busting for that photo opportunity here’s your chance!
As we said at the start, there are many good reasons why we think New Zealand is pretty phenomenal during winter, setting us apart from the rest of the world. But most important of all are the people and the connections you’ll make. We’re a hospitable bunch of Kiwis who love to share our backyard! You’ll savour the experience of sitting around a camp fire with our Kiwi guides as you recount the day’s adventures over a hearty home-cooked meal. Over the duration of your trip you’ll get to know your guides like family and you’ll learn all about our way of life – it’s these connections that truly last forever.