New Zealand Winter Tours
Beat the crowds this year - travel in June, July and August!
Here at Active Adventures, we're all Kiwis and we're based in Queenstown, a small mountain town on the southern end of New Zealand's South Island. So when we talk about winter, we're talking about OUR winter, which is the opposite way around to any northern hemisphere travellers. Winter is New Zealand's fastest growing season for travellers to take their adventure trip of a lifetime, and the reasons why are simple!
Although our mountains are tall, rugged and dramatic... they lay relatively close to the ocean and they're not as prone to the extreme temperatures as many northern hemisphere countries. So the mountain peaks get enough snow to create amazing ski fields, while the valleys remain fairly unfrozen and without snow, so the hiking trails are completely accessible.
Winter hiking in New Zealand is in fact a real favourite for us locals - the days start out cool and crisp, but by mid-morning we'll drop our jumpers and we'll be hiking in short sleeves, and the snow-capped mountains set on a background of blue skies make for incredible photography.
So if you’re thinking of coming down for a New Zealand tour in June, July or August, it’s a gorgeous time of year. Just remember to bring a couple of extra layers and a warm hat to hike, kayak and maybe get a few runs in on our local ski fields. Read on to learn about New Zealand's best winter hiking trails, and click here to learn more about skiing and snowboarding in New Zealand .
If you’d like to know what to expect of New Zealand’s other seasons, see our page about the best time to visit New Zealand.
New Zealand's Best Winter Hiking Trails
1. The Tongariro Crossing
New Zealand’s North Island has a temperate, and almost tropical climate. Snow and ice is very rare, the only place it’s commonly found is in the volcanic region of the Central Plateau. This is where you’ll find Ruapehu Ski area, and New Zealand’s best day hike; the Tongariro Crossing.
Most people choose to hike the Tongariro Crossing during the warmer months (September – May) it’s to get stunning views of the barren volcanic landscape, and iconic Emerald Lakes. But what many people don’t realise, is that hiking the Tongariro Crossing in winter is actually one of New Zealand’s most iconic adventure experiences.
In the peak winter months (June, July and August) the Tongariro Crossing becomes a winter wonderland, and a winter hiking paradise. But there are a few steep and narrow sections of trail – such as the Devils Staircase, which are prone to gathering ice, so it’s highly recommended to join an expert local guiding company. A local guiding company will provide you with an ice axe, crampons and a helmet, and accompany you on your journey to ensure you stick to the safest path, and you steer away from unnecessary risk.
If the weather on the Tongariro Crossing is too bad for hiking (such as a looming snow storm), we would recommend a nearby hike to Taranaki Falls and Silica Rapids. Both of these hikes showcase a variety of flora from native beech forest to sub-alpine shrublands, each culminating with a spectacular view; Taranaki Falls is 20 metres (65 feet) high and Silica Rapids has water cascading down a series of creamy white terraces.
2. Cape Brett
Sitting at the northern/warmest end of the North Island, the Cape Brett hike is an accessible, safe and enjoyable hike all year round. Your journey will start in the small town of Paihia, where you’ll catch a water taxi to Deep Water Cove. A short and sharp hike out of the cove will wake your legs up, and you’ll soon be on a ridgeline trail, in the Manawahuna Scenic Reserve.
Following this ridgeline trail on route to the Cape Brett lighthouse, you’ll experience stunning views of the Bay of Islands, and get a magnificent view of an iconic rock formation, Hole in the Rock. This is a 3-4 hour hike, and if you’re lucky you may see pods of dolphins, playing seals and mako sharks jumping from the water as they feed on surface. The mountains that you’ll cross are very important to the local Iwi (Maori tribe) as they’re considered one of the three sacred mountains of Polynesia.
Hiking passes are required if you’re doing the hike solo, and you’ll need to book water taxis for the drop off and return. Small group guided tour options are available, such as the 5 or 11 day ‘Kauri’ trip.
3. Copland Valley hot pools
In the South Island’s Westland National Park, you’ll find the stunning mountain basin of the Copland Valley - which is home to some of New Zealand’s most beautiful geothermal pools. It's a challenging six to seven hour hike 17 kilometres (10 miles) up the Copland Valley with a gradual 300 metres (985 feet) elevation gain, but it's absolutely worth it. If you’re joining a guided tour, your guides will carry the lion’s share of the load, so you’ll be able to spend more time enjoying this stunning winter wonderland, and less time thinking about how sore your shoulders are.
Your hike will bring you to New Zealand’s most spacious mountain hut – the Welcome Flat Hut. Get the fire going, and enjoy a candle lit dinner and hot chocolates as the sun goes down over this beautiful mountain valley, from the comfort of an amazing two-level building.
The Copland Track and Welcome Flat hot pools can be experienced solo, and it’s a real highlight of our 8 or 14 day ‘Winter Rimu’ trip on the South Island, here in New Zealand.
4. Mount Aspiring National Park
Situated in the Matukituki Valley area of Mount Aspiring National Park, the hike to Mount Aspiring Hut is a year-round hike that sits high on the list of New Zealand’s best overnight hikes. This hike is well suited to winter conditions and the track meanders past majestic snow-capped peaks, fresh mountain streams and natural beech forest.
You’ll venture up the Matukituki Valley to reach your home for the evening – a spacious mountain hut nestled in a valley in the middle of the mountains. You’ll be carrying a sleeping bag, a few spare clothes and some food, so your pack shouldn’t weigh much more than a regular day pack.
The scenery is off the charts with Mt Aspiring rising 3,033 metres (9,951 feet) into the blue! It’s amazing how far you’ll feel from civilisation after this relatively short walk! Tonight you can prepare a nice hot dinner in your backcountry kitchen, before relaxing by the fire.
The hike to Mount Aspiring Hut can be done solo, and it’s a real highlight of our 8 or 14 day ‘Winter Rimu’ trip on the South Island, here in New Zealand.
5. Hooker Valley Hike
This 10 kilometre (6.5 mile) return hike will be one of the most rewarding 3 hour hikes you’ll do in New Zealand. Starting at White Horse Hill Campground, near Mount Cook Village, the Hooker Valley track leads you through land that’s sacred to indigenous Maori, and leads you to Hooker lake for stunning views of the Hooker Glacier, and New Zealand’s tallest mountain; Aoraki/Mount Cook.
In winter, this trail is often clad in a small layer of snow. The trail is relatively easy so even when there’s snow on the trail, it’s a safe hike for all ages and abilities. Along the trail you’ll pass over incredible swing bridges, and upon arrival at Hooker Lake you’ll be treated to incredible views of the frozen lake, which is often home to icebergs!
The hike into the Hooker Valley is easily found if you're travelling solo, and it's included on small group guided adventure tours, including the 8 or 14 day 'Winter Rimu' trip, and the 13 day 'Kea' family trip, here on the South Island of New Zealand.
Kauri Ultimate North Island Adventure
- 11 Days
- US$4,699 + tax
You'll be amazed by the variety of adventures and stunning scenery as we share the iconic locations and best-kept secrets of the North Island. The perfect addition to any of our South Island trips, the year-round 'Kauri' explores the sub-tropical north, a marine reserve, white sandy beaches, unique volcanic terrain, geothermal areas, Maori culture, an underground cave system and arguably the best mountain day-hike in New Zealand. For a great way to see the rest of New Zealand, combine this trip with any of our South Island trips.
Activity level: The 'Kauri' suits people of a wide range of fitness levels and outdoor experience. Typically, activities on the 'Kauri' trip range between two and five hours to complete. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike can take a little longer, though there are shorter alternatives available.
Winter Rimu New Zealand Winter Adventure
- 14 Days
- US$4,599 + tax
May to September is one of the best times to explore New Zealand. Our maritime climate ensures we have relatively mild winters, we’ll almost always have the tracks to ourselves and the snow-capped mountains make an even more dramatic backdrop than in summer – and usually you can get a great deal on flights! Years ago, we adapted our signature Rimu trip to suit the cooler conditions by adding skiing and snowboarding options, along with some of the South Island’s best hikes. This adventure is the perfect excuse to escape the heat!
Activity level: This is one of our more adventurous trips, but has options to suit a range of fitness levels and outdoor experience. Typically hikes on the ‘Winter Rimu’ range between three and six hours to complete, with a longer more challenging hike on the Copland Track.
Kea New Zealand Family Adventure
- 13 Days
- Adult: US$4,599 + tax, Child (15 & under): US$3,799 + tax
Let us take care of every detail so that you and your family can enjoy exploring New Zealand’s iconic places on a fun outdoorsy adventure. The ‘Kea’ is the perfect opportunity for everyone in the family to try some new activities together while our guides encourage, entertain, serve up delicious meals and ensure you make the most of your precious vacation time. You’ll be amazed how much everyone learns along the way and our guides will have you laughing as much as the kids! For a great way to see the North Island too, combine this trip with our 11-day 'Kauri' (5-day 'Kauri' options available).
Activity level: This trip has been designed to be fun and gently challenging for the young, and the young at heart. The pace is flexible and most hikes range between two and four hours to complete.
Here's a pretty cool video of what it's like to travel with your family, on an Active Adventures trip.
Read about club ski areas in New Zealand and Apres Ski 'Kiwi' style in our blog post.