New Zealand Winter Tours
Beat the crowds - visit New Zealand 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 southern hemisphere winter, which is the opposite way around to any northern hemisphere countries - such as North America, the UK and Europe. 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, whilst the valleys remain mostly 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, and by mid-morning we'll drop our jerseys and we'll be hiking in short sleeves. The snow-capped mountains provide a backdrop of blue skies, making 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 why travellers choose to visit New Zealand in winter, discover New Zealand's top 5 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 .
Traveller's Top 8 reasons for visiting New Zealand in winter
1. Escape the summer heat.
Most travellers to New Zealand come from the Northern Hemisphere, and their summer is New Zealand's winter. While it may sound like a crazy idea to leave summer and go into a winter, we’re here to tell you that it’s actually an amazing idea!
Believe it or not, New Zealand’s winter is actually quite warm. Sure, New Zealand has epic mountains and with that comes unpredictable weather patterns, though rest assured that when the cold fronts come in, they’re nothing like what you’ll experience in Norther America or Europe. The average daily winter temperatures range between 12 - 16˚C (53 - 61˚F). That means you can ski in the morning, and hike/bike the beautiful sunny valleys and coastlines in the afternoon.
“But is it enjoyable?” we hear you ask? Well, many hikers would agree that when it’s chilly outside, it’s easy to layer up and be comfortable. Whereas when it’s hot, there are only so many clothes we can (decently) remove to regulate our body temperatures and escape the heat. This is just one reason a New Zealand winter adventure is favourite for so many.
2. Are you a mountain photography extraordinaire?
Picturesque snow-capped mountains, set on a canvas of blue skies – New Zealand really is paradise for photographers. Did you know that 77% of winter days are clear blue skies in Queenstown - New Zealand's 'adventure capital'?
The proof can be seen above, looking down a valley on the Rob Roy track, in the Mt Aspiring National Park. Make sure you bring plenty of memory cards, you’ll need them!
3. Do you dream of a hiking paradise, that's not crowded by other hikers?
It’s true – the cooler months are when we locals get out on the trail, because we have the countryside to ourselves. We’ll go hiking for days on end, and not see another hiker. The mountain huts have loads of availability, so we'll tuck ourselves away in the heart of our most beautiful national parks, enjoying candle-lit dinners beside the fireplace. Have we captured your attention yet?
If a hiking vacation is on your radar, take a look at New Zealand’s top 5 winter hiking trails!
4. Do you dare to be different, and do something completely different to your friends and colleagues this year?
You return to work after your vacation, and everyone you know is telling the same story about their amazing summer camping trip, and you’re the black sheep in the room. You tell them that you woke one morning in the heart of Westland National Park, and kayaked through New Zealand’s only white herring breeding colony – with front row seats to the snow-capped Southern Alps and New Zealand’s highest peak – Aoraki Mt Cook.
In one swift statement, you’ve captured everyone’s attention and they’re green with travel envy.
5. Calling all sports fans!
- image courtesy of Walesonline.co.uk
Our Australian friends will shudder reading this – but New Zealand is famously good at rugby. In fact, we’re the best in the world, and we’re the only country to win the Rugby World Cup 3 times (1987, 2011 and 2015). That’s right, we’re the home of the All Blacks, and winter is the playing season.
Most games on New Zealand soil are held in Auckland, Wellington, Nelson and Dunedin – and the fixtures are already published online. Combine your hiking, biking, skiing and kayaking adventure trip of a lifetime with a big game – what could be more exciting?
Take a look at the fixtures here, or chat with one of our travel guru's to find a game that'll suit your travel dates.
6. Ahhhh hot pools...
New Zealand’s countryside is full of hidden gems, and natural hot pools are one of our best kept secrets. The North Island is the centrepiece of New Zealand’s volcanic activity, and the South Island is the home of the Southern Alps, which were built on seismic activity, and all that movement has to bring heat to the surface!
A number of resorts have capitalised on New Zealand’s natural hot springs, so you can relax in a temperature-controlled environment. What very few people realise though, is that the countryside is littered with untouched thermal springs, where you can enjoy the same level of comfort – without the admission fee or tourists.
On the North Island you should visit Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel, and the above photo is taken at the Welcome Flat hot pools on the Copland Track, in the heart of Westland National Park. They’re just a couple of our favourites.
7. Skiing and snowboarding.
While not boasting the mega-resorts of the US or Europe, New Zealand offers some of the best skiing in the world. Immense views, renowned hospitality, world class facilities, terrain from beginners to extreme backcountry, and the best part is that you’ll often have the run to yourself.
Learn more about skiing and snowboarding in New Zealand.
8. You simply yearn to explore New Zealand and the only dates that work for you are in the middle of the year.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, New Zealand is absolutely spectacular in winter. In one day you can ski, hike, bike, kayak, relax in natural hot pools in the middle of a national park, and watch a game of rugby! You’ll have a completely unique vacation story to your friends, colleagues and family, and you’ll never have to fight for space on the hiking trails.
So go ahead, read on to discover New Zealand's best winter hiking trails, check out our New Zealand Winter Travel Specials, choose your trip dates, and choose your dream adventure vacation.
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 Alpine Crossing.
Most people choose to hike the Tongariro Crossing during the warmer months (September – May) 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 exciting 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, 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 the 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 Track
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 planning the logistics and route.
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.
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.
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, taking 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 sometimes clad in a thin 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 great views of the frozen lake, which is often home to icebergs!
The hike into 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 Adventure, here on the South Island of New Zealand.
New Zealand Winter Adventure Tours:
Winter Rimu New Zealand Winter Adventure
- 14 Days
- South Island
- US$4599 + 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.
Kauri Ultimate North Island Adventure
- 11 Days
- North Island
- From US$4699 + 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.
Kea New Zealand Family Adventure
- 13 Days
- South Island
- From Adult: US$4599 + tax, Child (15 & under): US$3799 + 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.