Looking for things to do in New Zealand in winter? You won’t be at a loss. Whether it’s adventure sports, wildlife watching or simply relaxing you’re after on your vacation in New Zealand, you’ll find you have plenty of options for things to do in New Zealand during the winter.
Winter Adventure Sports in New Zealand
Skiing is probably the most famous thing to do in New Zealand in winter. However, the onset of the colder season doesn’t have to mean you can’t enjoy other adventure activities on both the North and South islands. In fact, given the smaller crowds, winter can be an even better time than summer to enjoy adventure sports in New Zealand.
Skiing and Snowboarding in New Zealand
Skiing in the North Island is centered around Tongariro National Park and Mt. Ruapehu (which Lord of the Rings fans may recognise as Mount Doom and Mordor). The major ski resorts of Turoa and Whakapapa, roughly 4-5 hours from Auckland, Wellington or Tauranga, are open every day (weather permitting) of the winter, from the end of June to October.
Skiing in the South Island is more spread out, with small club ski fields and larger ski resorts dotted around the Southern Alps. At the top of the South Island, Rainbow is a great family-friendly ski field easily accessible from Nelson, Blenheim, and Havelock. Mt. Hutt is the closest major ski area to Christchurch, although if you have a car you’ll find plenty of fantastic club fields throughout mid-Canterbury (Fox Peak, Porter Heights and Mt. Cheesman among them) and the Mackenzie Country (Mt. Dobson, Ohau, and Roundhill for example) offering everything from first-timer magic carpet learner slopes to off-piste backcountry trails for expert skiers.
Central Otago, however, is the undoubted center of South Island skiing and snowboarding. World-class ski resorts like Cardrona, Treble Cone, Snow Park, and Coronet Peak huddle around the lively, après-ski towns of Queenstown and Wanaka. It’s only a short drive onto Fiordland and Milford Sound, and it’s easy to drive or take public transport to Queenstown and Wanaka from Christchurch, Dunedin or Invercargill.
Winter Kayaking in New Zealand
Although lots of tour operators shut down for at least a few months between June and September, there are still plenty of perfectly safe kayak, canoe and rafting tour operators who keep things running kayak tours throughout the winter.
All those listed here are trusted experts providing, where necessary, the appropriate gear to keep you warm and dry in winter: booties, gloves, paddle jackets, GORE-TEX dry pants, and fully enclosed kayaks, that kind of thing. You’ll often have the water to yourself in winter, ideal for total tranquility or jaw-dropping Instagram posts.
Bay of Islands
Coastal Kayakers in Waitangi offer a few different guided kayak day tours in winter: one takes you along the coast, poking into the many quiet sandy turquoise beaches; the other takes you through mangrove forests to the awesome Haruru waterfall, known for its unique horseshoe shape.
Kaikoura Kayaks run daily tours throughout winter, departing at 8:30am and 12:30pm. The snow-capped peaks in the distance make the backdrop behind Kaikoura even more stunning in winter. Not to mention the fact you’ll be sharing the sea with migrating whales, seals, and – if you’re lucky – penguins.
Rosco’s Milford Kayaks, Te Anau (at Adventure Fiordland), offer a huge range of guided sea kayak tours, from easy, relaxed paddles for first-timers and little ones to challenging 4-hour paddles beneath behemoth waterfalls, or all the way out to the entrance of Milford Sound.
Less than an hour’s drive from the Wellington-Picton ferry terminal, Pelorus Eco Adventures in Havelock run their family-friendly Hobbit Kayak Tour all throughout the year. It’s perfectly safe for all ages and ability levels even in winter.
Kaiteriteri Kayaks offer a great half-day guided tour to Split Apple Rock, or a full-day Kayak, Seals and Cruise option. If you’re looking for something more substantial, Abel Tasman Kayaks in Marahau run a range of half-day, full-day, and multi-day guided kayak tours throughout Abel Tasman.
Bungy Jumping and Sky Diving in New Zealand
Thrill-seekers don’t stop for the winter. If things you’re hoping to do in New Zealand include bucket-list activities like bungee jumping and skydiving, you won’t be disappointed. In the South Island, Queenstown’s iconic AJ Hackett Bungy run their famous Nevis, Kawarau Bridge and Queenstown Ledge bungy jumps, providing various levels of adrenaline hits. Winter is a great time to skydive over the Canterbury Plains from Methven, as steadier weather conditions than summer mean more chance of having crisp, clear, still, blue skies. The contrast between snowy mountains and a patchwork of farmland make for a dramatic, unforgettable panorama.
In the North Island, Rotorua is a hub for adventure activities, and winter is no exception. Sky dive here in front of the stunning backdrop of Mt. Ruapehu. If you want an urban backdrop instead, head to Auckland and bungy jump off a famous landmark under the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
Thermal hot springs and winter spas in New Zealand
There’s nothing better in winter than slipping into a hot pool and relaxing under the stars. Indulge in a hot tub soak after a day’s skiing at the hot pools in Tekapo under one of the world’s best, light-pollution-free night skies (Tekapo is the location of New Zealand’s premier astronomical research observatory).
The best-known natural thermal springs in New Zealand are at Rotorua, where bubbling geothermal mud pools are as intriguing to look at as they are irresistible to relax in during winter. Hammer Springs, just two hours north of Christchurch on the way to Blenheim and Havelock is the South Island equivalent.
Winter wildlife and sightseeing in New Zealand
New Zealand’s famous wildlife doesn’t find winter too cold. In fact, winter is the best time to see a lot of New Zealand’s mammals and birds. Humpback whales make their annual migration up the east coast between May and September, so winter is a great time to go whale watching in Kaikoura, where they come the closest to land. Seals and dolphins abound during winter in Abel Tasman and the Marlborough Sounds, where you can also see one of New Zealand’s only remaining native land mammal species during winter – the long-tailed bat at Pelorus Bridge. If you’re skiing in the Southern Alps, you are highly likely to encounter the native New Zealand kea, the world’s only alpine parrot. These extremely colourful, photogenic birds are so common and comfortable with humans that many skiers and winter picnickers see them as pests for nicking food and rubber car parts!
Winter is also the opportunity to see Franz Josef, Fox and Tasman glaciers in all their splendors! You can easily find a few different operators there who propose scenic flights, helihikes and other helicopter tours.
Another reason to visit New Zealand in winter is the possibility to see Southern Lights. The best places to go for seeing the Southern Lights, if the conditions are right, are Stewart Island, Lake Tekapo, Aoraki Mt Cook and The Catlins.