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10 outdoor winter New Zealand holiday ideas, where to go

  • 4 minutes

Grab the boots, wet weather gear and let’s get outside to explore the great outdoors

Late summer lakeside walks, New Zealand
Late summer lakeside walks

Let’s get outdoors. Explore places where the wild things live, plenty of space to observe wildlife caring for their young. Waterfalls are at their gorgeous best with winter flows, perhaps an extended soak in a nearby hot springs will cap off a day exploring the outdoors.

Maori New Year is a cause for celebration and a great time to get out and about and a holiday highlight. For the patient visitor Southern night lights are universal glitter and glimmer with green waves tracing across Southern skies.


Winter scenery, snow tipped mountains, postcard views.

Snow, skiing and snowboarding iconic winter activities are self generating publicity machines. Forget the hard slog of skiing, how about chilling out absorbing the sheer scale of alpine mountains dusted with snow, deep blue lakes and tussock tinted with golds and bronze.

Blue Lake reflections of clay cliffs at sunset, after winter storm and snowfall, St Bathans, Central Otago, New Zealand
Blue Lake reflections of clay cliffs at sunset, after winter storm and snowfall, St Bathans, Central Otago
Mt Cook in Hooker Valley with Aurora
Mt Cook in Hooker Valley with Aurora
  • High country safari tours gawping at the scenery together with wondering about the intrepid individuals who made these places their homes
  • Indulge in gorgeous accommodation where picture perfect windows allow you to chill out with a glass of your favourite treat and nibbles at your fingertips
  • Short walks to get up close and personal with what nature has spread out before you.
  • Jagged iced cupcake mountain peaks are instagram favourites

Winter is the best season for wildlife viewing in New Zealand. Layer up, get outdoors and experience the wonder of wildlife basking on rocks (seal colonies) or hear the thump of wild horses galloping through a forest. Ocean mammals are plentiful from dolphins to the iconic humpback whale migration.

  • Top of the South Island is home to dolphins, the ubiquitous weka and kiwis foraging in the National Parks
  • Kaikoura offers visitors the joy of sighting sheer power as the largest mammal on earth navigates their migration route, the humpback whale. The area is also home to nursery colonies of baby seals.
  • Otago’s adorable little bundles of feathered beauties. You will not be able to take your eyes off the determined waddling of penguins. Otago, Taiaroa Head winter nursery of albatross is breathtaking with chicks  practicing aerial skills before they become fully fledged and leave their nests in September.
  • The Catlins sea lions made a winter plunge look easy. An endangered yellow-eyed penguin or hoiho is Curio Bay in the Catlins.
  • Fiordland National Park and Doubtful and Milford Sound you have an opportunity to observe dolphins and seals. The area is home to an alpine parrot, personality plus in the bird world, the kea is a renowned visitor charmer.
Takahe standing in a shallow pool at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch, New Zealand Takahe standing in a shallow pool at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch
Close up Kea, the NZ bird in the winter at Milford sound Close up Kea, the NZ bird in the winter at Milford sound
  • North Island Wellington is a lesser known wildlife hotspot with an interesting family winter walk from Owhiro Bay to Red Rocks (Pari-whero) for seal spotting
  • Rotorua wood pigeon on the Kaharoa Kokako Track where walkers are serenaded by North Island kokako’s complex singing
  • Cruises in Northland can spot dolphins and seals, and often even orcas.
  • East Cape North Island and Ninety Mile beach is home to wild horses. A pack of horses in flight or calmly grazing is an exotic treat.
Raukaka Wildlife Reserve, Fairy Tern

The elemental show of force, the relentless pounding of the sea against the land is memorising. It makes for great beach walks where winter has thrown up beach finds to wonder about. The picnic tables beckon and the empty spaces are a balm for the soul. Winter beach walking is meditative, contemplative and a perfect weekend or short break escape.

  • Auckland’s shimmering iron sands, where wild ocean meets the beach is an ideal spot for winter beach rambles
  • Raglan will have the intrepid surfers clad in winter wetsuits relishing the winter surf. People watching could become a pastime.
  • Braving the wet winters of the South Island west coast stimulates the senses with the Southern Ocean chipping away at beach fronts
  • Hawkes Bay Ocean Beach is an enormous reach of sand backed by mountains looking very remote. A timeless place where visitors can definitely work off their vineyard gourmet meal
  • Dunedin’s St Clair offers beachside cafes where you are toasty warm with Southern winter storms tossing up massive ocean surges. It is seriously impressive when public notices warn about getting too close to the promenade edge in case of being swept to sea.
Muiwai iron sands, sea to sky, West Auckland, New Zealand Muiwai iron sands, sea to sky, West Auckland

Short walks can be an appetiser to lazy short breaks or a vigorous energy relaxer where nature takes charge of the timetable. While tracks can be damp or slippery underfoot decent walking boots will take care of any issues. Layers are a good idea as your waterproof jacket might need to be slipped off as you warm up during the walk.

Whangarei Falls in winter, Northland, New Zealand
Whangarei Falls in winter

Waterfalls are a perfect winter outdoors destination. The damp track, the flying spray, the mist and weight of water generates glorious vistas of waterfalls in full flight. Remember to check track conditions before departing.

Five waterfalls worth a winter walk:

  • Bridal Veil Falls Raglan soars over the cliff in winter, cheat, rest and only go halfway the views are still great
  • Karekare Falls, Auckland west coast, easy gravelled track
  • Whangarei Falls, guaranteed not to get your feet wet
  • Thunder Creek Falls, Haast Pass, an easy sealed track
  • Purakaunui Falls, The Catlins

A brisk cool winter with the promise of sublime soak in natural mineral hot springs is an antidote for the lure of a winter escape to tropical beaches. The best hot springs are outdoors with the contrast of warm waters, gently rising steam and the cool air. Hanmer Springs are a study in frost covered walks, cool winter days and warm springs wrap around comfort. Rotorua offers choices galore with walks and natural places being capped with the promise of spa treatment.

5 favourite hot springs for a winter treat:

  • Rotorua visitors are spoiled for choice
  • Ngawha in Northland with its heritage associations, highly mineralised water and carefully calibrated temperature offerings
  • Maruia Springs, Lewis Pass is a glorious outdoor setting with the Southern Alps on its doorstep
  • Hanmer Springs for its family options, the nearby ski field and fascinating magical fairy walk
  • Taupo deBretts resort complex for the choice offered to families from slides and play areas to private spa massage for individuals and couples
Hanmer Springs @StrangeFungus
Hanmer Springs @StrangeFungus
Aurora Australis, New Zealand @DeviantArt
Aurora Australis @DeviantArt

Finland’s Northern Lights have competition. Not to be outdone, the New Zealand version is known as the Southern Lights, Aurora Australis. Solar solar wind reacts with the gases in our atmosphere causing the skies to light up with displays of pink and green. There are no promises visitors will see anything as the conditions have to be just right. The perfect time is winter and as far south as you can get. While the South Pole might be ideal New Zealand is one of the countries closest to the South Pole so if you head far south enough you might see this incredible phenomenon. The best places to spot the Southern Lights include Stewart Island, Lake Tekapo, The Catlins and Invercargill surrounding district. From March to September is the ideal time.

TIP: Southern lights, Northern lights, the night sky visuals is solely dependent on weather conditions, atmospheric conditions and bit of good luck.


Nothing like a party atmosphere to let your hair down. Learning about how Maori culture interpretes the seasons gives fresh insight into the human condition. Matariki (the Maori New Year) marks the beginning of the winter solstice. This timeless celebration of the arrival of the Matariki (Pleiades) constellation to the southern skies heralds the end of the harvest season. Dawn ceremonies, cultural performances, art exhibitions and the sharing of local myths and legends contribute to a celebration of a uniquely Aotearoa interpretation of the world.

Maori New Year in Matariki, New Zealand @lakewanaka
Maori New Year in Matariki @lakewanaka
Snowboarding, New Zealand @tickettoridegroup
Snowboarding @tickettoridegroup
  • CURLING, another reason to explore Central Otago
  • ICE SKATING, a perfect Alexandra day out
  • SKIING, choices from Ruapehu to Canterbury slopes to Otago ski fields.
  • SNOWBOARDING, an alternative to freezing in your wetsuit winter surfing
  • RUGBY OR SOCCER GAME, dedicated fans have got this sorted already

Scenic train journeys are a very relaxing way to view the snow dipped peaks of the Alps, the glacial lakes and countryside. Vintage short train journeys are an ideal family holiday or short break activity. The hiss and roar of a steam train is industrial magic.


Packing list for winter travel

  • Warm jacket or fleece
  • Waterproof and windproof jacket
  • Gloves
  • Beanie or warm hat
  • Waterproof boots/shoes
  • Lightweight, breathable long-sleeved shirts and pullovers – NZ merino of course
  • Hiking pants with shorts zip-offs, for the warmed up body when walking
  • Swimming gear for hot pools
  • Thermals – For hiking, camping, and skiing
  • Waterproof backpack
Taieri Gorge Heritage Railway, New Zealand @Alchetron
Taieri Gorge Heritage Railway @Alchetron

The journey is worth it.

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