It’s that time of the year again, when the axis of the Earth turns and the seasons change and swap south to north. In Europe, grapes are ripening on the vine and EasyJet are readying themselves for another wave of pasty-faced Brits looking to burn themselves to a crisp in the first rays of sunshine. 

Over in Japan, spring bought the flowering of the famous cherry blossoms, millions of lilac and pink petals that have since blown away in the soft summer winds in the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Meanwhile, for those of us living our lives beneath the equator, the air has grown colder and the wind has blown clean off the ice shelves in Antarctica. Shorts and thongs (jandals, if you prefer) have gone back into the drawer to be replaced by hoodies, jeans, gloves and beanies. 

A lot of people whinge and moan about the inevitable arrival of the colder winter months and may seek to head north for climates warmer, yet we can’t help but wonder why? The only place better than New Zealand in summer is surely New Zealand in winter. 

Kiwis have learnt to embrace the colder months, making New Zealand the southern hemisphere’s premier winter travel destination. 

So we’ve had a look at a number of other (non-skiing related) activities that are all 100 per cent unique to New Zealand and are at their best when the mercury starts to drop.

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Horse Trekking 

Woah now, cool your boots. Don’t go jumping down our throats when we tell you to go out horse riding in the winter. Yes, we know that it does get cold in New Zealand come the middle months, but that just makes the whole equine experience all the more magical. 

For one thing, the horses grow their manes and coats out, so they look like they’re all wearing cute little furry overcoats, which is totally adorable! 

The scenery is also stunning. If you choose to do a trek in the North Island, definitely consider the beautiful white-sand beaches of the Bay of Plenty, where beautiful ice sculptures form in the shaded spots and shine like delicate jewels when the sun streaks through the branches. Or choose Aoraki, at the foot of the majestic Mount Cook cantering along rolling grasslands finely dappled with snow. Watch the sun rise in the shadow of New Zealand’s largest mountain. 

Chances are that if you’re willing to brave a little cold, you’ll find yourself being able to enjoy all this pristine loveliness in much smaller groups with much less crowding too. It’s a win-win situation in our opinion!

Briars Horse Trek run treks ranging from half hour jaunts, to four-hour explorations which start at $35.


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Whale Watching  

I love whales, they’re possibly my favourite animal on the planet. They’re so majestic in the way they glide so effortlessly through the water despite their massive bulk. I particularly love humpback whales, with their enchanting songs and impressive breaching feats. Thankfully the Cook Strait in New Zealand is one of the best spots in the world to see them, particularly in winter. 

If it’s sperm whales you’re after, head on down to the famously picturesque town of Kaikoura, on the South Island’s eastern coast. Kaikoura has some of the best and most developed sperm whale watching facilities to be found anywhere on Earth. 

Sperm whales are the biggest of the toothed whales and are also the largest predators on the planet. They are so often rarely seen by human eyes, as they spend so much of their time deep in the depths of some of the world’s deepest, coldest oceans hunting for squid but Kaikoura is one of the only places anywhere where they can be seen year round, so close to land. 

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Considering how rare it is for humans to see these amazing leviathans going about their business in their natural habitat, Kaikoura is an absolute must for anyone, whether you’re a whale watching enthusiast or a first timer. 

If you’re into slightly furrier sea creatures then Kaikoura won’t disappoint either. Huge colonies of seals can also seen frolicking on the rocky outcrops around the idyllic seaside town in winter, which makes for a wonderful, if somewhat noisy, spectacle. 

Kaikoura Whale Watch run 2.5 hour scenic tours year round.
Tickets are $130.50 for adults.

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Milford Sound  

One of the most breathtakingly spots to be found anywhere in New Zealand (which is saying a lot) Milford Sound has to be seen to be believed. 

Cascading waterfalls, sheer rocky outcrops, snow capped peaks and glassy, glacial water bring thousands of visitors to this beautiful part of the world ever year and while it’s stunning in summer, it gets even better come the winter months. 

Take a glass roofed bus tour of the winding roads, or get out onto the sound itself on a ferry and explore the sound from Milford to Sandfly point. 

There’s also a purpose built underwater viewing area where you can marvel at the exquisite crops of black coral and the myriad underwater species that call this place home. 

In a country known for its beautiful scenery, Milford Sound is definitely one of the most picture perfect places to be found anywhere in New Zealand. 

Southern Discoveries run Milford Sound day trip/cruises from $69 p.p

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Queenstown Winter Festival  

The festival’s motto is ‘winter starts here’ and, frankly, who are we to argue? 

This 10-day extravaganza in the adrenalin, adventure capital of New Zealand has become one of the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest celebrations of all things wintry. Started in 1975 as a quirky thing for the local population has blossomed year upon year, and now with a little hefty financial backing the 2013 festival is set to be the most action packed one yet. 

2013’s Winter Festival will celebrate Queenstown’s unique culture and community with street parties, fireworks, international and local art, stands up comedy, a Mardi Gras, and plenty of Mountain Mayhem.

There will also be some live music kicking around to warm the 45,000 or so revelers around town when the sun goes down. Tres magnifique.

Of course while you’re in town celebrating all that culture, art and music you could always throw yourself off a high platform or two with some bungy chords around your feet… It’s just a suggestion. 

The Queenstown Winter Festival runs 21 – 30 June, more information and tickets available at

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Wellington Museum of NZ, Te Papa Tongarewa 

This iconic national art gallery and museum is known as Te Papa Tongarewa, meaning “the place of treasures of this land”. Located in Wellington, it is the perfect winter activity to warm your senses, enrich your mind with history and shelter from the cold and chill outside.

At the start of this year, management announced that the museum would be split into two parts. One operating as it has in the past, and the other focusing just on the future. 

Expect to see collections of photography, fossils, textiles and archaeology including the world’s largest specimen of the rare ‘colossal squid’, weighing 495kgs! 

There is a daily 60-minute tour, so you can have every little wonder explained to you by a professional. Make sure you check out what events are on around the time you visit, as there are normally free live concert showcases or craft events happening on certain days. 

Price: Free Entry! (Prices apply to certain events)

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For the ultimate in exploration and visual stimulation look no further then adventuring in the Waitomo caves. Start by weaving through the winding underground passages filled with stalactites as you gradually approach the sound of distant crashing waterfalls. While you are discovering the rich history, don’t forget to turn out the lights and view the glowworms at their best, as they will be showcasing a vivid colour spectrum amongst the limestone walls.

There is a wide range of guided tour options, some are “design-your-own” style, flexible with what you would like to do. Just for a taste, think starry-eyed canal boat rides, rock climbing and the perfect photo op. The best bit? You can do it in any weather!

Cost from $48.

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Hanmer springs thermal pools  

Going to New Zealand and making a special stop to take a fancy bath might seem like a bit of a soft option but if you’ve never gone to a hot springs before, you’ll be amazed by how enjoyable it is. Hanmer Springs is a touch over 100km north of Christchurch and a short drive from a lush conservation park.

Inside, you’ll find heated pools and natural, thermally heated baths, their temperatures ranging from 28 to 42 degrees. You can get a private bath if you want to relax in seclusion or you can float away in one of the three sulphur pools. 

If you’re tired and sore from travelling or feeling a bit under the weather after a big night on the tiles, you’ll be astounded by the restorative qualities of these natural hot tubs.

The pools are open daily. A single entry will cost you $20, a further $10 will get you access to the slides.



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Franz Josef Glacier Guides 

Ever seen Blue Ice? A major highlight of these glacier trips is the chance to witness this rarity. Try an Ice Explorer tour, which after a small heli-hop, takes you through a maze of ice leading to the incredible Hot Glacier Pools, perfect for winter-warming.

There are also options for a glacier heli-hike, valley walk or the adrenalin filled heli-ice climb! To top it off, they throw in a goody bag and DVD on some tours, so you can cherish the memories for years to come. The Franz Josef Glacier Guides are caring, informative and very committed to keeping the region you explore preserved. Their constant recycling of old equipment, visitor’s rubbish, compost and use of biodegradable cleaning products have gotten them a Silver Enviro Award Rating through Qualmark NZ.

Full tuition and safety equipment is provided, so you can relax as you take in this natural wonder.

Cost: $69  Where: Franz Josef, 5 hours from Queenstown


Blackwater rafting  

You may have experienced whitewater rafting before, bouncing down a rocky current in the great outdoors. But, in Waitomo’s caves (the great indoors, right?) which draw tourists from the world over, you’ll have the chance to ride through echoing, underground caverns, putting a whole new spin on a familiar adventure sport. 

You’ll abseil down a sheer rockface into Waitomo’s netherworld before the surreal experience of floating through these vast catacombs in a rubber tyre tube. Deeper into the caves, you’ll encounter the resident glow worms, which light up the darkness like a Christmas tree. 

The caves were first explored more than 120 years ago, by an English surveyor and a Maori guide, who built a raft and floated into the network. So, in reality, you’ll be doing much the same, admittedly with more reliable lighting.

The Black Odyssey rafting tour will cost you $157.


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Hiking New Zealand are a small team of active hikers and bikers offering adventures up to 27 days long! The best part? They operate throughout the whole of New Zealand all year round.  From river canoes to skiing, prepare to see volcanoes, rivers, rainforests, canyons and a huge variety of flora and fauna.

These tours are approved by the Department of Conservation, proving they have passed all necessary environmental and safety standards that are set to keep the area preserved. The concession fees also go towards the management of natural and historic resources. 

Hiking NZ also run a great program called ‘Trees For Trampers’ where they will plant a tree on your behalf so everyone can do their bit for the environment, regardless of how busy you are! This encourages bird life and new plants to grow so that all future generations can see and experience the same beautiful things you do. 

Cost: Prices vary.

Located all around New Zealand


Photos: Tourism New Zealand, Winter Festival