Where to go when you are not into snow.
Winter holidays don’t have to be all about adrenaline-rush, adventure activities: skiing and snowboarding is fun but so is sitting back all warm and cosy and letting the joys of the season come to you.
The cooler months have much to offer. From cosy corners to sip hot chocolate in and hot pools with a view (think snowy peaks, icy blue rivers and tree silhouettes), we’ve put together a list of the non-ski, non-snow activities that just might inspire your next winter getaway.
Clear, cold weather makes for excellent star-gazing and the Mackenzie Region in the heart of the South Island is the place to do it. Declared an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2012, it is one of only eight such reserves in the world and the only one in the southern hemisphere. With very little light pollution, the night sky comes alive here.
Visit the Mt John Observatory, take a tour, use a telescope, learn about the stars, planets and solar systems – or just sit back and gaze in wonder from wherever you find yourself.
And if you’re very lucky and the sun’s solar winds are blowing in the right direction you might just see the magical colours of the Aurora Australis – the Southern Lights.
More information: mackenzienz.com
Warm up winter by making the most of New Zealand’s geothermal wonders and top-class hot pools. A good soak is just the tonic for winter blues and if there’s a view then all the better. New Zealand has so many options to choose from it’s hard to just stick to one, so here are three hot pool gems to get you started.
For family fun it’s hard to beat the natural thermal pools at Hanmer Springs, about 90 minutes drive from Christchurch. The pools have been in public ownership since 1883 when the bathing was done nude and in segregated pools. These days the pools include a day spa and underground heating in the changing rooms. The kids will love the fresh water pool, lazy river and waterslides. You can relax and gaze up at snow-dusted Conical Hill, Mount Isobel and Mount Dunblane – if you’re lucky it may even snow while you’re soaking.
Further south in Queenstown is Onsen, a unique luxury hot pool experience. Onsen is the Japanese word for hot spring although it’s also used to refer to the bathhouses that often accompany them. Here on a cliffside overlooking the Shotover River canyon spring water is heated and treated without chemicals before filling cedar wood tubs designed for up to four people. Then there’s the view: soakers can gaze at the river and mountains by day and the stars at night – the roof and one wall are made of glass and are retractable.
And here’s a nice thought: three delightful natural hot pools surrounded by ferns on the banks of the Waihou River just minutes walk from an historic hotel complete with a warm fire and nine hole country golf course. Built in 1889 the Okoroire Hot Springs Hotel is one of the country’s oldest hotels and its natural springs have been attracting tourists since the late 1800s. Make the most of the tranquil pools by staying for a weekend and exploring Tirau and surrounds – Hobbiton is close by, as are options for walking and fishing. More information: hanmersprings.co.nz; onsen.co.nz; okohotel.co.nz
Craggy peaks, snowy vistas, clear skies and crisp air: all these winter joys can be relished from the warm comfort of a luxury lodge. New Zealand has an established and growing luxury lodge scene and many are located in prime spots for winter holidaying.
Blanket Bay Lodge at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu is a 45-minute drive from Queenstown and rests at the base of the Richardson Mountains.
The setting is peaceful, the accommodation beautiful and the views spectacular – in 2011 Forbes magazine listed it as one of the world’s best vistas. More information: blanketbay.com; lodgesofnz.co.nz
Hunting down a cosy pub or winery is a great way to build a winter holiday itinerary or weekend getaway. You need to do nothing more strenuous than warm yourself with a selection of good food, wines and brews and cheer your heart with a beautiful outlook.
Situated between Queenstown and Wanaka on the scenic Crown Range Rd, The Cardrona Hotel is an icon. Reportedly the most photographed hotel in the country and boasting its own resident ghost (former long time pub owner James ‘Jimmy’ Patterson) the Cardrona was established in 1862. Charming in all seasons, the timber and stone pub is special in winter.
The fires crackle, the wooden floors glow and there might just be snow.
The central North Island is home to another iconic hotel that makes for excellent winter visits. The Chateau Tongariro built in 1929 still retains the grandeur of its early years when visitors came from around the world to ski and dine and gaze at the beauty of what is now known as Tongariro National Park. The hotel offers accommodation, dining, high tea and of course stunning views – check out the famous Ngauruhoe window framing its namesake volcano.
The vines may be bare but wineries make great destinations in winter. You won’t find snow or fires at Brick Bay Winery about an hour’s drive north of Auckland but the Glass House Kitchen, an architecturally designed glass building cantilevered over a lake, does catch the sun nicely. The menu makes fine reading and much of the produce comes from Brick Bay Farm. The winery’s latest releases are available as a tasting trio, by the glass or by the bottle. Make an afternoon of it and walk the sculpture trail. More information: cardronahotel.co.nz; chateau.co.nz; brickbay.co.nz
Let the scenery come to you
With a varied and beautiful journey across the Canterbury Plains plains, through gorges, over rivers and traversing the Southern Alps the Tranz-Alpine Express connects the South Island’s east and west coasts in style. Running daily between Christchurch and Greymouth, the train service makes several stops – including at Arthur’s Pass – and covers 223 kilometres in just less than five hours. The carriages have special untinted and non-reflective side and roof windows making the train journey a unique way to let the wintery mountain scenery come to you. More information: greatjourneysofnz.co.nz
Looking towards Blanket Bay from the edge of Lake Wakatipu. The luxury lodge offers splendid views.
Keep warm on the TranzAlpine Express as you spend the day taking in the majesty of the Southern Alps and Canterbury Plains by train.
The night sky above the Church of the Good Shepherd twinkles on a crisp, clear night.
Soaking in the Onsen Hot Pools by candlelight is a great way to beat the winter blues.
The iconic Cardrona Hotel is a cosy stop during the colder months. It even has its own ghost.
Instead of taking to the frozen outdoors, a winter getaway can be about seeking a comfortable spot by a roaring fire.