Slop­ing off

Where to go when you are not into snow.

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS -

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.

Starry skies

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: macken­

Hot Pools

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: han­mer­;; oko­ho­

Lux­ury out­looks

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: blan­ket­; lodge­

Winter warm­ers

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: cardron­a­ho­;; brick­

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: greatjour­


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.

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