Cool winter getaways

ZOOM: Luge in Tekapo.
ZOOM: Luge in Tekapo.
HEATED: Relax in Hamner Springs.
HEATED: Relax in Hamner Springs.
WOW: Visit the Mt John Observatory.
WOW: Visit the Mt John Observatory.
ZOOM: Ski on Mt Ruapehu.
ZOOM: Ski on Mt Ruapehu.
COOL: Cruise the Wrangei and Herald islands.
COOL: Cruise the Wrangei and Herald islands.

The first reaction to winter may be to hide away from the elements and count down the days until spring, but show you some great ways to embrace it. 

Unless you plan on being around for another ice age, put these at the top of the list.

Winter's short days do not necessarily mean you get fewer hours of fun.

Let us make a few suggestions for things to do in winter that embrace the season instead of shying away from it.

Put on your warmest jacket, get your numb fingers into gloves, arm yourself with a scarf and a good attitude, and go forth into the bracing weather.


Fox & Franz sounds like either an Austrian-themed pub or a German law firm, but as you probably already know, these are the names of the West Coast's most famous and well-touristed glaciers.

The Franz Josef glacier is about two hours south of Hokitika by car and Fox is another half an hour south of that. They form part of the multimillion-dollar West Coast tourism industry, so you would be right in thinking they are very busy during the summer months.

However, winter is the perfect time to visit glacier country because it happens to be the "dry" season on the West Coast. The location of the glaciers is roughly sea level so the temperature remains consistent at a mild 14 to 15 degrees Celsius.

Drive to see the terminal face of the glaciers, or take a helicopter ride and follow an expert as they guide you through a safe path into ice caves for the perfect photo.

Recent news suggests the glaciers are retreating so unless you plan on being around for another ice age, put these at the top of the list.

Surrounding attractions include the rainforest and wetlands of Westland National Park and Lake Matheson.



This must be one of the only cruises where forgetting the swim suit is compulsory. Heritage Expeditions is a family-owned business run out of Christchurch, which specialises in showing off wildlife in the coolest parts of the world, literally.

Former biologist Rodney Russ (and his two sons) leads expeditions around the Subantarctic Islands, Antarctica, Pacific and the Russian far east on a refurbished, ice-strengthened vessel originally built for polar and oceanographic research.

During our summer months, passengers can do shorter cruises from Bluff to the Subantarctic Islands, looking at endemic bird life, but when the southern hemisphere winters arrive, the destination is Russia.

The next available cruise takes passengers to Wrangel and Herald islands along the North Eastern Siberian coastline. Passengers will see the Pacific walrus, polar bears, reindeer, puffins and other birdlife, and cruise through feeding grounds of the gray whale.

With an emphasis on responsible travel, the company restricts the guide-to-client ratio to 1:12, donates to conservation projects and uses local suppliers as the journey progresses.

Cruises go for a week to a month and prices range from about $4000 to $19,000. 



Nothing feels quite like you've cheated nature out of its chilly games than sitting in a natural hot pool looking at snow on the mountains. If you haven't been to Hanmer Springs for a few years, you may be pleasantly surprised at the changes.

The town has developed and modernised, but not to the extent of Wanaka or Queenstown, so you will still feel like you're getting away from the hustle of the city while modern bars and restaurants are all within strolling distance. It's about four hours' drive from Picton or less than two hours from Christchurch.

The thermal pools have had an upgrade and now feature adult-only aqua-therapy pools with jets to blast aching muscles - and the kids' area has a zinging water slide. The spa is geared for relaxation and reinvigoration, with beauty treatments, facials, massages and sauna packages.

The Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa is open from 10am to 9pm every day so imagine soaking in water of around 40C while the cold night air swirls around.

And in the daytime the scenery is gorgeous, so you can choose to look at it from the luxury of the pools or get amongst it - mountain biking, hiking, horse-trekking or walking through the surrounding forests. There is always plenty of accommodation and a rather unusual number of mini-golf courses for those with a competitive streak.

Drive further inland up the Lewis Pass for Maruia Springs, a Japanese-style hot pool retreat with accommodation.

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Volcanic forces moulded the landscape and now you can explode all over the Mt Ruapehu ski scene with your downhill skills. Or at least build a snowman and pelt your nephews with a snowball.

In Tongariro National Park you will find the Mt Ruapehu ski fields. There are two fields. Whakapapa is on the north-western slopes, while Turoa is south-facing.

Two ski areas on one mountain that face different directions means skiers and snow boarders are not at the mercy of the prevailing wind. Lift passes are valid for both slopes, so if weather closes access to one, try the other at no extra cost.

Being only four hours from Auckland and Wellington, Ruapehu is the North Island's main alpine destination, so it is busy - but it's also home to New Zealand's largest ski area and has a huge beginners area. Of course, weather has the final say, but the season generally runs from June to October.

Holiday-makers may wish to co-ordinate with the Okahune Mountain Mardi Gras on June 28, which celebrates all things winter with bands, local food and a big street party.

Accommodation for all budgets is at Okahune National Park or Whakapapa Village, and if your adventure tastes fly in the face of your travel companions, the area is home to other outdoor activities, including an indoor climbing wall, swimming pool, hot pools, or the indoor skate park called Monkeys on Yoyos.



Do pardon the South Island hogging the highlights, but it really is a spectacular place in the winter. A self-drive tour through the Mackenzie Country (2 hours from Christchurch) reveals the stunning azure blue of Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki.

The small township of Tekapo has had a facelift and now markets itself towards the winter tourist with an ice rink and 150-metre downhill snow luge - that's just you, snow, a rubber tube and gravity.

The clear night skies also offer budding astronomers a chance to gaze at the stars free of light pollution. The Mt John Observatory is the place to go. Visit in the daylight for 360 degree views of the area and the cafe or, better still, go at night for a tour of the stars. It is in the southern hemisphere's first Dark Sky Reserve.

Explore further south and you will find the lookout to Aoraki/Mt Cook - the highest peak in New Zealand.

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