The stars at Mt John Observatory, Tekapō look their best in winter. © Julian Apse

Embrace the cold: making the most of winter

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By this time of year, you’re probably getting sick of comfort eating and rugging up on the couch. With a bit of enthusiasm and some sensible clothes, you can get outside and explore the best that the winter season has to offer. 

Shred the slopes

Winter = snow. Snow = skiing. We don’t have to tell the powder hounds, this is already their favourite time of year. But even for beginners, there is a tonne of fun to be had on the slopes, whether you’re on two skis, a board, a toboggan, or even a good old-fashioned black sack. 

Mount Ruapehu is home to some great beginner slopes – Happy Valley at Whakapapa and Tūroa’s Alpine Meadow where you can get your ski legs in. 

Further South, the mountains are bigger and skiing or snowboarding is a true seasonal pastime. Check out the famous Coronet Peak and The Remarkables in Queenstown, or head over to Wānaka for chutes with views at Cardrona or Treble Cone. 

In Canterbury, big fields include Mount Hutt in Mid-Canterbury and Hanmer in Hurunui or follow the locals to discover the secrets of the Selwyn Six

Who's pumped for opening day tomorrow?

A post shared by Porters Ski Area NZ (@portersnz) on Jun 27, 2018 at 2:29pm PDT

Out of the ordinary

So, you’ve skied, boarded and thrown all the snowballs and now you’re looking for something a bit different? How about snowshoeing? High in Queenstown’s Remarkables, you can have an adventure like no other. Stomp through the snow like a yeti, with spiky plastic attachments on your boots and discover parts of the mountain that are truly off-piste. 

Or head to Otago where you can try your hand at curling. The Māniototo locals relish a hard winter, as it means they can get out on the ice (or ‘sheet’) for a ‘spiel’ (curling tournament.) If it really is too bleak out, head to nearby Naseby where you can have a go at the indoor rink. And as you don’t actually need to lift the stone – indeed, damaging the ice is frowned upon, much like digging up a cricket pitch – anyone can play. 

A post shared by Philip Fierlinger (@skyrize) on Apr 27, 2017 at 9:29pm PDT

But if you still haven’t had enough of the mountains as the sun goes down, fear not – at Coronet Peak in Queenstown you can ski in the dark. Well, at night, at least. To pause at the top of a slope, contemplating a ski field transformed into pools of brilliant light and hollows of inky dark by the floodlights, is one right out of the box.  

Nothing beats Night Ski 🤩 | #CoronetPeak #Queenstown #GoodTimes

A post shared by Coronet Peak Ski Area (@coronetpeak) on Jun 29, 2018 at 12:39am PDT

Room with a view

What better season than winter to head to the mountains for picturesque views of the peaks with a post-piste pinot, supped by a crackling fire. The Grand Chateau Tongariro at the base of Mount Ruapehu was built in the Roaring Twenties, and today the hotel still captures the opulence of that era. It’s a slice of something alluring and appealingly historic, where travel felt a little more pioneering and frontiers-ville than it might these days.

Similarly, at the foot of Mount Cook, not much has changed of the view from The Hermitage since the day it opened in 1884. The justifiably famous hotel has quite a history itself, the first incarnation being destroyed by floods not even 50 years after it was opened. Fire claimed the rebuild in 1957, but the current version has now stood for over 60 years, with a new wing added in 2001.

After a day clambering over the ice you’ll be keen for something to be poured over ice and there’s plenty of exquisite spots here where you can do just that, all the while assailed by the stunning face of Aoraki. 

We asked for a room with a view ❤️

A post shared by 🌴Anna Hernaman 🌴 (@annahernaman) on Jun 12, 2018 at 1:50am PDT

Natural highlights

In winter many parts of nature are at their best. Particularly in the Mackenzie district. Mount John Observatory is at the centre of New Zealand’s own 4,300 square-kilometre Dark Sky Reserve, making it one of the best places on the planet to look at other planets. And from here, when conditions are right, you can see the Aurora Australis – the Southern Lights. Best viewed in the winter months, they are utterly unforgettable.

The amazing, incredible, beautiful, stunning and all the other words I cant think of Aurora Australis! I was on top of a mountain, surrounded by a sea of fog in every direction watching the amazing southern lights dance through the night sky and for a moment it truly felt like heaven on earth. 🌟 🌟 🌟 #amazingearthshots #astrophotography #amazingearth #nightsky #auroranewzealand #beautifulearth #milkywaychasers #earthcapture #earthpix #auroraaustralis #amazingcaptures #amazing_earth #uniladadventure #nzherald #astrophoto #bbcearth #dphoto #starrynight #ig_newzealand #longexpo #natgeo #night_shooters #newzealandfinds #earth_official #OurPlanetDaily #southernlights #ig_nz #RealMiddleEarth #aurora #yourshotphotographer

A post shared by Larryn | New Zealand (@shadowandshadenz) on Jun 26, 2018 at 2:17am PDT

Natural hot water is the perfect antidote to winter blues. While away hours by the lake in Rotorua as you soak your aches and pains. And if you want a bit more than a soak, there is an extensive menu of treatments and ways to enjoy these natural wonders. Make the most of the thermal activity which flows beneath the city with hydrotherapy, mud treatments and decadent therapies that will have you feeling fantastic. 

For something thoroughly special, take to the skies over the Southern Alps on the spectacular scenic flight known as the Grand Traverse. Covering about 200 square kilometres of unforgettable scenery the Grand Traverse really lives up to its name. Marvel at the bright white glare of Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, a wonderful wilderness unfolding craggy peak by craggy peak beneath your wings. Then over to Westland Tai Poutini National Park, which includes the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers from a viewpoint few seldom experience. This 45-minute sweep of terrain takes in some of the most outstanding sights you will see in a lifetime of outstanding sights.

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