Winter adventures in New Zealand range from ice-climbing glaciers or cycling backcountry trails, to stargazing and soaking in mud baths. The colder months are a popular time to visit New Zealand for the ski season – but there’s a whole lotta fun to be had off-piste that’s worth sticking around for.

Just across the Tasman, winter is a time to be celebrated. The snow-capped mountains are the perfect backdrop to any road trip. The dark night skies allow the Milky Way to glisten brighter than anywhere else. And lively ski hills bring a great atmosphere to the nearby towns, providing a much needed antidote to the colder weather. 

We’ve found some of the best winter activities on the North Island and South Island – which might just be the perfect reason to extend that ski trip you were planning…

Read more: Remember to leave no trace and to follow the Tiaki Promise while travelling in New Zealand

North Island Winter Adventures

1. Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Location: Tongariro National Park, North Island

Arguably the best day hike in Aotearoa New Zealand, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 19.4km trek across a spectacular volcanic landscape. Winter has the potential for snow, strong winds, and icy conditions. However the reward is an up-close look at the active volcano and emerald lakes – all framed by a snow-covered landscape. Taking a guided trip in winter means you’ll be able to do the hike safely and you’ll learn about the rich cultural identity of the landscape. 

Please note! Only highly experienced hikers with the appropriate gear should attempt Tongario in winter. It’s important for your safety to be prepared for the unfamiliar climate and remote location.

10 Winter Adventures in Aotearoa New Zealand Worth Extending Your Ski Trip For, Camilla Rutherford, Tongariro Alpine Crossing, green lake, volcano, hiking

Photo by Camilla Rutherford

How to Get There

Arrange a shuttle, or car shuffle, to start the hike at the Mangatepopo Road end of the trail. You’ll finish the hike at the Ketetahi car park.

Where to Stay 

Stay in nearby National Park Village where you can find track information, accommodation, shuttles and supplies.

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2. Explore the Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Location: Waitomo, North Island

The name Waitomo comes from the Māori words wai, meaning water, and tomo meaning hole. And below the region’s green rolling hills, that’s just what you’ll find.

You can walk, abseil, zipline or black water raft through the Waitomo Caves and underground rivers. Or perhaps the most magical of all – sit aboard a tour boat and glide through the caves as thousands of glowworms shine above you.

In addition to this incredible display of nature, the storytelling by the local guides really brings the cave to life.


Photo by Shaun Jeffers


How to Get There

Drive yourself, organise a local shuttle service, or join a coach tour to the caves which are located at 39 Waitomo Village Road.

Where to Stay 

Stay in the village of Waitomo or one hour away in the city of Hamilton.

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3. Relax at Tikitere / Hells Gate Geothermal Park

Location: Rotorua – North Island

The Rotorua region, rich in Māori culture and history, is home to the Hells Gate Geothermal Park. It’s here that you can explore the active mud volcano, stand beneath a hot waterfall, and try your hand at Māori carving.

Better yet, enjoy the signature experience of bathing in the mud baths followed by soaking in the sulphur spas. The local Māori have used the healing properties of both for over 800 years. 

How to Get There

Tikitere / Hells Gate is a 15 minute drive from the centre of Rotorua on State Highway 30.

Where to Stay 

Stay in Rotorua where you can discover other volcanic attractions and rich Māori culture in the region.

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4. Jet Boating Adventures on the Whanganui River 

Location: Pipiriki – North Island

For a heart-racing adventure, why not take a jet boat down the Whanganui River? Jump aboard and cruise upriver to the Mangapurua Landing, where you’ll set out on foot with your guide for a 40-minute walk to the historic Bridge to Nowhere.

Or for an epic backcountry adventure, pedal your way through remote landscapes on a section of the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail. The 38km ride takes you from Ruatiti Valley to the Mangapurua Landing. Here you’ll be met by the jet boat for a cruise back along the Whanganui River – the perfect end to an epic day.   

10 Winter Adventures in Aotearoa New Zealand Worth Extending Your Trip For, Photo thanks to Visit Ruapehu, Bridge to Nowhere, bike riding, ferns, rainforest

Photo thanks to Visit Ruapehu

How to Get There

Pipiriki is a small riverside settlement, 45 minutes’ drive from the town of Ohakune. 

Where to Stay 

Stay in nearby Ohakune where you can organise bike hire and shuttle services if you plan to do the ride.

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5. Stargazing in Wairarapa

Location: Wairarapa  – North Island

The Wairarapa region of New Zealand’s North Island is a newly accredited dark sky region – and winter is the ultimate season for stargazing. The Wairarapa Dark Sky Association has worked to protect and preserve the region so that we can enjoy uninterrupted views of the magnificent, star-filled skies. Winter is when the Wairarapa night sky looks the most magnificent – with the Milky Way right overhead.

For the ultimate stargazing experience, take a tour with Star Safari. Peer through the largest telescopes for public use in Wairarapa or book your own exclusive tour of the cosmos.


Photo thanks to Star Safari


How to Get There

The Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve is located a one hour drive from Wellington.

Where to Stay 

There are a number of small towns with accommodation within the Wairarapa region – so you can maximise your stargazing hours.

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South Island Winter Adventures

6. Get Your Snow Fix on Canterbury’s Peaks 

Location: Christchurch / Canterbury  – South Island

The South Island’s Canterbury region has more ski areas than anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere. You may not have heard of them all – probably because the locals have been keeping this awesome secret all to themselves. 

These resorts and club fields are the place to experience grassroots skiing and some genuine Kiwi hospitality. Each have their own unique quirks and benefits, so you’re bound to find one that fits you juuust right.


Photo by Miles Holden


Maybe you’ll be shredding Mt Hutt’s wide open terrain, mixing it up in five different terrain parks, before enjoying the après-ski fun in the nearby town of Methven. 

If you’re after a more family friendly snow experience, head to Porters Alpine Resort, with terrain suited to beginners through to advanced skiers. 

At Hanmer Springs Ski Area you can spend the day carving up the slopes before delighting in a post-ski soak in the nearby thermal pools.

While Broken River Ski Area offers some of the country’s best off-piste, soft-snow skiing, and snowboarding, all in one. 

How to Get There

Fly into Christchurch and hire a car to explore the region and head to the ski hills.

Where to Stay 

Stay off-mountain in Christchurch, Methven or Hanmer Springs. Or book into the ski club lodges to be primed for first tracks in the morning. 

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7. Ride the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail

Location: Mackenzie – South Island

The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail starts in the Southern Alps and descends past incredible lakes, flowing rivers, and charming country towns to the coast.

It’s broken up into nine sections – and we reckon the Lake Tekapo/Takapō to Twizel alternate route section is perfect for a winter ride. It’s a 55km easy grade 2 ride with views of Aoraki / Mt Cook, Lake Pukaki, and the Southern Alps along the way.

How to Get There

This section of the trail starts at Takapō and you’ll finish in the town of Twizel.

Where to Stay 

Book accommodation at either end of the trail and organise a local shuttle service or car shuffle.

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8. Ice Climbing and Heli-Hiking on Fox Glacier

Location: Fox Glacier township – South Island

The tiny township of Fox Glacier is the place to explore one of New Zealand’s most accessible glaciers – Te Moeka o Tuawe / Fox Glacier.

You can take a scenic drive to Lake Matheson to view the glacier from below. However, the real adventure is to get up close – and onto – the ice. Gear up and take on the vertical climbs and overhanging ice walls on an ice climbing tour. Or walk across the glacier to view ice caves and arches with an experienced guide on a heli-hiking tour.

10 Winter Adventures in Aotearoa New Zealand Worth Extending Your Ski Trip For, ice climbing, Fox Glacier

Photo by Miles Holden

How to Get There

Fox Glacier township is on State Highway 6 – which is 2.5 hours from Greymouth and 3.5 hours from Wanaka.

Where to Stay 

Stay in the Fox Glacier township alongside the Southern Alps. There are holiday parks, hotels, and lodges to choose from.

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Scratch Beneath the Surface

For those who dare to dig deeper, it’s obvious that winter in New Zealand doesn’t stop at the perimeters of the ski fields. All over the country, unique experiences are waiting to be had in enchanting destinations you’re yet to step foot in. Now’s the time to discover them!


Feature photo by James Heremaia