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Tourism New Zealand

Canterbury’s hot pools: the ultimate winter warmers

Soaking in a bubbling outdoor hot pool surrounded by snowy mountain ranges can be a surreal experience. Whether you’ve face-planted one time too many on the ski slopes or just need to take things down a notch, your body will thank you for a visit to one of Canterbury’s hot pool havens.

The Hanmer Springs Thermal Reserve, 90 minutes’ drive north of Christchurch, is renowned for the healing qualities of its water. It features seven open-air thermal pools, three sulphur pools, four private thermal pools, a heated freshwater pool, sauna and steam rooms and a café. The water temperatures range from 36 to 42 degrees.

Tekapo, Canterbury
Tekapo, Canterbury

Tekapo Springs, half-way between Christchurch and Queenstown at Lake Tekapo, has three freshwater hot pools ranging from 36 to 40 degrees. The heat is a by-product of a refrigeration plant used to create a winter outdoor ice skating rink.

Continue further south for 90 minutes and you’ll find HOT Tubs Omarama.

Each private, red cedar tub has an adjoining changing room and views of the surrounding Mackenzie Country and Waitaki landscape. The water contains no chemicals and is renewed after each use.

You’ll discover that a therapeutic soak outside is one of the ultimate winter warmers... but maybe take a beanie, just in case it snows!

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Open a window to the universe at Canterbury’s Dark Sky Reserve

By day, the Mackenzie Basin in the south Canterbury region of New Zealand’s South Island, is a dramatic and ethereally beautiful landscape. Vast expanses of brown tussock grasses contrast with the pure turquoise of its famous lakes and the brilliant white peaks of the Southern Alps. But it’s when the sun goes down that the Mackenzie Basin truly comes into its own. Look up and you’ll see a sky so magnificently crammed with stars that it’s been designated one of the best stargazing sites on the planet.

Canterbury's Dark Sky Reserve
Canterbury's Dark Sky Reserve

The Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve was established in 2012, the first in the Southern Hemisphere. At a staggering 4,300 square kilometres, it’s the largest international dark sky reserve in the world. It was the first to be recognised with a gold rating by the International Dark-Sky Association for its almost total absence of light pollution. Clear nights, stable weather and a high degree of transparency in the atmosphere all contribute to the reserve’s dark and spectacular skies.

Four companies variously operating out of Tekapo, Twizel and Aoraki Mt Cook offer personalised tours of the night sky. Some, such as the Mt John and Cowan’s Observatory tours in Tekapo, make use of powerful telescopes. Others rely on binoculars or the naked eye. Either way you’ll have an extreme stargazing experience to remember.

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The world’s fastest-growing winter sport now in Queenstown

Testing your skills on the Coronet Peak moguls or the terrain parks of The Remarkables are undeniably awesome activities but to appreciate just how beautiful the country around Queenstown actually is, it helps to slow down. And that’s where snowshoeing comes in.

If you immediately picture a large, hairy individual dressed in furs, stamping grimly through the snow on tennis racquets, think again. Snowshoeing is the world’s fastest-growing winter sport and technology has vastly improved the look and efficiency of the footwear.

Coronet Peak, Queenstown
Coronet Peak, Queenstown

Snowshoeing gives you the opportunity to explore the wilderness around Queenstown in perfect peace. You can walk on unbroken snow without sinking. You don’t need trails and you don’t need any special training - ‘if you can walk, you can snowshoe’, the good folk at NZ Snowshoe say.

NZ Snowshoe offer half- and full-day snowshoeing expeditions for small groups or privately-guided excursions for individuals and couples. All ages and fitness levels are catered for, so your snowshoeing adventure can be as challenging or easy as you wish. “Take only pictures, leave only footprints” has become the eco-tourism mantra. With snowshoeing, come the spring thaw and even your footprints will be gone. It’s difficult to imagine a more environmentally-friendly activity.

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Sample Wanaka’s wine by day and cocktails by night

It is in Wanaka, on New Zealand’s South Island, where you’ll find some of the best Pinot Noir in the world, as well as vivid, aromatic whites at one of the world’s most picturesque vineyards.

Rippon has been farmed by the Mills family for four generations. The talented vintners were described by a critic in 2014 as “Emphatically one of the world’s great Pinot Noir producers”.

Rippon Vineyard, Lake Wanaka
Rippon Vineyard, Lake Wanaka

The region has a more temperate climate than the rest of Central Otago, thanks to the proximity of the Southern Alps and the thermal mass of Lake Wanaka. This biodynamic vineyard doesn’t irrigate its vines but grows the majority from the water obtained by the vine roots. The result is wine of great depth and complexity. Tastings are available at the cellar door, but ring ahead if your party is large.

Gin and Raspberry Boutique Bar is another must-visit Wanaka gem. Situated at the end of the esplanade, this funky upstairs venue features muted decor that doesn’t compete with superb balcony views over the lake. Named for its signature cocktail, Gin and Raspberry serves bar snacks, tasting platters and takes pizza orders in the evening. It dishes up live music as well, so enjoy the relaxed ambience and chill in style.

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Soar in a vintage Tiger Moth at Lake Wanaka

If you like the wind on your face, crave the adventure and romance of yesteryear and are happiest when coursing with adrenalin try strapping yourself into an open-cockpit biplane.

With Classic Flights at Lake Wanaka, you can relive one of the most exciting eras in aviation history. Soar above Wanaka’s breathtaking landscape in a 1940s Tiger Moth or sit side-by-side in New Zealand’s only 1930s Waco, prized by the early barnstormers. You’ll experience the exhilaration of flying as the early aviators did, with every sense on high alert.

Deepavali festival of lights
Wanaka, Lake Wanaka

To take you back to the spirit of the times, you’ll be wearing an authentic leather helmet, flying goggles and silk scarf. Then it is up, up and away as you soar over Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, with the Southern Alps and Mt Aspiring National Park providing a perfect backdrop. If you’re inspired by the romantic setting, land at a high-country station overlooking the lake for an intimate picnic lunch.

There are plenty of thrills on offer for the daredevils, too. Discover how your inner barnstormer stacks up against a 30-minute acrobatic journey over Lake Wanaka and the surrounding countryside.

Whether you want to rekindle romance with an aviator twist, or get your heart beating faster from a different type of excitement - the sky’s the limit. So take a classic vintage flight and let your imagination barrel-roll with the aviation pioneers of the past.

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Canterbury’s best après-ski venues

It’s the end of a ridiculously long day of skiing, but you are at the snow and there’s no way you‘re going to slow down in the evening – so where do you go?

While Canterbury’s après-ski scene seems mellow, appearances can be deceiving. Many of the “club” fields have on-site accommodation and do their own thing. For the rest, there’s still nightlife action if you know where to look. If you don’t, we’ve done the grunt work for you.

Methven, Canterbury
Methven, Canterbury

Methven is Canterbury’s après-ski capital. Its famous Blue Pub cranks out all-day pub grub, the bar vibe is energetic and there’s often live entertainment. The bar at the Last Post Cafe gets lively in the early evening and there’s usually an après buzz at Ski Time. The Green Parrot Bar & Grill has a sophisticated edge and is a local favourite. For an alpine European experience, try the Bavarian Restaurant & Bar at Forest Lodge.

If you’re in Hanmer Springs and feeling thirsty, the Monteith’s Brewery Bar has an extensive range of beers on tap. The historic Hurunui Hotel between Hanmer and Christchurch is a popular tourist stop, with atmosphere in spades.

Further south in the Aoraki/Mt Cook Mackenzie region, Mackenzie’s Cafe Bar and Grill in Tekapo serves rustic food with great views of the lake. The Tahr Bar and Cafe at Tekapo Springs features an open fire and laid-back atmosphere. In Mt Cook village, kick back and enjoy organic, free-range food along with the ambience at The Old Mountaineers Cafe Bar & Restaurant, aka Charlies.

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The five hottest ski bars in Queenstown and Wanaka

Every adventurous powder-hound knows the après-ski experience is just as important as the action on the slopes. Whether you like your ski bars quiet, cranking or just plain quirky, here are five of the best in Queenstown and Wanaka.

The Below Zero Ice Bar is a cool place to kick off a night in Queenstown. The temperature is maintained at 5 degrees Celsius but you’re given warm clothing at the door so you can enjoy vodka cocktails in toasty comfort.

A champion of Kiwi wines and craft beers, The Naughty Penguin is a Cow Lane bar and eatery that’s reputed to mix the best cocktails in Queenstown. This place seldom fails to get rave reviews.

Queenstown, Queenstown
Queenstown, Queenstown

If the reputation of its sound system, DJs and Jägermeister are anything to go by, the dark little Tardis Bar is definitely much bigger on the inside. Follow the beats down Cow Lane and prepare to go off like everyone else.

Sporting a mechanical rodeo bull and assorted stuffed animals, western-themed karaoke bar and restaurant, Cowby QT promises a whole ‘lotta’ fun for those who like their liquor hard and their music countrified.

When you find yourself in Lalaland, you’ll know you’ve reached the hottest lounge bar in Wanaka. With its funky décor, knowledgeable bartenders and unique cocktails, Lalaland has been wowing locals and travellers alike since 2011.

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Ski or board Canterbury’s biggest ski field at Mt Hutt

Mt Hutt is the largest and most iconic of Canterbury’s ski areas. This winter playground boasts 365 hectares of snow sport heaven and the most diverse terrain of the South Island ski areas. It’s the first Canterbury field to open each winter and 92 snow guns keep the season consistently cranking.

On a clear day, Mt Hutt has sensational views of the patchworked Canterbury Plains extending to the Pacific Ocean on the east side and the magnificent Southern Alps on the west. Only 90-minutes’ drive from Christchurch International Airport it’s great for day-trippers, but locals and visitors alike usually base themselves in the nearby village of Methven. Ski shuttles run daily both to and from Christchurch and Methven.

Mount Hutt, Canterbury
Mount Hutt, Canterbury

This legendary field caters for every level of ability, with dedicated learning areas and a 140m-long enclosed Magic Carpet lift for novices, through to Black Diamond runs and off-piste challenges for the advanced. There are three terrain parks for the freestylers and an international race arena for top racers and riders.

Mt Hutt features modern chair lifts and world-class facilities, including a cafe and restaurant, Snow School, equipment hire and free Wi-Fi access—all there to ensure you have an unforgettable day on Canterbury’s “big mountain”, both on and off the slopes.

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Discover the peace and powder of Canterbury’s boutique ski fields

Sparsely populated snowy slopes are not something only privacy seeking celebrities are privy to. Canterbury contains the most ski areas in the Southern Hemisphere and if you know where to look you’ll discover a healthy smattering of small commercial and club fields.

North Canterbury fields include Hanmer Springs, great for intermediates and boasting New Zealand’s longest poma lift, and Mt Lyford, a privately-owned ski resort catering to every skill level.

Roundhill Ski Area Main T-Bar
Roundhill Ski Area Main T-Bar

The Selwyn Six comprises a winter playground of six commercial and club ski areas. All feature on-site accommodation and are within two hours’ drive of Christchurch. Porters, the nearest, is a popular, family-focused field. Cheeseman is the second-closest, famous for its relaxed culture. If you fancy night skiing and have some skills, head to Broken River. Craigieburn is legendary, with challenging terrain best left to the experts. Some international boarders consider the demanding Temple Basin field among the best in the world. Mt Olympus is a true backcountry adventure—no groomers here!

The South Canterbury ski areas of the Mackenzie District also have plenty to offer. Fox Peak, a friendly club field near Fairlie, has huge runs for all abilities. Nearby Mt Dobson is excellent for beginners, intermediates and families. Roundhill, near Tekapo, has the world’s longest and steepest rope tow and the biggest vertical drop in Australasia. The Ohau Snow Fields near Twizel range from gentle slopes to off-piste challenges for the more advanced.

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Experience an epic airborne adventure at Aoraki/Mount Cook

The Lord of the Rings fans will be familiar with the majestic Mount Cook and Aoraki mountain ranges. It was this magnificent scenery that provided some of the most memorable shots in both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies, including the dramatic opening scene of The Two Towers. The ranges dominate the South Island, its origins whispered down through generations of Ngai Tahu Maori, who have their own melancholic tale to tell. They say Aoraki (Cloud in the Sky) was the sky god’s eldest son. He and his brothers were stranded on earth after unsuccessfully trying to convince their father to return to their mother. While they waited for rescue, their hair became white and they turned to stone, creating the Southern Alps with Aoraki as the highest peak.

Mt Cook National Park, Canterbury
Mt Cook National Park, Canterbury

To truly appreciate the pristine glaciers, mountain tarns and rugged peaks of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, see them from the air. The Helicopter Line is New Zealand’s largest Kiwi-owned helicopter company and provider of scenic flights. Operating out of both Twizel and Glentanner Park , and with almost 30 years of alpine flying experience, these guys can take you to places not otherwise accessible and their AS350 Squirrels ensure you get great views from any position.

Don’t miss the opportunity to get an eagle’s eye view of this enchanted realm that inspired legends in real life. It’s truly epic.

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