You can't ski every day. Well, most people can't. In fact, some people don't want to ski at all. Fortunately in New Zealand there's far more to do in winter than just strap a few planks to your feet and slide down a mountain.
Some of the best attractions in the colder months across the ditch have nothing to do with snow at all. We're talking food-and-wine festivals, wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, biking, and even gazing at the stars. Here are a few of our favourites.
Attend Maori New Year festivities
New Zealand's Maori population celebrate their new year when the Matariki star cluster reappears in the winter skies, which usually falls around June or July. This event is celebrated across the country with the Matariki Festival, a fortnight-long series of cultural events and other celebrations, culminating in a public holiday for New Year's Day.
Soak in hot-spring baths
Otumuheke Spa Park, Lake Taupo. Photo: Miles Holden/Tourism New Zealand
New Zealand is famous for its hot springs, and what better time to soak in a warm, thermal bath than winter? You have your choice around the nation here, from the natural pools around Rotorua and Lake Taupo on the North Island, to the hot tubs in incredible locations – such as the Onsen Hot Pools in Queenstown, or Hot Tubs Omarama – in the South Island.
Visit award-winning wineries
Though there's no bad time of year to visit a New Zealand wine region, winter is perfect, given the alpine scenery that surrounds some of these areas, plus the chance to perch by a fire with a glass of pinot noir and just enjoy the warmth. The Central Otago region is incredible this time of year, when snow-capped peaks abound, though you could just as easily enjoy Hawkes Bay, with its cycling paths and excellent red wines, or the picturesque Marlborough region.
Go whale watching in Kaikoura
Winter, particularly June and July, is ideal for seeing migrating humpback whales off the coast of Kaikoura, near Christchurch on the South Island. Added to that splendid sight is the possibility of spotting sperm whales, the largest of the toothed whales, which can be seen in this area year-round – amazingly, Kaikoura is one of the only places in the world where these sightings are possible.
Go star-gazing in Tekapo
If you love to look at the stars, then you probably already know that winter, when the nights are long and dark, is the perfect time for viewing. And where better to do it than Tekapo, on the South Island, where the Dark Sky Project provides an incredible celestial viewing experience. There are hot springs in Tekapo, too, which means you can combine two of New Zealand's great winter activities, staring at the starry sky while soaking chilly bones.
Attend a festival
As well as Maori New Year, New Zealand has a heap of great food and drink festivals on during winter. Check out Beervana, a massive festival of craft beer held in Wellington every August. Also in the nation's capital throughout August, check out Wellington on a Plate, a hugely popular food festival. Elsewhere, there's the Hawkes Bay Food and Wine Classic, held in June, and the Queenstown Winter Festival in early July.
Dine on top of a mountain
Photo: Andrew Bain
OK, so you're not keen on skiing. That doesn't mean you can't appreciate New Zealand's alpine splendour. Knoll Ridge Chalet is a stunning restaurant perched 2020 metres above sea level, high above the clouds on the edge of Mt Ruapehu. Guest arrive here via the Sky Waka Gondola, an experience in itself, before either grabbing a quick snack, or settling in for an incredible meal of modern Kiwi cuisine, with that mountainous backdrop never far away.
Keep warm in Northland
Photo: Shaun Jeffers/Tourism New Zealand
When you picture New Zealand in winter, you see snow, right? You at least see cold weather. But that doesn't have to be so. To escape the chills while you're across the ditch, head up north, as far as you can go, to aptly named Northland, a subtropical area of islands and forests, myths and legends. There's Maori culture to explore up here, huge kauri forests to view, and the meeting of two bodies of water, the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean, at Cape Reinga.
Hiking Rangitoto near Auckland Please. Photo: Fraser Clements
Winter is an ideal time to strap on the hiking boots and go tramping, as they say in New Zealand. This country is riven with stunningly beautiful walking trails, and while the paths on the South Island might be a little chilly and unpredictable in winter, up on the North Island you're good to go. Take a gentle, scenic stroll to Taranaki Falls in Ruapehu, or climb all the way up Rangitoto, a dormant volcano near Auckland.
Take the TranzAlpine train
If your desire is to view beautiful winter scenery while also staying warm and cosy, we have just the thing: the TranzAlpine train, a railway that runs between Christchurch, on the east coast of the South Island, to Greymouth in the west, passing through the mighty Southern Alps as it goes. This is a five-hour journey through some truly epic scenery, and the ideal way to see the heart of New Zealand in winter.
Ride the Tasman Great Taste Trail
Photo: Dean MacKenzie/Tourism New Zealand
Warm up your limbs in winter by jumping on a bike up in the town of Nelson, at the top of the South Island, and tackling the Tasman Great Taste Trail, a scenic cycle that can be anywhere from 38km to 175km, depending on how much you decide to bite off, so to speak. Regardless of your choice, the trail here is dotted with wineries, restaurants, cafes and even art galleries. On a crisp, clear winter's day, this is perfection.