Three female travellers stand at Lake Tekapo looking out over snowy mountains surrounded by lupins during winter in New Zealand.

The Best New Zealand Winter Activities and Experiences

By Ryan Brown published on 18 April 2024

Wondering what there is to see and do during winter in New Zealand? Or is it even worth travelling New Zealand during winter months? It’s not just about skiing and snowboarding… there are endless incredible winter experiences that await. Here is our guide to New Zealand winter travel, and why it’s an amazing time to explore the North and South Islands.

What is Winter Like in New Zealand?

In short, breathtaking. Winter in New Zealand transforms the landscapes into a dazzling playground of icy blues and snowy whites. From the world-class ski slopes of Queenstown to the geothermal wonders of Rotorua, travelling in New Zealand during the colder months offers unique experiences that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Whether you’re looking to carve down pristine slopes or see the country in a vastly different way than most, New Zealand in winter is an unbeatable destination for any type of traveller.

A group of four woman on a hike in New Zealand in winter with a backdrop of mountains.

Is New Zealand Worth Visiting in Winter?

Absolutely! Winter turns New Zealand into a breathtaking wonderland offering unique experiences and quieter tourist spots. Sometimes it’ll feel like you have a whole place to yourself! The cooler months mean fewer tourist crowds, making it easier to enjoy hotspots without the throngs of people.

Then there are the views. Oh yes, the views! From snow-capped mountains and serene misty lakes to vibrant winter festivals, New Zealand is a dream for those in search of unique adventure activities who don’t mind colder temperatures. The scenery is spectacular, with crisp, clear days providing prime conditions for hiking, photography, exploring and so much more.

What Are the Best Winter Activities in New Zealand?

New Zealand’s wintery landscapes provide a perfect backdrop with heaps of activities that appeal to any kind of traveller, and some that are best during the colder months. Here are a handful of our favourites:

A group of young travellers on the Franz Josef heli-hike standing atop Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand.

Franz Josef Glacier Heli-Hike:

Imagine being surrounded by a valley of blue shimmering ice on a 7,000-year-old glacier 12 kilometers long listening to tales of its creation through Māori stories. That’s after the incredible helicopter ride to the top. This is a must-do New Zealand winter activity on our route and one you’re bound to never forget.

Māori Cultural Experience in Rotorua:

Māori history and culture is a fascinating part of any New Zealand trip, and a must-do on our route for those wanting to experience Aotearoa deeper. Cozy up in the Māori village near Rotorua for a traditional hangi meal as you listen to stories and watch performances displaying the early life of Māori, warrior culture, and song.

The fin of a whale in Kaikoura New Zealand in winter on a whale watching tour with snowy mountains in the distance.

Whale Watching in Kaikoura:

There is nothing quite like your first time seeing a whale in the wild. June to August is the peak migration season for spotting these captivating creatures. Whale watching in Kaikoura in winter ups your chances of catching a sighting of blue whales, humpback whales, and even sperm whales. You can experience this on our route.

Stargazing and Spa in Lake Tekapo:

It’s winter, but life is good because you’re sitting in a soothing hot pool stargazing. Yes, this dark sky reserve at Lake Tekapo allows for an unmatched stargazing experience and is the only one in New Zealand combined with hot pools. Listen to a guided tour of the stars and Māori myths as you gaze up at the universe in a floating hammock. You can experience this on our route.

A group of young travellers having a drink in Hobbiton of New Zealand at the Green Dragon Inn during winter.

Hobbiton Experience:

Take a stroll through the massive Hobbiton set, an unforgettable afternoon whether you’re a fan of the books and films or not. And there’s nothing like seeing this in the snow! This sprawling permanent film set has a full Hobbit house experience that just opened in 2024, and is open year-round no matter the weather. Grab a tankard of ale or hot cocoa in the Green Dragon’s Inn to warm up the way a Hobbit would.

Wild Kiwi Route: Northern Voyager

Glow Worm Caves in Waitomo:

Explore the vast and complex cave networks of the Waitomo region and the captivating glowworms in a variety of excursions. Abseil into the underworld for a more adventurous activity, or join a guided tour in a raft along an underground river to experience millions of glowworms illuminating the pitch-black caves.

Wild Kiwi Route: Northern Voyager

A jetboat on a river in Queenstown New Zealand in winter with snowy mountains.

Queenstown Winter Adrenaline Activities:

The adrenaline never stops flowing in Queenstown, even in winter. Imagine jet-boating through a valley of snow-capped peaks or bungie jumping with a backdrop of mountains. Plenty of activities are still open in New Zealand during winter whether you’re looking for a calming lake kayak or a heart-pumping bungie.

Wild Kiwi Route: Southern Voyager

Wine Tastings in Marlborough:

What better way to warm up on a winter’s day than trying world-class wines inside the warm cellars of Marlborough? Take in the sprawling fields of New Zealand’s largest wine-growing region and taste the famed Sauvignon Blanc and other distinct wines of Marlborough.

Wild Kiwi Route: Southern Loop

A group of travellers with hands in the air happy while on a Milford Sound cruise in New Zealand in winter.

Milford Sound Cruise:

There’s no better way to experience Milford Sound than when it’s a bit moody. And especially if it’s raining. Winter in Milford Sound brings a mystical feel, as gushing waterfalls seem to burst from the sky and cascade into the dark obsidian-coloured waters. And if you can see Milford Sound in winter when it’s snowing…there’s nothing quite like it on Earth.

Wild Kiwi Route: Southern Voyager

Geothermal Hot Pools and Spas:

Mountains, forests, or lakes? Daytime or under the stars? Take your pick! There an a plethora of options when the need arises to warm up and relax in the elements with a soothing hot spring or spa. Soak in the geothermal springs around Rotorua renowned for their healing benefits. Take in the stars at a night spa in Tekapo Springs. Relax in natural hot springs after a long day of hiking in Taupo. Or take a dip into a steaming river fed by natural geothermal springs.

Wild Kiwi Route: All routes

Skiing and Snowboarding:

Of course we can’t forget a major New Zealand winter highlight. Internationally renowned ski resorts like Queenstown, Wanaka, and Mount Ruapehu offer some of the best runs in the Southern Hemisphere and some of the in the world.

The Remarkables is our pick for an all-arounder, great for beginner or advanced. Coronet Peak is the spot for intermediate and above, with long runs through breathtaking terrain that you can ski or snowboard on from early day to past sunset.

Wild Kiwi Route:

New Zealand's Winter Festivals:

Don't miss out on some exciting winter events and festivals around New Zealand.

- Queenstown Winter Festival: Join the festivities for a vibrant mix of parties, fireworks, music, and activities in late June.

- Matariki: Experience the cultural richness of Māori New Year across New Zealand, with events typically starting June 28, 2024.

A group of people sitting lakeside wrapped in warm clothing during winter in New Zealand.

What is the Weather Like in Winter in New Zealand?

Running from June through August, winter weather in New Zealand varies across the country. In the North Island, you'll have milder weather with more rainfall, and temperatures ranging from 10°C to 15°C.

The South Island is colder, often dropping below 0°C in inland areas with frequent snowfall, especially in the ski regions. Coastal areas in the South Island experience cooler and wetter weather compared to the North.

What Should You Pack for Winter Travel in New Zealand?

Packing for a New Zealand winter takes some consideration to make your trip more comfortable, especially if you plan to take part in outdoor activities. Here’s what you should include:

Warm Layers: Thermals, wool or fleece tops, warm socks, and a winter jacket.

Waterproof Outerwear: A waterproof jacket or shell and waterproof trousers are essential for snow activities and rainy days.

Accessories: Gloves, polarized sunglasses, a warm hat or two, scarf, and weather-resistant footwear.

Health Essentials: Lip balm, moisturizer, and sunscreen (the sun can still be harsh on clear winter days).

How to Travel Around New Zealand in Winter

Traveling around New Zealand in winter presents unique challenges but fresh opportunities to experience the country’s stunning winter landscapes. Whether you're navigating the snowy roads of the South Island or exploring the milder North, it can be difficult for those not familiar with the fast-changing weather in the region or New Zealand roads.

A New Zealand luxury tour van of Wild Kiwi in a field with mountains behind during winter in New Zealand.

Benefits of a New Zealand Winter Tour with Wild Kiwi

Given the potential difficulty of getting around New Zealand during winter or those wanting to forego all of the planning and prep, joining a Wild Kiwi tour has tons of benefits. Yes, maybe we are a little biased, but Wild Kiwi knows New Zealand in and out in all weather, and we want to show you the very best of New Zealand winter.

Expert Guides: Wild Kiwi’s expert local guides know the ins and outs of navigating New Zealand’s winter terrain. They can lead you to hidden gems that aren't commonly found in guidebooks, and feed you all of the local culture and history you could want.

Convenience: All of the prep work is handled by Wild Kiwi, from transportation in comfortable luxe vans, accommodation, and activities to allow you to focus solely on your adventure.

Safety: Wild Kiwi guides know the roads and routes intimately, taking you safely around the North and South Islands. Ultimately, hopping on a Wild Kiwi tour simply allows you to kick back and take in all New Zealand has to offer in winter without worry.

Socializing: Travelling in a small group creates a little Wild Kiwi family with a warm, laid-back atmosphere that makes it easy to meet like-minded people and share experiences together. By the end, you often have new best mates for life.

Tailored Itineraries: Where to go? Where to stay? What to do? No need to worry about that! Wild Kiwi tours are designed to make the most of what New Zealand offers in winter, creating an adventure as seamless and fun as possible. Your guides give you the scoop on the best things to do, best places to see, and best places to eat.

Whether you're a solo traveller or exploring with friends, a Wild Kiwi tour offers awesome New Zealand winter adventure with the safety, comfort, and thrill you desire. Now all that's left is to book your Wild Kiwi tour and immerse yourself fully in the beauty and excitement of New Zealand's winter!

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