Five surprising winter experiences in New Zealand

New Zealand is one of the most remarkable places in the southern hemisphere to experience a snow-drenched winter. We’ve highlighted five excitingly unique winter activities to do in this stunning country.


Glacier climbing

There’s no better place to get up close and personal with a glacier than in New Zealand. The two most accessible glaciers – Franz Josef and Fox – are on the West Coast of the South Island.

While these glaciers can easily be appreciated by wandering along their valley trails, nothing beats the feeling of actually setting foot on the top of one of these ancient formations.

Exploring one of NZ's big glaciers is not to be missed
Exploring one of NZ's big glaciers is not to be missed

To do this, you’ll need to join a heli-hiking tour. These tours will take you right onto the face of the Franz Josef, Fox or Tasman Glaciers – the latter being the longest glacier in New Zealand – and allow you to explore ice caves and crevices and learn more about how these impressive structures came to be.

Just be sure to pack sunglasses and sunscreen, as it can get mighty glary up there!

Snowmobile touring

Those with a keen sense of adventure will want to give snowmobiling a whirl in the South Island. There are a range of tours available depending on the type of experience you’re after, but all offer first rate scenery and a good dose of adrenalin.

If you want to experience a next level snowmobile tour though, be sure to join a heli-snowmobiling adventure. These tours include a helicopter flight past the Remarkables and the Hector Mountains, and provide you with exclusive access to backcountry trails plus incredible views of Mt Cook and Mt Aspiring.

Heli skiing

New Zealand is one massive playground for skiers and snowboarders, with resorts accessible in both the North and South Islands. But if you’re keen to steer clear of the crowds this winter, heli skiing might be for you.

This New Zealand experience will see you choppered up into the spectacular Southern Alps (an experience worth the price tag!) and then unloaded to ski or ride down the most beautiful virgin snow you’ve ever laid eyes on.

Splash out on a heli trip for the highlight of a lifetime
Splash out on a heli trip for the highlight of a lifetime

Unlike in some northern hemisphere destinations, you don’t have to be an expert skier or snowboarder to give it a go. Sure, there are some steep open bowls and extreme chutes available for the truly hardcore among us, but many New Zealand heli ski operators have designed packages specifically for more intermediate riders.

Star gazing

The night skies in New Zealand are pretty incredible at any time of year but they really come to life during the long, clear nights of winter. For a truly out-of-this-world experience, head to the Aoraki/Mt Cook region (tours can be arranged) as light pollution is limited here.

You can spot constellations like the Southern Cross, the Magellanic Clouds and the Milky Way. If you’re travelling at the beginning of the winter season, you might spy a cluster of tiny stars known as Matariki, which is a celestial reminder of the Maori New Year.

If you plan to be in New Zealand later on in the season, be sure to look out for the Southern Lights – the Aurora Australis – which is one of Mother Nature’s most incredible light shows.

Winter hiking

New Zealand is well known for its summer hiking opportunities, but many of these mountain trails are just as beautiful – or dare we say it, even more beautiful – in the winter.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, for example, is one of the few places in the North Island to find snow during the winter, and witnessing this rugged volcanic landscape under a dusting of fresh powder is a truly remarkable experience.

Give winter hiking a go and you'll never look back
Give winter hiking a go and you'll never look back

The terrain can get quite challenging at this time of year though, so it’s best to consider joining a tour.

Down in the South Island, popular trails like the Hooker Valley Track and Mount Aspiring Hut are easily accessible after the seasons change, with the area’s now-frozen lakes a unique sight to see. Best of all, hiking in winter means you’ll avoid the usual summer crowds.