New Zealand is one of the world’s most beautiful countries, particularly in the winter. Having spent many years in New Zealand, I can assure you the scenery is absolutely stunning in winter. The South Island’s mountains are capped with snow, while the rugged beaches of the North Island look extra wild and moody! Plus, with the summer crowds gone, you can enjoy all this beauty in peace!
Although most people visit New Zealand in summer, winter has a lot to offer travelers. If you’re an adventure nut, you can go skiing, glacier walking, and skydiving. And if you prefer to relax, you can soak in hot springs or go wine tasting. No matter what type of winter vacation you’re after, you’ll find what you’re looking for!
The great thing is that New Zealand’s winters aren’t even that cold (when compared with Northern Europe or parts of North America). But because it’s a quieter season, you’re likely to find great deals on hotels and activities. It just keeps getting better and better!
So if you’re considering visiting New Zealand in the winter (from June to August), I say go for it! And if you’re not sure what to do, don’t worry – I’ve got you covered. Keep reading for the 28 BEST winter activities in New Zealand!
- 1. Go skiing or snowboarding
- 2. Visit Milford Sound
- 3. Relax in some hot springs
- 4. Go wine tasting
- 5. Relax at Hot Water Beach
- 6. Attend a winter festival
- 7. Visit Hobbiton
- 8. See glow worms
- 9. Go night skiing
- 10. Explore Mount Cook National Park
- 11. Drink mulled wine
- 12. Ride a luge
- 13. Celebrate Maori New Year
- 14. Book a scenic flight
- 15. See the Southern Lights
- 16. Go whale watching
- 17. See a kiwi
- 18. Ride the TranzAlpine Train
- 19. Maori experience
- 20. Test your nerves and go skydiving
- 21. Walk on a glacier
- 22. Take a trip to Waiheke Island
- 23. Take a sightseeing gondola
- 24. Drive the Thermal Explorer Highway
- 25. Go ziplining in Rotorua
- 26. Swim with dolphins
- 27. See the Maori rock carvings in Taupo
- 28. Visit the Museum of Te Papa
Things to do in New Zealand in Winter
1. Go skiing or snowboarding
Any list of the best things to do in New Zealand in winter HAS to include skiing (or snowboarding). It’s one of the main reasons tourists visit in the colder months. But if you’ve never been, there are some things you should know before skiing in New Zealand.
For one, it’s not as cold as you might think. I’m used to skiing in Canada’s freezing temperatures. So you can imagine my relief when I discovered that New Zealand’s top ski destinations (the Remarkables, Mt Ruapehu, and Mt Hutt) have much milder weather. Also, the ski resorts are much smaller than places in North America or Europe.
Skiing in Queenstown is one of my favorite winter activities! There are three epic ski hills within close proximity to the city: The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, and Cardrona. I love them all, but Cardrona is my absolute top pick, although it is the furthest from town (an hour’s drive away).
The ski season in Queenstown typically runs from mid-June to early October. The cost of lift passes varies depending on the ski resort: $159 NZD at both The Remarkables and Coronet Peak and $160 NZD at Cardrona.
The Remarkables is a family-friendly spot with terrain to suit all skill levels. This local-favorite resort is spread across 385 hectares (951 acres) and is located about 40 minutes from Queenstown.
Here, you’ll find 20 trails of varying levels and 468 meters (1,535 feet) of vertical drop. There are off-piste runs, four conveyor lifts, four chairlifts, and seven terrain parks for freestyle skiing and snowboarding.
Overall, Coronet Peak is a good ski resort. However, the snow at this location is often really hard, so it has earned the nickname “concrete peak!”
It’s the closest ski resort to Queenstown and has a great variety of terrain for all levels. With 462 meters (1,515 feet) of vertical drop, 40 km (24 miles) of trails, and eight ski lifts!
Cardrona has terrain suitable for all levels and offers 600 meters (1,968 feet) of vertical drop. The terrain parks and pipe areas are the highlight here – it’s got the most extensive terrain park in the Southern Hemisphere. So, if you’re a fan of freestyling, then Cardrona really is the best place to go! It’s located between the Wanaka ski region and Queenstown.
First-time skiers or snowboarders
Even if you’ve never skied or snowboarded before, you can learn in Queenstown (like I did!). Join a group lesson like this one in Cardrona or try this first-timers course at The Remarkables – you’ll get the hang of it in no time!
Mt Hutt was named the best ski resort in New Zealand an impressive seven years in a row at the World Ski Awards!
This ski resort is located 113 km (70 miles) from Christchurch. It has three chairlifts, two surface lifts, and 683 meters (2,240 feet) of vertical drop!
Mt Hutt has a couple of blue and green runs, although most of the terrain is most suited to intermediate and advanced skiers. Still, for first-time skiers, there are special packages like the one-day “First Timers” or the 3-day “Intro to Snow,” both of which include lessons and rentals.
Lift passes for Mt Hutt start at $159 NZD per adult, or you can purchase the 3 Peak Season Pass for Mt Hutt, The Remarkables, and Coronet Peak for $1,399 NZD.
Mount Ruapehu is in the center of the North Island, about an hour and 50 minutes from Taupo. Here, you’ll find two prominent ski resorts. I’d recommend both so keep reading to decide which is better suited to you!
Whakapapa ski field on Mt Ruapehu is the biggest ski resort in New Zealand! It offers a whopping 550 hectares (1360 acres) of skiable terrain and 670 meters (2,198 feet) of vertical drop. And it’s located approximately an hour and a half from Taupo. Trust me when I say skiing is just one of the many fun things you can do in Taupo!
Whakapapa is a really well-rounded ski field and caters to everyone. There are 11 ski lifts here, including T-bars, magic carpets, and detachable gondolas. It also features some excellent terrain parks where you can practice your tricks!
A lift pass here costs $149 NZD on weekends and $84 NZD on weekdays.
Turoa Resort is also located on Mt Ruapehu. It has some awesome natural features like half-pipes in the mountains. And with New Zealand’s highest chair lift, it’s no wonder this resort has some of the longest runs in the country!
Turoa Resort isn’t as expansive as Whakapapa. Lift passes cost $129 NZD on weekends and $74 NZD on weekdays.
Related Read: To explore more of New Zealand’s mountains, check out these multi-day guided tours. There is even one tour that will take you through the snow from Christchurch to Queenstown!
2. Visit Milford Sound
Milford Sound was once named the world’s top travel destination, and easily one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand! In winter, it’s even more magical because the excess rainfall gives it a mystical and moody vibe.
For those who don’t know, Milford Sound isn’t actually a “sound” but a fiord. It boasts lush rainforests and some of New Zealand’s best waterfalls. The fiord is surrounded by towering mountains – and in the winter, they’re often covered in snow. It’s one of those unforgettable views that takes your breath away!
Milford Sound from Queenstown
The closest city to Milford Sound is Queenstown. If you have a rental car, I highly recommend taking a road trip between these two places! The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is one of the prettiest in the world. You’ll definitely want to allow extra time to stop and enjoy the views, waterfalls, and lakes along the way. Make sure you also check out our full guide on renting a car in New Zealand before you leave!
If you prefer the idea of a guided tour, you’re in luck. There are lots of Milford Sound tours from Queenstown. What I love about these tours is they take the pressure off planning. You can pick a date, show up, and enjoy the rest!
And if you’ve got some wiggle room in your budget, you can also book a scenic flight from Queenstown. This will save you a ton of travel time (and is a bucket-list-worthy experience!). You’ll see all the stunning sights from high above before embarking on a Milford Sound cruise. The $580 NZD price includes the round-trip flight, cruise, hotel pick-up and drop-off, and coffee – but it does sell out fast, so check availability and book ahead!
Milford Sound from Te Anau
Another option is to base yourself in Te Anau and explore Milford Sound from there, as it’s only a 75-mile (120-kilometer) drive away. The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is equally stunning and easily one of my favorite road trips on the South Island.
Milford Sound in winter
When visiting Milford Sound in winter, you’ll fall in love with the unspoiled landscape and peaceful atmosphere. I especially love how quiet it is here in the wintertime.
There are also heaps of cool and adventurous things to do in Milford Sound during the winter months, from hiking to waterfalls, joining a nature cruise, and kayaking in the fiord itself!
Nature cruises are probably the most popular thing to do in Milford Sound. They’re super-touristy, but people frequent them for a reason! You’ll learn a lot about the area and get to see the fiord up close. There are different types of cruises available, from large ones that serve buffet meals, to small cruises that get closer access to the amazing fiords.
But one of my absolute favorite winter activities in Milford Sound is this kayaking tour. Being on the water and paddling makes me feel even more connected to nature. And from the kayak, I was able to spot some New Zealand wildlife, like seals, penguins, and dusky dolphins up close!
Related Read: If you’ve come this far, I highly recommend spending the night in Milford Sound. You can check out my accommodation guide to Milford Sound here!
3. Relax in some hot springs
What better way to spend a cold winter day than chilling in a hot spring?!
As much as I love adventurous activities, I also really love relaxing on vacation. Thankfully, New Zealand has some of the best hot springs and hot pools in the world.
From spa experiences to more private soaks, there’s a hot spring for every type of traveler. I’ve listed some of my favorites below, from the super-popular Polynesian Spa in Rotorua to the naturally beautiful Spa Thermal Park in Taupo.
Polynesian Spa, Rotorua
There are many things to do in Rotorua, but the town is most known for its thermal waters.
Lake Rotorua is just next to the town and is unique in that it features several different mineral hot pools. These pools are naturally heated thanks to what is known as the Rotorua Geothermal System, which lies beneath most of the city and the southern part of the lake.
The Polynesian Spa is one of the most popular places in the city to enjoy these natural hot springs. It offers access to both the Priest Spring’s acidic water and the Rachel Spring’s alkaline water.
When I visited, I took a dip in both the hot and cold pools, then relaxed on a geothermally heated poolside recliner. The whole experience was definitely memorable and left me feeling rejuvenated from head to toe.
The entrance ticket costs about $70 NZD, giving you full spa access and entry to 5 mineral hot pools overlooking the lake. So not only do you get a therapeutic soak – you get a view too!
The Polynesian Spa is open daily from 9 am to 11 pm, so pick a day and buy your ticket online here!
Hell’s Gate, Rotorua
Another option near Rotorua is the Hell’s Gate Geothermal Reserve and Mud Spa, also known as Tikitere – which features healing mud baths as well as natural hot springs!
On a visit here, you’ll relax in natural hot springs as well as learn about the area’s history. This place and the healing properties of the water are deeply significant to the native Maori. I loved how this spa helps you feel pampered while also educating you on the local culture!
Hell’s Gate opens at 10 am every day and closes at either 6 pm or 8 pm, depending on the season. An entrance ticket to the mud experience costs $85 NZD, which gives you an hour-long mud bath and a sulfur spa package.
On Viator, bookings can be made for Fridays – Mondays. However, if you prefer to visit Tuesday – Thursday, you can reserve your spot through Hell’s Gate directly. Personally, I like booking through Viator because you can cancel up to 24 hours in advance for a full refund – which takes the pressure off if your plans go awry!
Whichever day you visit, you’re certain to leave here feeling rejuvenated! So book your ticket online here!
Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools is an hour and 45 minutes from Christchurch. So if you’re staying in Christchurch, it makes a wonderful day trip for couples, friends, or even families!
This place is a resort-style hot spring best described as a mix between a spa and a water park. This family-friendly spot features swimming pools and waterslides (for the kids) and a secluded hot pool and spa area (for the adults).
Even though this resort is popular among families, it’s very well laid out. Adults can enjoy steam and sauna rooms and various pools (sulfur, aqua therapy, cascading, private … the list goes on!). But I loved that all the adult-centered areas are a good distance from the kids’ activities, ensuring tranquility!
Packages for Hanmer Springs vary in price, with one of the best-sellers being the Family Fun Day, which costs $119 NZD and includes lunch.
When I went with a friend, we opted for the Unwind for Two package ($385 NZD per couple) which included a night’s accommodation, entry to the thermal pools, and two spa treatments. It really delivered on its name, helping us unwind after several days of hiking on the South Island!
Spa Thermal Park, Taupo
Taupo is full of activities, some adventurous and others more relaxing. But if you’re in the mood to really chill out in Taupo, we’d recommend the Spa Thermal Park. Besides relazing pools, you can also find changing rooms, washrooms, and lockers. There’s even a little cafe if you get hungry.
This spa is home to one of New Zealand’s top hot pools – the Otumuheke Stream. It also features several scenic walking (or biking trails) that follow along the Waikato River. And what I also love about this park is that it’s free to enter!
The geothermal waters of the Otumuheke Stream are naturally warm but not too hot. When I went, I thought the temperature was just right. Plus, I was able to swim in a gentle waterfall in one of the natural rock pools.
The Spa Thermal Park is open from 7 am to 8 pm every day, and did I mention it’s completely free? So if you’re in the area, you have no excuse not to go.
4. Go wine tasting
Another fantastic winter activity in New Zealand is wine tasting. Some of the best wine in the world is grown here, with New Zealand particularly known for its excellent Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir varieties. My favorite is the Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region, which is extra crisp!
And the great thing is that no matter where in the country you plan to stay, you’ll be within easy reach of a great wine region. For example, Queenstown has amazing wineries, including those in the Gibbston Valley Region. And from Auckland, you can hop on a ferry to the picturesque wine region of Waiheke Island!
Just 30 minutes from Queenstown, the Gibbston Valley has eight wineries where you can taste lots of delicious wine. This region has one of my favorite Pinot Noirs so make sure to try it!
The best way to enjoy the Gibbston Valley’s vineyards is on a guided tour. I really love this afternoon boutique wine tour, which is around 3-4 hours long.
On this particular tour, you will visit 3 of the most popular wineries in the area. You’ll sample up to 15 wines and enjoy the stunning scenery. Plus, a delicious local cheese platter is also included in the price. You’ll also learn how the different wines are made and which varieties are grown here.
They’ll pick you up in central Queenstown at 2 pm, and return you to the same spot by 6 pm. For $199 NZD, it’s a great way to see this region without worrying about transportation or any other details. So book your ticket online here!
Some other great wine tours from Queenstown include this hop-on-hop-off self-guided wine tour or this bike and wine tour! All in all, a wine tour is a great winter day trip option from Queenstown!
The Martinborough wine region is just an hour’s drive from Wellington. If you haven’t heard of it yet, you will soon! It’s quickly becoming famous internationally, especially for its Pinot Noir variety. And doing a tour here is one of the best day trips to take from Wellington!
This small-group tour is a convenient way to visit Martinborough – it’s just over 5 hours and includes wine tastings at three local vineyards. You’ll visit Moy Hall Vineyard, Poppies Martinborough, and Te Kairanga Wines and enjoy a personalized tasting at each.
You’ll also get to stop by C’est Cheese to taste some delicious cheeses and also at Stuart Macaskill Lakes’ viewpoint for the perfect photo opportunity! It’s a solid day of exploring beautiful landscapes and tasting yummy food and wines for $154 NZD per person.
The price includes hotel pick up at 10 am, and drop off by 3:30 pm. All the tastings and comfy private transport are included, but you should bring extra money for lunch (time and appetite permitting). To enjoy a day of leisure and wine-tasting, book your spot online here!
Do you want to explore New Zealand’s “Island of Wine?” Well, you should! Waiheke Island has the perfect climate for growing grapes and there are around 30 wineries here. Two of my top picks include Man O’War Vineyard and Mudbrick Vineyard.
Your best bet is to book a premium full-day Waiheke wine tour, which visits 3-4 boutique vineyards and includes all wine tasting and a local guide. The wineries change on this tour all the time (there are that many good ones!). But since it’s a private tour, you can tell your guide ahead of time if you want to visit specific wineries.
You’ll need to make your way to the meeting point at the Waiheke Island ferry terminal by 10:30 am. The ferry from Auckland takes 40 minutes each way and costs $46 NZD for a roundtrip ticket. Ferries run all day long at 30-60 minute intervals, and you can check the schedule and book your tickets here.
Once you arrive on Waiheke, you’ll be whisked away for 6 hours of wine tasting with the option to buy lunch as well. This tour includes transport and tastings at 3-4 vineyards for $180 NZD per person. If you’re a wine-lover searching for an island adventure, book this tour online here!
Just over a 45-minute drive from Christchurch is one of my favorite wine destinations in New Zealand – Waipara! In fact, it’s considered the fastest-growing wine region in the country, that’s because the climate here is ideal for wine growing, thanks to its high summer temperatures and year-round low rainfall.
Some of the best New Zealand wine is from Waipara. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Riesling are the most common varieties grown here (and they all taste phenomenal!).
What’s great, too, is that most of the 90 wineries in the Waipara are family-run. And if you’re not sure where to start, some of my favorites include Waipara Hills, Waipara Springs, and Terrace Edge Winery.
Your best way to sample all the delicious wines here – and not worry about driving – is to join this Waipara winery tour! What I love about this tour is there is a max of 6 people, so you get personalized attention throughout the day.
They’ll pick you up at a prearranged time and place in Christchurch. Over the next 5 and a half hours, you’ll stop at Pegasus Bay, Torlesse Wines, and Greystone Wines.
The tour includes transport, tastings, and a light lunch or nibbles for $190 NZD. On my tour, I enjoyed delicious appetizers while looking out at the view. To explore Waipara’s incredible wine region, book your tour here!
Why I Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
5. Relax at Hot Water Beach
Hot Water Beach is just as it sounds! It’s a relaxing beach where you dig your own hot pool in the sand! It’s one of the most unique spots in New Zealand. Plus, it’s a great spot to visit in the winter when there are fewer crowds, and the hot water can keep you warm!
This natural phenomenon attracts hundreds of tourists every day during the “busy” season. So how is it even possible? The hot pools are created by the thermal water, which bubbles below the sand’s surface! All you have to do is dig a hole in the right spot, and the water that comes up is super hot!
Hot Water Beach is located approximately 12 km (7.5 miles) from Whitianga and approximately 175 km (109 mi) from Auckland. It’s one of my favorite things to do on the Coromandel Peninsula on the North Island. So if you’re in the area, bring your swimsuit and stop by!
The best time of day to visit is just before low tide – ideally, two hours before, or you could come by two hours after low tide. This is the only time when you can access the hot water areas (during high tide, the ocean covers the hot water vents). You can check the timetable for Hot Water Beach’s tides here.
Bring your own shovel with you or rent one for a small fee at the little store on the beach. It can be quite hard to find the best spot to dig, especially if you’re one of the first people here. The beach is over 1 km (0.6 miles) long, so knowing where to go is important!
From the free parking lot, walk onto the beach and take a left turn; continue walking until the beach narrows – you’ll notice a large rock in the ocean. Stand facing the rock, and you have found the best spot to start digging. So dig away!
6. Attend a winter festival
New Zealand boasts some unmissable events in winter! I love how festive wintertime feels here, and I never get bored with all the choices. From foodie events and Pride to fireworks and kid-friendly festivals, you have options. So before you make your itinerary, let’s explore some of my favorites in each major NZ city.
Queenstown is bustling with winter activities, and if you want to attend an epic winter festival, this is the place to be! Winter is actually one of the best times to visit Queenstown because there are three major festivals: Queenstown Winter Festival, LUMA, and Winter Pride.
Queenstown Winter Festival – is the biggest and most famous winter event. Queenstown Winter Festival is a massive event that features various smaller events, fireworks, and food trucks selling everything from pizza to mulled wine. The Queenstown Winter Festival takes place in the middle of June, but it’s best to check their website for up-to-date info as the exact dates change each year.
LUMA – LUMA Southern Light Project is a light festival held in the Queenstown Gardens. It takes place on the King’s birthday weekend at the end of May/start of June every year. Luma is completely free, and during the event, the Queenstown Gardens are decorated with lights to create an incredible sensory experience. There are also food trucks and pop-up bars in the gardens!
Winter Pride – Winter Pride is Queenstown’s very own LGBTQI+ festival. The event is huge and usually filled with free entertainment. It includes everything from cycle classes and color runs to trivia nights and après ski parties. Winter Pride takes place over about 10 days at the end of August/beginning of September.
Visa Wellington on a Plate – Visa Wellington On a Plate is a foodie paradise that takes place for over two weeks in August. This event occurs in the CBD and the wider Wellington region (including the Kapiti Coast, Hutt Valley, and Wairarapa). With a whopping 100 festival events and pop-ups showcasing the best of local food- event-goers certainly won’t go hungry!
Beervana – Beervana is best described as a beer wonderland that happens annually on one mid-August weekend at Wellington’s Sky Stadium. This huge celebration of all things beery is a must-do if you’re a beer lover!
Restaurant Month – Restaurant Month is held every August. Over 80 restaurants in the city center participate and come up with special $25, $40, and $55+ NZD menus for patrons to enjoy. There are also special dining events, many of which sell out super-quickly!
Elemental AKL – During the Elemental AKL (late July to early August), the city comes alive with various art, music, and food events. There’s something for everyone, from table talks with the city’s top chefs to immersive art experiences and epic music performances. This is easily the best winter event in Auckland!
Winter Fireworks Spectacular – Held on a Saturday in early July at New Brighton, this spectacle offers family-friendly entertainment and heaps of local food vendors. The fireworks go off at 7 pm from New Brighton Pier and are quite the show-stopper!
Kids Fest – KidsFest is another family-friendly winter event in Christchurch and is held annually from early to late July. It offers free and paid events for kids across the city and the wider Christchurch area, from outdoor movies to t-shirt making!
7. Visit Hobbiton
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, you MUST visit the Hobbiton Set! When I came here, it felt like I was stepping into this magical world – it truly is such a novel experience!
This set, better known as ‘The Shire,’ is in the small village of Matamata, which is a 2.5-hour drive from Auckland or an hour from Rotorua. However, the only way to see Hobbiton is to join a guided tour. Hobbiton tours are unsurprisingly one of the most popular things to do in New Zealand in winter. It attracts approximately 600,000 visitors every year!
On a tour of Hobbiton, you will learn all the secrets behind the creation of this quirky, colorful set. You’ll wander around The Shire, where you can see 44 different Hobbit Holes, the Mill, and the famous Green Dragon Inn.
When I took this tour, I loved listening to all the fun facts my guide shared, including fascinating behind-the-scenes info about how the movies were made. Plus, I got to see some of the original set pieces up close!
The tour ends nicely with a Southfarthing beer at The Green Dragon Inn. These unique beers can only be found in Hobbiton and are inspired by The Shire. If you’re not a beer drinker, cider and non-alcoholic ginger ale are also available.
All visitors must join a tour, and the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour is the most popular option. This tour picks up at The Shire’s Rest about three times daily, with the first starting at 9:30 am. Each tour lasts two hours and costs $89 NZD per adult, $44 NZD per child (ages 9-16), and kids under 9 are free. If your bringing the whole family, opt for the Family Pass for $225 NZD which includes 2 adults and 2 kids.
The Evening Banquet Tour is a great option in winter. There’s something magical about walking through Hobbiton at dusk. And when you reach The Green Dragon Inn, you’ll get more than just a complimentary beverage – you’ll have a whole Hobbit feast!
My favorite part of this tour was the walk back. The guide gave everyone lanterns as we strolled along pathways through the moonlit village. The evening Hobbiton experience includes your tour guide and a hefty meal for $199 NZD for adults, $162 NZD for teens (ages 11-17), and $104 for kids (ages 5-10).
If you don’t have your car, consider this full-day tour from Auckland. What I like about this option if you get to drive by the Waikato region, which has stunning mountains, extensive farmland, and powerful rivers. For $159 NZD, you’ll get round-trip transport from Auckland and the standard tour of Hobbiton – with so many pretty views – so get that camera ready and book online here!
8. See glow worms
One of the most unique things to do in New Zealand in winter is to visit a glowworm cave. What’s a glow worm cave? Well, it’s essentially an underground system filled with thousands of tiny luminescent larvae known as glow worms. Gazing up at the cave walls, you’ll feel as if you’re looking at a starry night sky when it’s actually lots of teeny-tiny glow worms.
Waitomo Caves is the most well-known glow worm cave, located 190 km (118 miles) from Auckland. Interestingly, this cave system is made up of two levels – the upper level is what’s known as a “dry cave” and features stunning formations, while the lower level is the real show-stopper with stream passages where the glow worms hang overhead.
The caves are even included on many of the best multi-day guided tours of New Zealand because they are really a must-see place! It’s one of those novel experiences you won’t forget.
Of course, you can’t just explore these caves on your own. If you want a good introductory experience, this guided tour to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves is my top choice! It takes you and a small group on a 45-minute tour through the Waitomo Caves.
The tour begins with a walk through the giant caves and a brief visit to Cathedral Cave. – the tallest structure in the cave. You’ll then get into your boat, float through the caves, and marvel at the impressive light show of the millions of glow worms.
This tour is available daily from 10 am – 3 pm, with tours on the hour. It’s a great way to experience the glow worm caves without committing too much time. But, it does sell out quickly, so book your spot online here!
If you want more adventure, book this Black Water Rafting Waitomo Cave Tour! On this tour, you’ll float in an inner tube through the cave systems! The standard Labyrinth tour is 3 hours long, and you can upgrade to a 5-hour Black Abyss tour (if you’re really up for a challenge!).
Both of these excursions include wetsuits, boots, helmets, and all the safety equipment. And don’t worry, you’ll have access to a hot shower at the end!
There is a morning and afternoon option for each tour, with the Labyrinth tour costing $170 NZD and the Black Abyss costing $290 NZD. These tours sell out fast too, so check availability and book yours here!
There are also smaller but equally impressive glow worm caves in Te Anau, the Kawiti Glow Worm Caves in Northland, and the free Waipu Caves on the North Island!
9. Go night skiing
Skiing is obviously one of the best things to do in New Zealand in winter. But did you know you can also go night skiing? I’ve been skiing in New Zealand lots of times, but doing so under a starry sky is a whole new experience!
Coronet Peak offers night skiing three times a week – on Wednesday, Friday, and certain Saturday nights. It goes from 4 pm to 9 pm, but I recommend getting here early enough to watch the sunset while gliding down the mountainside.
Once it gets dark, the rollercoaster-style terrain is heaps of fun, and the wide trails are flood-lit for safety! There’s also a heated outdoor deck to enjoy a cozy après-ski and live DJs. Just don’t forget to look up occasionally to enjoy the star-filled sky!
This resort is located just 25 minutes from Queenstown, and the night skiing attracts lots of friendly locals. And if you don’t want to drive, you can sign up for the Ski Bus between Queenstown and Coronet Peak. The Night Ski Pass is $79 NZD, and it typically starts from the end of June to the first week in September. You can check Coronet Peak’s website for updates and to buy tickets.
Overall, night skiing is such a cool experience with a fun-loving crowd and one you MUST add to your Queenstown bucket list!
10. Explore Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook National Park is easily one of the most-visited and beautiful national parks in New Zealand. It’s also home to the tallest mountain in the country, Mount Cook or Aoraki (its Maori name).
But it’s not all about the mountain here, there are heaps of fun activities too – from hiking and glacier kayaking to taking a scenic flight! Plus, I think Mount Cook is prettiest in winter, when it’s topped with snow, and the hiking trails are much quieter!
The Mueller Hut Route
The Mueller Hut Route is one of the most popular hikes in Mount Cook (and one of the hardest!). The hike is 5.6 km (3.5 miles) one way and can take 10 hours there and back in the winter. But once you reach the summit, you’ll have a view like no other. When I hiked this route, it felt like one of those hikes that tests you but leaves you feeling super accomplished.
It has many steep uphill sections, so I’d only recommend doing it if you have a decent level of fitness! The trail starts at White Horse Hill Campsite and follows a steep uphill track to Sealy Tarns. From here, you’ll get a wonderful view of the Hooker Valley and Mount Cook.
The second half of the trail into Mueller Hut has some loose gravel sections. Be aware that the skyline ridge is likely to be covered in snow in the winter, so prior alpine hiking experience is recommended.
The only place to stay overnight up here is Mueller Hut. So if you haven’t reserved your stay at the 28-bed hut, you’ll have to turn around and return the way you came. From November to April, you must reserve your bed online in advance – outside of these months, you must book at the visitor center.
The Hooker Valley Track
Another scenic and much easier hike here is The Hooker Valley Track. And unlike Mueller Hut, this one is flat, easy, and great for the whole family! There’s even a boardwalk over the marshy parts of the trail. Plus, you’ll cross three swing bridges with incredible views – you’ll definitely want to take pictures!
The hike into Hooker Lake is about 1.5 hours each way, and in the winter, you’re highly likely to see icebergs floating in the lake.
Other activities on Mount Cook
One of my all-time favorite things to do in Mount Cook is glacier kayaking. This glacier kayaking company offers tours where you can kayak beneath huge glacier-covered mountains. On my trip, I got super close to the icebergs on the lake, a really fun experience!
You’ll also get to stop halfway through at a secluded glacier bay to have lunch. Mount Cook is the only place in the country where you can go glacier kayaking, so it’s a must-try, in my opinion!
If you’re not that much of an outdoorsy person, there are relaxing activities here, too! The informative Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center is a great spot to learn about the area’s history. It’s open daily from 9 am – 5 pm and is right off Mount Cook Road.
When you’re done, I recommend grabbing a coffee or lunch at the cafe inside. It’s open from 10 am – 4 pm and has beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.
11. Drink mulled wine
Mulled wine is the ultimate winter drink! For those unfamiliar with this delicious tipple, it’s a warm alcoholic beverage made with red wine, brandy, and spices like cinnamon and cloves. On a cold winter’s night, a mulled wine really hits the spot.
In winter, you’ll find mulled wine on the menu of many bars and restaurants throughout New Zealand. But in Queenstown, some of my favorite places to sit with a mulled wine include Perky’s Floating Bar, The Bathhouse (my favorite), and Attiqa (aka The Sundeck Rooftop Bar). You can also find mulled wine at one of the winter festivals I mentioned earlier, such as LUMA or the Queenstown Winter Festival.
While in Auckland, I always try to get my mulled wine fix at Parasol and Swing Company. This place is known for its fancy cocktails and makes amazing mulled wine. I love sipping a hot beverage while sitting on their classy rooftop area, which overlooks Viaduct Harbor.
When I’m in Wellington, I head to Poquito Cafe and Bar. And in Christchurch, I think the best place for mulled wine is Cascade on High Street. It’s a great place to go with a group since their menu has many shared plates. I recommend heading to Cascade on Friday or Saturday night when they have live music and stay open till 1:30 am.
Related Read: If you want to try even more of New Zealand’s culinary treats, check out my guide to the best restaurants in Queenstown!
12. Ride a luge
Riding a luge is one of the top family-friendly activities in Queenstown and Rotorua. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, a luge is essentially a non-motorized go-cart. You zoom downhill, controlling the speed with just the brakes.
These small carts don’t look like much in person, but I can assure you that riding one is a blast! It’s fun for both kids and their parents and a great bonding activity while on vacation.
Racing down Bob’s Peak in a luge is one of the absolute must-do activities in Queenstown. You should start at a high point, which is why Bob’s Peak is perfect, situated 450 meters (1,476 feet) above Queenstown. Plus, you have a gorgeous vantage point of the nearby lake and mountains as you speed down the hill.
To reach the start of the Skyline Luge, you have two options: hike up the Tiki Trail or ride the gondola. The Skyline Gondola is at the base of the mountain on Beacon St. The gondola’s opening hours change based on the day, so check the schedule when planning your trip. However, the luge is open every day from 10 am to 7 pm.
There are several pricing options, but your best bet is to purchase a gondola and luge package. The gondola + 2 luge rides costs $71 NZD per adult, $49 NZD per kid, and $5 NZD per preschooler.
My top tip is to ensure you buy more than one ride for the luge! That’s because there are two luge tracks. On your first ride, you MUST ride the Blue Track (the slower of the two), but the real fun is on the Red Track (which you can only ride on your second go).
The Skyline Luge is a fantastic activity for families. Kids 6 years and up can ride the Blue Track solo, assuming they’re at least 100 centimeters (3′ 3″ feet) tall. If they’re at least 135 centimeters (4′ 4″) tall, they can ride the Red Track too. Kids under the age or height requirements can still ride a luge with someone over 15.
It appears gondolas and luges go together in New Zealand!
If you’re in Rotorua, you can take the gondola up from Skyline Rotorua. You can purchase a combo ticket for the gondola and one luge ride for $57 NZD per adult and $37 NZD per kid. But again, if you want to go down more than once, opt for a package with more luge rides!
You can even do a night luge here (complete with colorful LED lights!), available on certain nights until 8 pm – so much fun! At this amusement park, you can also try ziplining or a giant skyswing or eat at the Stratosphere Restaurant.
13. Celebrate Maori New Year
Matariki, or the Māori New Year, celebrates the reappearance of the Matariki stars in the early morning sky. It signals the end of the current year and marks the beginning of a new one.
The dates for the Māori New Year vary according to different tribes, but as a general rule, it takes place in mid-winter from late May to early July. The first public holiday to celebrate the Māori New Year was held on June 24, 2022 – so it’s only become an official public holiday very recently!
Traditionally, Matariki festivities included lighting ritual fires, making offerings, and various celebrations to honor the dead. In the present day, all New Zealanders come together on Matariki to remember their ancestors, share (kai) food, tell stories, and sing songs.
The largest celebration, the Matariki Festival, is held in the country’s biggest city, Auckland. It celebrates all things Maori through film, stories, performances, food, and art.
There’s also a 3-day lights festival to mark the Maori New Year in Arrowtown (outside of Queenstown). I haven’t had a chance to go yet, but I’ve heard great things!
14. Book a scenic flight
New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with a varied landscape and tall mountain peaks. As such, one of the best ways to see New Zealand is from high above! Taking a scenic flight is an unforgettable experience, and this is the perfect country to do it.
Flying in a helicopter or fixed-wing plane is a unique way to see the natural beauty of New Zealand. Three amazing locations to fly over include Queenstown, Milford Sound, and Mount Cook. I also think they look their best in the winter when the mountain ranges are dusted with bright-white snow!
Flights from Queenstown
Queenstown from above is a sight to behold! See the snow-covered mountain ranges and deep blue lakes and rivers from a prime vantage point – your seat in a luxurious helicopter or fixed-wing plane! Locals will tell you that Queenstown can only be fully appreciated from above, and one of the most reasonably-priced helicopter tours in Queenstown is this 20-minute Pilot’s Choice option.
This 20-minute flight is short but sweet – and worth it. On this tour, you’ll see sights like the Southern Alps and Lake Wakatipu, and experience an alpine landing. Your pilot will cautiously land at 5,046 feet (1,538 meters) above Lake Wakatipu so that you can take some incredible photos. All that for the super-reasonable price of $258 NZD per person!
The tour includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, so you don’t have to worry about a thing. If you want to see some of the best views of the country, book your tour online here!
Alternatively, if you’d prefer a fixed-wing plane tour (these are like mini airplanes), then this Milford Sound and glaciers flight from Queenstown is a fantastic option. You’ll take off from a small runway before flying over several mountain peaks and the Fiordland National Park. You’ll pass many lakes and of course, Milford Sound (my favorite!).
This hour-long flight costs $431 NZD and includes transport from your hotel and commentary on board. However, there are very few dates offered in the winter, so check availability and book online here!
If you want to see even more, there are also several scenic flights to Milford Sound. Some of these include a flight and cruise combo or a glacier landing! You have options, so you’re sure to find one that suits your style!
Mount Cook is known as “the cloud piercer” because of its sheer height. The only real way to see this whole mountain is from above! It’s an excellent option for those who aren’t into hiking but want to see Mount Cook’s impressive scenery. And if you’re a photographer, the photos from this angle are truly epic!
This 50-minute helicopter tour is a great way to see Mount Cook in all its glory and avoid the crowds! You’ll fly over Mount Cook, the Tasman Glacier, and over to the West Coast to see Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. One thing I loved about this tour was the helicopter landed on a secluded snowy mountaintop. I even got to step out and walk around for a while!
This 50-minute tour includes round-trip transport, the scenic flight, and pilot’s commentary as you fly high above. Prices start at $716 NZD so check availability and book your tour here!
Are you looking for a shorter and cheaper option? This shorter scenic flight is just 20 minutes but also takes you over Mount Cook AND you still get to experience a snow landing.
For this tour, you’ll need to find your own transport to the helicopter pad to begin your journey. Prices start at $309 NZD so book here to snag this deal!
Related Read: If you’re based in Queenstown, a scenic flight is just one of many tour options. Read about other tours available from Queenstown here!
15. See the Southern Lights
For a truly romantic getaway in New Zealand, go stargazing!
Winter is the prime time to see the Southern Lights (aka Aurora Australis) here. During this season, the Milky Way shines bright above certain parts of the country, namely areas on the South Island such as Queenstown, Mount Cook, and Lake Tekapo.
However, if you really want to see the stars, you should take a short drive out of these towns. With less light pollution, the night sky will come alive.
If you’re a keen stargazer, check the daily Southern Lights (aka Aurora Australis) radar to determine the best time to see this spectacular light show.
My favorite place to go stargazing in Queenstown is at Moke Lake. The observation deck is about a 20-minute drive from downtown but it feels very remote. Since there are no buildings or houses, the stars on a clear night are unreal!
A great way to learn about astronomy (and spot more stars) is by taking a tour. This hour-long tour in Mount Cook introduces you to the Southern Lights using large astronomy telescopes and Astro-binoculars. Your experienced guide will tell you what you’re seeing, where to look, and all about the skies in this unique part of the world.
Bear in mind, this 90-minute tour only operates on a clear night, and departure is from close to the historic Hermitage Hotel. When I did this tour, they drove our group to the base, where we warmed up with hot chocolate and cookies. Then, we headed outside to witness the starry skies above Mount Cook.
It’s a great family activity if your kids are a bit older. Children must be at least 8 years old to join, and it costs $109 NZD for adults (15 and over) and $45 NZD for kids (8-15).
Lake Tekapo is, undoubtedly, THE best place to go stargazing in New Zealand. This area is one of the only Dark Sky Reserves in New Zealand and is the largest one in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s also named the Aoraki/Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. But don’t take my word for it – see it for yourself!
This stargazing tour is one of the best things to do in Tekapo. The 2-hour tour is run by the University of Canterbury and takes place at the Mount John Observatory.
During the tour, you’ll see stars through the 16″ optical telescope. In the case of bad weather, your tour will continue inside the interactive venue. This is a very popular activity, and booking in advance is essential! Children must be 7 years old to join, and tickets cost $85 NZD for kids (7-17) and $159 NZD for adults.
What’s better than stargazing? Stargazing while relaxing in a hot pool! This Tekapo Springs tour is the only guided hot springs and stargazing tour in the country. Just imagine yourself soaking in a 37.5°C (99.5 °F) hot pool while gazing up at the dark sky reserve with a loved one.
On the 1.5-hour tour at Tekapo Springs, you’ll learn all about stars, planets, and galaxies. And if there’s bad weather, you can still experience an indoor virtual reality tour of the Tekapo Dark Sky Reserve. These tours run Wednesday – Sunday evenings and cost $119 NZD per person. They do sell out, so I recommend booking a few weeks in advance.
16. Go whale watching
Whale watching is a common winter tour in Auckland and Kaikoura. They are two of the top whale watching destinations in New Zealand, and whales can be seen in the waters here pretty much all year round!
However, in winter, one can expect to see blue whales and humpback whales. And although whale sightings aren’t guaranteed on any of the below tours, your chances are still pretty high!
One of the coolest things I’ve done in Auckland was joining this whale-watching tour to the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. Six different species of whale call the Hauraki Gulf home, including the native Bryde’s whale and the humpback whale. It’s not every day you see these different whales, which makes this one of the best places in the world to go whale watching!
This tour departs from the Viaduct Harbour at 10:30 am. You’ll set off on a luxury catamaran with a guide who will point out all the sea life along the way. When I went, I didn’t just see whales, but I also saw dolphins, penguins, and various seabirds!
Prices start from about $165 NZD for this tour and cover the catamaran journey and your guide. Since the tour lasts 4.5 hours, I recommend bringing extra cash to purchase food or drinks on board. If you want to experience this whale-watching trip in Auckland, book your spot here!
I love whale watching cruises from Kaikoura because there are so many marine animals here, and the guides are very knowledgeable about all of them! So if you’re a marine animal-lover, I recommend this 3.5-hour whale-watching tour.
When I went, I saw sperm whales along with cute fur seals and dolphins. Luckily, Kaikoura is a year-round whale watching destination, and winter (particularly in June and July) is a great time to spot humpback whales. So although sightings aren’t guaranteed, they have a 95% success rate. And if you don’t see a whale, you get an 80% refund.
There are three tours offered daily between 7 am – 1 pm and prices start at $170 NZD for this unique experience. However, this tour does sell out, so check availability and book your tickets here!
17. See a kiwi
The kiwi is the national icon of New Zealand, and is really cute! It’s a unique little bird that can’t fly and has loose feathers that look more like hair. If you’re an animal lover, you can’t miss seeing this must-see animal in New Zealand!
It’s rare that you’ll come across a kiwi in the wild as these creatures are nocturnal and very shy. If they see or hear people, they’re likely to hide. To see kiwis in the wild, your best chance is to visit Stewart Island. This island is home to a large population of the Stewart Island brown kiwi, and with a human population of around 450 people, the kiwis here thrive!
If you’re not visiting Stewart Island, you can always see these birds in a kiwi sanctuary. There are lots of them dotted throughout New Zealand, but the best ones are Zealandia in Wellington, The National Kiwi Hatchery in Rotorua and Willowbank Nature Reserve in Christchurch.
National Kiwi Hatchery, Rotorua
The National Kiwi Hatchery is the top place in the world for hatching and raising kiwi chicks. Unfortunately, the kiwi population is dwindling, so researchers here are working hard to help these little creatures. What’s great is that 100% of your ticket cost goes toward their kiwi hatching program!
On a visit, you can tour the facility – where they have successfully hatched more than 2,000 chicks. If you’re really lucky, you might even get to see a newly hatched kiwi chick! The basic tour is 45 minutes long and includes a visit to the interactive “human-sized” kiwi burrow, where you can sit in a giant kiwi egg!
The hatchery is in Rotorua and is open daily from 9:30 am – 2 pm. Anyone can visit on the weekends and holidays, but you’ll have to book a tour to visit on weekdays. Tickets cost $50 NZD per adult and $30 NZD per child, but there are many ticket upgrades like behind-the-scenes experiences or even the option to name a chick.
Willowbank Nature Reserve, Christchurch
Willowbank Nature Reserve was the first place in the world to open a glass-free nocturnal house for kiwis. I love coming here because I can see kiwis along with many other local animals in a humane space. And, it’s conveniently located just 5 minutes from Christchurch Airport,
The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is part of the nationwide program “Operation Nest Egg.” This program promotes and encourages the incubation of the different kiwi species (the Rowi, the North Island brown kiwi, the Haast tokoeka, and the Great spotted kiwi). As a result, Willowbank has a record of 100 eggs incubated in one season and over 600 kiwis released back into the wild.
The reserve is open daily from 9:30 am – 5 pm. Day passes cost $35 NZD for adults and $13 NZD for kids (ages 5-15), and you can also purchase your ticket online here.
Kiwi Birdlife Park, Queenstown
The five-acre Kiwi Birdlife Park is a great place to see these unique birds. I liked this park because I could watch the kiwis in action. You see, kiwis here are housed in special nocturnal houses meaning that you can see them running around and eating during the day (things wild kiwis only do at night). There are also daily kiwi feedings and conservation shows.
Kiwi Birdlife Park is open 9 am – 5:30 pm, with the last entry at 5 pm. Tickets cost $52 per adult and $26 per child, but you can get a discount if you book ahead online. What’s great is the park is next to the Skyline Gondola, so you can head up there and ride a luge after!
18. Ride the TranzAlpine Train
One of the best ways to see the spectacular scenery between Christchurch and Greymouth is by train. And luckily, one of the world’s great train journeys, the TranzAlpine, travels from coast to coast on the South Island. You’ll pass breathtaking sights like the Southern Alps and the rugged West Coast! Plus, you won’t need to worry about the winter weather since you’ll be extra cozy in your train seat.
The TranzAlpine train journey from Christchurch to Greymouth is referred to as “New Zealand’s most scenic rail journey” for good reason. Some of the trip’s highlights include the Canterbury Plains, the Old Brunner Mine, and the Waimakariri River. Arthur’s Pass Train Station is also stunning since it’s surrounded by looming mountains!
The train itself boasts an open-air viewing area, but the windows by your seat are massive – so you can still take some lovely photos without moving from your seat. And if you get hungry, there’s also a cafe on board!
In winter, this train leaves from Christchurch Station at 8:15 am Fridays – Mondays. The one-way journey will take nearly 5 hours which is quite lengthy, but it does cover a huge distance of 223 km (139 miles). The trip costs $214 NZD, including the one-way train ticket with all taxes and fees. You can also tune into GPS-triggered audio commentary to learn about each site you pass.
Overall, I loved taking in the sights from a warm train carriage. There’s something romantic about trains, particularly in winter, and if you agree, book your seat online ahead of time!
You can return to Christchurch on the same day, with a very short stopover in Greymouth. The return ticket costs the same price on Viator, $214 NZD. However, the roundtrip journey is almost 10 hours! Therefore if your itinerary allows, I recommend spending the night in Greymouth.
Related Read: If you’re continuing on after Greymouth, the drive from Greymouth to Franz Josef is full of beautiful stops as well!
19. Maori experience
The Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, and since you’re visiting their glorious country, I highly recommend joining a Māori Cultural tour! I love these tours because you gain insight into the Māori history and culture and even learn the truth behind some of the fascinating Māori myths.
There are loads of these tours in the major towns and cities in New Zealand. Below, I’ll share some of my favorites!
One of the most memorable things I’ve done in Auckland is this Māori tour with an Indigenous Maori guide. The full-day tour is led by a knowledgeable Māori guide who taught me so much about their way of life.
On this tour, you’ll visit the Harbour Bridge and travel the coast along Tamaki Drive. You’ll also see Northcote, Mission Bay, and the Auckland Domain. But it’s not just sightseeing by car! You’ll make several stops and have time to explore Piha Beach and Karekare Falls, one of New Zealand’s best waterfalls.
Tours start at 9 am, and they offer hotel pick up and drop off within downtown Auckland. Lunch, snacks, and all national park fees are also included in the $395 NZD price. However, this tour sells out fast, so book your tickets well in advance!
Rotorua is an amazing place to learn about the Māori people and culture. The city is actually home to the highest percentage of Māori of any other city in New Zealand. You can completely immerse yourself in the Māori culture here by visiting a Māori village or taking part in a traditional feast.
On one of my visits, I spent the evening at the Mitai Māori Village cultural experience. It was an amazing, immersive introduction to the Māori culture. I got to watch performances including weaponry displays and enjoyed a traditional hangi feast cooked in an underground oven.
The tour can pick you up, or you can head to the meeting point. The $129 NZD price covers all the cultural performances, a bush walk, and a large buffet. If you’d like alcoholic drinks with dinner, they’ll cost extra. The 3-hour experience is available every night, but it does sell out, so book your tour online here!
Another option is to spend an evening at Te Pā Tū. This is a magical experience since you’ll witness a powhiri (welcome ceremony) performed by descendants of New Zealand’s ancient warriors. You can walk by crackling fires and traditional homes as you listen to instruments and see re-enactments of daily activities.
This experience also includes a haka song and dance and a hangi feast with slow-cooked meat and vegetables. What I loved about this particular feast is they served some lesser-known hangi food and local delicacies. So if you’re a foodie that enjoys unique cultural cuisine, this tour is for you!
Tour prices begin at around $250 NZD and are available every evening. But like most of these Māori experiences, this tour sells out fast so I recommend securing your spot online.
Bay of Islands
Northland and the Bay of Islands region are important places for the Māori people. So, a must-do Bay of Islands activity is taking a trip to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds to learn about the area’s history and culture.
After entering the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, you can join several activities, including cultural performances, a Māori carving studio, and visiting the Museum of Waitangi.
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are located 2 km (1.2 miles) from Paihia in the Bay of Islands. Admission tickets cost $60 NZD and cover all the activities, performances, and a local guide. These tickets are actually good for two consecutive days, and the grounds are open daily from 9 am – 5 pm. I loved this tour option because I could explore independently without feeling rushed!
So if you’re planning a trip to the Bay of Islands, purchase your tickets to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds online here!
20. Test your nerves and go skydiving
If you’re an adrenaline junkie like me, you have to go skydiving in New Zealand! It’s one of the best countries for thrillseekers, with many skydiving locations and companies. And what better way to see Queenstown or the Hauraki Gulf than while skydiving high above? That was a rhetorical question because the answer is obvious – not much!
So whether you’re an experienced skydiver or a first-timer, New Zealand is the perfect place to test your bravery – and have an awesome time! The tandem instructors are highly experienced and make you feel safe every step of the way. However, it can be hard to choose a skydiving tour. So to help you out, I’ve selected my favorite options below.
In Queenstown, you can ease yourself into this thrilling sport. NZONE Skydive offers skydiving from 3 different heights: 9,000, 12,000, or 15,00 feet (2,740, 3,560, and 4,570 meters). If you want to start small, the 9,000-foot (2,740 mt) drop costs $299 NZD and can be purchased through the NZONE Skydive site.
This first option is incredible, but I found myself craving a little more time in the air. So if you feel the same, consider this 12,000-foot (3,560 meter) drop. With this option, you can experience a 45-second free fall and a 5-minute parachute flight for $379 NZD.
However, if you’re going to skydive, you may as well go big! I’d recommend trying this 15,000-foot (4,570 meter) jump. You’ll get a full minute to free fall at speeds of up to 200 kph (124 mph) before your parachute opens! The view of the Remarkables from the plane before you jump off is unbelievable. And you’ll actually be falling double the height of the Remarkables!
For the 15,000 feet jump, allow up to 4 hours. It costs $479 NZD per person. It does sell out, so book your spot online here.
Luckily, for all tours, transport to and from Queenstown is included! So you just need to pick your date and skydiving height, and enjoy the ride!
In Auckland, I chose to make a day of my skydiving adventure. This full-day tour combines skydiving with a tasty tapas lunch, wine tasting, and a coastal excursion.
You’ll start your day at 8:30 am with a hotel pick-up and head straight to the skydiving field! I think it was a very smart choice to start off with skydiving, so your nerves won’t build up throughout the day. After a safety briefing, you’ll fly above Auckland’s coast before experiencing a 9,000-foot (2,740 meter) drop and a 45-second free fall (at 200 km/h or 124 mph!).
Afterward, this tour takes you to the heart of Auckland’s wine country to enjoy lunch and wine tasting at the Hunting Lodge Winery and Restaurant. It was the perfect way to relax after getting my adrenaline pumping!
Lastly, you’ll drive through rolling hills and farmland to reach the Muriwai Gannet Colony. This picturesque black sand beach is full of gannets. The tour allows you to witness these beautiful birds without disturbing their natural habitat. It was an absolutely stunning and peaceful way to cap off the day!
This tour really offers so much for the price of $614 NZD – which is precisely why it sells out so quickly! So check availability and book your spot online here!
Bay of Islands
Skydive Bay of Islands is New Zealand’s highest skydive – offering a jump at a whopping 20,000 feet (6,100 meters)! That means you’ll freefall for over 85 seconds before landing on a gorgeous beach!
And if you’re not quite ready for that, they also offer options from 9,000-16,500 ft (2,740-5,030 meters). Just select your desired height at the time of booking.
Skydive Bay of Islands picks up from most locations in Paihia. Prices start at $299 NZD for the 9,000-foot (2,740 meter) height to $579 NZD for the 20,000-foot (6,096 meter) height. Because it’s such a popular thing to do in Northland, I highly recommend booking this 20,000-foot jump in advance!
Related Read: For those based in Queenstown, skydiving is just one of the many adrenaline-pumping activities here. Check out my list of the best adventure activities in Queenstown for more ideas!
21. Walk on a glacier
The famed Franz Josef Glacier is located on the South Island in the small town of the same name – Franz Josef. This glacier is famous because you can walk on the glacier itself (provided a guide accompanies you). This felt like such a novel experience – and trust me, you can’t fully understand the beauty of a glacier until you’re actually walking on one!
You can walk to the base of the glacier without a guide, and there are several routes you can take into this natural wonder. But the Franz Josef Glacier walk will get you the closest, and what’s great is that it’s also the easiest option!
But to be perfectly honest, you won’t get the glacier experience without actually walking on it, so I recommend booking this heli-hike tour. On this tour, you’ll walk on the glacier AND explore ice caves. Don’t forget to snap a photo standing next to towering ice pinnacles!
You’ll also learn about the area’s fascinating history and geology from your experienced and knowledgeable guide. But what really blew me away was the scenic helicopter ride in and out of the icy region.
Tours start at 8:30 am or 11 am and last 3 hours. It’s the adventure of a lifetime! For $603 NZD, this really is one of the best things to do in New Zealand in winter. So pick a date and book your tour here!
22. Take a trip to Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island is my favorite island in New Zealand. It’s a stunning and peaceful escape from city life. Plus, it’s just a short ferry ride from Auckland CBD! But there’s so much to do here, that I recommend spending a few nights if you can.
It’s super-easy to get to Waiheke from Auckland, with ferries departing Auckland Ferry Terminal several times a day. It’s a short but scenic hour and 20-minute ferry ride, and you can even take your car on board. The Sea Link ferry (for cars) costs $97 NZD per car and $18 NZD per person. Alternatively, the Fullers fast ferry only takes 35 minutes and costs $46 NZD return for adults.
As I said, there is so much to do on Waiheke Island, from going on a wine tour to exploring the island’s stunning beaches (our favorite is Palm Beach). I also enjoyed wandering the cute main town called Oneroa, which is known for its local arts and crafts shops and beachfront cafes and restaurants!
Ziplining and forest walk
One of the most memorable activities I did on Waiheke in the winter months was this Waiheke Island: Zipline and Forest Walk. I zipped through the treetops looking down on the lush wilderness below. The tour is three hours long, and what’s great is you’ll be given a little tour of the island by minivan before your ziplining adventure. Then you’ll finish the day with a guided bushland walk.
They’ll pick you up and drop you off directly from the ferry terminal, which makes the tour quite convenient. It costs $129 NZD per person, and is offered at 10:15 am and 2:15 pm. It’s also a popular one though, so book well in advance!
Food and wine tour
When I last visited Waiheke, I did this 5.5-hour food and wine tour of the island, and I loved it! It takes you to a few boutique wineries where you’ll sample the local wines, cheese, and delicious Waiheke oysters. It also includes a platter lunch at a vineyard restaurant so bring your appetite! Your tour guide can pick you up off the ferry or from your accommodation on the island.
For $245 NZD, I felt it was a great deal! The tour picks up at 9 am at the ferry terminal. All the food and drinks are included, but bring extra for tips. If you want the full foodie experience of the island, book this tour online here!
Hop-on hop-off bus tour
If you’re short on time but want to pack as much of Waiheke in as you can, then try this Waiheke Island hop-on hop-off bus tour. For just $76 NZD, you have an all-day bus ticket around the island. This bus departs from the Matiatia Ferry Terminal and stops at eight different spots, including Oneroa Beach and Mudbrick Vineyard.
Overall, it’s well worth visiting Waiheke Island in the winter, where you can enjoy the quieter atmosphere and stunning views.
23. Take a sightseeing gondola
There are three unmissable gondola experiences in New Zealand – Queenstown, Rotorua, and Christchurch. But which one should you experience on your upcoming winter vacation to New Zealand? Below, I’ll dive into the nitty-gritty details of each scenic gondola in the country!
Taking the gondola up to Bob’s Peak is one of those must-do Queenstown activities. Of course, it’s one you can do at any time of year, but those mountain views are so spectacular in winter!
Tickets for the Skyline Gondola cost $46 NZD per adult and $32 NZD for kids. And once at the top, you can zoom downhill on the luge or enjoy a relaxing meal at the Stratosfare Restaurant and Bar.
Other blogs may tell you that the gondola is just your mode of transport to the top, but I say this ride is so much more – especially in winter! The views of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown CBD, and Cecil Peak are rave-worthy.
You’ll also get the best photos of the snow-dipped mountains from the viewing platform at the top. I’ve been known to spend an hour or two here in the winter just snapping photos!
The best way to see Rotorua in all its glory is aboard the Skyline Gondola. These gondolas fit eight people and offer awesome views of Lake Rotorua, the city, and the geothermal pools.
Once you’re at the top, the adventure doesn’t have to stop! You can try the luge, mountain bike, zipline, or fly high on the Skyswing. For something more relaxing, you can hike the nature trails, check out the Jelly Belly store, or have a meal and wine with a view at one of the restaurants.
One of the most interesting activities up here is the luge, which I detailed earlier and highly recommend!
Tickets for the gondola cost $40 NZD per adult and $26 NZD per child (ages 6 – 14). You can add on luge rides for an additional fee. Check out their packages here, and again, make sure to get more than just one luge ride!
The Christchurch Gondola may not be as famous as the Queenstown or Rotorua Gondola, but it’s one of my favorite things to do in Christchurch. You’ll be surprised by the views from the top. I was able to see Christchurch City, Lyttelton Harbour, Canterbury Plains, and even the Southern Alps!
The views on the journey up the gondola are pretty spectacular too, as you’re awarded 360-degree views of the Pacific Ocean and Pegasus Bay. It’s about a kilometer (0.6 miles) from the base station to the top of the summit, and the whole journey in the cable car should take 10 minutes.
Once at the top, I recommend hopping on the Time Tunnel Ride (a family favorite). On this 7-minute ride, you can learn about the area’s history. Plus, entry to the Time Tunnel is free with your gondola ticket! The building also has a gift shop and the famous Red Rock Cafe.
The hikes from the summit are incredible, too, and one of the most popular short walks up here is the Cavendish Bluff Lookout, which is an hour and 20 minute (4.5 km/2.8 miles) return walk. This hike has mostly native forest views but also has views down to the town of Lyttleton in certain sections. The Crater Rim Walkway is another popular walking track that takes roughly 4 hours.
Tickets for the Christchurch Gondola cost $40 NZD per adult and $18 NZD per child (ages 5-15). For families, you can pay $98 NZD for 2 adults and up to 3 kids. Check out their gondola packages online here.
24. Drive the Thermal Explorer Highway
The Thermal Explorer Highway is a whopping 454 km (282 mile) stretch of road that starts in Auckland and ends in Napier. Cutting through the heart of the North Island, this lengthy road trip is best done over several days (ideally four) to fully enjoy what this region has to offer.
Some must-stops along this stretch of road include the city of Hamilton and the surf town of Raglan. But one of my favorite places is the Māori cultural hub of Rotorua which is a hotbed of geothermal activity.
You’ll also pass through Taupo, an adventure sports paradise. When I stopped here, I tried this 30-minute jetboat ride at Huka Falls. It was quite the thrill to spin and speed through the water! It’s offered daily at 11 am, 1 pm, or 2:30 pm for $132 NZD per person. You can either meet at the starting point or request pickup for an additional cost.
If you drive the entire section of the Thermal Explorer Highway, you’ll end up in the small city of Napier. This area boasts quirky art deco buildings and is the gateway to the Hawke’s Bay wine region. It’s also only a few minutes from the cute town of Hastings!
If you’re staying in Rotorua, you can drive just a snippet of the Thermal Explorer Highway from Rotorua to Taupo (which is the best section, in my opinion). The stretch of the highway from Rotorua has some awesome attractions, including Craters of the Moon, Orakei Korako Geothermal Park, Te Puia, and more. Driving this section will take an hour each way, so it makes for a good day trip as well.
25. Go ziplining in Rotorua
Rotorua is one of the best places to go ziplining in New Zealand! Here, you can zipline all year long – rain or shine! On this ziplining adventure tour, you’ll fly high above centuries-old treetops in Rotorua. The course includes six ziplines, the longest being 220 meters (722 feet). So, you get both an adrenaline rush AND enough time to enjoy the scenery while flying.
And if ziplining isn’t enough, there are also suspension bridges along the way. You can take your time walking across and really soak in the view.
I loved this tour because it was such a thrill, but also felt very safe. The cables are suspended 22 meters (72 feet) in the air – which felt very high at first, but you get used to it! Plus, the expert guides were super helpful and gave my group a detailed safety briefing before zipping off.
Tours are available every day between 7 am – 5 pm and transportation is included from Rotorua. At the end of the tour, you can also download all the photos to remember your adventure. All this is included in the $169 NZD price. But tours do sell out, so check availability and book here.
26. Swim with dolphins
Do you want to swim with dolphins? Well, here’s your chance!
When you think of the best winter activities in New Zealand, I’m sure swimming with dolphins doesn’t immediately come to mind. But the best chance of seeing dolphins is in winter, specifically in June and July.
Of course, the water will be a lot colder than during the summer. The average water temperature in Kaikoura during the winter is a nippy 8°C (46°F). But don’t worry, you’ll have a thick wetsuit to keep you warm!
Kaikoura is a marine-life haven and one of the best places in New Zealand to swim with dolphins. However, Akaroa, a 1.5-hour drive from Christchurch, is another place teeming with dolphins.
This full-day tour to Akaroa is one of the best day trips from Christchurch! You’ll take a cruise and swim with wild dolphins in the Akaroa Harbor.
You’ll be picked up from your Christchurch hotel at 8:30 am to begin your adventure. The drive takes roughly 1.5 hours, but is absolutely beautiful! Once at the harbor, you’ll hop aboard and start your cruise. Keep your eye out for fur seals and penguins en route!
The guides know just where the dolphins like to swim and as soon as their spotted, you’ll get your gear on and jump in. This was my first time seeing hector dolphins, which are extra playful and curious! They are endangered, but the guides take precautions to ensure the dolphin’s safety.
After the cruise, I got to explore the gorgeous town of Akaroa with its colonial-era buildings. A cheese tasting at Barry’s Bay is included, but I’d bring extra money for lunch or snacks.
Swimming with these magnificent, intelligent creatures is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience! And the $325 NZD price is pretty decent for a full 9-hour tour. So if you want to see dolphins up close, book your tour online here!
Kaikoura was the first place in the country to offer tourists a chance to swim with wild dolphins. And during the winter, you’re most likely to see dusky and hector dolphins in the water here! This particular tour allows you to swim with the notoriously friendly dusky dolphins.
Although a dolphin experience is not guaranteed, this particular tour has one of the highest success rates in New Zealand. That’s because the waters around Kaikoura are a wildlife haven – you may even spot penguins and whales from your boat too!
The 12-hour tour starts bright and early at 7:30 am. You’ll be picked up from your hotel in Christchurch and make the scenic drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura through the North Canterbury region. When you arrive in Kaikoura, you can explore the town and grab some lunch (not included in the price).
However, my favorite part of this tour was obviously on the water. During the cruise, I saw a fur seal colony before stopping for a swim. The wet suits are pretty warm, so you don’t need to worry about the water. Plus, the dusky dolphins are so energetic, I couldn’t help but smile the whole time I was swimming!
All the equipment, roundtrip transport, and guides are included for $380 NZD. This is one of my favorite things to do in New Zealand in winter. You won’t want to miss it, so book your tour online here!
27. See the Maori rock carvings in Taupo
A great winter activity in Taupo is to see the incredible Maori Rock Carvings on Lake Taupo. But these can only be seen from the water, so you’ll need a boat or kayak to get there!
These impressive and culturally significant carvings were completed by master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell and his small team throughout four summers during the 1970s. Impressively, the tallest carving here towers over 10 meters (32 feet) high on the face of the cliffs. And it’s one of the largest rock art displays in the world!
Since you can only see the carvings from the water, I recommend this half-day kayaking tour. An experienced guide will get you as close as possible to the carvings while they tell you all about the history. You’ll stop for refreshments and a snack on the return, and if the breeze is strong, you can sit back and let the wind drive you home! The tour is a total of 4 hours, but you’ll spend 3 of those on the water.
This tour starts from Acacia Bay and is suitable for both beginner and experienced paddlers. All equipment, a light snack, and refreshments are included for $140 NZD. In winter, tours leave at 10 am and 1:30 pm from Acacia Bay. You really can’t miss these stunning carvings, so book your tickets in advance!
If paddling isn’t for you, sit back and marvel at the rock carvings on this sailing yacht tour. This sightseeing cruise takes you out to the amazing carvings as your guide tells you the Maori myths and legends of the area. If you book an evening sail, you’ll also get a complimentary glass of wine or beer. When I went, I brought some food and drinks to enjoy a mini picnic on the water.
Cruises set sail daily at 10:30 am and 2 pm, and you’ll meet your group in front of Stir Cafe. This is the best deal at only $55 NZD per person – which is why it sells out fast! So, check availability and secure your spot online here.
28. Visit the Museum of Te Papa
We’re ending this list of the best things to do in New Zealand in winter with my favorite museum in all of New Zealand – the Te Papa Museum. This museum gives you a window into the Maori and colonial cultures and natural history that shaped this country.
Its full name is Te Papa Tongarewa, a Maori phrase meaning “container of treasures.” Many of the artifacts within the museum have links to the Maori people, and Te Papa does lots of work with the native kiwi (tribes) through various programs.
The museum is most famously home to the internationally acclaimed Explore Gallipoli Exhibition. This outstanding exhibition was developed in partnership with Weta Workshop (a specialist prop company founded by Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings movies). It tells the story of the Gallipoli Battle and features giant sculptures of New Zealand war heroes, which are 2.4 times the average person’s size! Honestly, the detail on the sculptures is just incredible!
Located on Cable Street in Wellington, it is one of the most visited attractions in the country! And once you visit, you’ll understand why! It’s open every day from 10 am – 6 pm and is free to enter (although some exhibitions or special events will cost extra).
You can wander the museum on your own, but if you want to learn more, I suggest this this small-group tour. Your experienced local guide will give you a deeper understanding of Maori culture by detailing fascinating fascinating facts about their history. This tour is an hour long and costs only $21 NZD per adult. It’s a popular tour, but you can check availability and book online here.
The museum is a great way to understand this beautiful country better. Plus, it’s one of my favorite things to do in Wellington. So if you’re here, I encourage you to stop by!
Related Read: If you want to see a smaller version of the special effects Weta Workshop, you can visit this exhibit in Auckland which is right across from the Auckland Sky Tower!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Thanks for reading!
Whew, what a list! Although there are so many awesome things to do in New Zealand, the above are my absolute favorites during the winter. Hopefully, you’ve already added a few to your itinerary! But most of all, I hope you’re inspired to visit this stunning country in the quietest and prettiest season – winter!
Thanks so much for reading! If you found this guide helpful, browse My Queenstown Diary. This blog is filled with lots of amazing guides on the best things to do in New Zealand. You can check out some of my favorite ones below:
How to Plan the MOST Romantic Queenstown Honeymoon
12 Best Places to go Whitewater Rafting in New Zealand