New Zealand Winter Getaway Ideas

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Read about 'New Zealand Winter Getaway Ideas' on USAVE, the place for all things car rental.

If you’re finding the cold weather is getting you down, a winter getaway could be exactly what you need to recharge the batteries. In New Zealand there are so many places to escape to during the winter months with everything from snow-capped mountains to lush forests and windswept beaches to choose from.

Travelling New Zealand’s North Island

The North Island of New Zealand may be further away from the freezing Antarctic, but it still gets its fair share of wintery weather. Coastal areas such as New Plymouth, Whanganui, Auckland, the Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay are generally on the warmer side along with all Northland based areas such as Whangarei, Kaitaia, Cape Reinga and Paihia.

The Central Plateau, including places such as Taupo, Turangi, Taumarunui, Ohakune, Waiouru and the Tongariro National Park are high enough altitudes that they can get snow fall at times during the winter. The main arterial route (State Highway 1) known as the Desert Road cuts along this main central part of the Island is quite often closed for periods of time during heavy snow fall.

Bay Of Islands NZ

Top 5 North Island Winter Getaways

Everyone gets a little tired of the cold and wet days of winter – so what better way to break the cycle and get going again than a winter getaway! Need some ideas on where to go and what to do? Here are our top 5 picks for North Island winter getaway ideas.

  1. Soak In The Hot Springs At Rotorua. If Hot Springs are what you are after then Rotorua is the place to be. The perfect way to ward off the winter cold the Rotorua hot springs are known for being a great place to pamper your mind and body. Rotorua is home to an array of different hot springs options, they provide not only natural hot water but also mud and other nutrient rich natural substances that are said to nourish the skin.
  2. Relax At Port Waikato. Just a hour or so drive from Auckland, this little seaside town is a popular seaside escape throughout the year. Enjoy relaxing strolls along the shoreline and find the perfect little character filled baches – there are plenty available for rent. Secluded and quiet, it’s a great place to come if you feel the need to just escape the city and get away from it all for a while.
  3. Explore The Hawkes Bay. It’s all about food and wine for this one but pack the surfboard just in case! The Hawkes Bay region boasts a remarkable number of award winning wineries and some of the country’s best farmers markets selling a wide range of local produce. Grab a free wine map from the information centre and take your time discovering your new favourite New Zealand wine.
  4. Hit The Slopes At Mt Ruapehu. Bit of an active relaxer? Mount Ruapehu is home to the two main commercial ski fields in the North Island of New Zealand. Whakapapa and Turoa are both situated on its slopes, Whakapapa on the northern side and Turoa on its southern side. Make a weekend of it and stay at elegant neo-Georgian Bayview Chateau located at the bottom of the mountain near Whakapapa ski field.
  5. Get Away From It All At Hot Water Beach. Making the scenic drive out to secluded Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula is half the fun of this winter getaway. Take a spade or hire one from the locals and dig yourself your very own spa pool right on the beach while enjoying the stunning oceanic views. Spend a few nights at the local camping ground or glam it up a little and relax at the nearby Stone Terrace Guest House.

Self-Drive Road Trip Guide – North Island

After a bit more than just a quick weekend getaway? How about an epic North Island road trip! For many the best place to begin your New Zealand getaway is in Auckland, the largest city in the North Island and also the location of New Zealand’s largest international airport.

From Auckland if it’s cold weather you’re looking to escape, a quick road trip around Northland could be just what you need as it stays remarkably mild even in the midwinter months. Otherwise it’s Southwards towards the central and lower North Island.

There are three main paths around the North Island – the east, the west and straight down the middle. The central path down the middle is the fastest way to get to Wellington, heading east is the best for a more scenic coastal experience, while the west has more of a picturesque New Zealand countryside vibe.

East Around The North Island – State Highway 2

Heading immediately east of Auckland will bring you near Thames and the Coromandel Peninsula and then on to Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty region, which is also accustomed to mild weather even in the colder seasons. It may be a little cool for swimming, but there are plenty of things to do and beautiful scenic walks throughout this coastal region.  

Continuing eastwards towards the Hawke’s Bay region, you will find a great selection of award winning wineries and some of New Zealand’s best surf beaches. You’ll also find the townships of Napier and Hastings – sister cities with great local flavour.

Keeping on down the east coast passing through the small town of Masterton, you’ll eventually arrive at the capital city of Wellington, which is where you can either end your journey or start a new one – heading across Cook Strait to the South Island or back up the central or west side of the Island.

Cathedral Cove, NZ

West Around the North Island – State Highway 3

Following the alternate western route through the North Island, just south of Auckland lies the city of Hamilton, a typical New Zealand farming town with picturesque grassy fields complete with milking cows and sheep dotted around its edges. If you travel around late August early September you may even spot a baby lamb or two!

From Hamilton it’s a series of small towns each with their own distinct personality, and masses of lush green fields and hills with a variety of livestock and different land formations along the way. This is rural New Zealand at its best, the New Zealand that many visitors come here to experience.

Having passed through Te Awamutu, Otorohanga and Te Kuiti you will find yourself heading out towards the coast again at the small town of Mokau – the perfect place for an ice-cream or some fish and chips on the beach.

After your pit stop at Mokau, New Plymouth is next – home to the iconic Mount Taranaki which is hard to miss as it looms  in typical mountain style on the horizon. Continuing on along the West Coast you will pass through Whanganui, Bulls, Levin, and Paraparaumu before arriving in Wellington.

Wellington City

Straight Down The Middle Of The North Island – State Highway 1

Following State Highway 1 takes you more or less straight down the central part of the North Island. This route is the fastest way to reach Wellington and is also considered the main arterial route with Highway style roads for the majority of the journey.

One thing to be cautious of when taking the central route is snow can be an issue during the winter months, snow chains are a wise idea, especially if you plan to head up to the slopes of Mount Ruapehu along the way.

Heading south from Auckland through the Central Plateau, a small detour to Rotorua provides the opportunity to relax in their much appreciated hot springs or you can simply continue on SH 1 through to Taupo. Nestled on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake of the same name (Lake Taupo), you will find plenty to see and do within the region.

From Taupo it is a straight run through the Tongariro National Park and if you are keen another detour to do a spot of skiing or boarding on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu. Otherwise it’s on through Waiouru, Taihape, Palmerston North and in to Wellington.

Travelling The South Island Of New Zealand

The South Island of New Zealand offers many different travel opportunities throughout the year, and winter is no exception. In fact the colder seasons create some beautiful scenic vistas that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world. See snow-capped mountains, rugged highlands and the distinctive Canterbury Plains, and despite the cold, the weather can often be incredibly bright, sunny and crisp.

The majority of the South Island experiences fairly cold temperatures over the winter months when compared to the North Island. Basically the further south you go the colder it gets. Nelson is the warmest due to its sheltered micro-climate, Christchurch is somewhere in the middle just like its location and Dunedin and Invercargill are significantly colder with regular snowfall across June, July, August and September.

Top 5 South Island Winter Getaways

Need some ideas on where to go and what to do for your next winter getaway? Here are our top 5 picks for South Island winter getaway ideas.

  1. Travel The TranzAlpine Railway. Connecting the towns of Christchurch and Greymouth, the TranzAlpine is a historically important railway line that allows passengers to travel across Arthurs Pass in comfort and style. Winding through the rugged Southern Alps, the TranzAlpine is considered to be one of the most picturesque rail journeys in the world.
  2. Holiday In Hanmer Springs. Although New Zealand forest is very unique and distinct, the mountain township of Hanmer Springs in Canterbury could fool you into thinking you were somewhere else. Filled with pine trees and European-style log housing, it’s like a slice from a Swiss mountain resort. Great for changing up the pace and a good stopover on your journey.
  3. Hit The Slopes In Queenstown And Wanaka. Central Otago region is a fantastic winter wonderland and is perfect for the active relaxer. You will find fantastic world class skiing and snowboarding opportunities as well as other exciting adventure activities. There’s plenty of accommodation available in both Queenstown and Wanaka along with some amazing local wineries and restaurants.
  4. Sail Away In Kaikoura. The Southern Alps and local mountain ranges provide a stunning snow-capped backdrop for the small seaside township of Kaikoura. Known for its seafood and stunning sea voyages, Kaikoura is best seen from aboard a dolphin and whale watching vessel, or from the boardwalk that runs along the seafront. There are plenty of places to eat and stay, including some gourmet restaurants that operate all year round.
  5. Explore The Fox And Franz Joseph Glaciers. Visiting the West Coast’s famous glaciers is simply a must-do while travelling in the South Island. Roughly 2 hours drive south of Greymouth you can take a walk on the glacier or view from the comfort of a helicopter, however you experience the glaciers they are a magnificent natural sight to remember and winter is the perfect time to visit.

River in NZ Mountains

Self-Drive Road Trip Guide – South Island

There are two main paths down the South Island – the east and the west. Of course you can always do a loop and ensure that you get a chance to take in everything, but this is dependent on time and it’s sometimes better to be able to spend a little longer at each place rather than just rushing through.

If you plan to do a return journey, Christchurch is a great place to start as you can always cut back through the Southern Alps if you need to cut your trip short. If you’re just planning to go one way however, Dunedin or Nelson are the main starting points to choose from.

The East Coast Of The South Island – State Highway 1

Heading along the East Coast from Nelson will bring you first of all through Marlborough, and although the grapes won’t be in season during winter you’ll still be able to enjoy the fantastic wines that the region produces.

Just south of this is Kaikoura, a seaside village famous for its seafood and whale watching. Both of these are just as fantastic in winter, where you’ll feel nice and cosy wrapped up and warm aboard the whale watch vessel or in one of the many excellent cafes along the shore.

Further on lies Christchurch, a picturesque city with beautiful parks and open spaces that winter renders even prettier. Spend some time and get to know the new Christchurch City and its surrounds as it emerges from the tragic earthquake damage experienced in 2011.

Continuing down the coast you will pass through a number of smaller towns such as Timaru and Oamaru – home to a Steampunk Museum. Further on is Dunedin, a town with rich Scottish heritage and impressive heritage buildings (as well as the steepest street in the world).  

From Dunedin it’s a short hop to Invercargill, NZ’s southernmost town where you can sample some of the famous Bluff oysters. From Invercargill it is possible to catch a ride across to Stewart Island for some sightseeing and stunning isolated NZ forest or you can make your way back up the Western side of the South Island for a complete circuit.

The West Coast Of The South Island – State Highway 6

Since our eastern trip finished at Invercargill this is where we will begin as we head back up the western side of the South Island. Milford Sound is probably top of the list for visitors to the lower end of the South Island and is the first stop here. Cruising the Milford Sound is very popular with tourists and locals alike.

From Milford Sound it’s a very scenic (and windy) 3.5 hours over to Queenstown – New Zealand’s adventure capital. Hit the slopes, give bungy jumping a go or choose from a variety of adventure activities all within easy reach of the township. Queenstown also has a great range of accommodation and restaurants to round off your stay.

Milford Sound

The Central Otago region which is home to Queenstown and Wanaka are perfect for snow sports and skiing, there are a number of nearby ski fields that enjoy an extended season across the winter months.

Once you’ve had your fill, head up the coast taking in the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers along the way, towards Greymouth. Perfect for a much needed pit stop, Greymouth is a coastal town with a strong connection to its historic mining and forestry days.

Continuing northwards will bring you inland through the Abel Tasman National Park, an absolute gem of a natural reserve with tracks that are stunning in any weather and any season. This is just a stone’s throw from Nelson, where you can comfortably end your journey of New Zealand’s South Island.

New Zealand offers a rich winter itinerary for travellers of all ages and for all budgets, and there’s so much to see and do that you may be tempted to linger and take a little longer in each place – a worthwhile investment of holiday time. Need transport? Check out the great range of affordable rental cars at USAVE Car Rentals.

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