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Top 4 Places to Chill in New Zealand this Winter

Crown Range in New Zealand during Winter
You want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the tourism season in New Zealand?

There's one easy way to solve that problem but you'll just need to have a bit of an open mind and check out some of the places we've got listed below –

Okay, so that secret to avoiding the crowds is pretty simple and it's to book your flights during winter.

I know, it sounds crazy but it's a well-kept secret that New Zealand isn't actually too cold in winter, everything's cheaper and there are a tonne less people around.

Best of all, there are a lot of spots around the country that are just better in the winter anyway – and it doesn't only have to be skiing.
Cardrona Ski Field
If you're not into skiing, put a mid-winter trip to Hanmer Springs on your to-do list.
Thermal Pools in Hanmer Springs in Canterbury New Zealand during Winter
Hanmer Springs

It's a small, quaint town in the middle of the South Island's Hurunui district.

Pick up a rental car from the airport and you'll have a drive of one and a half hours from Christchurch.

When you arrive, you'll be led in by a line of pine trees and a crisp air rolling down from nearby hills that give the town that real alpine getaway feeling.

Hanmer is a busy place in Summer and during school holidays but when you go in the winter off season, you practically get the whole place to yourself.

There's something even more tranquil and relaxing about bunking down in a nice room and getting a chance to experience a place with absolute tranquility.

But what Hanmer is really famous for is its thermal pools.

After a long walk up Conical Hill or any of the other Hanmer walks, you can come back, slip into a bathing suit and soak the rest of the day away in a hot pool.

Your breath in the cool air contrasted against the brilliant warmth of the pools make for a spectacular visit that most people miss and if it ends up snowing, that's all the better really.

A few days of relaxation, make sure you take a good book or two, and you'll leave Hanmer feeling well rested, relaxed and all the better for it.
Fox Glacier Ice Floe
Franz Josef

The town itself is named after the Franz Josef Glacier and is across on the West Coast of the South Island in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park.

The glacier country website boasts the glacier as having some of the most spectacular scenery in New Zealand, which you can watch in real time here.

What sets Franz Josef apart is that unlike most glaciers around the world it doesn't close over the winter.

You might have to wrap up that bit warmer but the beauty of the ice during the colder season can't be missed.

In fact, people say the glacier is actually better in the winter.

The glaciers are melting less, which means the crevasses and ice caves are glorious to see with some of the most incredible ice formations.

Things are clean and pristine with the blue glacier ice set to the snow-covered mountain backdrop. Snowfall and cold temperatures keep things less 'dust' so there's less debris on the glacier's surface.

On the West Coast, winter means less rain, which can often ruin trips to the glacier. Winter brings clear, dry days, particularly good for helicopter access.

Remember to choose a glacier hike, a helicopter flight, glacier valley walk or an ice climb – there's something to suit every level of adventurer. Plus, these are the only ways to get up close and personal with these natural beauties.

Best of all, there's another set of hot pools or a hot drink in the café waiting for you at the end of each hike.

But then again, maybe you don't like skiing because of the snow so a glacier doesn't seem like your cup of tea either.
Milford Sound on a clear day
Milford and Doubtful Sound

Further south down the West Coast will lead you to some of New Zealand's most breath-taking sights.

Milford Sound is located at the northern end of the Fiordland National Park and is actually a fiord rather than a sound.

Don't know the difference? Google said a river formed valley, which is subsequently flooded by the sea is a sound but Milford was formed by the erosive effects of a glacier making it a fiord.

Geography lesson aside, the spectacular sight of the landmark Mitre Peak, rising nearly 1700m above sea level looming over the Sound is worth the trip.

Milford Sound day tours are a really popular and safe way to travel minus the stress of a long day's drive and navigating particularly icy and dangerous roads.

Plus you get the added bonus of a local guide's insights into the history and geology of the surrounding area as you travel past Eglington Valley, Mirror Lakes, Knob's Flat and the aptly named Chasm.

But when you get there, there are so many activities to fill your day and even during a crisp winter's day, there's a lot to do.

You can't miss the sights of the water, the best way to see it all is to go on a cruise to spot dolphins, penguins and waterfalls.

But you can also kayak around the Sound and right into the sheltered Harrison's Cove if that's more your scene.

Plus there are scenic flights to see it all by air.
If you still need more to do in the ancient, unmarred landscape you can explore deeper into the heart of Fiordland to discover Doubtful Sound.

The second largest fiord with its own rugged peaks, beautiful rainforest flora and fauna, hidden inlets and an abundance of wildlife will take your breath away all over again.

Getting there is an adventure it itself, there aren't any direct roads so you'll have to cruise across Lake Manapouri and catch a coach over Wilmot Pass.

The isolation makes this fiord even more special, with few visitors ever seeing it.

You could really spend months in the place and still come back with more to discover each time but there's something about the beauty of winter that brings these Sounds to life.

Waking up to see the mist and fog dancing above the water and around the tops of the mountain peaks is something that the flurry of summer tourists never get to see.

Or you might like to take in the sights of the South Island during winter from the warmth of a train carriage.
New Zealand Tranz Alpine Scenic Journey during winter
TranzAlpine Train

Cross from the South Island's east to west coast to get all the sights of a country in the middle of winter but from a cosy train seat.

From Christchurch to Greymouth the train goes through the Canterbury Plains (made famous by Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), over deep gores alongside the Waimakariri River, through the Southern Alps and even through native beech forest.

You might like to get off the train in Greymouth and discover the rest of the wild west coast – even stop off at the glaciers at Franz Josef.

While New Zealand is not the safest place to drive through in winter, like any country the roads are more slippery, wet, icy and snow covered, the train allows you to take in the scenery and forgo any worries about safety.
Can you suggest some things to do in New Zealand this winter?

Share in the comments.


 

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