When I moved to New Zealand, I really thought I would be struggling with the reversed seasons.
Winter in July? And a hot Christmas? Too weird for words, right?
As it turns out, I am happy to report (like most people can probably already predict) that it actually doesn’t matter! I quickly adapted to living in the Southern Hemisphere without thinking twice. I was excited to settle into Wanaka with its hot summers and snowy winters, yellow autumns and blooming pink springs. Just in the opposite order to what I’m used to.
When winter finally hit Wanaka, I was so excited! Seeing the snow line drop on all the mountains around me really put into perspective what a beautiful I was getting to live in!
No one is more shocked than me, but by the end of winter, I found myself sad to see it go! I was having so much fun!
I can safely say I have never experienced that thought before in my entire life!
So I’ve put a little list together of the 10 things that I love about the New Zealand winter! Do you have any to add? Do you love winter?
1. No people; it’s empty
Ding ding ding! We have a winner!
Maybe it’s the introvert in me talking, but winter in New Zealand is awesome because it’s empty! Besides the ski fields dotted around the country, there are no tourists, hardly any campervans and no lines or crowds to speak of!
Not that New Zealand is normally jam-packed, but in summer there are definitely a lot of people traveling around.
On my road trip with JUCY this winter, I barely encountered other cars on the road, I was often the only one at my campsite or holiday park and it felt like I had the whole country to myself!
Empty beaches, empty mountains, empty tourist sites, it was awesome! It felt like New Zealand was my own personal playground – I just had to remind myself to behave without adult supervision.
There is nothing like perfect solitude while visiting some of the most majestic landscapes in the world – trust me on this!
2. White mountains everywhere
New Zealand is home to some big, big BIG mountains, but in summer, there isn’t a lot of snow on them, at least in the parts we can see from towns and on hikes. You can usually spot a glacier or two in the distance, but more often than not, the snowy peaks disappear in the warmest months.
As to be expected.
But in winter, nope! From June onward the mountains turn white and the snow line drops lower and lower giving the already beautiful mountains a bit of a makeover. Frosted over on top, they look like jagged cupcakes just begging to be Instagrammed.
It makes road trips all the more epic when you’re driving through a mountain pass and everything is white and it makes the mountains seem all the bigger when you are far away in a beautiful valley.
Some of New Zealand’s best walks and hikes are still accessible in the winter and getting to stay high up in the mountains in winter, like what I did at the Mueller Hut, can give you a totally unique and different experience than most people get.
There is nothing like getting to frolic around in fresh white powder snow in the New Zealand Alps.
3. Snowboarding at Treble Cone in Wanaka
I don’t know how this happened, but somehow I managed to go 26 years without ever skiing or snowboarding.
Lucky for me, Wanaka is home to Treble Cone, one of the best ski fields in New Zealand. Everyone told me that Wanaka would go nuts in the winter with heaps of people coming down to work for a season in the mountains in the southern hemisphere. And man, were they right!
However, I knew I couldn’t call Wanaka home and NOT give it a try, so as soon as I had a couple of days to dedicate to the snow, I was up the mountain. So the very last week of the season. Cutting it close, I know!
The first day I tried skis, and while I had an awesome teacher and was able to go down the hill, I wasn’t hooked. The next day I tried snowboarding; it sucked. I came back the next day, determined to try it again, and it was a bit better, but still wasn’t clicking.
Born stubborn and determined to get it eventually, my 4th day on the mountain and my 3rd day snowboarding, somehow my balance finally clicked and I got it. Thank god!
I was hooked! It was all downhill (easy) from there! Pun intended.
I can’t even begin to describe the euphoria of having tried something I had thought about my entire life but never had enough courage to make it happen and then succeeding must be the best feeling in the world!
My first day of lessons I told my amazing instructor that before closing day I wanted to be able to go up the chairlift and come down. TC is an impressive mountain, and for someone who isn’t a natural, that’s not an easy feat. But with some help and patience, I was able to do it not once, but twice.
Flying down the slopes for the first time with the sun on my face and the most amazing views out to Lake Wanaka below is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
4. Surprise! It’s cheaper!
This should come as no surprise but New Zealand is actually cheaper in winter because apart from the ski fields, it’s off season.
Hotel rates drop, prices go down everywhere and you are pretty much guaranteed a deal wherever you go. And if you don’t see one advertised, ask anyways. I always ask about off season rates, especially as a solo traveler.
Why pay high season prices if you don’t have to?
5. It’s actually not *that* cold
I think because parts of New Zealand have big mountains, it’s seen as being very cold in winter.
Let me tell you, it’s a whole lot colder up in New England where I used to live than here.
In the South Island, the lakes keep towns like Wanaka warmer in winter, and it rarely snows at ground level around most of the country. You have to go up for snow.
In the North Island, especially north of Auckland it actually stays really mild and doesn’t get too cold. You can still go to the beach even!
However, New Zealand hasn’t yet discovered the joy that is central heating, especially in Wanaka. Here we rock wood burning stoves, Little House on the Prairie style. Combined with single-paned windows in most houses that aren’t brand new, this does not make for cozy warm mornings in winter.
But you buy long underwear, thick socks and a hot water bottle and learn to cope.
After all, we are willing to put up with quite a lot to live in such a place, at least I am.
6. Dogsledding at Snow Farm near Wanaka
I can’t even begin to express my euphoria at discovering there are doglsedding tours in New Zealand AND they are here in Wanaka, right in my backyard. The heavens rejoice!
Near Wanaka in Cardrona there is a big snow park called Snow Farm that has cross country skiing, backcountry huts you can overnight in, and yes, you guessed it, DOGSLEDDING!
I was all over that like a monkey on a cupcake. You couldn’t keep me away!
Underdog NZ is run by a pro couple who chase the winters between Alaska and New Zealand with their pups in tow. After a quick lesson that consisted mostly of “hold on tight,” we were off.
Surrounded by howling, fluffy wolf dogs racing along the beautiful tracks in the white snowy hills around Cardrona, I was in heaven. A taste of the north in southern end of the world. Love it.
It was a bright bluebird day with dry snow crunching under my boots as we zipped around the snow park under the frosty sun.
I love trying new things and while I hoped to one day get the opportunity to dogsled, I wasn’t expecting to be able to try it out down here!
It’s also one of New Zealand’s biggest secrets; very few people know that you can do it. You’re welcome!
7. Baby seals in Kaikoura
I’m about to let you in on a big secret. It’s just between us, ok?
There is a beautiful waterfall 15 minutes north of Kaikoura on the South Island. And in the winter months, it’s filled with baby seals.
It’s right off of the main road that runs along the coast, and in winter, the momma seals come and deposit their babies up the creek in the big pool that’s at the bottom of the waterfall for them to frolic around in and grow nice and big and chubby before making way to the colony on the beach.
It’s the most bizarre phenomenon ever, but it’s totally awesome!
Only in New Zealand do you get an entire legion of baby seals at a beautiful waterfall. I suppose you can have everything here.
8. More opportunities to catch up with the locals
Another benefit of traveling during the off season in New Zealand is that because there are so few tourists around, locals are even friendlier and more open to chatting.
Maybe because I was born a chatterbox, maybe I just like to make friends wherever I go, for whatever reason, I LOVE talking with people all over New Zealand.
It’s such a safe and friendly country, I never have to worry about the negative, scary things that can happen in the rest of the world because they almost never happen here.
In winter, oftentimes I was the only person wherever I went, whether it was a cafe, hotel, camp site, or tourist site, it was usually just me.
When you’re the only one around, it’s really really easy to meet people, and it made my Coffee Diaries quest to meet locals and learn about the places I was visiting so much easier.
Meeting people is one of my favorite things about traveling, and oddly enough when you’re traveling along in the quiet season, it’s less lonely than when you’re traveling and there are heaps of big groups around you. So much easier to talk to people when there aren’t a lot of people around, that’s one of my biggest tips as a solo traveler.
9. Hot springs at Hanmer Springs
Sometimes living on the South Island I forget that New Zealand sits on a massive fault line and is probably the most geothermal place I’ve ever called home.
Most of the volcanoes that everyone recognizes are on the North Island along with the hot pools and stinky volcanic lakes. Down south we just have big mountains.
But randomly southwest of Kaikoura and north of Christchurch inland there is the famous kiwi holiday town of Hanmer Springs.
Built on natural hot pools, it has quickly become the iconic New Zealand holiday spot. People flock here for their vacations, usually coming back annually. It’s like a cult almost.
Mostly free from foreign tourists, it’s a beautiful place near the mountains in the woods all off on its own away from the major roads. It has a big hot pool resort spa complex (I have no idea what to call it) with dozens of outdoor pools and spas of all temperatures.
I popped in a cold rainy day, splurged on a day pass, and man, after two weeks of sleeping in my cold campervan, soaking in those pools for a couple of hours made everything better! Perfect winter activity!
10. We have the Southern Lights in winter!!
Kaboom, bet you weren’t expecting that!
Are you a fan of winter? Have you ever traveled to a place as a winter destination? Would you consider visiting New Zealand in the chilly months?
Image via Trey Ratcliff on Stuck in Customs