Mountains, lakes, glaciers, gorges, rainforests, starlit skies – New Zealand has it all. And rather than shut down in winter, both the North and South Islands welcome visitors for cold-weather adventures, as the country transforms into New Ski-Land.

In fact, so dense are the offerings that Tourism New Zealand has created a New Ski-Land interactive map, so prospective visitors can easily zoom in and scope out the highlights ahead of time. Once you’re sufficiently tempted, read through our top picks below to live your best winter in scenic NZ. And there’s even a chance to win a winter adventure in Christchurch.

Skiing and snowboarding

Winter sports thrive on both islands of New Zealand. On the South Island, Christchurch’s Mt Hutt is a major hub for snow seekers. The picturesque mountain destination offers skiing for all skill levels, as well as restaurants and bars, toboggan experiences and weekend apres. And if you’re travelling between Christchurch and Queenstown, Ohau Snow Fields offers a spacious field of play that starts in early June thanks to snow-making technology. And don’t sleep on the assorted ski resorts and fields around Wanaka.

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Though the North Island’s ski season starts and finishes a bit later than the South Island’s late-June-to-October window, it’s home to the 500-hectare Mount Ruapehu resort, which offers plenty of terrain for beginner, intermediate and advanced skiers. There’s also a designated snow play area for sledding, snowboarding and more. The North Island is home to plenty of other options too, so you’ll be spoiled for choice.

Walking and hiking

If you’re less confident on the slopes and more keen to explore on foot, you’re in luck with the ancient forests and glaciers in New Zealand. The North Island alone holds a wealth of world-class winter hiking, culminating in Waipoua Forest. It’s home to the largest remaining tract of native forest in the island’s Northland region, including the largest native kauri tree in the entire country. That tree and another one nearby are each at least two millennia old. There’s plenty of colourful bird-watching to be done too.

On the South Island, hiking options range from Marlborough’s iconic wine region to coastal Nelson to lakeside Wanaka. And don’t forget about the national parks. Both West Coast’s Fox and Franz Josef glaciers offer unforgettable experiences on foot. Near the settlement of Punakaiki in Paparoa National Park are the Pancake Rocks and Dolomite Point’s signature blowholes. And also in the region is Arthur’s Pass – the single highest pass over the Southern Alps – offering dry beech forests at one end and rainforest at the other, with the scenic Tranzalpine train cutting conveniently through the entirety of the park.

Hot pools and health spas

It’s not just forests and glaciers that date back millennia in New Zealand. The winter wonderland is home to many natural thermal pools, often full of mineral-rich water. These can be found as a key feature of resorts and health spas, while others remain secluded and free of charge – such as the Te Aroha Domain Foot Pool near Hamilton, which remains at a toasty 36 degrees Celsius even through winter.

There are simply too many choices to list, but for a particularly special experience you should consider checking out The Lost Spring on the North Island’s Coromandel Peninsula. It’s 16,000 years old and includes swimming, an amethyst cave and majestic crystals and stalactites. There’s even poolside dining and cocktails available, and all within a walk from the beach.

Wildlife watching

There is a variety of ways to witness the iconic kiwi up close on both islands, whether you visit the National Kiwi Hatchery at Rainbow Springs or the conservation-minded Otorohanga Kiwi House. You can also spot another native flightless bird – the weka – at Rakiura National Park on Stewart Island, along with seals and penguins.

The South Island’s Abel Tasman National Park is another sweet spot for wildlife, providing a home to fur seals, little blue penguins and bottlenose dolphins. Giant snails await at Kahurangi National Park, and glow worms at several locations on both islands. As for whale spotting, head to the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park near Auckland if you’re on the North Island, or the coastal town of Kaikōura if you’re on the South Island.

Stargazing and camping

The open landscape and minimal light pollution mean that rural NZ is an idyllic spot for stargazing. The glorious alpine heights of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park are especially stunning, covering the bulk of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. That same region’s Tekapo Springs offers hot pools to luxuriate in as the stars come out to play, as well as camping options under those pristine night-time vistas. Another dark sky reserve is located on the North Island’s Great Barrier Island, while Salisbury Plain’s Stonehenge Aotearoa provides a jaw-dropping front row seat for the Milky Way.

And when it comes to wider camping adventures, you have your choice of public campgrounds, glamping, caravan parks and more. The options are bountiful indeed – like the country itself.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with AirNZ. Enter the Destination Dash competition for a chance to win the ultimate winter adventure to New Ski-Land in NZ. Entries close 11.59pm AEST on April 27, 2024, T&Cs apply.