Holiday season

Why winter is a better holiday season

Thank goodness summer is over. All that heatstroke, sunburn, hay fever, house flies, scorching trails and damp clothes, not to mention the shock of an icy Popsicle when it sticks to your tongue. Who needs all this?

Let’s face it, winter is a much better holiday season – for its compact, action-packed days and long, restful nights. For encouraging courage and a positive attitude, and for forcing us to think beyond the beach, the bach and the boat for our well-deserved break. Here are some ideas.

Start training for the next Winter Olympics

Lee Slater tries curling in Naseby.

Sarah Bennett

Lee Slater tries curling in Naseby.

New Zealand did not send a curling team to the 2022 Winter Olympics. This sad situation can be easily rectified if we go into training now. Luckily, the town of Maniototo, Naseby, has a world-class indoor curling rink, where everyone is welcome to try their hand.

Famously “2000 feet above worry level”, Naseby is a fun place to visit in the winter. Lee and I were snowed in there a few years ago. We were propping up the bar at the Ancient Britton when the call went out for a curling match on the outdoor rink. Lee didn’t need to ask twice. Neither did I when his teammates offered me a dram or two while I watched. Gold!

* The best museums in Dunedin and Ōamaru
* Small towns to stop on a New Zealand roadie
* Think you can’t cycle in the great outdoors of New Zealand in winter? Think again

Go on a cool cycling holiday

A frosty morning on the Otago Central Rail Trail.

Lee Slater

A frosty morning on the Otago Central Rail Trail.

We weren’t in Naseby for Olympic training. We were biking the Otago Central Rail Trail which was beautiful thanks to crystal clear skies, fresh snow and frost. The silence and the scenery was worth every freezing minute, which was actually little and far because we doubled up on socks and gloves.

And that was Central Otago in June. As I said before, the rest of New Zealand’s 22 Great Rides are even more rideable in winter. Cycling also ticks many boxes for a quality holiday, including health, joy, peace, love, liberation and the potential for a low carbon footprint.

Find yourself in a country hotel

The Mussel Inn is a popular pit stop in Golden Bay.

The Mussel Inn is a popular pit stop in Golden Bay.

What small-town Kiwi pubs and hotels may lack in canned beer and trendy poutine, they more than make up for with huge meals, exemplary taxidermy, pool tables with appropriately sized pockets, and all manner of amenities. down-to-earth people. Winter bonuses include puddings with custard and seemingly limitless stacks of firewood for a crackling fire.

It is possible to spend an entire holiday in a good old country pub. How about a Forgotten World road trip to the Whangamōmona hotel. Or a band and fire pit action at the Mussel Inn in Golden Bay. Maybe après-ski debriefs at the Cardrona Hotel. Or perhaps a romantic weekend at the majestic Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell. Small town pubs and hotels do much more than provide us with food and lodging. They welcome us into their communities, their culture and their history.

Learn about New Zealand’s history before the kids beat us

A history lesson at the Toitū Settlers Museum in Dunedin.


A history lesson at the Toitū Settlers Museum in Dunedin.

When the new high school history curriculum comes into effect next year, Kiwi teenagers are going to think we’re idiots. To avoid this, head straight to your library or bookstore and dive headlong into the New Zealand history section.

You are now ready for a history excursion, the perfect hook for a winter vacation just about anywhere around the motu. Visit one or two warm and dry museums, from those in the city to Te Papa.

Some of my favorites include New Plymouth’s Puke Ariki (with the Len Lye Center nearby), Dunedin’s Toitū Settlers, Riverton’s Te Hikoi and Waitangi Treaty Grounds of course. But Aotearoa is absolutely spoiled for major museums. Find them on the helpful NZMuseums website.

There’s no commotion like the commotion of snow

Winter hike in Tongariro National Park.

Tongariro adrift

Winter hike in Tongariro National Park.

Skiing and snowboarding may be the star sports at alpine resorts, but they’re by no means the only way to go when it comes to snow. Spontaneous types might just want to wait for a good dump, pack the wagon, and head to the snowline. Throwing snowballs, building snowmen and making snow angels are free.

To take it to the next level, consider a guided alpine hike in Tongariro or Aoraki/Mt Cook National Parks, the Southern Lakes or Fiordland. Along with spectacular scenery, guided hikes are a great way to push personal boundaries and learn new skills. Along the same lines, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are somewhat strenuous but fun ways to explore relatively flat snowy landscapes, as offered at the Snow Farm near Cardrona.

Soak under the stars

A hot bath under the stars at Hot Tubs Omarama.

Omarama Spas

A hot bath under the stars at Hot Tubs Omarama.

If there’s one cold weather combo that’ll have me hitting the book now button, it’s the hot pools and starry skies. Of course, you can do the same in summer, if you don’t mind cooking yourself and waiting until very late for the sun to go down. Cold nights are so much better for a relaxing simmer, with the added bonus of cleaner air and the appearance of Matariki/the Pleiades, the star cluster we will now celebrate with an annual holiday on Friday June 24 this year.

Of course, stargazing at Stellar Hot Pools relies on big skies, low light pollution, and late opening hours. Step into Tekapo Springs, the pool complex offering a very cool combo of an Astronomy 101 lesson followed by a swim under the stars.

I struggle to pass Omarama Hot Tubs, an hour south. They have private, wood-fired, freshly filled tubs with more open views to infinity and beyond.

Have a great holiday that makes the hospo happy too

Make your own s'mores at the Wairua Lodge fire pit.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

Make your own s’mores at the Wairua Lodge fire pit.

The pandemic has caused a rapid expansion in waist circumference, with the average Kiwi gaining the equivalent weight of a large house cat. Meow! Eating around Aotearoa this winter, we could make a fox terrier out of it while feeling good about supporting some of the hospitality businesses that need us right now.

Taste test dumplings, cheese rolls, ice cream or pies. Fall for pizza, burgers or fish and chips. (Hey, I’m from the travel department, not the health department!) Consider taking a city break and visiting some iconic restaurants, cult cafes, or craft beer bars. Buy sticky buns from bakeries or unearth food trucks. And maybe if you’re full and can afford it, treat someone else instead.

Be kind, stay cool and have a great winter vacation.

Stay safe: New Zealand is currently under Covid-19 restrictions. Face coverings are mandatory on all flights and public transport. Proof of vaccination and vaccine exemption may be required at some locations under the traffic light system. Follow the instructions on

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