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Winter road trip itineraries in New Zealand

Winter road trips

Winter is a wonderful time to visit New Zealand because of the extraordinary snow experiences, exciting winter festivals, amazing geothermal wonders, spectacular Southern Lights, and the unique Māori New Year celebration. And, of course, there’s no better time to see New Zealand’s snow-covered mountains, remarkable glaciers, and bustling ski slopes.


Winter events in New Zealand

South Island ski fields

Aerial view of Frankton and Lake Wakatipu from the Remarkables Mountain.
Aerial view of Frankton and Lake Wakatipu from the Remarkables Mountain.

The best way to experience the South Island’s slopes is by taking a trip from Queenstown / Tāhuna to Wānaka. Queenstown / Tāhuna is full of life through the cold winters, when snow sports enthusiasts flock to the city to test their skills. Head to Coronet Peak or the Remarkables and experience the famous ski fields.

Check road conditions before crossing the Crown Range Road toward Wānaka. The road offers many scenic lookouts, as well as access to the popular Cardrona ski field. From Wānaka, you can also visit Treble Cone.

The thermal pools of Canterbury / Waitaha

The Clarence River in early winter.
The Clarence River in early winter.

From the South Island's largest city, Christchurch / Ōtautahi, you can access idyllic hot springs to escape the frosty winter chill. Before you head to the springs, be sure to explore beautiful Christchurch / Ōtautahi, a city that has been rebuilt following devastating earthquakes. You can explore the historic centre by tram and rug up for a stroll along the Avon River.

Just two hours up the road, you'll find the thermal pools of Hanmer Springs, and if you want to hit the slopes, the area offers fantastic skiing opportunities, as well as plenty of great hiking trails.

Bay of Islands

An aerial View of Bay of Islands.
An aerial View of Bay of Islands.

Not interested in braving the cold and experiencing the snow? All good. New Zealand is a country of many climates, and you will be able to find sunshine in the beautiful Bay of Islands. Before exploring the islands, start your journey in Auckland / Tāmaki Makaurau, where you can celebrate the Matariki Festival and learn more about Māori culture.

Head north to Paihia, where you can take boat tours even in the winter time. To finish off your journey, head to Cape Reinga / Te Rerenga Wairua and enjoy some stunning coastal views.

Slopes of Mt Ruapehu

Watch out for peaks and wildlife.
Watch out for peaks and wildlife.

Start your journey in Rotorua and explore the geothermal wonders that have made the city internationally famous. Wai o Tapu is one of the best places to witness the volcanic landscape of the area.

Continue south to Tongariro National Park and the iconic Mt Ruapehu, home to New Zealand’s largest ski area. On the Turoa Ski Field even beginners can have a go. From the top of the mountain, you’ll have some fantastic views over the region, including Mount Ngāuruhoe.


When you travel in winter

If you're planning on taking your rental car past the snow line, you may need to purchase additional protection products. In some areas, you may also be required to carry snow chains. Always keep up to date with the weather conditions and be prepared to alter your plans if conditions become dangerous.