Things to Do in New Zealand in Winter - North Island
North Island of NZ in Winter?
Have you ever dreamed of visiting the North Island of New Zealand? When you mention certain destinations or countries, you immediately start thinking about what the weather would be like. The sun would be shining, the sky would be blue and the temperature would be high.
A warm breeze would be blowing through the trees and ruffling the surf on the perfect golden beach. New Zealand is one of those countries that quite naturally is associated with the summer. It is a country of stunning scenery, beautiful beaches and lots of outdoor activities – hiking, canoeing, cycling, swimming, and fishing to name just a few.
However, much as my Kiwi friends like to make out that it is the land of endless warmth and sunshine, New Zealand does have a winter and as I found out for myself it can be pretty (very!) cold and wet. Do not expect many concessions being made to the temperature though; such luxuries as central heating are rare! Travelling around is comparatively simple.
There are several bus companies that travel through both islands going to the major tourist destinations and even arranging accommodation for you – I used the Magic Bus. New Zealand is also very driveable so hire a car or camper van, or you can travel by rail, air or ferry. To find out what you want to do when you get there, you will find that most towns have an i-SITE, which gives out information to tourists and can also book travel and local tours for you.
So what could you do if you visited the North Island of NZ in the winter?
Ninety Mile Beach
Ninety Mile Beach
Ninety Mile Beach is at the top end of the North Island. It is a stunning stretch of coastline, and is actually misnamed as the sand and surf only stretch for fifty five miles. While you may not be able to sunbathe and swim in the winter, you can still take a drive down the beach (being careful not to get bogged!), do some fishing or, if you are feeling really brave, have a go at body boarding down the side of one of the steep sand dunes.
Cape Reinga and Paihia
At the very end of Ninety Mile Beach and at the very top of the North Island is Cape Reinga, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. There is the lighthouse to be viewed and you can be mesmerised by the surging seas as the two bodies of water meet.
Situated on the Bay of Islands, Paihia still has plenty of things to do in the winter months. There is good walking along the coastline and to Haruru Falls, the restored Treaty House at Waitangi to be visited, and the ferry to be taken across the bay to picturesque Russell. Dolphin watching trips still go out in the winter, and some hardy souls still get in the water to swim with them! Or if you like high speed thrills on the water, go on the Jet Boat Tour.
The Biggest Kauri Tree
The northern parts of the North Island are also home to the ancient Kauri forests. One of these forests, the Waipoua Forest Sanctuary, is one of the biggest areas of pristine Kauri forest still remaining. It is also home to the two biggest living Kauri trees – Tane Mahuta and Te Matua Ngahere. There are lots of walking tracks, with some longer ones that take you deep into the forest and up to the high plateau.
Waitomo is the place to for caves! If you want a really adventurous tour try the Black Water Rafting. Don your wetsuit and hard hat and walk, float, crawl and abseil through a subterranean labyrinth radiant with glow worms. If you want a rather more sedate cave experience and to keep dry, visit the enchanting glow worm caves. The forty five minute tour culminates in a short boat ride in the final inky black cavern lighted only by the luminescence of thousands of tiny glow worms. If caves aren’t your thing, you can always go and watch the Angora rabbit shearing!
Mount Manganui is on the Bay of Plenty close to Tauranga. The Mount itself is an extinct volcano with gentle walks along the base or stiffer walks to take you to the peak. There is a sheltered beach on the harbour side and miles of creamy sand on the thundering surf beach on the ocean side. Mount Manganui has an open hot pool complex, which is open right through the winter. The naturally heated water is so warm that it does not matter how low the surrounding air temperature is. The only chilly bit is getting back to the changing rooms! Mount Manganui has lots of cafes and restaurants, so there is always a good choice of places to eat and there is also good shopping.
Rotorua and Waiotapu Geothermal Park
Rotorua is dominated by the smell of the air – because of all the geothermal activities there is the gentle scent of sulphur and rotting eggs permeating the town. The town is built on the shores of Lake Rotorua and has many areas of geothermal activity. There is steam rising from the earth, boiling mud, geysers and hot, thermal pools. You can wallow in the warmth of these thermal waters at the Blue Baths and the Polynesian Spa in the Government Gardens.
You can visit the Rotorua Museum of Art and History and experience the Maori way of life at one of the cultural evenings that include enjoying a traditional delicious Hangi feast.
For those of you who like adventure and the great outdoors there are miles of walking tracks, fishing, white water rafting, sky diving, horse riding, jet boat tours, kayaking, trying out the Zorb, mountain biking, quad biking.....the list is endless!
Waiotapu Geothermal Park is a short drive from Rotorua and is a fantasy land of bubbling and steaming pools, brightly coloured water, boiling mud and geysers set in beautiful countryside. There are many paths to follow and the Lady Knox Geyser is encouraged to perform every morning at 10.15 am by the addition of soap!
The Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand, and many locations throughout the country were used. The Alexander Family Farm was selected as the site of ‘Hobbiton’ as the scenery was viewed as being very similar to the descriptions of Middle Earth, complete with a suitable Party Tree! Most of the film set has been removed, but there are still ‘Hobbit Holes’ remaining that can be visited including ‘Bag End’. Hobbiton is close to the town of Matamata and you can take a tour from Rotorua.
Napier is situated in the famous wine producing area of Hawke’s Bay, so it not surprising that wine tasting tours are one of the things you can do when you visit. It is built along the shoreline and a large part of the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931. Napier is also famous as being an ‘Art Deco’ city and there are ‘Art Deco’ walks that take you to view all the finest examples.
If you are interested in marine life you can visit the National Aquarium of New Zealand, watch the dolphin and sea lions at Marineland or view the gannet colonies at Cape kidnappers. For those who like a good pamper there is the Ocean Spa, where you can float in open air hot pools overlooking the sea, sweat in the steam room or book a relaxing massage.
Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand and on the southern tip of the North Island. It is from here that you can take the ferry to the South Island. It is set around a harbour and is backed by hills. It has many shops, bars and restaurants, museums, theatres and cinemas. Again, there is a lot of walking along the coast and in the hills. Wellington also has a large Zoo and you can visit the Kapiti Island Nature Reserve.
So the North Island has everything that you could possibly need or want in order to enjoy a brilliant vacation, even when it is winter! So start preparing for that special winter holiday in the beautiful North Island of New Zealand!
All images my own
Roadtrip - North Island, New Zealand
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