Winter Wonders in the Central North Island
Winter breaks are often the ones where we recharge ourselves, either by relaxing, reconnecting with others, or getting some fresh air in our lungs to help clear the head and recharge the soul! So whether it’s a winters day walk on the beach, a soak in warm soothing mineral waters, a heart pumping climb to the top of a Mountain Bike Track, a leg stretch in the bush, or an exhilarating ski-run down a snow covered slope, the Central North Island has every conceivable option you can imagine to rejuvenate you. See our top picks for each region below, start dreaming and get planning your winter break away – 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months….
The coastal Bay of Plenty does winter a little differently. While many parts of New Zealand are bunkered down in snow and sleet, this region has a climate distinctly its own. With dreamy blue skies and crisp sunshine-filled days, the cheerful maritime temperatures mean you can make the most of the accessible, and profoundly beautiful, outdoor adventures on offer any time of year.
From end to end, the region has 125 kilometres of epic coastline so there are plenty of idyllic towns to stay in. Hunker down in the seaside hamlets of Ōhope or Waihī Beach, or stay close to Tauranga for shopping, activities and foodie delights.
Top things to do in Winter
- Soak in heavenly hot pools:There’s nothing more relaxing than soaking in a thermal hot pool while gazing at the starry night sky above. Fortunately, the Bay of Plenty is blessed with many geothermal hot springs, often surrounded by beautiful native bush. mounthotpools.co.nz
- Visit the Tauranga Art Gallery: The 2021 Tauranga Art Gallery programme has kicked off and offers visitors the opportunity to celebrate the work of local and national contemporary arts professionals.
- Hit the shops:Along with the region’s growth comes exciting new shopping destinations. Tauranga Crossing has over 70 stores, 25 eateries and a new movie theatre complex with day beds and recliners. Bayfair in Mount Maunganui has opened its new restaurant complex, which is quickly becoming one of the region’s dining hot spots.
1) Mt Ruapehu Magic: With the majestic peaks of Mt Ruapehu at your doorstep, Ruapehu is the perfect base for skiing, snowboarding, and experiencing the spectacular Sky Waka – NZ’s longest gondola ride.
2) Escape to Blue Duck Station: The ultimate escape to untouched wilderness, Blue Duck Station is the Aotearoa of your dreams – accommodation, dining and outdoor adventures galore ranging from bush safaris, kayaking, horse treks, jet boating and kayaking.
3) Guided Tongariro Alpine Crossing Tour: Experience one of NZ’s best day hikes on a guided Tongariro Alpine Crossing tour with Adrift Tongariro and discover this UNESCO Dual World Heritage Site amidst snow-capped mountains dressed in winter’s best.
4) Jet Boat to the Bridge to Nowhere: Experience the magic of the legendary Whanganui River with an exhilarating jet boat ride to the famed Bridge to Nowhere – a historical landmark in the most beautiful surrounds.
5) Bike Ohakune Old Coach Road: Cycle the legendary Ohakune Old Coach Road Bike Trail steeped in New Zealand rail heritage – bring your own bikes or hire locally, with e-bikes and shuttles available.
- Soak in the thermal pools There’s nothing better than a hot soak at the end of a crisp winters’ day, and Taupō has many facilities to cater for this luxury with everything from adults-only mineral waters and fun family friendly pools to free natural hot springs on the edge of Waikato River.
- Explore Taupōs geothermal area Taupō’s geothermal areas are among the best in New Zealand. Prepare for steam pouring from unexpected vents in the earth or drifting across bush-clad hills, rainbow-coloured silica terraces and turquoise mineral lakes, boiling mud pools that bubble and plop and spurting geysers.
- Hit the slopes A trip to Taupō in winter wouldn’t be complete without heading south with a beanie and gloves to hit the slopes of Mt Ruapehu. Whakapapa ski-field is the largest in New Zealand, meaning there’s plenty of room for both beginner and seasoned skiers and snowboarders.
- Taupō Winter Festival An annual festival throughout July where the town centre comes to life to celebrate winter and the arts Taupō style – with live cultural performances, theatre and music, themed dinner events, ‘lights in the park’ and even an ice-skating rink for everyone to enjoy.
- Blood pumping adrenaline It might seem crazy, but there’s nothing quite like a thrilling jet boat ride, a white-water rafting trip or a bungy jump to really bring the heat in winter, and Taupō is the adrenaline capital of the North Island!
- Middle-earth Movie Magic: Head along to see a slice of Middle-earth at the spectacular HobbitonTM Movie Set. The Waikato is at the heart of the Shire, and with green rolling paddocks, rugged limestone outcrops and underground caverns, it makes sense that the Waikato was chosen for one of the world’s most epic film series.
- Underground Wonders: The awe-inspiring Waitomo Caves are a great ‘all-weather’ option during the rainy autumn months. There are plenty of options on offer, from gentle boat rides under galaxies of twinkling glowworms, walking tours of awe-inspiring limestone formations, and a blood-pumping range of adventure activities.
- Hamilton Gardens: Featuring uniquely themed gardens, the Hamilton Gardens are a pleasure to explore. Explore themed gardens as you step from an Italian Renaissance Garden into a Chinese Scholars Garden, Modernist Garden, or New Zealand’s only Maori horticultural garden, Te Parapara, and many more. Stop for a picnic beside the lake or playground and relax in the wide open spaces before continuing to explore the 50 hectares.
- Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari: Inside its 47km long pest-proof fence, you can visualise New Zealand the way it used to be, and see rare birds like the Kaka, Takahe and maybe even Kiwi. Unhindered by pests, both flora and fauna are flourishing in its 3400 hectare expanse. A walk along its well-marked tracks gets you up close to a huge variety of native trees and plants, along with birds and insects. Those with a keen eye may also spot a Tuatara basing in the sunlight inside the Maungatautari wetlands area.
- City Checkin: Check out some of the city’s indoor experiences including escape rooms, mini golf, trampoline parks, Bowl and Social at SkyCity Hamilton or visit the Waikato Museum, with fun and interactive exhibitions, as well as a range of exciting and educational touring exhibitions. Shopping at one of New Zealand’s largest shopping complexes and gourmet delights are another choice for indoor activities this winter.
- Tairāwhiti Museum – Escape the winter chill with an explore of Tairāwhiti Museum – the museum and art gallery has a reputation as one of the very best, most innovative regional museums in New Zealand.
- Dome Cinema – Sit back and relax with a movie and great food in the warmth of Dome Cinema.
- Wine Tasting – Find a cellar door with a roaring fire and cosy up with a glass of delicious local red.
- Eastwoodhill Arboretum – NZ’s National Arboretum isn’t just for those colourful Spring and Autumn seasons – Winter provides a look into the core of nature.
- Gisborne Astro Tours – Take advantage of the early darkness and crisp winter nights to unlock the mysteries of the southern skies of Aotearoa.
- Eat Streat – The covered central walkway is the focal point for this all-weather al fresco dining area, making it ideal for year-round entertainment. The thermally heated footpath and enhanced lighting gives Eat Streat a unique and vibrant dining atmosphere. Found at the “lake end” of Tutanekai Street, you’ll satisfy any craving from pub fare and steaks, to tapas, Indian, Italian and much more.
- Polynesian Spa – Polynesian Spa is New Zealand’s leading internationally acclaimed spa. Enjoy this unique lakefront thermal spa experience – offering a wonderful fusion of relaxing hot mineral spring bathing, spa therapies and picturesque views of Lake Rotorua.
- Redwoods Treewalk:Suspended high above the forest floor, encounter 75-metre-tall Californian redwoods as you walk across eco-suspended bridges and platforms intricately designed to honour and accentuate the stunning natural environment.
- Whakarewarewa Forest: Whakarewarewa Forest, also known as the Redwoods, is a mecca for mountain bikers, with more than 180km of trails winding their way through native and exotic forest.
- Te Puia: Experience New Zealand’s geothermal wonderland. Walk alongside a beautiful landscape of uncovered natural bush, mud pools and the majestic Pōhutu Geyser – the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere.