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    The best winter holiday ideas in and around Christchurch, New Zealand

    The best winter holiday ideas in and around Christchurch, New Zealand

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    If you’re looking for a destination that’s packed with memorable winter holiday experiences and spectacular mountain scenery, you’ll find plenty to keep you happy in and around Ōtautahi Christchurch, in New Zealand’s South Island / Te Wai Pounamu. Better yet, you don’t have to be an avid skier or snowboarder to have a good time. From snow tubing to star gazing, from towering mountain ranges to windswept beaches, these are our favourite things to see and do on a Kiwi winter wonderland holiday:

    1. Winter wow in a spectacular city

    Christchurch is the ideal base if you’re keen on a holiday that’s packed with exciting winter sports and activities. Go ziplining or mountain biking at Christchurch Adventure Park, pull on a wetsuit and head out for an invigorating surf or wild swim at Sumner Beach, or hike yourself some skates and try out a few twirls at the city’s Alpine Ice Centre.

    The stunning beachside setting of He Puna Taimoana at New Brighton is the ideal spot to warm up and soak tired muscles – we recommend booking a coveted spot for a sunrise soak, so you can welcome the first rays of a new day as the sun rises above the Pacific Ocean.

    2. An Antarctic Adventure

    Located right next door to Christchurch Airport, the International Antarctic Centre is an immersive experience of life on the frozen continent. Through interactive exhibits and high definition movie story-telling, you’ll learn about Antarctica’s wildlife, climate, and the scientific research that’s conducted in this extreme environment.

    You can seek shelter from the savagery of an Antarctic storm in the Storm Dome, buckle up for an all-terrain, amphibious adventure in an authentic Hägglund polar explorer vehicle, and meet New Zealand’s most adorable locals in the Penguin Rescue facility. 

    the International Antarctic Centre

    The International Antarctic Centre, Christchurch

    3. Hot pools fun in Hanmer Springs

    Less than two hours after leaving Christchurch, you can be floating down a heated lazy river, soaking up the peaceful setting of towering evergreen trees and snowcapped mountains. The alpine resort town of Hanmer Springs has been a jewel in Canterbury’s tourism crown since the late nineteenth century, luring visitors with its sparkling mountain air and natural, thermally heated hot springs. 

    It would be very easy to spend your entire day lounging in the town’s complex of 22 hot pools while the kids are kept entertained on various watery slides and rides, but that would mean missing out on the region’s countless outdoor activities and winter sports. If you’re lucky, a fresh snowfall will provide all you need for a few happy hours playing in the snow. Mountain biking, snow shoeing and quad biking are all popular options to experience the immense beauty and tranquillity of this peaceful corner of the world. 

    4. Snow fun at Mt Hutt

    With so many ski areas located within an easy driving distance of Christchurch, it’s no wonder the Canterbury region is considered one of the Southern Hemisphere’s best snow destinations. But you don’t have to be interested in skiing or snowboarding [link] to enjoy a day on the mountain – award-winning Mt Hutt Ski Resort is located just 90 minutes from the airport and welcomes non-skiers with a variety of fun snow activities for kids and adults alike. 

    Hire a toboggan or yooner or enlist your friends and family for building a snowman in the designated snow play area, take a sightseeing ride on the Summit Six chairlift to enjoy stunning views across the Canterbury Plains, then enjoy lunch with a view at the Sky High Café. Snowball fights are entirely optional but highly recommended.

    The ski area is located just 30 minutes from the town of Methven, where you can enjoy an outdoor soak at Ōpuke Thermal Pools, watch a movie at the quaint Cinema Paradiso or enjoy the thrill of a high-speed jet boat ride in the nearby Rakaia Gorge.

    Snow fun at Mt Hutt, ski area close to Christchurch

    Snow fun at Mt Hutt

    5. Hiking beneath the gaze of Aoraki Mount Cook

    New Zealand’s highest peak stands 3,724 metres tall, towering over an alpine valley in the heart of the national park that shares its name. Cloaked in thick snow year-round, its steep slopes are a mountaineer’s dream, but you don’t need crampons and ice axes to enjoy your time in this remote and spectacular part of the South Island. 

    The ten-kilometre Hooker Valley walk is one of the best day hikes in the country – a relatively flat trail that weaves through rocky terrain and crosses freezing mountain streams before reaching Hooker Lake, which is studded with icebergs during the winter season. You’ll need to rug up well to enjoy your time in the alpine environment – the weather can change quickly so it’s best to be prepared. 

    If you want to get closer, take a scenic helicopter flight – with the option to land on a snow-covered glacier – for a bird’s eye view of the untouched wilderness of the Southern Alps. 

    6. Get starry eyed at Mt John

    From high above the turquoise splendour of Lake Takapō (aka Tekapō), the Mt John Observatory offers a range of star-gazing experiences that take full advantage of its location in the heart of the world’s largest International Dark Sky Reserve. Expert guides offer tours of the observatory so you can learn about the telescopes, instruments, and research conducted at the facility, as well as the importance of dark sky preservation. Whether you’re a seasoned photographer or an enthusiastic novice, the dark skies and breathtaking views provide ample opportunities to capture stunning images of the stars, Milky Way and, if you’re lucky, the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights. 

    A daytime visit to the observatory offers spectacular daytime views of the surrounding mountains and the lake stretched out far below. You can hike or drive to the summit, then enjoy coffee with an epic outlook at the onsite café.  

    7. Wine tasting in Waipara Valley

    To reach Hanmer Springs from Christchurch you must first travel through the Waipara Valley region, which is one of the stars of New Zealand’s wine industry. It’s known particularly for its cool-climate wines, including Pinot Noir, Riesling and other aromatic white varietals. There are numerous cellar door experiences where you can sample local wines while enjoying delicious food and the spectacular setting.

    The Waipara Valley is also home to a vibrant community of artists and artisans. A visit to one of the local galleries, studios or craft markets will ensure you find something special to take home as a souvenir of your holiday.

    8. Wildlife encounters in Kaikōura

    Kaikōura joins Hanmer Springs and Waipara Valley as the third point on the touring route known as the Alpine Pacific triangle. Set on the stony shoreline of the Pacific Ocean and backed by the immense, snowy peaks of the Seaward Kaikōura Mountains, this little coastal town is dedicated to appreciating the gifts of Tangaroa, the Māori god of the sea. 

    It’s one of the few places on Earth where you can go whale watching year round – yes, even in the depths of winter, although you’ll need to pack your puffer jacket! Migrating sperm whales, humpback whales and even orcas all pass through the offshore waters which are teeming with life, while closer to land, you might see seals lounging on the rocks or dolphins riding the waves. 

    Back on dry land, the Kaikōura and neighbouring Hurunui regions are a hotspot for adventurous activities, with llama trekking and ziplining popular year-round choices. 

    The name ‘Kaikōura’ literally means ‘eat crayfish’, and we can’t think of a better way to refuel at the end of a busy day than by indulging in a meal of freshly caught seafood.

    Wildlife encounters in Kaikōura - whale breaching around Christchurch

    Wildlife encounters in Kaikōura


    Good to know before you go

    Getting there and around

    The city of Christchurch is one of the main international gateways to Aotearoa New Zealand – less than four hours’ flight from Australia’s East Coast. The city has undergone a significant programme of rebuilding since the devastating 2011 earthquake, and the efficient and affordable city transport network makes it easy to get around. There’s also a hop-on, hop-off historic tram that’s a fun way to explore the central city.

    Christchurch is an extremely cycle-friendly city, with a mostly flat terrain and extensive cycle trails that weave through the many beautiful park spaces. A tranquil morning ride through Hagley Park and along the Avon River is one of our favourite ways to start the day at any time of year.

    Does it snow in Christchurch?

    Because of its coastal location, the city doesn’t receive as much snowfall as inland areas, although the hilltops of Banks Peninsula are frequently dusted with a light sprinkle during winter months. There’s a reasonable chance of a good snowfall at least once between May and September, but if you’re looking for an epic snow experience, you’ll want to spend a day at one of the region’s many ski fields. 

    What if I’m not into extreme sports?

    Canterbury certainly has all the adrenaline fuelled fun you could wish for, but it’s also a fantastic winter holiday destination if you’re into star gazing, lazing in thermal pools, taking scenic day walks with amazing alpine views and enjoying the thriving culinary scene.

    You can drink mulled wine at the Riverside Markets, take a roadtrip through the South Island high country on the Snow Highway and celebrate the mid-winter holiday Matariki at the Tirama Mai Light Festival. Popular family friendly activities include boating on the Avon River, seeing lions and gorillas at the open-range Orana Wildlife Park, taking a dolpin cruise on Akaroa Harbour or having fun at the award-winning Margaret Mahy playground. 


    From the moment you arrive in Ōtautahi Christchurch, you’ll be spoilt for choice – there are so many amazing ways to enjoy this winter wonderland. To start planning for your winter escape, talk to your personal travel manager today.


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