Wonderful winter destinations in New Zealand

By: Elisabeth Easther, Photography by: Ulrich Lange, Akos Kokai, Phillip Capper, Bart Ryker, Destination Kaikoura and Getty

From the ‘winterless north’ to sub-zero Southland, Elisabeth Easther shares her go-to winter destinations

The Winterless North

The Hokianga, in the ‘Winterless North’

Discover for yourself why people refer to Northland as the Winterless North when you explore the scenic and winding roads of the Hokianga and Bay of Islands, because it’s generally a few degrees warmer than the rest of the country. Enjoy a night walk among the mighty kauri trees with Footprints Waipoua.

Cycle all or part of the glorious Twin Coast Cycle Trail; 87km end to end, there’s a lot less sweat in winter. Or set a course for historic Totara North, where you’ll find a couple of freedom camping sites as well as several enjoyable walks.

The Wairakau Stream Track to Lane Cove (two hours each way) is a popular trail and, if you’re feeling especially frisky, tag on the optional extra of scrambling up the Duke’s Nose to look out across the Whangaroa Harbour.

The Waikato

The Waikato region features excellent roads, and the landscape offers everything from mature trees and lush farmland to views of the Waikato River. As the morning mist clears, stop in at the world-renowned Hamilton Gardens.

The paradise and fantasy gardens are spectacular year round, while in winter the camellias are charming and, if you visit in spring, the rhododendrons and blossoms are bound to impress.

Continue on to Cambridge to peruse antiques, arts and crafts, then press on to Sanctuary Mountain in Maungatautari, a 3400-hectare predator-free mainland island where flora and fauna are thriving.

If you wish to experience the nocturnal delights of this magical reserve, call ahead to see if a night tour is running; fully self-contained explorers can park overnight in the Southern Enclosure car park, so as you drop off to sleep you should hear kiwi call.

The East Cape

Otiki Hill, leading to the lighthouse, the easternmost point on the mainland

Discover some of the most unspoilt coastal driving you will ever experience when you explore the East Cape, because SHs 2 and 35 are bursting with scenic treasures.

From Whakatane, plot a course to historic Opotiki, then just keep following your nose as you admire mile after mile of astonishing coastline. Continue on along to Te Kaha, Cape Runaway and Hicks Bay, where you will be spoiled for spaces to pause.

Visit the lighthouse at Otiki Hill; found at the easternmost tip of New Zealand, the steps are just the ticket for stretching the legs. Other stunning places to consider stopping include Tokomaru Bay, Tolaga Bay Holiday Park, Makorori Beach, and Waikanae Beach Top 10 Holiday Park.

Some portions of these roads are unsealed though, so drive accordingly and take your time. And once you reach Gisborne, the Marina Car Park on Vogel St provides easy access to restaurants, cafes and the excellent farmers market on Saturdays.

The Wairarapa

The lighthouse at Cape Palliser

Drive across the dramatic Remutaka Ranges because the road from Wellington to Wairarapa is a truly beaut route, offering quaint rural villages, vineyards, cycling, boutique shopping and ruggedly handsome beaches.

Set off from the capital city and drive alongside Wellington Harbour before turning off for the Hutts, Lower and Upper. Choose a low gear as you make your way gradually up the Remutaka Ranges.

Park at Martinborough’s Top 10 Holiday Park, then hire a bike to pedal to various cellar doors. Set a course for Cape Palliser to admire the lighthouse and seals, but hold on to your hat as those winds can be wild. Spend the night at Ngawi Camping Area, where the

maximum number of nights is 21 – perhaps this will be your new home for a spell? If you’d prefer to plug in, Waimeha Camping Village is comfortable and full of character. Lake Ferry is another must-see, and the sunsets there are riveting.

There’s also been a major upgrade to the Motorhome and Caravan Park at Tauherenikau Racecourse, just north of Featherston, where the 40 hectares of picturesque grounds, mature exotic trees, native bush and abundant birdlife make this a popular spot.

Picton to Kaikoura

The acrobatic dusky dolphins

Having sailed across Cook Strait on the ferry, explore pretty Picton or walk The Snout to admire Queen Charlotte Sound from the land. Before you set the GPS for Kaikoura, begin by heading in the opposite direction, and drive the 40km to Havelock along pretty Queen Charlotte Rd.

Spend a night at the Havelock Motorcamp or choose a freedom camping site; there are a couple of sweet options on Kenepuru Rd. Returning to Picton, continue to Blenheim, through Seddon (keep your eyes peeled for the historic Awatere River Bridge) and Ward. Detour 15km NE to view the historic Cape Campbell lighthouse, where The Light Between Oceans was filmed.

Returning to SH1, you’ll be on the coast almost all the way to Kaikoura, where majestic mountains dip their toes in the ocean. Stop in at Point Kean, 20km north of Kaikoura, to visit the seal colony, then press on for Kaikoura itself.

Kaikoura is synonymous with whale watching, seals, dolphins and seafood – notably crayfish – but short walks, wildlife tours and the fabulous Kaikoura Museum are all worth making time for too. The town took a battering following the earthquake of November 2016, but they’re a resilient bunch and Kaikoura is proudly back in business.

Great Alpine Highway

Waimakariri Bridge

The Great Alpine Highway, connecting Christchurch to Greymouth, has been dubbed ‘great’ with good reason. Marvel at The Southern Alps, the Otira Viaduct and Waimakariri Bridge.

Roll along SH 73, across the sprawling mosaic of the Canterbury Plains, before you eventually start climbing the 900m to Arthur’s Pass. As you head down to the west coast, admire rivers, waterfalls and increasingly dense forest.

Otira Viaduct, one the highlights of the Great Alpine Highway

When you reach Kumara Junction, a short stroll will take you to the colossal boulder that is Londonderry Rock. Think about riding a segment of the popular West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail, perhaps as far as Cowboy Paradise, the Lost City of the Wild West.

If you’re thirsty, definitely stay a night in Greymouth, where Monteith’s offer beer tastings and brewery tours. Greymouth is also the South Island’s first official Motorhome Friendly Town, so there are plenty of places to park, assuming you’re fully self-contained.

And 40km north, on SH 6, visit Punakaiki’s famous Pancake Rocks. The short walk (1.4km return) along the stunning Truman Track is a treasure, with its blowhole, waterfall and subtropical forest.

Greymouth is a great spot for motorhomers

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