Off the beaten track winter fun in New Zealand

When you think of an NZ winter, boarding and skiing down its epic mountains usually come to mind. However, get off the beaten track and you’ll find a whole new world of winter activities to get stuck into.


Tobogganing – Porters Pass

Whether you’ve got kids or are looking to rediscover your inner child, the top of Porters Pass in Canterbury has some natural small slopes that are perfect for tobogganing.

A popular spot with Christchurch weekenders, it’s an easy five metre climb up this bank before you’re shooting back down it again. And best of all – it’s free!

Getting there: 84 kms (52 miles) west of Christchurch

Try a new way to fly down the slopes
Try a new way to fly down the slopes

Volcano rim walking – White Island

What better way to warm up in winter than getting real close to an active volcano! Roaring steam vents, bubbling pools of mud and boiling volcanic streams – all the heat you need.

Once inhabited by humans, White Island is an other-worldly place that’s only visited by tourists these days. It’s a little out-of-the-way, located on the east coast of the North Island.

Getting there: 49 kms (30 miles) by boat or plane from Whakatane

Ice skating – Central Otago

It gets cold down this part of the South Island – as in 'below freezing' cold. But with the cold comes winter opportunities, and one of those is ice skating.

There are a few commercial ice skating rinks in Naseby and Alexandra, though for a truly ‘off the beaten track’ experience head straight to the Lower Manorburn Dam.

The Lower Manorburn Dam is one of the most frequently frozen waters in New Zealand. The middle basin is its most popular spot while the top basin is usually the safest.

Getting there: 5 kms (3 miles) northeast of Alexandra

Skate the ice away for a truly unique winter experience in Central Otago
Skate the ice away for a truly unique winter experience in Central Otago

Snow tubing – Cardrona

If skiing and snowboarding aren’t really your thing but you still love being up on the mountain, give tubing a go.

Cardrona Alpine Resort has a snow tubing slope for not-so-serious punters. Ditch the board, jump on a tube and have a blast.

Getting there: 34 kms (21 miles) south of Wanaka – 58 kms (36 miles) northeast of Queenstown

Luging – Naseby

The Southern Hemisphere’s only ice luge track has been delighting thrill seekers since 2008. Grab a sled onsite and throw yourself into the adrenalin rush of ten curves of downhill excitement.

Weather and track dependent, find out in advance whether the Naseby Ice Luge is open before you go out of your way to drive there.

Getting there: 138 kms (86 miles) northwest of Dunedin

Hot springing – Southern Alps

If you’re not that keen on colder winter temperatures, stay warm in your own personal, outdoor hot spring!

A great winter walk that can be broken up with hot spring sessions is the Harper Pass crossing. The trail is an historic Maori way that runs from northwest of Arthur’s Pass (State Highway 73) to near Lewis Pass (State Highway 7).

Along the way there are a number of hot spring opportunities not too far from the main trail.

Getting there: Access the trailhead about 8 kms (5 miles) northwest of Otira

Nothing beats warming up in your very own hot spring in the middle of the mountains
Nothing beats warming up in your very own hot spring in the middle of the mountains

Black water rafting – Waitomo Caves

Hidden underground in the rolling hills of the Waikato are the Waitomo Caves. Some activities here are simply great to do year-round, particularly the ones where you need a heat-retaining wetsuit.

Black water rafting involves sitting in a black rubber tube and navigating the limestone passageways along an underground waterway. You’ll get to see glow worms and jump off subterranean waterfalls.

Getting there: 69 kms (43 miles) south of Hamilton

Dogsledding – Wanaka

Go for the ride of your life over the snow fields of Wanaka being pulled along on a sled by traditional arctic dogs with UnderDog. Drive your own team of dogs, take a basket ride with a guide or opt for dogsledding by night.

It’s a northern tradition that you can experience in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. It’ll be just you, your dog team and the trail.

Getting there: 33 kms (20.5 miles) south of Wanaka – 57 kms (35.5 miles) northeast of Queenstown

Get the right winter jacket for your 'off the beaten track' adventure.