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The best things to do during NZ winter

7 minute read

For many travellers the perfect winter holiday in New Zealand includes some kind of snow experience, be it skiing, snowboarding, sledding or just playing in the snow, though the region caters equally well for those looking for a more relaxing winter holiday experience. There are a huge number of winter activities, scenic attractions, tours and adventures around the region – making Taupo the best North Island winter holiday destination in New Zealand. Temperatures during winter in Taupo vary from -2˚C to 15˚C so we recommend checking MetService for the latest Taupo weather and snow reports.

New Zealand snow

Whakapapa Ski Area lies just one hour and fifteen minutes' drive from Taupo on its southern doorstep. The mountain is a magnet for experienced skiers, but it must be the best place to learn to ski or snowboard in the North Island.

With New Zealand's largest beginner area, Whakapapa is the choice for many when learning to ski. What’s more is that Whakapapa ski resort is now home to the country's largest gondola, the Sky Waka. From the Plaza area, sightseers can take a gondola up the mountain to the Knoll Ridge Chalet, whilst watching skiers and snowboarders show off their moves below. Situated at 2,020m above sea level, it is New Zealand’s highest cafe and eatery. Here you will find great coffee, gourmet fare and incredible views overlooking the Pinnacles and out over the Central Plateau of New Zealand's North Island. The gondola will operate year-round and is set to become a must-see in New Zealand.

The stretch of State Highway 1 from Taupo town to Turangi must be one of the most picturesque drives in New Zealand, even if you don't plan on skiing - be sure to take a road trip from Taupo to Whakapapa Ski Area and absorb the stunning scenery of the region. As you wind around the shores of Lake Taupo alongside forestry and native bush you will find yourself captivated by the remarkable panoramic views out across the lake.

Places to visit in Taupo

Taupo is home to an array of North Island attractions and there are plenty of winter activities around Taupo if you are not interested in heading to the snowy slopes of Whakapapa Ski Area. Taupo is a volcanic, geothermal wonderland with several geothermal hot pools, perfect for a hot soak. Relax and unwind in the healing mineral waters of Wairakei Terraces; an adults-only geothermal resort uniquely situated below magnificent silica terraces or take the family to DeBretts Spa Resort where you will find multiple geothermal pools and three hydro slides for family fun. The AC Baths is another family friendly option with two hydro slides, a bombing zone and rope swing. Tokaanu Thermal Pools at the southern end of the lake are a worthy stop after a day on the slopes, here you can also explore the surrounding Tokaanu Thermal walkway- a short walk where you can see steaming hot mineral pools and spluttering mud pots amongst attractive native bush.

It’s not only skiers that benefit from brilliant terrain as result of ancient volcanic activity. Derived from one of the greatest volcanic eruptions ever known, the region’s free-draining pumice soil means excellent cycling, hiking, golfing and mountain biking conditions year-round – even in the middle of winter. Grab an e-bike from one of the local bike shops and take a cruise along The Great Lake Pathway from town to the 2 Mile Bay Sailing Club and enjoy a hot coffee and muffin with a grand view out over the lake. Or for the more adventurous rider, head towards Spa Thermal Park and link into the Rotary Ride – allow a leisurely 2-3 hours to complete the 5.5km grade 3 trail from Spa Park to Huka Falls and back. There is a magnitude of walking tracks throughout the region, catering to every ability, so pack a jacket and get out for a nature hike amongst the beautiful native bush and discover some stunning lake and river views.

You don’t have to be on the mountain to experience apres ski, take a wander before dinner and see the town come to life with fairy-light-lined streets and cosy bars and restaurants with hearty winter food menus, mulled wine and crackling fires. There’s locally brewed Lakeman craft beer and wood-fired pizza on the lakefront, gourmet cuisine at top-end restaurants and family-friendly dining throughout the town. Many of these establishments offer spectacular sunset views and a vista of Lake Taupo with the snowcapped mountains of Tongariro National Park in the distance.

Taupo is a winter wonderland in the heart of New Zealand’s North Island, full of options for those who are new to snow - with premier mountain facilities for beginners making it the best place to ski and snowboard, and a range of off-mountain experiences to keep everyone entertained this winter.

Escape the crowds in Turangi

Located just 40-minutes south of Taupo town and central to three New Zealand ski resorts (Whakapapa, Turoa and Tukino), you will never be short of things to do in the holidays when you base yourself in the beautiful village of Turangi. Located on the west bank of the magnificent Tongariro River in the plains below the Kaimanawa ranges, the friendly town of Turangi is New Zealand’s fly-fishing capital, as well as the gateway to the UNESCO dual World Heritage Tongariro National Park and the wild Kaimanawa Forest Park.

Turangi is an excellent option for families looking for the ultimate New Zealand holiday. You will find an array of accommodation options, and plenty of holiday homes dotted around the gorgeous lakeside villages around the southern edge of the lake. Ski gear, day ski passes, and mountain shuttles can all be easily arranged at one of the towns many ski hire or rental outfits.

What’s on in Taupo

Winter gets off to a colourful start in Taupo, with the Queen's Birthday Weekend Art Trail that visits local artists and artists at their home studios. In July, the centrepiece event of the season is Taupo's Winter Festival. It's held during the July school holiday break, with many free and family-friendly events.

Foodies need to get in quick for the annual Merchant Food & Wine Expo – with more than 100 New Zealand wines available and local restaurants showcasing their food, this event is a sellout every year. On the ski fields, the annual Whakapapa Mini X Games are a great way for kids to show off their skills on the snow, and through August there are many skiing and snowboarding competitions at all skill levels. For those who prefer to stay out of the chill, self-care retreats and cooking workshops offer the chance to nourish yourself and learn at the same time. In August, the inaugural three-day Huka Lodge Fly Fishing Tournament is sure to delight keen anglers.

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