Winter sports

 

New Zealand’s best options for taking to the snow and ice without hurtling down hills with skis
 
The superb skiing is undoubtedly one of the main reasons to visit New Zealand in the winter, but not all of us fancy hurtling down mountains with strips of wood strapped to our feet. Luckily, there are plenty of ways of getting out there amongst the white stuff without having to be a traditional Alpine skier. 
 
This is New Zealand – and if there’s some way of getting a thrill and adrenalin rush, the Kiwis have thought of it. And this applies to snow sports as well as throwing themselves off tall buildings and cliffs.

Snowboarding
 
The obvious non-skiing activity is snowboarding, which is almost more popular than its older brother these days. Resorts in New Zealand are well equipped for snowboarders. Particularly good areas for snowboarders include Coronet Peak near Queenstown and Treble Cone near Wanaka. The latter has manmade half pipes designed specifically for snowboarders.

Meanwhile, Tukino on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu, North Island is excellent for those who fancy learning. Snowboarding lessons are attractively priced, while most of the slopes are perfect for beginners.

Nordic Skiing
 
Yes, OK it’s skiing, but not as most of us know it. Nordic, or cross-country skiing derivates from how skiing originated.

Back in the olden days, skiing wasn’t a jolly good lark for decadent holidaymakers who enjoy a bit of a thrill – it was a practical means of getting around for the Scandinavians. For the Sami people of northern Finland, Norway and Sweden it was pretty much the only way to get from A to B. The skis were even put to military use later on.

Nordic skiing is a rather different adventure from the Alpine downhill version, and can best be described as bushwalking with skis on. And with New Zealand’s gorgeous mountain scenery, it’s a fantastic way to explore.

Undoubtedly the best place to try it is at the Waiorau Snow Farm, 35km from Wanaka and perched high above the lake. It has 50km of dedicated trails, and offer tuition to eager novices.

Snowshoeing
 
Of course, it is possible to do proper bushwalking in the snow without using skis and poles at all – just strap a couple of tennis rackets to your feet.

Ok – crude stereotype... Modern snowshoes bear little resemblance to the traditional ones, which may as well have been brandished in black and white footage of Wimbledon. The 21st century snowshoe is a triumph of design and often remarkably high tech, but the principle remains the same. By creating a larger surface area, the weight is more evenly distributed, and prevents walkers sinking into the snow. Subsequently, strapping the snowshoes on is a brilliant way of seeing areas that would be otherwise inaccessible during winter.

Alpine Recreation runs two to five day snowshoe treks through the Southern Alps.

Ice skating
 
Another footwear option is the ice skate, and while you might not be at Torvill and Dean standard, managing the basic stutter walk across the ice isn’t quite as hard as it may initially seem. And besides, the odd fall is character-building, yes?

It’s possible to have a go at skating in various locations across the country, but arguably the best bet is at the Tekapo Park. It’s at Lake Tekapo in Canterbury, around 2.5 hours drive from Christchurch and has one of the world’s most spectacular ice rinks. At 26m by 56m, it’s international-sized and the outdoor setting adds to the excitement.

Skate rental prices are relatively cheap and group lessons are available for those wanting to spend slightly less time on their backside.
 
 
 
Snowmobiling
 
Of course, the coolest people on the piste aren’t those on skis or snowboards – they’re the ones at the helm of those big red beasts that bound across the snow at high speed.

Snowmobiles (or skidoos) were again originally designed as a form of transport, partly to get to remote areas quickly and partly to rescue bungling skiers. But now riding them is something of a sport too, and an exhilarating one at that.

The best place to experience it is on a high plateau in the Old Woman Range near Queenstown with Nevis Snowmobile Adventure. There are 360 degree views up there, and the package includes a 12 minute helicopter ride from Queenstown airport.

From the plateau, visitors are given special thermal gear, and then set off through mind-boggling scenery with some mighty sexy machinery beneath them.

Ice climbing
 
To feel like a proper adventurer in the mould of Kiwi legend Sir Edmund Hillary, then it’s hard to beat cracking open the ice axe and crampons. Forget all that sissy walking lark, ice climbing is what proper mountaineers have to do in order to conquer the toughest peaks.
 
The two best places to learn – and go on an ice adventure – are the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers on the West Coast of the South Island. Yes, it’s cold (the clues are in the �?ice’ and �?glacier’ parts) but its rare for anyone to come back from either not raving about the experience. 
 
Fox Guides leads day-long ice climbing expeditions on the Fox Glacier.

You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal here

 

by David Whitley

 

Indoor Auckland

 

 

David Whitley investigates warm winter activities in New Zealand’s biggest city 

 

Auckland is well known as an outdoorsy city, and you can still go sailing, visit the harbour islands and clamber up volcanic craters in winter if you wish. However, if you fear that the elements may get the better of you for such activities during the cooler months, then never fear – there’s plenty to do indoors.

 

Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World

 

While it’s never going to win any awards for snappy titles, this hugely popular attraction is a great place for a rainy day.

 

The Antarctic Encounter gives a glimpse of what it’s like where it’s properly cold – visitors can go inside a Snowcat and mosey around a life size replica of the Antarctic hut set up by South Pole explorer captain Robert Scott.

 

The highlight for those with easily melted hearts, however, is a colony of sub-Antarctic penguins, for which fresh snow is created every day.

 

On the slightly less icy side is Underwater World, which is a giant aquarium complex. Everyone has their own favourites, whether the sea horses, piranhas or crayfish, but it’s hard not to be mesmerised by the bronze whaler sharks and the huge stingray. The latter has a two meter wing span...

 

More information: www.kellytarltons.co.nz

 

The Sky Tower

 

You see that big thing jutting out of Auckland’s CBD? Yes, the pointy building that utterly dwarfs the rest of the skyline. Well, that’s the Sky Tower, and it’s higher than Sydney’s version (and indeed, the Eiffel Tower in Paris).

 

It’s also home to Sky City, a large entertainment and gambling complex. There are a few bars and restaurants on offer, but it’s the casinos that prove the major draw card for the punters.

 

If the weather’s holding up OK, there are also a couple of adventure activities on offer that involve the tower. The first is the Sky Walk – the opportunity to walk around the building on a narrow ledge with no railings or balcony at 192m high. Only a harness will save you if you stumble...

 

The second insane endeavour is jumping off the viewing platform attached to a wire and slowed down by a big fan. Scary stuff.

 

More information: www.skycityauckland.co.nz

 

Auckland Museum

 

Over half a million tourists visit New Zealand’s oldest (and Auckland’s biggest) museum every year. Parked on a hill in the Auckland Domain, the museum dates back to 1852, although it’s only been at the present site since 1929 when the building was created as a memorial to the city’s war dead.

 

Over a million objects are divided over three floors of permanent exhibitions. The first concentrates on the Maori and the people of the Pacific. A whole range of topics is covered, from traditional arts and music to ancient civilisations and boat-building.

 

The second floor is where the big beasties hang out – it’s the natural history segment. This is home to two Discovery Centres that are focused on child learning and the impressively interactive permanent exhibition on volcanoes.

 

Last but not least comes New Zealand War Stories. As is fitting for a building designed to honour the troops, this covers conflicts that have involved the New Zealand Military over the years from the Boer War to modern day conflicts via the two World Wars.

 

There’s an armoury full of weapons for the more bloodthirsty, and warplanes for those harbouring romantic visions of flying one.

 

More information: www.aucklandmuseum.com

 

National Maritime Museum

 

Another excellent museum is the National Maritime Museum, and it’s only fitting that it should be hosted by the City of Sails. The museum explores the country’s history at sea, from Polynesian canoes and to modern commercial shipping.

 

On the way it explores seafaring industries that (thankfully) no longer exist, such as whaling and sealing, as well at looking at traditional maritime arts and crafts.

 

Naturally, boats and canoes are among the exhibits, while there’s a fascinating section on the coastguard service and lifeboat workers.

 

The National Maritime Museum can be found on Hobson Wharf, right on Viaduct Harbour.

 

More information: www.nzmaritime.or

 

Hanging out in Ponsonby

 

Ponsonby, to the west of the city centre, is generally regarded as the city’s coolest area to go for a few drinks in. This is where the café culture has seeped up from Melbourne, a lot of young people tend to live and many of the best bars are.

 

There are also a few good eateries too for those wanting to anchor the later alcohol content. Among the most popular are Logos, Estasi and Prego, but it’s really a case of taking your pick. The range of options runs from classy Italian to burger bar to stylish modern Asian.

 

Brewery tour

 

Of course the serious drinker may be more inclined to go straight to the source, and that’s where Lionzone comes in.

 

Now this claims to be not just an ordinary brewery tour, but let’s face it, most of them work along the same lines. Still, as brewery tours go, it’s fairly impressive, taking in the history of brewing, the ingredients and machines used to make the good stuff and all manner of high-tech wizardry.

 

Naturally, it also focuses on the Lion Brewery’s brands, including Lion Red and the altogether more palatable Steinlager.

 

And yes, there is some free sampling included.

 

More information: www.lionzone.co.nz

 

Stardome Observatory

 

In the One Tree Hill Domain, this is where you can go exploring further afield. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays it’s possible to go and have a look through the centre’s ginormous telescope, but it’s really the Planetarium show that captures the imagination. This features spectacular projections of the night sky (including 3,500 stars) in a 360 degree theatre.

 

More information: www.stardome.org.nz

 

You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal

 

 

 

by David Whitley