It’s cold, wet, white, and dark. Now that you know the downsides to winter, you can begin to appreciate the good: it’s quiet, spectacular, spiritual, and white. These 21 trips – day, overnight and multi-day – are good for any time of the year, but really come into their own during winter. Prepare your pack, and go
14. Isolated tranquility
Awapoto Hut, Abel Tasman National Park
For an unusual experience of Abel Tasman National Park, entirely away from beaches, try the hike to Awapoto Hut.
A well-defined track from Pigeon Saddle heads uphill into the bush, passing some beautiful stands of mature podocarp forest before heading out along the ridge above Awaroa Inlet. There are some fine views of Awaroa Bay and to Farewell Spit from here.
The track undulates, climbing slowly, but is never hard. The 12-bunk hut is bathed in all day sun with views of the park glimpsed through the forest cover. There is an overriding sense of isolation and tranquillity at this beautiful location.
If you have itchy feet to explore further, you could head up Evans Ridge to the turn-off to Wainui Hut and back via Moa Park clearing. But really, the hut setting is hard to pass up on a fine winter day.
Grade Easy Time 2-3hr
15. Lakeside serenity
Lake Rotoiti Circuit, Nelson Lakes National Park
The environs of Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park would easily rival that of any lake setting in New Zealand. When you add an excellent around-the-lake track with a couple of huts to stay at, you have the recipe for a great winter walk.
The trip begins and ends at St Arnaud township and is usually travelled clockwise along Lakehead Track to Lakehead Hut, a large comfortable abode set in the lower Travers Valley and just 15 minute’s walk from the lake.
Lakehead Track is especially scenic and provides a wonderful sense of discovery, particularly of the stunning beauty and variety of scenery this park offers.
Beyond the hut, the Travers River is crossed to Lakeside Track. This crossing can be done directly, if conditions allow, or via a swingbridge about an hour up the valley.
Lakeside Track first passes Coldwater Hut, a smaller, older hut than Lakehead, but set right on the lake’s edge.
The beautiful Whisky Falls is reached next and then the track climbs and crosses the northern slope of Mt Robert to the road.
This trip could be done as a day outing, though much better to make a weekend of it by staying at one of the huts to enjoy the lakeside scenery.
Grade Easy Time 6hr
16. Lake setting
Moturau Hut, Fiordland National Park
Most trampers know of Fiordland’s famous Kepler Track and that it can receive huge amounts of snow in winter, making its mountain sections impassable. However, the lower sections of the track are not usually affected and can often bask in warm sunshine. Forty-bunk Moturau Hut, on the shores of stunning Lake Manapouri, is a case in point.
This large, comfortable hut does not need to be booked during winter, though you will need to take your own cooker. It is easily accessible from Rainbow Reach in just a couple of hours. The setting, on the shore of what has often been voted New Zealand’s most beautiful lake, is stunning.
So, take a good book, some nice food, good companions and enjoy the grand spectacle at Shallow Bay across to the Hunter and Kepler Mountains, decked with snow.
Winter scenes don’t come much better than this in New Zealand. If you are really brave, take a quick dip in the lake.
Grade Easy Time 2hr
17. From sea to sky
Mt Herbert, Banks Peninsula
This large rounded hill is a popular day trip for Cantabrians and particularly so in winter when, on a clear day, the entire Canterbury Alps from Aoraki/Mt Cook to the Seaward Kaikouras will be resplendent under a mantle of white, glistening in the sun. There is a variety of routes to the summit, but the most used are those via the Mt Herbert Walkway which starts and finishes at either Diamond Harbour or Orton Bradley Park.
A novel way to reach the former is on the Diamond Harbour Ferry from Lyttelton, giving you a real sea-to-sky adventure, almost in the heart of Christchurch. Even though there will be almost 1000m of ascent required to gain the summit, none of it is particularly steep.
A shelter is located near the summit, on the track from Orton Bradley, and is a good place to stop if it’s windy.
Grade Moderate Time 5-6hr return
18. A winter bolthole
Lake Matiri Hut, Kahurangi National Park
On the southern boundary of Kahurangi National Park, where the Matiri River flows into the mighty Buller River at Murchison, an access road and track head north to charming Lake Matiri and its hut, set just above the lake shore.
It’s an easy walk along an old pack track, but care should be taken with the ford over the West Matiri which can flood rapidly during and after heavy rain.
The eight-bunk hut, complete with log burner, is a comfortable place to relax and enjoy the beauty of the mountains.
There is some easy exploring to do around the lake edge to reach the steady climb to Thousand Acre Plateau and Poor Petes Hut. But that’s likely a trip best left for another day.
The quiet at Lake Matiri on a winter’s morning will long be recalled as a place of special beauty and peace.
Grade Easy Time 2-3hr to hut
19. Snowshoeing the Tararua’s most popular
Jumbo-Holdsworth Track, Tararua Forest Park
By Shaun Barnett
Winter snow can make a well-trodden and familiar track a whole new experience. Such was a recent outing over one of the Tararua’s most popular routes, the Jumbo-Holdsworth circuit, when I used snow-shoes after a storm had plastered the ranges with a good dumping of snow. Above the forest-green of the Atiwhakatu I plodded up the Rain Gauge Spur Track towards Jumbo Hut for the night, with the last of the storm persisting as drizzle. The snow deepened as I climbed, the silver beech trees frosted like a wonderland, and I was grateful for the steps plugged by three trampers ahead of me. They had Jumbo Hut basking in the heat of the woodstove, and we enjoyed a social evening playing cards.
The following day was crystal-clear, with the tussock and subalpine plants cloaked in icicles. Transformed by the snow, the Tararua Ranges looked bigger and higher than summer conditions usually suggest.
I put my snowshoes on at the hut, and kept them on all the way to Powell. Aside from one icy slope just before Jumbo that required some care, the travel was straightforward. But I was grateful for the snowshoes; even with them I was still sinking to my knees.
The trig on Mt Holdsworth was shedding large icicles, and I kept clear of it. With no wind, it was hot, and everywhere the snow was melting into impatient, trickling streams. I’d passed just one solitary tramper on the Jumbo tops, but the track down from Holdsworth to Powell was beaten flat by many boots, and the hut itself had been packed the night before. Thick ice on the wooden stairs just below the hut was probably the most treacherous part of the trip; I used my ice axe to hack off the glazing for better footing.
The descent through stunted silver beech forest, then more luxuriant podocarp-broadleaf, and finally beside the babbling Atiwhakatu, in sunshine, was like a descent through the seasons; from winter white to summer sheen.
Grade Moderate Time Holdsworth Lodge to Jumbo Hut, 3-4hr; To Powell Hut, 3hr; To road-end, 3hr
20. An easy winter summit
Mt Tongariro, Tongariro National Park
Few winter peaks are as accessible as Mt Tongariro. Reached on a Great Walk standard track, a return climb can be achieved in a few hours.
With crampons and ice axe (or snowshoes and walking poles) begin from the Mangatepopo Road end and take the easy Tongariro Alpine Crossing track to South Crater. Here, you’ll possibly encounter deep snow and will hopefully be able to follow the path plugged by others, otherwise it’s a tiring journey across the crater to the start of the Mt Tongariro Summit Route. This is where you’ll need to put on your crampons or snowshoes, as the route traverses the steep-sided northern wall of South Crater. But it’s easy going and a basic knowledge of crampon use should suffice to see you safely on the summit.
The view from Mt Tongariro in winter is absolutely stunning. Nearby Ngauruhoe and distant Ruapehu offer a sense of scale in a seemingly vast landscape, otherwise devoid of features thanks to a pure white blanket covering everything.
Add some adventure to the return journey by heading down Tongariro’s north-west face to the ridge above Mangatepopo Stream. This is easy travel on soft volcanic soil and there are good campsites near Pt1409 if that takes your fancy. Day trippers should descend the ridge opposite Mangatepopo Hut, leap the stream and rejoin the Tongariro Alpine Crossing track back to the car park.