In the second of our 50 Winter Holidays series, we look at the best New Zealand destinations for a blues-beating break.
WHAT: The best place in New Zealand and best time of year for whale watching.
WHY: There's no reason to be shy about bringing your tourist dollar to a stunning region which is finally enjoying the bounty of an award-winning reconstruction effort. Whale Watch Kaikoura have noticed the whales' behaviour slowly return to normal over the last three years with some relief. There have been some serious changes to the coastline, but a new Kaikoura is here to welcome you. As ever, there are lots of great accommodation options but if you're feeling splashy the Hapuku Lodge + Tree Houses is something very special. A unique luxury resort with incredible architectural design and fantastic hosts including 2011 MasterChef Finalist Fiona Read, who will feed you very well indeed. Every tree house features unique design details, exemplifying the level of care here.
HOW TO GET THERE: Kaikoura is 2.5 hours' drive from Christchurch, 2 hours' drive from Picton and 1.5 hours' from Blenheim.
TOP TIP: Don't miss the deeply moving Kaikoura Earthquake exhibition at the Kaikōura Museum called New Normal. It includes over 30 individual exhibits contributed by the Kaikoura community. One particularly poignant exhibit, a pile of salt, represents the tears shed over the disaster.
FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER, FRANZ JOSEF
WHAT: An unforgettable hike through the glaciers followed by a soak.
WHY: Why not?! A Glacier Heli Hike is a "must do" for many international visitors and just as unmissable for those of us closer to home.
Start your adventure with a helicopter ride and jaw-dropping scenery followed by a three hour hike through the most amazing features of this World Heritage area, suitable for most fitness levels. No two days are the same on this natural wonder of striking blue ice. Stay a night or two at the Rainforest Retreat Franz Josef in a new two-bedroom deluxe spa treehouse which can sleep up to six. The $20 pizza buffet deal at Rainforest Retreat is also a sure crowd pleaser.
HOW TO GET THERE: Franz Joseph Village is a 2-hour drive from Greymouth, a 6-hour drive from Christchurch and a 5-hour drive from Queenstown.
TOP TIP: Don't miss the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools, where the hot pools range from 36 to 40 degrees centigrade in temperature and are covered by giant sails offering protection from the elements. If you're feeling especially sore from your walk, they also offer massages.
ST BATHANS, CENTRAL OTAGO
WHAT: A decade ago the Herald said "This may well be the hidden treasure of Central Otago" and not much has changed since then.
WHY: St Bathans, a former gold mining town, is now a "ghost town" because it has fewer than 8 permanent residents. There are several accommodation options in original historic buildings overlooking the beautiful blue lake. The most traditional is the Vulcan Hotel, complete with "friendly" ghost. Another option worth checking out is St Bathans Jail & Constables Cottage. The cottage sleeps six but if there's just the two of you, try the jail, which as the name suggests is a surprisingly cosy converted cell.
HOW TO GET THERE: St Bathans is approximately 40 minutes' drive northeast of Alexandra and 25 minutes' drive from Ranfurly.
TOP TIP: Be sure to take in the stunning blue lake with its distinctive white cliffs, which were worn away by high pressure sluice guns during the gold rush.
MILLBROOK HOTEL SNOW AND STAY, QUEENSTOWN
WHAT: Millbrook Hotel's "Snow and Stay" takes the hassle out of a couples' ski or snowboarding trip.
WHY: Millbrook Hotel is a well-loved Queenstown institution and they offer a package that is pretty much guaranteed to ease you into your next romantic trip to the snow. The deal includes deluxe studio accommodation, daily buffet breakfast, Cardrona Ski Field lift passes, snow gear hire (plus private fitting in your room!), return transport from Millbrook to Cardrona Ski Field and complimentary shuttle service to Arrowtown and central Queenstown. To top it all off? Two glasses of Millbrook mulled wine are included.
HOW TO GET THERE: Milbrook Hotel is only 20 minutes' drive from Queenstown Airport.
TOP TIP: A massive bonus while staying at Millbrook is the complimentary shuttle bus service to Arrowtown and Queenstown. Don't forget to make the most of this value-add.
THE TRANZALPINE, SOUTH ISLAND
WHAT: A spectacular rail journey from coast to coast, The Tranzalpine is at its most striking in winter.
WHY: Spend a day travelling from Christchurch to Greymouth in style with one of the world's top-rated scenic rail journeys. One of the highlights is its open-air viewing carriage allowing passengers to photograph the impressive scenery. This carriage is currently closed for safety upgrades to combat selfie-based idiocy, but will be open again by June.
HOW TO GET THERE: The Tranzalpine departs from Christchurch.
TOP TIP: If you're looking for gorgeous, stylish accommodation at either end try The George Hotel in Christchurch, or The Ashley in Greymouth.
WHAT: The perfect trip for the whole family.
WHY: Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa is sure to delight young and old with well-kept facilities and twelve open-air thermal pools, a freshwater heated swimming pool, three sulphur pools and six private indoor thermal pools, as well as a sauna/steam room. Bring a picnic and book a Hamner Springs Apartment for the family to slumber soundly in after a long, luxurious soak. A nightly shuttle into town for restaurant bookings is included in your booking.
HOW TO GET THERE: Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa is an easy drive, just 90 minutes' drive north of Christchurch.
TOP TIP: Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa is especially beautiful at night.
OKOROIRE HOT SPRINGS HOTEL, WAIKATO
WHAT: A beautiful historic building in a lovely hot spring area.
WHY: Built in the 1880s, the Okoroire Hot Springs Hotel is the perfect place to punctuate a cold winter — think open fires, lounges, piano and books. It's all set in hectares of parkland with a pretty little golf course and tennis courts, a lively bar and terrace and a formal dining room for dinner and the cooked breakfasts that are included in the room rate. The hot springs are just 300m from the main building. Set beside the river and behind tin sheds but open to the sky and surrounding bush, the largest of Okoroire's three hot pools can easily fit 30 friends. Discover "the real Middle-Earth" at the Hobbiton Movie Set near the hotel.
HOW TO GET THERE: A picturesque 1.5-hour drive south of Auckland.
TOP TIP: The real star here is one of the prettiest natural hot spring pools you're likely to encounter.
WHAT: A fantastic base for a range of unique New Zealand experiences.
WHY: When it comes to warming up it's hard to go past Rotorua's iconic Polynesian Spa. The complex in the heart of Rotorua is made up of 26 different mineral pools, ranging from the deluxe spa option overlooking Lake Rotorua to adult pools, kids' pools and private pools. There's also a spa facility which offers a luxurious range of treatments making the most of Rotorua's mineral-packed mud and other local ingredients such as manuka honey. According to Trip Advisor the traditional Māori hāngī in Rotorua at Tamaki is up there with breakfast at the Vatican and a bicycle street tour of Berlin. Rainbow Springs nature park is another local attraction that's hard to pass up.
HOW TO GET THERE: The Polynesian Spa is centrally located in the historic Government Gardens overlooking Lake Rotorua.
TOP TIP: If you're feeling splashy, book a private deluxe pool at the Polynesian Spa at sunset - you won't regret it.
WHAT: Something special only an hour from Auckland.
WHY: Going up north in the depths of winter may sound counter-intuitive for the average Kiwi but Leigh has something to offer in all conditions. Time your visit for a delicious wood-fired pizza (half price on Thursdays through winter!) and a live gig at the legendary Leigh Sawmill. Another fantastic spot is the Leigh Sawmill's partner-turned-rival's spot down the road The Sawmill Brewery and Smoko Room. Chef Will Michell's pedigree includes Peter Gordon's The Providores and Wellington's Floriditas, La Boca Loca and The Fire Truck, so you know you're in good hands. Double check where you're heading - many hapless tourists have headed to the wrong Sawmill, much to the chagrin of the two businesses. If you're brave you could have a crack at Goat Island snorkelling followed by a visit to the Goat Island campground fire pit with some fish and chips from Leigh Eats - or better yet, score a private bach with its own spa pool, there's a few to choose from through the usual booking sites.
HOW TO GET THERE: Leigh is only an hour's drive north of Auckland.
TOP TIP: If you choose to stay at the Goat Island campground come prepared with your own toilet paper and cooking supplies - the beautifully located site is sadly neglected these days.
CLASSIC NEW ZEALAND WINE TRAIL
WHAT: A self-drive wine tour from Hawke's Bay in the North to Marlborough in the South.
WHY: The Classic New Zealand Wine Trail takes you on a Journey through three major wine producing regions. From cellar door to cellar door, taste your way through Hawke's Bay, Wairarapa, Wellington and Marlborough - regions accounting for more than 80% of New Zealand's wine production. Described as one of the best wine drives in the world - but stay safe, don't wine-and-drive.
HOW TO GET THERE: The wine trail begins in Napier.
TOP TIP: The trail is well-signposted (watch for the grapes) and Wellington NZ offers some amazing suggestions for different itineraries on their website to suit all tastes.