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Cold comfort: The ultimate couple's Kiwi getaway you need this winter

NZ Herald
By: Anna King Shahab
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Had enough of winter already? Head to one of New Zealand's 31 regions for a quick getaway, writes Anna King Shahab

1. Nelson Tasman

Set off on a family adventure around Golden Bay. Beginning with the legendary drive over Tākaka Hill, stop off at Ngarua Caves to let everyone stretch their legs and admire the stalactites and stalagmites. Then it's an easy forest walk to the absurdly clear water of Te Waikoropupū Springs. Call in for an early dinner at The Mussel Inn and you might catch some live music if you're lucky.

Wharariki Holiday Park is a good base from which to explore Wharariki Beach — sand dune sliding aplenty, and Puponga Beach, by horseback if you fancy.

Hop aboard a tour of Farewell Spit to give the kids an impressive eyeful of oystercatchers, gannets and seal pups. Take a guided kayak tour from Tata Beach around the islands just offshore — look for playful seals, shags and penguins as you paddle out to the head of the Abel Tasman National Park. Opt to relax on Tata Beach for the afternoon, or if the kids are game, nearby Wainui Falls are a one-hour return walk, with swing bridges to keep the excitement levels high.

Take an easy walk to Te Waikoropupū Springs. Photo / Nelson Tasman
Take an easy walk to Te Waikoropupū Springs. Photo / Nelson Tasman

Heading back into Nelson, turn off for a meander through the pretty Moutere Hills, home to many artisan producers, and stop for lunch at Moutere Inn, one of New Zealand's oldest pubs.

2. Marlborough

Start in Blenheim to explore the surrounding wine country — the southern epicentre of sauvignon blanc.

Families will love hiring bikes (they offer e-bikes, kids' tag-alongs and baby seats) at Explore Marlborough and pedalling around the dead-flat surrounds to call into numerous cellar doors — Forrest Estate has outdoor games the kids will love.

The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is an outstanding attraction you should allow several hours for, kids or not.

Don't depart Blenheim without a meal at Arbour — the warm hospitality is bolstered by incredible cuisine, a delicious education in Marlborough produce, from juicy clams to sweet black garlic.

If you're aiming high in the Sounds, book a stay at five-star Bay of Many Coves: uninterrupted views of the teal-blue water, an all-seasons freshwater pool and hot tub, bush walks to waterfalls and lookouts, and fab dining in two cafes and a restaurant that hovers over the water.

If you can hold on for your mini-break for a month or so, take the family to Lochmara, which reopens in September — feed stingrays as they brush up against your ankles, chat with kākāriki, kayak the bay, and visit the underwater observatory.

Take a mail boat cruise that does what it says — delivers post and supplies to those living in remote parts of the Sounds — no day is the same as the route changes, and your skipper provides commentary to areas that few even know exist.

3. Kaikōura

One of the most ruggedly magnificent parts of the country, a dramatic coastline sandwiched between the endless Pacific and snow-capped mountains, Kaikōura is famous as one of the best places in the world for year-round whale-watching. It's a wonderful experience, so don't miss it — but once you've lived that special moment, there are plenty of other more hidden gems to be uncovered here.

Nin's Bin is one of the most famous stops in Kaikōura. Photo / Lisa Bond
Nin's Bin is one of the most famous stops in Kaikōura. Photo / Lisa Bond

You'll feel less like a tourist and more like a pampered cousin at Glencree Estate. This new family-run retreat offers guests the chance to explore its sheer cliffs, waterfalls and walking trails. Tour the estate by 4WD, go mountain biking or hunting, or take in the magnificence of the landscape with a mountaintop Champagne lunch.

Lavendyl Lavender Farm makes a lovely visit and as we get closer to spring, the pretty gardens will come alive. They look especially pretty next to the snowy mountain backdrop.

Forget smelly indoor rinks — hire a pair of skates on-site and go for a whirl on Lake Stella; nature's wallpaper beats disco lights and damp carpet any day.

Just opened and the perfect post-adventure spot, Bernie's is an all-out retro Americana diner, open seven days and serving shakes, sourdough bun burgers, hot dogs and more. With Harmon's Car Museum next door, you'll want to stay a while longer too.

Don't forget to get your koura fix at Nin's Bin or head to Karaka Lobster in nearby Okiwi Bay.

4. Hurunui

Encompassing much of North Canterbury, Hurunui is a veritable treasure trove of natural beauty, from wild beaches on the Pacific Coast to the snowy beginnings of the Alps. It's a great destination for those with a nose for the finer things in life.

With truffle farms in the area, the season (which runs until roughly the end of August) puts "black gold" on the menus of local eateries such as the award-winning bistro at Black Estate in the Waipara Valley — their vineyard B&B is also a great place to base yourself to explore wine country.

Warm up your winter break with a visit to Hanmer Springs. Photo / Supplied
Warm up your winter break with a visit to Hanmer Springs. Photo / Supplied

Bike the Waipara Vineyard Trail, taking in cellar doors and the Weka Pass Railway. Set aside an evening to take in the vibe and a tasting paddle of beers at Brew Moon in Amberley, and order wood-fired pizzas from the caravan in its courtyard.

The thermal springs at Hanmer never get tired and if your getaway is all about treating yourself, book in for a spa treatment as well. Lest you get too pampered, opt for one or two more energetic pursuits: Hurunui offers plenty, from bungy jumping, rafting and jet boating to ski slopes sports at Mt Lyford.

5. West Coast

After admiring some of the region's unique scenery in the screen adaptation of The Luminaries, the logical next step is to immerse yourself in it, and along with it, the Coast's legendary warm hospitality and relaxed pace of life. This is a place to take time out, turn the phone off (except for photos, perhaps) and soak up the tranquility.

Set the verdant theme by staying in a luxury treehouse at Franz Josef's Rainforest Retreat, and visit the nearby West Coast Wildlife Centre, home to a Kiwi breeding programme. Get a through-the-foliage view of Lake Mahinapua at West Coast Treetop Walkway, or climb its 40m tower for a more thrilling view.

Duck into the Coast's only inland town, Reefton: many of the shops and businesses have retained a 1900s feel, including Reefton Distilling, which produces whisky, gin, vodka and fruit liqueurs, and offers tours. From Reefton, take the excellently named Shenandoah Highway up into a remote corner of this region for a stay at Maruia River Retreat. There are great rates on at the moment for these luxury villas with a wellbeing centre and resident chef.

6. Lake Wānaka

Action stations! Pack your day in Wānaka to the brim with mornings in the snow, and afternoons on the bike. The crowds flock to Cardrona, so why not try your hand (and feet) at cross country skiing for a change? Snow Farm's activities are so reasonably priced — from the Fun Zone with tubes to slide on, or a half-day of cross-country with gear rental and lessons — a family break in the snow needn't be out of reach.

Dry off and get thee to Bike Glendhu: 30km of trails across 1000 stunning hectares, there are options for all levels.

As the winter chill begins to subside, wrap up warm to spend a morning on the lake — Paddle Wānaka's guided kayak or stand-up paddleboarding tours are the best way to ensure an unforgettable experience on this iconic body of water; these guys can also introduce you to the joy that is white water kayaking at this end of the mighty Clutha River.

Restore the balance with a delicious lunch at Florence's Foodstore, or gather goodies there and take your lunch to one of the many pretty picnicking spots: Glendhu Bay, Rocky Mountain, lakeside, or take an early dinner picnic to Bremner Bay — a stunning spot to enjoy the sunset.

7. Queenstown

Not into snow sports? Don't cross Queenstown off your list — there are so many adventures to be had that don't require strapping stiff slabs to your feet.

Helicopter access will get you to the coolest spots to kick up some snow without using your feet, with Queenstown Snowmobiles. Paraglide or hang glide off Coronet Peak for ultimate post-holiday bragging rights, or sign up for ziplining or jet boating.

Queenstown has much to offer for a short winter getaway. Photo / Destination Queenstown
Queenstown has much to offer for a short winter getaway. Photo / Destination Queenstown

Temper the adrenaline with less physical pursuits. Cargo Brewery at Gantley's, five minutes out of town, is a good pick for a post-action beverage and bite. Queenstown institution Flame Bar & Grill has new digs on Steamer Wharf with a beautiful cocktail bar to complement the braai-focused menu.

Sherwood has a new executive chef, Chris Scott, and his delicious winter menu highlighting sustainable local ingredients makes another great reason to book a stay there.

Book ahead for Amisfield Bistro, wild and foraged local fare is centre stage. Let the experts guide your taste buds with an Alpine progressive dinner tour, a small-group, 3.5-hour culinary jolly around Arrowtown, wine country and Lake Wakatipu.

En route to the airport, stop in at Country Lane for the Buzzstop Honey Centre, and Mount Michael winery's tasting room.

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