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Go NZ! Unexpected winter adventures in nature

Travel Journalist/Digital Producer

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Winter's come a-knocking but don't be a bear and hibernate. Sure you might want to put on the slippers and hunker down in front of the fire - but first, get out into nature and enjoy the cooler months with these adventures.

Scuba diving

Winter scuba diving is a truly special experience in Northland. The water is clear, calm and visibility underwater is exceptional; in fact you'll be able to see further in the winter than in spring. The water might be a few degrees cooler but don't let that put you off. You're also more likely to see seals in the winter months.

Further south in the Coromandel, the water is also clear and exciting. Hapuku Reef and Cathedral Cove are local favourite dive spots. And if you want to do some training, now's a great time to get a more advanced certification under your (weight) belt.

Surfing

Northland has warmer sea temperatures than the rest of the country, so water activities like surfing are just as popular in winter, especially when the winter swells roll in. Dedicated surfers like to head to beaches like Ahipara, which are extra quiet and uncrowded during winter.

A surfer heads into the water at Northland's Spirits Bay. Photo / Pamela Edmondson, Supplied
A surfer heads into the water at Northland's Spirits Bay. Photo / Pamela Edmondson, Supplied

West Auckland also has its pick of good surf beaches during winter - head to Piha, Muriwai or Karekare.

Mountain Biking

Jump on two wheels and explore the hundreds of kilometres of biking trails through Waikato. There are trails suitable for families and relaxed biking, such as along the riverside paths, as well as opportunities for serious mountain bikers to hurtle down the hills on the more rugged Waikato River Trail.

In the Coromandel, head to the Whangamatā Ridges Mountain Bike Park in the Tairua Forest. There are trails for all ages and abilities - and locals say the trails ride better in the winter.

Further south in Kaikōura, enjoy spectacular vistas such as the stunning Kaikōura coastline or the mountain ranges. Beginner or family trails include the Kōwhai River Bike Trail, a community project built by volunteers and keen cyclists. Or for a more adrenaline-fuelled adventure, advanced mountain bikers can attempt the 52-kilometre return trip up Mt Fyffe.

Hiking

New Zealanders are spoilt for choice when it comes to hiking trails in this country. But hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the winter is quite a feat and a great winter goal.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing becomes a winter wonderland mid-year. Photo / Supplied
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing becomes a winter wonderland mid-year. Photo / Supplied

The 19-kilometre track transforms into a winter wonderland, with the emerald lakes often surrounded by snow.

Aurora hunting

With dark skies and long nights, head south to try your luck at seeing the Southern Lights, the Aurora Australis.

Stewart Island is Southland's only dark sky sanctuary, awarded for its outstanding night sky quality. The further south you go, the greater the chance of seeing this magnificent light show. If you can't make it all the way to Rakiura, the most southern point on the South Island is Slope Point, or Nugget Point provides an alternative viewing point for the famous aurora.

On a really strong showing, you might be able to get a glimpse of the aurora from Queenstown.

Animal encounters

Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari protects an ancient Waikato ecosystem with one of the world's longest pest-proof fences. It's home to native wildlife such as kiwi, kōkako and tuatara, protected by 47 kilometres of predator-proof fence.

In Taranaki, spot the seals from an old Royal National Lifeboat Institution rescue boat. Chaddys' Charters will take you past the Sugar Loaf Islands where you can see the seals basking on the rocks, while guides give you a fascinating insight into the early history of the region.

If you're in Kaikōura, take a scenic flight to see its resident whales from above. Sperm whales and dusky dolphins are seen year-round, with other species passing through at various times of the year.

Enjoy the tranquillity of a cooler day at the Pūkorokoro-Miranda Shorebird Centre near Thames. This month has seen the departure of most of the godwits - but there are plenty of birds here to stay during the winter, such as wrybill, banded dotterel and oystercatchers.

In Taranaki, don the warm clothes and a beanie and head out on a guided night tour at Rotokare Scenic Reserve to try to spot kiwi. The reserve is a nursery and breeding site for kiwi, as well as being home to many other native plants and threatened wildlife species such as hihi, tieke and toutouwai.

Kayaking

Water sports are just as fun in the winter as the summer - and you're likely to find more secluded spots than during the busy summer months. The Nelson-Tasman region is famous for its kayaking opportunities in the Abel Tasman National Park. Paddle along the golden coast or mix the adventure up with a multi-day adventure combining kayaking one day, and hiking the next.

Kayaking at Torrent Bay, Abel Tasman National Park. Photo / nelsontasman.co.nz
Kayaking at Torrent Bay, Abel Tasman National Park. Photo / nelsontasman.co.nz

For more wildlife experiences while paddling, a kayaking tour along the Kaikōura coastline is guaranteed to show off the region's fur seals as they dive around your kayak. You can also opt for kayak tours that allow you to get up close to dolphins and whales.

Fishing

Charter a boat in the glorious Doubtful Sound in Fiordland for an ocean-to-plate experience. Spend the day fishing, pull up crayfish pots, spot the wildlife and enjoy this remote and isolated part of New Zealand in all its glory. Fish in the area include blue cod, hāpuku, tarakihi, kingfish, gurnard and bluenose.

Doubtful Sound. Photo / Videocopter, Supplied
Doubtful Sound. Photo / Videocopter, Supplied