Should you travel New Zealand in winter if you’re a fan of sunshine and warmth?

What happens when you take an Island girl, used to tropical temperatures, and send her on the Stray bus in the middle of winter in NZ? Was it a recipe for disaster or an unexpected match made in heaven? Let’s find out!

Stray staff members are encouraged to join the Stray bus whenever they can and Riva scored the chance to travel in the South Island. Originally from Samoa, she loves the sunshine, sea and sand and tends to hibernate when the cold weather comes around so this was definitely a leap outside of her comfort zone. Here’s what it’s really like to travel in New Zealand in winter when you’re a sun worshiper.

A woman on a boat
Meet Riva, one of our Stray reservations superstars

I was excited to get out of the office and head down to the South Island for a few days but I wasn’t sure what to expect when travelling off-peak. Anyone who doesn’t love snow sports might think that winter is the worst time to travel in New Zealand (I was one of those people… oops) but turns out there’s a lot more good than bad about travelling at this time of year!

I hopped on the Stray bus, the weather was pretty cold and I was wearing way more layers than I was used to wearing in Auckland. Not going to lie – I was starting to wonder if I’d survive the trip! Make sure to take plenty of warm clothes: hat, gloves, scarf, puffer jacket, raincoat, you name it. Layers are KEY!

Queenstown to Te Anau

The first stop on my Stray trip was amazing – the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ a.k.a Milford Sound. The sun disappeared when we arrived and I was pretty sad at first – blue skies make for the best pictures. However, much to my surprise, it turned out to be 10x more magical in the rain. The waterfalls were incredible and the landscape looked so mysterious and eerie in the mist. I’ve never seen anything like it!

Waterfalls at Milford Sound
‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ a.k.a Milford Sound

Te Anau to Gunn’s Camp

Our first night together in Gunn’s Camp was a real experience! It felt like we were back in the ’80s with limited access to technology (no reception and no WiFi). Anyone who knows me might think that this would be my definition of a nightmare (I’m a Snapchat-oholic) but I ended up LOVING it!

We all got to know each other by the fireplace with a cup of tea – telling stories about our travels and making memories under the stars. It was suuuuper cold at night but we had plenty of jumpers and blankets to keep warm. Plus, I’d already discovered the main pro of travelling in winter: The nights are longer and the stars are breathtaking! This really is one of the most magical ‘Strademark’ stops!

The huts at Gunn's Camp
Gunn’s Camp felt like we were back in the ’80s

Gunn’s Camp to Stewart Island

On the second day, we made our way to Stewart Island. I ended up snapping two wheels off my suitcase whilst lugging it from the bus to our accommodation. Lesson learned. Traveller backpacks are SO much better than suitcases, especially during winter when the weather conditions are more extreme! It rained quite heavily all day so we decided to head to the bar for some dinner and drinks.

Afterwards, a few of us went out to look for kiwis. Kiwi birds are nocturnal and winter is one of the best times to spot them on Stewart Island – It’s a #nzmustdo!

Stewart Island off South Island, New Zealand
Going bird watching on Stewart Island

Stewart Island to Queenstown

Today we drove to my favourite place in the South Island: Queenstown! The snow-capped mountains were mind-blowing (I’d never seen snow before!) and I can only imagine how awesome it would be to go skiing or snowboarding up there. Queenstown still has an incredible ‘buzz’ during winter and there are a ton of adventure activities on offer all year round.

I can’t even stomach a theme park ride, so I didn’t have the courage to do a Bungy jump but I did do some lovely short walks. Make sure to head up Queenstown Hill for an epic view of the lake and mountains!

Queenstown in winter
Queenstown in winter

Queenstown to Mount Cook

The drive to Mt Cook was one of my favourites! Seeing the gorgeous, bright turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki and the amazing mountain ranges – I was so glad to have scored a window seat! We stopped to take some photos on the way.

Once we got to Mt. Cook, a group of us did the Hooker Valley walk. Come rain or shine, this is one of the best walking trails in New Zealand. We saw swing bridges, flowing rivers, frozen glacier lakes and icebergs. You need to add this walk to your New Zealand bucket list immediately!

The Hooker Valley walking trail in New Zealand
Hooker Valley walk is one of the best walking trails in New Zealand, no matter the weather

Mt Cook to Christchurch

On the last day of my trip, we drove through Tekapo towards Christchurch. I’ve always wanted to visit Lake Tekapo in the summer when the lupins are flowering but I think winter is an equally amazing time to visit.

You can go ice skating, relax in the hot springs, hike up to the Mt John observatory or just kick back in a café with some good food and a book. Once we arrived in Christchurch, I had to go straight to the airport to catch my flight back to Auckland but I really wanted to stick around for a few more nights and explore the city. Maybe next time!

Birds in a tree in New Zealand
Meet the locals in winter in New Zealand

Overall, I had an amazing time travelling the South Island in July. I don’t think I’m ready to betray my beloved summer for winter just yet but I definitely have a newfound appreciation for travelling at this time of year. If you’re thinking about travelling in winter then my advice would be: DO IT!

Check out our NZ winter tour dates and itineraries and choose your perfect winter Stray tour of New Zealand.

Stray guest writer profile picture

Travel Mate (guest blogger)

Have you travelled on a Stray tour in New Zealand, Australia or Asia? How about creating a blog post about your experience? Or are you a frequent traveller and want to add your travel knowledge to our travel blog? Get in touch. We welcome relevant guest posts.

These New Zealand tours will depart soon!

New Zealand is a tiny country that packs a scenic punch! Explore New Zealand the 'Stray' way - getting further off the beaten track, seeking out one-of-a-kind experiences and meeting a bunch of epic fellow adventurers.
All tours are Stray Journey small group tours!

Wanderlust - See it All in NZ

24 days - starts & ends in Auckland

On this trip, you get the best combination of nature, relaxation, beautiful scenery and adrenaline. In 24 days, you will experience beautiful nature consisting of rainforests, mountains and volcanoes.

Takahe - South Island Tour

11 days - starts & ends in Christchurch

From the golden sands of Abel Tasman National Park to the West Coast’s glaciers and rainforests, the party and adventure capital of Queenstown, to the “Roof of Aotearoa” Mt Cook National Park.

Ruru - All of NZ Tour

18 days - starts in Auckland, ends in Christchurch

Hike some of New Zealand’s best tracks, kayak at sunrise, taste a delicious traditional hangi meal, bathe in a hot thermal stream surrounded by native bush.

Or check out these articles for more travel inspiration

Discover the thriving community of local artists offering a distinct Kiwi sound. Our favourite artists to see live.

If you’re a true music lover as well as an avid traveller, then you’re probably inclined to check out the local music scene in every new destination you visit. New Zealand may be small, but travelling music buffs shouldn’t be […]

Read More

Can you explore New Zealand without a driving licence? Is it possible to get off the beaten path without one?

New Zealand is one big playground. There is always something to climb on, jump out of, hike to, a path or a trail to follow… You name it, New Zealand has it! Aotearoa truly is one of the world’s ultimate […]

Read More

Our sustainable traveller’s bible will help you to live your best life – without it costing the earth

We all share a common goal: more travel, and less impact. There’s an overwhelming amount of information (and disinformation) about how to be more sustainable, and we know that when you’re travelling, it becomes 10 times harder. We’ve put together […]

Read More
Scroll to Top