What It’s Like to Travel New Zealand in Winter

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

Meet Riva, one of our Stray reservations superstars:

Stray staff members are encouraged to hop-on the bus whenever they can and Riva recently scored the chance to travel in the South Island on a Stew pass. 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:

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 snowsports might think that winter is the worst time to travel 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 in Queenstown. 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!

Te Anau to Gunns Camp

Our first night together in Gunns Camp was a real experience! It felt like we were back in the 80’s 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!

Gunns 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 – Traveler 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 to Queenstown

Today we drove to my favourite place in the South Island: Queenstown! The snow-capped mountains were mindblowing (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 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 and then, 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!

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 cafe 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!

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 new-found appreciation for travelling at this time of year. If you’re thinking about travelling in winter then my advice would be: DO IT!

Whether you’re a snow bunny or a beach babe, New Zealand is incredible all year round. Grab one of our bus passes and travel for up to 12 months to get the best of both summer and winter!


Originally from Birmingham, UK. Favourite Stray stop: Tongariro National Park. Fun fact: she has done every Bungy Jump in New Zealand.

South Island experience

Explore the best the South Island has to offer. See the highlights on a Stray Tour and lots of the hidden gems. See more. Do more. That's what Stray is all about.

Explore all of New Zealand

Explore the North and South Island on a Stray Tour. Hike some of NZ's best tracks and kayak at sunrise to name a few of the amazing things you will see and do.

See the North Island

Hop on the Stray Tour that will take you from Auckland to Wellington. But there's more. It will take you to all the amazing things to do & see in between.

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