Winter is the coolest time to visit Christchurch – and not just because the average temperatures are a chilly 3-12 degrees. A cover of winter snow takes the already spectacular scenery within easy reach of the city to a whole new level (like New Zealand needed any help there!).
The cool, crisp and clear air also delivers ideal stargazing conditions. Then there are the hip bars and eateries, fashionable festivals, and easy access to the country’s top ski resorts and thermal springs to enjoy. Pack your puffer jacket, scarf and beanie and enjoy these eight amazing Christchurch winter experiences. Book your accommodation at ChoiceHotels.com. [Some of the activities below might be restricted or postponed due to COVID19, please check details on their website before you plan or book]
1. Hit the slopes at Mount Hutt
With 366 hectares of skiable terrain and an enviable average annual snowfall of four metres, it’s hard to beat Mount Hutt for getting a dose of kiwi powder. In fact, Mount Hutt has been named New Zealand’s best ski resort four years in a row at the Annual World Ski Awards. Just 90 minutes’ drive from downtown Christchurch, Mount Hutt has ski and snowboard runs suitable for all skill levels, dedicated learning areas and terrain parks. If you’re not into skiing or snowboarding, there’s still plenty to do at the snow. Take a scenic ride on a chair lift or give sledding a go. The après ski options are also extensive.
2. Enjoy some starry, starry nights
Winter brings ideal conditions for stargazing to New Zealand’s South Island. The air is cooler and drier, the nights longer and darker, and the Milky Way stretches across the night sky high overhead. A winter stargazing highlight is the rise of Matariki – the Māori name for the Pleiades star cluster – that traditionally signals the start of Māori New Year. The Canterbury Astronomical Society hosts open nights at its observatory and telescope on Fridays throughout winter. It’s located just a short drive west of the city.
3. Attend a premier winter festival
Christchurch and the Canterbury region hold a well-earned reputation for bold art – particularly street art. The Christchurch Arts Festival is an annual winter highlight that heroes the city’s diverse creative scene. The festival promises to warm up winter with a week of inspiring light, sound, food, movement and experimental works by local Canterbury-based artists. Surround yourself with award-winning gardens and book your stay at Quality Hotel Elms or Econo Lodge Canterbury Court. You can also book your stay in a comfortable Riccarton accommodation, located minutes from the Christchurch CBD, at the Quality Suites Amore.
4. See the snow-capped summit scenery
Canterbury’s famed landscape spanning from the sea to mountain summits becomes even more spectacular when dressed in fallen snow. One of the best ways to enjoy views towards the snow-clad Southern Alps is on a hot air balloon flight. Ballooning Canterbury can take you soaring at sunrise. Have your camera ready – the cool winter temperatures bring clearer air and stunning photo opportunities. Champagne is served on touch down. A trip on the famous TranzAlpine train is the perfect way to take in the scenery from ground level. The train traverses the Canterbury Plains and Southern Alps on its 223-kilometre journey from Christchurch to Greymouth. Enjoy a short hike in the snow at the railway’s highest point at Arthur’s Pass.
5. Cozy up in a cocktail bar
Christchurch boasts a great selection of inviting bars where you can curl up on a comfy couch and sip a cocktail or a whisky. Voted Christchurch’s best bar in 2017 and 2018, O.G.B at the Old Government Building has an extensive cocktail menu and also does a tummy-warming mulled wine. In historic New Regent Street, The Last Word is a whisky lover’s dream. Choose your preferred drop from the range of 100+ whiskies from around the globe. Looking for some of the best places to eat in Christchurch, we’ve got them for you here!
6. Take a stroll in a heritage winter garden
Christchurch Botanic Gardens is a fabulous place to chill out all year round, but it has an extra ethereal beauty in winter. The group of historic conservatories are especially inviting at this time of year. The gorgeous Cunningham House has a traditional winter garden featuring a huge range of tropical plants from all over the world. There are also conservatories dedicated to flowering blooms and alpine plants. The gardens’ Ilex Café is a great place to warm up over coffee and cake or a pretty decent meat pie.
7. Book a night at the theatre
A night at the theatre or cinema is a wonderful way to keep cozy on a cool winter’s eve. Historic Isaac Theatre Royal has been at the heart of Christchurch’s arts scene for more than a century. Its packed programme features concerts, theatre, ballet and cinema. In winter, it’s the Christchurch base for the New Zealand International Film Festival (NIFF). The festival runs throughout August.
8. Take a plunge in a thermal pool
And finally, there’s no better way to warm up in the middle of a Christchurch winter than to take a dip in the thermal pools of Hanmer Springs. Located 90 minutes’ drive from Christchurch, Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa is home to several naturally heated pools in a tranquil garden setting. The mountain backdrop is stunning. With the warmest of the pools at 40-42 degrees, there’s no danger of feeling the chill once you’re in the water. Getting in and out, well, that’s another story!
About the writer
Louise Reynolds is a Melbourne-based freelance travel writer. Louise made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world – and has so far visited around 30 countries spread across five continents. Her favourite way to explore the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America and New Zealand.