Learn which 7 places in New Zealand are the best to visit in winter to see snow on mountains, and in particular on the South Island of New Zealand.
I’m assuming that you want to visit New Zealand in winter to see snow on the mountains and not because you think that it’s low season in New Zealand – because it’s not.
Winter in New Zealand runs from June to August and can be one of the busiest periods in New Zealand. Many visitors come from overseas to enjoy skiing and snowboarding, and many New Zealanders take time off in July to visit ski fields.
While some mountains have snow on their tops all year round – so even in summer – you increase your chances of seeing snow on most mountains when you visit New Zealand in winter.
The best New Zealand Island to visit to see snow on mountains during winter is the South Island of New Zealand where the Southern Alps are located.
While you could visit the North Island to see snow on mountains, for example, Mount Taranaki or Mount Ruapehu, you’ll have the greatest choice of places on the South Island of New Zealand. And in my opinion, the best places to see snow in winter are located on the South Island.
So what are the best places to visit in New Zealand during winter to see snow on mountains? I’d like to recommend visiting the following locations when going from north to south on the South Island of New Zealand…
The Kaikoura Range, which forms the backdrop to Kaikoura and the Kaikoura Coast, is often snow-capped in winter. The only thing about Kaikoura is that you must visit it during a period when it’s not raining to be able to enjoy the views.
If it is raining and you’re into wildlife, you can visit the seals, which tend to lie down on coastal rocks not too far from the town center. Just follow the Esplanade, Avoca Street, and Fyffe Quay to the parking lot at Point Kean. You may find some seals lying down on the parking lot there.
If the weather is good, you can walk on the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, which skirts the coast and provides good views from higher ground. The walk starts at the parking lot at Point Kean. Check the weather forecast and whether the trail is open before you visit.
This region is known for its Lord of the Rings scenery, but what you should know is that there are several lakes and mountains in and around Hakatere that look gorgeous with snow in winter.
You can follow either Hakatere Potts Road or Hakatere Heron Road to get to lakes – Lake Camp and Lake Heron – to see snow-capped or snow-covered mountains, but please be aware that these roads are gravel roads that are best driven on in a 4WD car.
Another option is to drive past Lake Clearwater toward Mount Potts and Mount Sunday. While you can walk to Mount Sunday, you do not have to go all the way to start seeing mountains with snow. Before the Hakatere Potts Road dips down, the views should be good enough for a nice photograph.
The Mackenzie District – which includes the towns of Fairlie, Twizel, and Tekapo – is almost always guaranteed to have snow in winter because of its high elevation. You can drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo in 2.5 to 3 hours, depending on the amount of traffic on the road.
Lake Tekapo, for example, is located at an elevation of around 700 meters (2,297 ft). So if snow is expected to fall down to 500 meters (1,640 ft), you can expect the mountains around Lake Tekapo to be entirely snow covered.
At Lake Tekapo you can either follow the Mount John Walkway and walk up Mount John or drive up to the Mount John Observatory to enjoy scenic views of snow on the mountains surrounding Lake Tekapo. You can also drive for about 30 minutes from Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki to see Mount Cook – if it’s not in the clouds – and Ben Ohau Range. Both should have a good amount of snow on them.
Lindis Pass is a joy to drive through in winter, but you have to catch it on a good, sunny day. Lindis Pass tends to be plagued by fog during winter, so you won’t enjoy much of the winter scenery if you catch it on a bad day.
Also be aware that Lindis Pass is a mountain pass, so you must carry snow chains because the road is almost always guaranteed to have either snow, ice, or both on it during winter.
Note that Lindis Pass can be closed if road conditions are too hazardous, so check ahead of time whether Lindis Pass is open before attempting to drive through it in winter.
A drive in Ahuriri Conservation Park forms a good side trip to Lindis Pass. Just like in Hakatere Conservation Park, you do not have to drive all the way to get scenic views of mountains. You only have to drive about 6.5 km (4 mi) or 11 minutes on Birchwood Road to reach a point where you can get nice views of the Ahuriri River and the mountains surrounding the valley.
Lake Wanaka is a good place to visit any time of the year. However, in winter, the mountains surrounding Lake Wanaka are either snow capped or snow covered. But just like Lindis Pass, you must catch Wanaka on a good day because it also tends to be plagued by fog and low-hanging clouds in winter.
If you do catch it on a good day, you can walk up Mount Roy to enjoy gorgeous scenic views of Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring. Just make sure you check the weather conditions and heed any warnings of avalanches.
Driving on State Highway 85 through Central Otago is a joy in winter. You can drive from either Clyde or Alexandra to Omakau, Lauder, and then on to Idaburn. On the way to Idaburn, you’ll enjoy gorgeous views of Hawkdun Range with snow.
But again, like Lindis Pass and Wanaka, this region tends to be plagued by fog. So to enjoy views of Hawkdun Range, it is best to do this scenic drive on a cloudless or partly cloudy day. If you do catch it on a foggy day and the days have been very cold with freezing temperatures, you might get to see unearthly views like the one in the following photo.
Queenstown can be a busy place in winter because there are several ski fields in its vicinity. If you’re not into skiing, you can also go snowshoeing on trails that are ordinarily used as walking trails in spring, summer, or autumn such as the Queenstown Hill Time Walk and several trails on The Remarkables.
And if you’re into scenic driving, you can drive up Crown Range Road to reach a scenic lookout to enjoy views of snow-covered mountains. Beware that Crown Range Road goes through a mountain pass, so you’ll be required to carry chains when you drive up this road and fit them when signs tell you to do so. Note that you can be fined if you ignore such signs.
I always like to throw in bonuses, so this is an extra place I’d like to recommend for winter…
On the West Coast, you’ll not only be able to enjoy coastal views, but when looking east, you’ll be able to see the snow-capped Southern Alps. Lake Matheson would be an ideal place to visit in winter. And while you’re there, you can also visit Fox Glacier. Surprisingly enough, the West Coast enjoys fairly good weather during winter.
So there you have it... eight of the best places to visit in New Zealand in winter to see snow. I hope you enjoy the snow on the mountains when you visit the South Island of New Zealand.
I’ll leave you with the following video that displays a collection of photos that were shot during winter in New Zealand. The photos should give you a good idea of the amount of snow and the weather conditions you can expect in winter and especially on the South Island of New Zealand.
Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
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