Heading to New Zealand this winter and expecting blizzards, whiteouts, and sub-zero temperatures? Well, hang on, before you pack your snowshoes, you need to know that New Zealand winters aren’t quite as extreme as what our Northern Hemisphere cousins experience.
In fact, here in Franz Josef, winter temperatures are pretty tolerable (by most standards!). Situated at a low altitude and very close to the coast, daytime winter temperatures in Franz Josef sit between 5 – 15°C (41-57°F). Occasionally, there may be a snowfall in the township during winter, but it’s a rare occurrence. Most of the snowfall is up in the mountains. And as that snow is what feeds our glaciers, we’re happy to see it falling.
Our best advice for exploring the West Coast during winter is to put on an extra layer and get out there and enjoy the extra-special scenery. There are plenty of perks to travelling during winter, here are just a few.
1. It’s quieter
During winter, it’s business as usual for just about all the activities around Franz Josef Glacier. Glacier heli-hike trips continue to run and most of the major tracks and walks remain open. But the experience will be nothing like it is during the peak summer months when Glacier Country is packed to the rafters. During winter, things are a lot quieter and you’ll have the opportunity to spend plenty of quiet moments soaking in the scenery. It’s also one of the best times of year to avoid a busload of tourists wandering through your shot.
2. Super-sized Scenery
Travel anywhere around the South Island during winter and you’re in for some amazing sights. With the mountains looking spectacular covered in snow, you have the opportunity to capture some beautiful photos. Try heading to Lake Matheson, just out of Fox Glacier, for incredible reflections of surrounding snow-capped peaks. And if you’re planning on hiking, you’ll find most of the tracks and trails open throughout winter. Some of the major walks in the area like Copland Track or Alex Knob Track cross alpine passes and may be closed after a snowfall. If you’re doing any hiking around the West Coast during winter, always check with DOC before heading out. Conditions can change quickly and you can quickly find yourself in trouble if you’re not able to get safely home or to a hut.
3. Great weather for glaciers
During the winter months, Franz Josef Glacier slows down because there is less ice melt occurring. With less water flowing under the glacier, there is less movement, so ice fractures (like crevasses and ice caves) stay around for longer. Exploring a blue ice cave on a glacier is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Winter also brings clear, settled weather. Temperatures may be colder, but the calm weather means better conditions for helicopters. During winter, the glacier sparkles as it is kept clean by snowfall and cold temperatures. If you have a chat to a glacier guide, they’ll probably tell you that winter is one of the most spectacular times of year for hiking.
If you’re visiting New Zealand this winter for skiing or snowboarding, then the South Island won’t disappoint. A day’s drive south of Franz Josef Glacier, you’ll find Queenstown and Wanaka that offer great ski fields and even better nightlife. For a classic New Zealand experience, why not visit one of the small club fields throughout the South Island. For skiing untouched by modern machinery, check out Roundhill, Mt Dobson or Temple Basin.
A note about winter driving
During winter, always check the road conditions before you set off. Some of the major South Island routes like Arthurs Pass, Lindis Pass or Lewis Pass are subject to closures due to snow or ice. Roads are often gritted, so drive carefully. Winter road condition updates are available on the NZTA website (http://www.nzta.govt.nz/traffic/current-conditions/highway-info/road/8373/south-island.html)
Winter in New Zealand offers plenty of pros with very few cons. If you’re planning a visit, don’t be put off by the cooler temperatures. With photo opportunities like this, you won’t regret it.