Best time to go to New Zealand?

You know, it’s going to be great whenever you come to New Zealand, and people will travel here for different reasons. So if you’re coming here to ski, you probably don’t need our advice! Although… for what it’s worth, September is better than July!

That said, this is a question we’re asked A LOT, so we decided to come up with six compelling reasons to travel here at certain times of the year. And the good news is, these periods all fall outside of peak season!

Autumn Colours

New Zealand is green. There’s no two ways about it. You can’t really go anywhere without being confronted with rolling green hills and vast swathes of native forest. Even the waters of the Marlborough Sounds have a stunning emerald green colour. But we’ll not be accused of being so one dimensional! No. Not even when it comes to the colour of our landscape. In addition to the widespread green we enjoy here, there are a couple of areas you can take in shades of orange during our Fall months – Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes District and the McKenzie Country near Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.Best Time To Go To New Zealand

Best Time To Visit New Zealand
Autumn colours in Arrowtown – possibly one of New Zealand’s best Fall season locations

Cheapest Flights

Contrary to popular belief, New Zealand has more than one international airport. While Auckland airport takes care of most of our international arrivals and departures, there are six other international gateways. Most of which are no larger than the baggage claim area of LAX, but we only like to be grandiose and go over the top when it comes to things like scenery, our rugby team, and hospitality. Other international airports include: Wellington, Rotorua, Queenstown, Christchurch, Dunedin and uncle Bob’s farm shed on the West Coast.

Best Time To Go To New Zealand

Best Time To Come To New Zealand
Ok, so it’s not an international flight. But the good news is, this flight is free! As part of your ‘Tui’ wilderness experience

Lambing Season

Spring is a great time to be in New Zealand. Every August to October, the 40 million sheep in New Zealand multiply and become quite a few more (sorry – we can’t find the stats on this one). Our green landscape becomes dotted with tiny white lambs figuring out how to walk and follow their mother around the paddock. They’re also dropped in the deep end, so to speak, figuring out how to avoid ending up on the dining room table come Christmas time (roast lamb is especially popular as Christmas dinner in New Zealand). So if you want to see new born lambs before they’re part of the December menu, you’re best to visit in our Spring time.

Best Time To Go To New Zealand

Best Time To Visit New Zealand
A quintessential photo of New Zealand rural life – taken from Braemar Station, looking directly at Aoraki Mt Cook

Southern Lights

The northern hemisphere has the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights) and we have the Aurora Australis (the Southern Lights). Whilst the best time to get a view of this phenomenon (caused by the collision of gaseous particles in the atmosphere) in New Zealand is during our winter months, you should know that we’re actively lobbying Wikipedia to have the “Australis’ removed from the name. Just like all great New Zealand phenomena, Australia tries to steal the limelight. Not these lights though – they’re all our own!

If you’re keen to learn more, we recently bestowed our South Island wisdom on Expedia for their article, ‘Chasing the Southern Lights in New Zealand’, to help those who have taken up the quest of chasing the Southern Lights.

Best Time To Go To New Zealand

Best Time To Come To New Zealand
One of our Active coaches steeling the lime light on this occasion, on a stary night in the South Island

Rich Marine Life

With over 9,400 miles of coastline, there’re a few fish here. With a small population, strict commercial fishing rules and marine environment protections in place, it’s fair to say there’s an abundance of marine life. No more so than in places like the Bay of Islands, Kaikoura and Milford Sound. During our summer months you’d be hard pressed not to encounter some sort of fish, sea lion or dolphin while exploring our coastline.

Best Time To Go To New Zealand

Best Time To Come To New Zealand
The marine life in the Poor Knights Islands is incredible, whether you’re snorkelling or diving

Penguin Hotspots

Most people only associate penguins with Antarctica, but New Zealand is home to three penguin species – The Yellow-eyed penguin (hoiho), Fiordland crested penguin (tawaki) and the Little penguin (korora). You’ll find penguins in greater numbers in the South Island from August to February. Take note, seeing a penguin in New Zealand still makes you hear Morgan Freeman’s voice in your head. It’s unavoidable but who doesn’t like Morgan Freeman?

Best Time To Go To New Zealand

Best Time To Come To New Zealand
A yellow eyed penguin, found along parts of the East Coast of the South Island. Cute eh!

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Tour du Mont Blanc Guest Reflections

With Nancy’s permission, we’d like to share a note she sent to us, after her ‘Tour du Mont Blanc’ trip with Active Adventures Europe in June. It really sums up why we do what we do! Hopefully it helps to motivate you for your next adventure trip. Thanks for sharing Nancy!

Active Adventures Europe
Nancy, happy to be hiking the Mont Blanc Circuit!
Active Adventures Europe
Hiking on the Bovine Trail

“Hi Phil. I’m back home, suitcases unpacked and hiking boots put away for the next trip. Seems like the trip was months ago, until I look at the calendar and see that it was just two weeks ago that we said our goodbyes and set out in the van to Geneva.

Reflections on the trip are still sinking in, but this I know: The trip was everything we hoped for and more. We took a (calculated) leap of faith when we signed up for the Mt. Blanc circuit, new trip, new company (although we had long decided to go with you guys to New Zealand when the opportunity arose.) You’ve put together a really fine team, and seem to know in your bones what people like us look for and need on a trip like this. Good humor, fun, seriousness of purpose when serious things arise. And above all, responding to each traveler’s particular needs and challenges.

I will be ever grateful to you, Andy and Jean-Marc for seeing me through to the end of our incredible journey. The hiking was harder on me than I had expected (maybe altitude, I don‘t know.) But at the end of the eight days of hiking, I felt such a sense of accomplishment in having made it the whole way. And I did it with your support, your patience and your watchful eyes. There was one day when I was tempted to just head to the van, and I just knew I’d regret it. It was a proud moment, indeed, for me to stand with the group in the park on that last night knowing that I had contributed to us all completing the circuit. I saw just this morning that you had awarded me the trip hero. Thank you, thank you, and know that I know I did it with lots of help!

So, cheers. We’ll hope to see you if get up this way next year, and will be looking for our next trip with you guys. Keep in touch. Nancy.”

Active Adventures Europe
Jumping… and hiking on the Tour du Mont Blanc

 

Active Adventures Europe
In typical Active fashion, we like to mix things up with a bit of kayaking here and there. Here’s the group kayaking on Lake Annecy!

 

Active Adventures Europe
Being in the European Alps is as much about the food experience as it is about the hiking

Why you shouldn’t visit Starbucks when you come to Queenstown

It’s a real shame that Starbucks was allowed to set up shop in Queenstown. If that isn’t a hint as to the bias of this article, I’ll make it even clearer… If you actually do love Starbucks you should probably stop reading now. Or maybe step outside your comfort zone and keep reading, it might change your life, or at the very least it will hopefully encourage you to think twice before visiting the big green monster.

It actually amazes me that there are people in Starbucks when I walk past – I just went outside the Active office, down around the corner to the ‘local’ Starbucks to check, just to make sure they are actually real people inside. The only semi-plausible reason I can imagine for them being in there is the free WiFi (come on Queenstown, let’s get free WiFi in the CBD, then no one will go to Starbucks!)

OK, so let me set the scene a little…

Every year Phil and I travel to America to visit Active alumni, it’s a blast. It really is a fantastic adventure, where we’re able to explore a small part of our guest’s backyards and make sure we have our ‘finger on the pulse’, so to speak. We go out with our alumni on local hikes, we hold evening presentations and sometimes we opt for a good old fashioned dinner and catch up. We cherish these experiences and we believe that a bit of face to face time can really help to forge long lasting friendships.

We both have a knack for spotting the local establishments and we’ll often go out of our way to try and experience a place the way the locals would. We’ll opt for trains and busses over taxis, and local restaurants over chains. One thing we both struggle with though, is leaving behind our beloved flat white coffees. This is where it gets embarrassing. On our recent Roadshow we got sucked into the Starbucks vortex. The vortex that destroys small business and stands for everything we stand against. We needed free WiFi and we needed our double espresso, and once we found out how to order something that was marginally acceptable (a ‘double shot, short latte’) we were sucked in and spat out with bladders full of milk, on a daily basis.

Yes, it’s true, we’re coffee snobs here in New Zealand, I mean over-the-top, delusional coffee snobs. Hell, we’re even sceptical about coffee when we’re in Italy. That’s to say it’s truly a sorry state to find ourselves satisfying our coffee craving at Starbucks. At the risk of generalising, you could sum up American coffee culture as ‘big is better’. What Starbucks did was facilitate the transition from bottomless filter coffee to ‘tastes like milk’, ‘I’ll take a grande please’. To be fair, bottomless filter coffee wasn’t a great option in the first place, but at least it came hand in hand with a quirky, locally owned diner. It’s hard to find those diners these days… Capitalism and the ‘Walmart Effect’ eh.

The good news is, in New Zealand YOU STILL HAVE OPTIONS. We made a terrible mistake when we allowed Starbucks to come to Queenstown, but I’m determined to do my part here and encourage you to get your daily caffeine fix anywhere but Starbucks.

The benefits to you are numerous:

  • You’ll get a better coffee
  • Your coffee won’t be full of whipped cream or fake syrup
  • You’re more likely to be surrounded by locals, not tourists
  • You’ll be supporting a local business

Here are our Queenstown cafe recommendations:

Vudu Cafe & Larder

Vudu Larder Queenstown

Joes Garage

Joes Garage Queenstown

HALO Forbidden Bite Restaurant

Halo Queenstown

Bespoke Kitchen

Bespoke Kitchen Queenstown

Bob’s Weigh

Bob's Weigh Queenstown

That’s just a small selection. Next year on our Roadshow I vow to not visit a single Starbucks. Take on my challenge and don’t visit Starbucks when you come to Queenstown.

Make sure you read our tips on how to order a coffee when you’re here (or ask our guides to help you out!)

5 Adventurous Facts About Milford Sound

Milford Sound is without a doubt one of New Zealand’s most iconic destinations. When you’re dreaming about your trip, everything’s perfect. You see sunny blue skies, snow capped peaks, perfect photographs and a peaceful elegance… and you blind yourself to the possibility of unpredictable weather.

But Milford holds a few secrets that only a local will tell you, secrets that will inspire your sense of adventure.

1. Milford Sound is known as the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand.

With an average of almost 7,000mm of rainfall across 183 days of the year, I wouldn’t rely on getting a tan in Milford Sound. But don’t worry – something incredible happens when it rains…

Kayaking Milford Sound
Kayakers exploring the misty Milford Sound

2. Don’t worry about the weather, the perfect day is rain.

Sure, sunny blue skies are nice for keeping the camera dry, but the true explorer will pray for rain. The enormous granite peaks don’t absorb a drop of water and they have no beaches. The result is thousands of stunning waterfalls flowing straight into the fiord.

Kayaking Milford Sound Waterfall
Front row seats to a spectacular waterfall

3. The ocean is black.

The fiord is hundreds of meters deep, but the rainfall creates a layer of fresh water up to 6 meters deep, which sits on top of the ocean. All this rainfall washes a tannin from the forest, which stains the fresh water, resulting in its unique black appearance.

Kayaking Milford Sound
The deep, black, moody waters of Milford Sound

4. Milford Sound is NOT the Milford Track.

This is one of the most misunderstood facts about Milford. Milford Sound itself was regarded as the 8th Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling, it’s a fiord that’s surrounded by towering peaks, lush rainforest and incredible marine life.

The Milford Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and a very different experience to visiting Milford Sound. The hike is absolutely stunning, but the local government allows 90 people on the track each day (50 guided, 40 unguided), so it can get a little crowded. Plus you can only hike it for 6 months of the year, whereas Milford Sound itself is accessible year-round.

Wouldn’t you rather wake up in Milford, sea kayak on the misty fiord as the sun rises, then venture off on a stunning bush hike that’s hidden from the crowds of tourists? I know I would.

The Milford Track
The mountains leading into Milford Sound

5. Save your time researching accommodation, there’s only one place to stay!

Flanked by the Darran Mountains, the Milford Lodge is 2 kilometres from the head of the fiord and it’s the only accommodation available in Milford Sound. If you’d like to splash out, upgrade to the luxury riverside chalets… you won’t be disappointed.

The Milford Lodge
Milford Lodge – Photo Credit @LarssonPhotography

Killing Time in a Backcountry Hut

It probably doesn’t come as a great surprise that around 30% of New Zealand is public land, and a lot of it covered by 18 incredible National Parks. What you may not know, though, is that there are over 950 back country huts throughout the country (accessible to the public). They come in all shapes and sizes with varying levels of ‘luxury’ and charm.

Some of these – the most charming of the lot – date back to the 1800s and are the foundation for our Kiwi love affair with the ‘back country hut’.

There’s so many memories tied up in these huts. So many friendships forged, heroes born and, probably, people conceived! There is a certain routine that happens – it’s a totally enjoyable routine that to a kiwi usually ‘just happens’ without thought – like foraging for dry wood. And in between this routine there’s time to kill and fun to be had.

So we came up with an idea. Let’s break down the routine and also give you a few ideas for how to create uncontrollable laughter and grins from ear to ear, in a backcountry hut (you could supplement that for tea house, tent, refugio and so on!)

Here’s the routine…

Tired legs turn the last bend along the trail, only to discover that it is in fact not the last bend and the trail continues to meander along the valley floor. This goes on for a while until the ‘real’ last bend rewards you with the welcoming site of shelter.

Angelus Hut
And there it is, our home for the night! Angelus Hut in the Nelson Lakes National Park.

Spirits lift and energy comes seemingly from nowhere. Enough even, to scrounge for dry firewood on the approach to the hut.

You ease your pack off tired shoulders, a pack heavier than it needs to be, with a bladder of red wine. You hang up your hiking poles and examine your toes out of your boots. 

Boots at a Backcountry Hut
Boots drying after a day’s hiking

Damp boots and socks now lay resting next to the sizzling wood fire. No one cares about the odor. It’s worth it.

Food is a priority. Everyone chips in – or maybe it’s someone’s turn and you’re lucky enough to put your legs up. At any rate, snacks arrive quick smart.

Backcountry Hut Food
Hut food is the best!

Dinner happens. It’s epic. You look around the room in the aftermath to flushed faces, enjoying the warmth from their hearty meal, their home-made mulled wine and the glow from the fire – your new best friend.

Backcountry Hut Glow
Backcountry Hut Glow

You lie snug in your sleeping bag listening to the old guard wax lyrical with hero stories. In this particular story the old guard was a NYC fireman sharing riveting, ‘real’ stories, better than any Hollywood movie. Rain tipper-tapers on the roof lulling you away to the best sleep you’ve had in ages. 

OK, so all that happens. That stuff needs to happen. That’s basic survival stuff really. Shelter, food, rest. But what about the other stuff. The fun that happens spontaneously. Well, there’s no harm in having a few tricks up your sleeve. Here’s our favourites:

Spoons

This really is a classic, and we’d like to think it’s an Active speciality. And the best part is, you’re guaranteed to have spoons with you (if you don’t, something has gone terribly wrong!). The game is simple really – place a number of spoons on a table (1 less than the amount of people playing) and make sure they’re evenly spaced so everyone sitting around the table can reach one. Grab a full pack of shuffled cards and deal 4 cards to each player. Nominate someone to draw a card off the top of the face down deck so they have 5 cards in their hand – they need to discard one and they’re trying to get 4 of a kind. They’ll discard a card and then pick another – the quicker they do this, the faster-paced the game and the more exciting it becomes. The first person to get 4 of a kind grabs a spoon and then everyone has to grab one. The person who misses out on a spoon is OUT. If you go for a spoon before you’ve got 4 of a kind you’re out. Faking is allowed though, most definitely, as long as you don’t touch the spoon! Here’s a short video of a recent spoons game on an Active trip, in this case not a backcountry hut, but you get the idea!

Star gazing

So you’re going to need a nice, clear night for this. If you’re really lucky you might be on our ‘Winter Rimu‘ trip, relaxing in the natural hot springs at Welcome Flat, on the Copland Track. It’s a dreamy experience to lay under the stars and listen to the natural sounds of the forest, whilst you rest your tired legs. It’s also a pretty special way to bond together as a group.

Star Gazing
Star Gazing from a NZ backcountry hut

Uno

More colourful than your average card game, essentially it’s all about getting rid of  your cards. Each suit has a colour (red, yellow, blue or green) and a number. Like a normal game of cards, you’ll follow the circle around and place a card from the 7 in your hand, onto the pile (so long as it’s the same number OR colour as the previously laid card).  The tactics begin when you change the colour to suit yourself (by laying the same number in a different colour) or by throwing down a ‘wild card’…  Sprinkled through the pack are ‘specialty cards’ which could either mean your neighbour has to pick up another 2, 4 or even 8 new cards to add to their hand, skip their go or switch the direction of play – which may or may not make you some new friends and enemies! Once you’re down to a single card in your hand, you have to shout ‘UNO!’ and the first person to lay down their final card wins. Pick up the pace, add a few more rules to the game and you’ve got yourself an evening of fun as well as a great way to make some new hut-friends (unless you screw them over…!).

Meet the wildlife

Many of our backcountry huts are situated in beautiful alpine environments, so when you visit one of these huts you’ll be sharing your home with the Kea, an endemic South Island parrot. The kea is thought to have developed its own special characteristics during the last great ice age, by using its powers of curiosity in its search for food in a harsh landscape. It’s a highlight for many, to sit and watch as inquisitive Kea fly around the hut. Just make sure your belongings are inside and please don’t feed them!

Kea
Endemic NZ Alpine Parrot – the Kea

Build a dam

Assuming you have some energy left. There’s nothing more satisfying than diverting a stream’s river flow. Even if it’s only for half an hour. Unleash the engineer within and get to work! A dam, with 100% no end goal, is a beautiful thing.

Bananagrams

It’s the “anagram game that will drive you bananas!” If you’re OK about calling out ‘Peel’, ‘Split’ and ‘Bunch’ in a public hut, and judged accordingly, this game is for you.

Look for glow worms

You’ll need a local guide for this. Coerce them into an evening tour and go to find some glow worms. It’s like star gazing but you don’t need to crane your neck!

NZ Glow worms
NZ Glow worms. Image courtesy of nz-trip.com

Whittle a walking stick

So you’ve built a dam and you’ve still got some energy. It must be the middle of summer and the days are long, allowing for extra MacGyver time. You’ll need a good bush knife for this and remember to whittle away from you, not towards your body! Don’t cut down our native tress either, please find a tree that’s already fallen down naturally. A Lancewood would do the trick. Oh, and be careful about trying to take your new walking stick through customs on your homeward journey…

Bush rummy

You’ll need at least two packs of cards for this game and any number of players. It would take a whole post to explain the rules of bush rummy, so you’re going to need a resident expert within your group. Essentially though, it’s based off gin rummy, but once you go past the first round you can place cards down at any time – you don’t have to wait your turn. So like many of the games listed here, it can get pretty crazy!

Country-themed sing along

One of the brilliant surprise elements of a backcountry hut experience is the mix of people you’ll be sharing your evening with. It’s like the fun part of flatting, without the hassle of having to do it day in/day out. You’ll always find some banter, whether it be around sport, politics or pop culture. And if you’ve got a merry crowd you might just get into a good old fashioned sing-along – so bring along a ukulele if you have one (and can carry it)!

Tantrix

We had to include this game – it’s from New Zealand! Tantrix is “the world’s most twisted puzzle game!” So what is it exactly? It’s a hexagonal tile-based abstract game. Huh? There are 56 tiles in a set, each containing 3 lines going from one edge of the tile to the other. The aim is to use the tiles to create the longest line or loop. It’s probably best if you invite Miriam along on your next backcountry hut adventure – she’s our resident Tantrix expert.

Tantrix Backcountry Hut games
Tantrix – we thought you’d need a photo to understand it!

Cards against humanity

If we need to explain this game, you’ve been hiding under a rock.