Winter Refit in New Zealand: What to do, what to do?

15 May 2009 By Jeanette Tobin

Find yourself in a refit yard in New Zealand for the winter? (And by winter, we of course mean summer – and the Med season – in the Northern Hemisphere.) A yard period gives crew the perfect opportunity to head off on the weekends to enjoy the unique attributes of the tiny bit of paradise in the South Pacific known as New Zealand.

Winter in New Zealand has much to offer crew. From the “winterless north” Bay of Islands to the ski fields of the South Island and everything in between, there is certainly something for every crewmember.

Subtropical Northland is the warmest place to be during June, July and August. The landscape is lush, green and well watered by regular rainfall. A hike through the native forests of Waitangi and Waipoua is the perfect way to spend an afternoon. Be sure to hug the mighty kauri, Tane Mahuta – New Zealand’s oldest living tree.

If you want to stick close to the sea, check out Cape Reinga where you can sit and watch the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide with magnificent force and beauty. Both Ninety Mile Beach and Ahipara on Northland’s west coast are a surfer’s paradise in the summer and winter. If you can steal a few days away from the yard, small beach houses can be rented for the weekend.

On a clear day, take in Auckland Harbour. The city views from the top of North Head, Mount Eden or Bastion Point are stunning. You can also catch a ferry to Rangitoto and hike to the summit – the air is crisp, so there's no chance of overheating on the way up.

If you’re in the mood to kick back and relax, Waiheke Island, New Zealand’s Martha’s Vineyard, is a 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. Rent a house for the weekend and sample the boutique vineyards and top-notch restaurants.

In Auckland itself, there's always something happening. Rugby, a seeming obsession of the Kiwis, is on everywhere during the weekend – whether international games or local derbys. Grab a pie, a beer and take off to Eden Park for a bit of sport.

The “Wild West” coast is home to black sand beaches, and at only 40 minutes from downtown Auckland, they're a must see. Talk a walk or go for a horseback ride in the afternoon before relaxing with coffee or hot chocolate at one of the small cafes in the area.

For the motorhead crew, there are plenty of motocross and mountain bike trails throughout Auckland’s forests, as well as go karting, a perennial favorite.

Known as the City of Sails, Auckland has plenty of winter yacht racing on the Hauraki Gulf on week nights and weekends. Yachts are always looking for extra crew – helping out is a great way to keep your hand in and hone your small boat skills.

Forget the spas and do as the Kiwis do! Coromandel Peninsula with Hot Water Beach is only two and a half hours from Auckland. Dig a hole in the sand and create your own personal Jacuzzi – water supplied via the hot springs below the surface. For the perfect evening, bring along some wine and watch the sunset.

Waitomo Caves offer amazing caving and river rafting experiences. Consider it a teambuilding trip for the crew, perhaps – what else would you call abseiling 400 feet into the ground but pushing the limits?

A quick 40-minute flight from one of Auckland’s domestic terminals gets you to the Art Deco capital of New Zealand – Hawke's Bay. Situated on the east coast, this area is fast becoming a leader in wine production. Experience a winter weekend away with a little wine tasting, a stay at a cosy B&B or at the world renowned Wharekauhau Lodge or Cape Kidnappers Lodge, which boasts one of the top golf courses in the world.

But if you exhaust all the options on the North Island, there's still the South Island...

At the top of the South Island lies the stunning Marlborough Region. Get away from everything at the remote lodges accessible only by boat with uninterrupted views of the top of the Southern Alps and the Marlborough Sounds.

Snow transforms the region into a remarkable alpine playground for skiers and snowboarders as you head to the deep south of Queenstown. Six snow areas, with an après ski culture to match, promise a fantastic winter holiday. International visitors rub shoulders with locals, united in their passion for snow sport. Dress warmly – winter temperatures seldom reach higher than seven degrees Celsius and often fall below zero.

Queenstown is also New Zealand’s “adventure capital.” Hurl through the air as you skydive, hang glide, parapente or bungee off the 43-meter high Kawarau Bridge into the water below. For those who prefer your feet in the water or on the ground, try jet boating, rafting or canyon swinging or take a four wheel drive trip into the back country. Ride the Gondola at Skyline above Queenstown and spend the afternoon whizzing by the scenery down the 800-meter luge.

Close to Queenstown is Wanaka, a smaller alpine town. On rest days, spend some time enjoying one of New Zealand’s leading wine-making regions or enjoy a flight over Milford Sound and Fiordland. The scenery never fails to enthrall travelers as waterfalls tumble hundreds of meters into massive fjords; ancient rainforest clings impossibly to the mountains; shimmering lakes and granite peaks look the same today as they did a thousand years ago.

You might actually regret the yard period ending.