The LOVE for winter comes in many guises. Some are partial to the sunless polar-like freeze, while some people like catching snatches of sunshine amidst sharp cold windy days. Others might prefer the snug comfort of their living room, reminiscent of Danish hygge. In India, only the northern states have the good fortune of experiencing a dust of snow on mountains close by or dipping degrees that make the choked city air seem fresher to uplift the mood. The rest of the country is tethered to tropical weather or perhaps, only a flash of ‘blink-and-miss’ winter up to mid-March. as the weather inches to blistering, draining heat, the conversations are laced with wistful love for the cooler months. Fortunately, geography can come to the rescue. If you can’t get enough of the cold, the southern hemisphere can be a beacon for a perfect travel spot.
Our pick? New Zealand.
A long strip of island, packed with nature’s wealth, the north of New Zealand is subtropical where as the south is temperate. December, January and February are the warmest months, and the coldest June, July and August — the exact opposite of India. While Indian plains and southern parts are reeling under high forties in the middle of the year, New Zealand is cocooned in a comfy 10-15ºC. There is no need for withdrawal symptoms when the winter bids adieu. Just book your tickets to Auckland instead. Spend a week on the classic Auckland–Rotorua-Ruapehu trail and explore one of the most feted regions, without the tourist throng.
Meet New Zealand’s Hangi Master
For a quick peek into the rich culinary and cultural life of the country, get a bite of Rewi Spraggon’s take on Hangi, the oldest cuisine of the country. The Maoris, original Polynesian settlers in New Zealand, arrived on the islands between the 13th and 14th centuries. The culinary culture of these warriors and hunters was hinged on food available in the wild: Think birds, fish and livestock along with root vegetables like potatoes and yam. Their food was always cooked Hangi style, or simply, in the ‘earth oven.’ The communal cooking was done with the help of stones and earth, giving the food a natural smoked flavour. Over centuries, time’s tide swept the traditional methods away. Chef Rewi Spraggon, a revivalist, is reintroducing the original Hangi to New Zealand’s palate. You can find his black-and-orange signature truck at weekly night markets, music concerts and festivals where he dishes out sandwiches and taco-like wraps with Hangi meat stuffing. Anarchic and delicious, it's just what you need to keep warm on a cold day in Auckland.
Don’t be in a rush to dash off to destinations afar. Spend at least two days in the city’s thrum, sampling the classic Hangi food of the Maoris and trawl the town to see what it feels like to be an Aucklander
Trawling the oldest thoroughfare, Karangahape
Stroll down Karangahape (or just K-Road) to discover one of the most unpretentious cities, comfortable with its Polynesian heritage straddling modern-day compulsions. But see it through the eyes of graffiti artists! If nothing else, it’s a colourful recap of the city’s last few decades. Start with St Kevin’s Arcade on Karangahape Road, the genesis of Auckland’s graffiti scene, and admire fascinating works by Cut Collective and TMD (The Most Dedicated, or back in the day The Most Dangerous), anchored on stencils and word-based designs. Walk the rest of the K-Road loop to see the transition to art and characters. You see bold works of contemporary artists Owen Dippie, Askew New (Elliot O’Donnell), Flox (Hayley King), DEUS (Elliot Francs Stewart), Enforce1 (Garry Wong), Trustme (Ross Liew) and GASP (Liam Hindlsey).
Watch out for metal boxes on either side of the road. These seemingly innocuous wire containers of a telecom company are given an artistic lease of life by graffiti artist Paul Walsh. Light-hearted and goofy yet relevant, they offer a thought-provoking narrative as well. For example, one of the boxes shows a Dodo sitting on a cassette: The artist's way of reminding the world that both are now extinct. A Dog At Work shows a dog wearing an orange reflective jacket and a clipboard, masquerading as a parking attendant.
Better known as an outdoor playground, Ruapehu’s biggest attraction is the Tongariro National Park. It's the place to be in if you are looking for snow
Discovering the slopes of Ruapehu
At 279m, Mt Ruapehu is the North Island's highest mountain, and one of the world’s most active volcanoes. In March 1945, it spewed lava over Crater Lake for over a year, blasting clouds of ash as far as Wellington. It's been dormant since then, and now Ruapehu is a premier ski retreat. Whakapapa, located on Mt Ruapehu's northwest facing slopes, is a tourist magnet because of its dramatic volcanic terrain, spectacular views of the Tongariro National Park, and offers extensive skiing facilities for beginners. Turoa, on the southwest facing slopes, is another popular destination that offers massive snow bases, a volcanic terrain, and natural wild trails. The region has the longest vertical descent at 722m, perfect for skiing enthusiasts.
Distance between Auckland and Rotorua is 230km (a 3-hour drive). Ruapehu is a further 81km/1 hour.
Getting there and around
Major airlines like Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific, Quantas, Singapore Airlines, Malaysian Airlines, and homegrown Air India and Jet Airways offer connections from Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Melbourne and other key pit stops to Auckland.
The two cities are popular on the tourist circuit, and have plenty of accommodations, suited to every budget.
Ideal number of days to cover the Auckland-Rotorua-Ruapehu loop 7 Days
Its sulphur-rich air is an easy reminder that you have plenty of natural hot pools that are ideal for a winter dip. Add to this ultra green locales, ideal for hikes and some great outdoor fun
Mountain Biking in Whakarewarewa
Whakarewarewa Forest covers Rotorua in a warm green embrace, making it one of the most coveted mountain biking destinations of the country. You will never run short of options here: From short, day-long trails to ones that take up to a week to cover, this is a hiker's paradise. You can hire bikes and maps, and even trail suggestions depending on your skill level and time, from onsite outdoor units in the area. Indeed, the Whakarewarewa Forest trail makes for an epic winter adventure. The wilderness thrives in the perfect weather of Rotorua with just the right amount of chill, broken by working up a sweat in the glamorous landscape.
Geothermal Wonders of Polynesian Spa
There’s nothing closer to heaven than sinking into a natural geothermal pool of hot water and looking at the freezing lake in front of you. Plan a visit to the award-winning Polynesian Spa, which offers manicured acidic and alkaline natural springs to relax in. With 28 mineral pools, you have plenty of solo time without having to jostle for space. The wellness retreat’s outdoor pools are most popular as you can get the best of both temperatures — numbing cold of the air around and hot natural water to dip in. But it’s the location that is the winner: The retreat lies at the edge of Lake Rotorua, making it a treat for the eyes and the soul. Inside, opt for the hydrotherapy manuka honey body polish or other treatments. Once you are done, you could grab a bite at their café and look around for souvenirs.
Hotel Grand Windsor
Located smack dab in the middle of the tourist drag, Queen Street, the 1928 heritage building, is anchored in art deco aesthetics with unobtrusive luxury.
+64 9-309 9979;
58/60 Queen St, Auckland,
1001, New Zealand;
Starting NZD 350 (Rs16,650 approx) per night, incl breakfast
Novotel Rotorua Lakeside
The functional yet atmospheric hotel overlooking the namesake lake of the city is the perfect place to get around the town on foot.
+64 7-346 3888;
www.novotel.accorhotels.com; Tutanekai St, Rotorua 3010,
Starting NZD 200 (Rs 9,515 approx) per night, incl breakfast
The Park Hotel
+64 7-892 2748;
2/6 Millar Street, Ruapehu, National Park 3948,
NZD 120 (Rs 5,700 approx) per night, incl breakfast