Huka and hikers: The best of winter in New Zealand – part two
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Huka and hikers: The best of winter in New Zealand – part two

Last week we took a brief glance at what keeps bringing people like myself back to the Southern Alps year after year. Sure there’s the obvious – the ski slopes, postcard vistas and nightlife – but talk to the locals and you’ll find the eccentric antipodeans have a few unexpected ways to keep warm through the winter.

Get high
/>Nicknaming New Zealanders after the flightless Kiwi bird is really a bit misleading, when unlike the eponymous ground-dwelling bird, the Kiwi population is arguably the most airborne, ahem, on earth. 

With a mountainous country and a spread out population, it really makes a lot of sense that planes and helicopters are a part of day-to-day working life for many New Zealanders. However, what’s more interesting for the visitor is that when it comes to recreation, you just can’t keep a good Kiwi down.

Look at the skies over Aotearoa and you’ll see an airspace packed with sailplanes, ultra light aircraft, hangliders and paragliders even the occasional hot air balloon. It could be said that the Kiwis have taken to the skies like a duck to water.

Now this is definitely a case of ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ – many parts of New Zealand, particularly the Southern Alps and Fiordland are impressive from ground-level, but awesome from the air. Flying into airports like Milford Sound and airstrips like Siberia is an experience not to be missed.

Don’t forget there’s a beautiful synergy to be had by simply adding ‘heli-’ to your favourite ground based pursuit to create utterly sublime sports like heli-hiking, heli-biking and of course heli-skiing.

It’s utterly hedonistic, but there is simply nothing that beats leaping onto one of the ubiquitous Eurocopter Squirrels and getting as close to teleportation as humanly possible – one minute there’s tarmac under your feet, the next untracked snow or uncharted wilderness. Truly awesome!

Be part of the national obsession
/>Winter in NZ is traditionally the rugby season, which means visitors have a unique opportunity to peer into the core of the nations psyche at what I often – only half jokingly – describe as the national religion.

If you ask any Kiwi kid what they want to be when they grow up and the answer will be unequivocally “an All Black”, the country grinds to a halt for a test match, and the South African team’s tour in 1981 caused rioting that almost overthrew the government!  Rugby is the cultural thread that binds New Zealanders together… and sometimes pulls them apart – it all depends who’s winning.

You don’t need to see the biggest test match of the year, in fact in some ways its better if you don’t, just drop in on the a provincial game one Saturday morning and observe New Zealand sporting culture at its finest!

If all else fails…
/>As a small rock in the middle of the ocean, half-way to the South Pole, we do get some ‘variable’ weather conditions from time to time. However if you’re clever you can work around it. Given the topography of the country certain places get more than their fair share of sunshine. Central Otago, for instance is one, and the Marlborough region is another.

By happy coincidence these happen to also be two of New Zealand’s best wine producing regions – so if the weather closes in, it’s common to see the locals making a dash for either of these two spots – where the weather will improve first… and if it doesn’t there is always the consolation of whiling away the afternoon with a glass of Pinot Noir in front of the fire.

 – Mark
/>Active New Zealand