The wetter, the better: four of New Zealand’s best rainy-day getaways
I should have been better informed. The second you swap your winter duvet for a light New Zealand spring version, the bad weather returns. With revenge.
After a week of days of blue skies and sunshine with some force, I arrived at work on a windswept, mascara-smeared Monday to read that weather warnings were in place across the country. In Northland, residents were nervously anticipating heavy rain and gales at 100 km/h. In Southland, the snow was expected to fall near sea level.
Temperamental spring weather is no reason to postpone your travel plans, however (grey days are depressing enough without being stuck in too familiar surroundings). Some destinations are actually at their best when hit by rain, hail and snow. Here are four of our favorites.
If you’re a fair-weather traveler, it might seem like a good idea to avoid a town just up the road from a place called Cape Foulwind on the often freezing west coast. But you would be doing yourself a disservice. With its own microclimate, Karamea is positively mild most of the time. In South Island terms at least.
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Outdoor adventures are always on the way in the rain thanks to the subterranean limestone labyrinths beneath Kahurangi and Paparoa National Parks.
Discover moa skeletons, the New Zealand eagle and a giant flightless goose on a guided tour through the 13 km cave system of Honeycomb Hill.
If you don’t mind the mud, the 8.6km round-trip trail from the Fenian Caves in Kahurangi National Park is, as a recent TripAdvisor member put it, “truly terrifying. But fun.”
“I probably shouldn’t have done it myself, but I survived with just a scraped knee,” they wrote.
“It’s a Karamea staple,” said another reviewer who gave the track five stars. “Amazing long caves with fascinating formations, glowworms included, and it’s free.”
For a higher-octane underground adventure, drive two hours south to Charleston, from where Underworld Adventures runs tours in a landscape that seems straight out of a Greek myth (the story of Persephone, queen of the underworld, comes to mind).
The rafting adventure will have you board a Nile rainforest train to the Te Aranui cave system, where you’ll follow a maze of surreal sculpted passageways leading to a lake reflecting a galaxy of glowworms before to return to the land of sunlight on a tube.
Grab a bite to eat or sleep in at The Last Resort, where accommodation options range from backpacker dorms to self-contained cottages.
Eat your way to one of New Zealand’s most underrated foodie destinations and enjoy a budget foodie adventure like no other.
Things Journalist Kylie Klein-Nixon considers Lower Hutt’s street food scene to be among the best in the country, with highlights including the food trucks at Saturday Riverbank Market (she particularly likes Roti Haven and the Bread Cart and panikeke Maori), and Hutt Ribs, a hole in the wall producing periperi chicken wings that would bring Nando restaurateurs to tears. Plus sensational fries loaded with fried chicken.
Transport yourself to small-town America at Wholy Mac, where you can discover imaginative versions of the comfort food classic, including plant-based and gluten-free versions. Think an American-style bowl of spicy macaroni and cheese with fried chicken and chipotle sauce, and a “mac a phoni” with kasundi, spinach and roasted chickpeas. You can even get a mac and cheese stuffed spring roll.
You’ll find equally bad-for-the-weather dishes at Dirty Burger, where the most creative offerings include the “ghee spot” with a masala rosti patty and curry mayonnaise. Stay out of the rain longer by pairing it with at least one of the generous sides – the poutine-style curly fries with popcorn chicken are a fancy fast-food lover’s dream.
For dessert, head to The Chocolate Story, which entices punters with the sweet smell of hot chocolate and keeps them entertained with interesting treats on how they make their little brown balls, squares and delight bars.
If you need an indoor activity or two to keep you from consuming more calories, try Xcape, which offers virtual and traditional reality “escape room” experiences, and the boutique Light House Cinema. If you have kids, Junglerama’s awesome indoor playground is a great option. Failing that, there is always the Queensgate Shopping Centre…
If you’ve been burning calories on the ski slopes or on the area’s hiking and biking trails, a rainy day in Arrowtown could be the perfect antidote.
Melt away the tension in those aching muscles with an hour-long hot stone massage at Millbrook Spa, or treat your weather-damaged face with a facial using natural New Zealand-made products.
If you’d rather not spend the whole day horizontally, step back to the city’s gold rush days at the Lakes District Museum & Gallery and admire the work of some of New Zealand’s finest contemporary artists in the Nadene Milne and Birdwoods galleries.
For a fine lunch by a crackling fire, head to celebrity chef Ben Bayly’s Aosta, where northern Italian dishes pair perfectly with New Zealand ingredients. Think kina pappardelle with Stewart Island pāua, kūmara and truffle dumplings, and chocolate cobbler with golden kiwi and sherry ice cream. If that sounds a bit fancy (or expensive), try the restaurant’s younger sibling, Little Aosta.
Come evening, grab a glass of wine or craft beer, a cheese platter and a blanket and settle into the oversized seats under the glass-beaded chandeliers of the Dorothy Browns boutique cinema.
If you want to drink more in a comfortable setting, head to the Blue Door Bar, where you’ll usually be treated to live music on weekend nights.
Maruia Hot Springs
Miserable weather retreats don’t come much better than this. A low-key wellness resort home to natural hot pools with stunning views of the Southern Alps, Maruia is ideal for an ultra-relaxed break, especially when wet weather means you don’t have to hike the hiking trails.
You can spend the whole day bathing in the geothermal mineral waters fed by an underground spring if you wish, made even more magical with raindrops bubbling on the surface, or get involved in a long list of activities designed to transform you into a better human being.
All overnight stays include activities such as “sauna karma infusion” with a homemade face mask or body scrub, yoga classes, meditation sessions, and mindful nature walks (bring a raincoat).
You’ll feel as warm as you would on a tropical break in the rock and infrared saunas and steam room, and under one of the hot, thermally heated ‘massage showers’.
Speaking of massages, there are plenty of offerings at the day spa, as well as body treatments and facials.
Healthy but hearty meals offered at the on-site restaurant include dishes such as stewed shoulder of lamb with pear and balsamic sauce, baked salmon with mixed vegetables and cauliflower rice, and matar paneer d Indian influence with yellow rice and kachumber salad.
Park your motorhome at the campsite or book one of the glamping pods or hotel rooms.