When winter rolls around, kiwis flee to the tropics to escape the cold. While we can’t deny the allure of white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, there’s something to be said for embracing winter in all its frosty glory. Between our two biggest cities, Auckland and Wellington, there is plenty to keep you entertained when the cold sets in.

So here are a few of the best things on offer in Auckland to get you through.

How will you travel to Auckland?

Before you plan your getaway in the city, have you thought about how you’ll get there? Whether you jump on in Wellington or further north, the Northern Explorer train is the perfect way to bookend your trip. From the snowcapped peaks of Mt Ruapehu, right through to the rolling hills of King Country – the journey is a treat for the eyes throughout the entire 680km. So take a look at the Northern Explorer train fares, make your train booking and get ready to embark on the ultimate winter journey.

Winter on Waiheke

Waiheke is equally as beautiful in winter as it is in summer. There’s plenty to do, plenty to see and plenty to eat. With a myriad of world-class wineries, a network of walking trails, and delectable eateries dotted all over the island, there’s no bad time to visit Waiheke. It’s easy to get to, with regular ferry trips leaving the CBD throughout the day. Here are some highlights that can be enjoyed all year round.

Warm up with a walk

In the heart of the Island, Onetangi Reserve offers walks-a-plenty. Whether you’re up for a lengthy hike or a light stroll, the Onetangi Reserve is a lush centre of Kauri, Nikau and Manuka trees. Take a moment to stop at one of the raised platforms and listen out for the sing-song of native birds. Many of the trails start at Onetangi Beach, one of the most popular tourist spots during summer. But in winter, there’s hardly a soul to be seen, making it ideal for a peaceful walk along the shoreline.

Delicious dining

While you’re already at Onetangi Beach, why not stop for a scrumptious bite at Charlie Farley’s? Situated right on the beach, it’s the perfect spot to soak in the view and warm your cockles with a hot meal. The menu is stacked with locally caught seafood, hearty winter meals, and even a few Asian-fusion options. Whatever the weather, you’re sure to have a good time at this blissful beachside eatery.

Winery with a view

Waiheke is the island of wine, blanketed in vineyards with panoramic views. This is a haven for lovers of all types of wine all year round. A wine tour on Waiheke will show expertise in science, technology, award-winning international cuisine, incredible venues and the best glasses of wine you will ever taste. Internationally renowned Stonyridge has been named as one of the top wineries to visit on the island; enjoy a wine tasting and sample some of their finest reds perfectly paired with delicious canapés to complement them.

Ferry to the Farmer’s Market

Getaway from the city and explore Hobsonville Point, one of Auckland’s most up-and-coming suburbs. It’s only a 40-minute ferry ride from the CBD. And with an indoor-waterfront-Farmers’ Market waiting at the other end, it’s the ideal spot to enjoy some breakfast or lunch in winter. With artisan teas, funky flavoured fudge and copious organic cuisine, there’s something everyone will enjoy at the Catalina Bay Farmers’ Market. And it’s even open from Wednesday to Sunday so that you can visit during the week too.

Be sure to enjoy a craft-beer on-tap at the Little Creatures brewery next door while you’re there. Or if you’re after something a little more lux, enjoy a spot of lunch right on the water’s edge at Fabric.

Heat up in the winter garden

The Winter Garden at the Auckland Domain is one of the city’s historic treasures. With a variety of rare and exotic plants including gigantic Amazon lily pads, Venus flytraps, and hanging pitcher plants, a walk through the winter gardens is like exploring a perfectly manicured jungle. Plus, one of the glasshouses is heated to keep the tropical plants happy and healthy during the colder months – making it one of the best free things to do in Auckland during winter.

Spend a night stargazing in Auckland

Darkness falls over the city-of-sails by 6 pm most winter evenings. So, it’s the perfect time of year for a bit of stargazing at Stardome Observatory and Planetarium. See New Zealand’s southern hemisphere with a new appreciation for our unique positioning on the planet. Or learn about the prominent constellations and the stories surrounding Matariki. Depending on what can be seen on the night of your visit, there’s always something different being showcased. So check out what’s coming up before you go.

Embrace the Elements

Throughout the whole of July, Auckland’s newest winter festival Elemental is offering loads of entertainment worth wrapping up for. Drawing on the elements water, earth, fire and air, the festival transforms bars, eateries, theatres and public spaces. Enjoy dazzling dance performances, exciting lighting installations, and exquisite menus curated uniquely for winter.  There are more than 50 free and ticketed events to experience, so take a look at what’s on before you go.

Toasty Travels

Travelling from city to city on the Northern Explorer train is your chance to see the beautiful ever-changing scenery of the volcanic North Island – in complete comfort. With comfortable seats, hot drinks and wine from the licensed café, and wide windows for your viewing pleasure, there’s no better way of getting from city to city in winter. And with all the excitement Auckland offers during the colder months, it’s the perfect time to make the journey.

So take a look at the Northern Explorer train timetable, pack your winter-woollies and make the most of winter in New Zealand. Because between cosy eateries, island wineries and an epic train journey, winter isn’t so bad.