Summer may be peak travel season, but isn’t winter when we all need a break the most? Long nights, cold temperatures, and the excitement of the holidays long since passed may leave you counting down the days to your next vacation. Cash that PTO in early to give snowy weather the slip and turn your attention to the southern hemisphere where sunny days still abound.
If you’re not sure exactly what you want to do on your vacation, hop on a flight to New Zealand, home to nearly every type of attraction there is. Nature lovers won’t know where to visit first with heli-hikes on the Franz Josef Glacier, whale watching in Kaikoura, paddling around the Bay of Islands, and trekking to Milford Sound all issuing a siren call. Adrenaline junkies will have an easier choice, to make a beeline to Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital. One of the first pioneers of bungee jumping was a Kiwi, and this death-defying activity is now iconic to the city. If that’s not your cup of tea, Queenstown is also a handy basecamp for hiking the stunning Routeburn Track or exploring the Central Otago wine country. Movie buffs will naturally know New Zealand’s rugged landscapes from the blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy. Get up close and personal with the movie set you know and love on a guided tour of Hobbiton, or enjoy your own Middle Earth-worthy adventure in Arthur’s Pass National Park. More of a city slicker with only the occasional interest in nature? Head to the streets of Auckland, where you’ll find world-class shopping and dining set amid spectacular natural beauty. Enjoy vibrant arts and culture in the city center, go kayaking around the Hauraki Gulf and Islands, or venture westward into a virgin rainforest.
Unlike most of the Western world, Southeast Asia experiences its peak tourist season between November and February, when its weather is sunny and warm. Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia are all popular options, but when you really want to get away from those mind-numbing water cooler chats, consider venturing off the beaten path to remote Laos. Only recently has this landlocked nation begun attracting tourist attention, and your reward for getting on board early will be pristine natural beauty and a true authentic experience of Southeast Asian life. Luang Prabang has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its well-preserved architecture fusing traditional Lao and colonial European aesthetics. Vang Vieng to the south has long been a mainstay on the backpacker circuit for its popular tubing parties, but these anything-goes river raves have largely been shut down by the government and returned the rural town to its well-deserved paradisiacal status.
While vines in California and France wither under the frost, other wine regions are celebrating a successful harvest, among them Mendoza in Argentina. This relatively recent addition to the global wine map elevated Malbec, originally a Bordeaux grape used only minimally in red blends, to one of the world’s most beloved varietals. The National Grape Harvest Festival stretches throughout the entire winter, but the festivities come to a head in late February and early March with an enormous spectacle of music, dance, fireworks, and the election of the National Grape Harvest Queen. If you miss the festival, you can enjoy a more relaxing exploration of the region on two wheels. Cycling tours of Mendoza’s wineries are a very popular way to taste Argentine Malbecs straight from the source.