The surprising places Kiwis are seeking sunshine this winter – Stuff

With New Zealand’s summer that never was morphing into a sodden winter, it’s little wonder Kiwis have been planning for some winter sun.
But while the usual sunny suspects, Australia and the Pacific Islands, remain popular choices, travel agents have also noticed surges in bookings to longer-haul destinations which either boast beautiful weather for much of the year, or are warm and sunny when it’s cold and grey here.
Flight Centre New Zealand general manager Heidi Walker said that, in the week beginning May 8, when torrential rain in Auckland led to evacuations and closed motorways, bookings to typically good-value Eastern Europe, which is heading into summer, rose by 70%.
In recent weeks, the travel agency has also seen bookings to Latin America and the Caribbean rise by more than 30%, and to northern Africa by 28%.
Below are five of the more unusual destinations Kiwis are seeking sunshine this winter.
Jamaica’s tropical climate ensures warm weather year round, with sunshine peaking in the dry season from December to May.
Walker said Caribbean and Latin American destinations such as Jamaica, the Bahamas, Barbados and Mexico are seeing “massive interest” from Kiwi travellers, particularly with the growing number of airlines flying to the US.
While justifiably famous for its beaches and reggae bars, Jamaica also boasts hidden waterfalls, historic architecture and excellent food.
Undeveloped white-sand Winnifred Beach is one of the island’s best, while Treasure Beach is a more than 9km stretch of secluded coves backed by a community of fishers, artists and other Bohemian types. Be sure to get a ride in a wooden fishing boat to the rickety Pelican Bar, which sits on stilts in the ocean.
Pay homage to Bob Marley at his former home, splash about at the Reach, Dunn’s River and YS waterfalls, float down the Rio Grande or Martha Brae on a bamboo raft, climb Blue Mountain Peak, hit the clubs of Kingston, and get a belly full of jerk pork from a street vendor.
If you can, time your visit to coincide with Reggae Sumfest, a week-long music festival which kicks off with a massive beach party in mid-July.
With year-round clear skies, Egypt is a top option for anyone dreaming of a sun-kissed break combining history, adventure and beautiful beaches.
The desert climate can lead to temperature extremes, but it’s possible to find a happy medium. In many parts, winters are mild and sunny, although temperatures can drop dramatically at night, particularly in inland areas.
The Pyramids of Giza are on every traveller’s to-visit list but, as a cradle of civilisation, Egypt is a history buff’s dream – the Sphinx and the Valley of the Kings, a royal burial ground for pharaohs such as Tutankhamen, Seti I and Ramses II, are just among the other more famous examples.
Most visitors start in Cairo, where the streets and bazaars of the Islamic quarter are a living museum, and the actual museums are fittingly world-class.
The site of the ancient city of Thebes, Luxor is said to contain a third of the world’s ancient monuments, while Aswan, where traditional wooden sailboats ply the Nile, ferrying people to the 20 river islands, offers a more tranquil vibe.
The many natural attractions include the Red Sea, where you can swim with dolphins and sea turtles; the surreal Black and White deserts; and the Siwa Oasis, where you can float effortlessly in hyper-blue salt lakes on the edge of the Sahara’s Great Sand Sea.
For a bit of deluxe beach bumming, head to the Mediterranean coast, El Sahel, where luxury resorts and world-class restaurants back the long stretch of sand.
Hungary mightn’t be the first place to spring to mind when you think balmy weather, but the Eastern European country has typically hot, dry summers – a stark contrast to its snowy winters.
Walker said Hungary, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria all spiked in popularity in the week beginning May 8, when Auckland was (once again) lashed by heavy rain.
“These destinations have seen a real boom for younger travellers in the past few years as people try to chase less ‘touristy’ destinations.”
With its grand architecture, centuries-old thermal bathhouses, classic coffeehouses, and infamous ruin bars and garden clubs, Budapest has plenty to keep travellers occupied whatever the weather.
To the north of the “Paris of the East”, you’ll find the Danube Bend with its hilltop fortress, Renaissance-era palace ruins, historic settlements, and the scenic forests and villages of Orseg National Park.
The vine-covered northern slopes of Lake Balaton are a oenophile’s delight, while Southern Transdanubia, with its thatched whitewashed farmhouses, is as pretty as a fairytale picture.
Billing itself as the sunniest island in the Caribbean, Aruba is typically a balmy 30-33 degrees Celsius year-round, meaning it’s pretty much always a good time to hit its famous white-sand beaches.
Located outside the hurricane belt just off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba experiences very little rainfall, particularly between mid-February and September. There can be a bit of a breeze when the trade winds blow in, but you’ll probably be grateful for the oversized natural fan.
Just 32km long and 10km across at its widest point, the diminutive island is easy to get around, and offers plenty to keep sun-seeking travellers occupied.
Making regular appearances on lists of the best beaches in the world, Eagle Beach, just northwest of the capital Oranjestad, is a top spot to park yourself on a sun lounger for the day. Be sure to seek out the beach’s famous divi divi trees, which stretch eternally to the southwest thanks to the prevailing trade winds.
For a change of scenery, head to Arikok National Park, where you can follow a 5.6km hiking trail to a natural swimming pool surrounded by wave-battered rocks, take a 4WD tour through the cacti-covered volcanic landscape, or hike to caves adorned with petroglyphs that may be more than a million years old.
For a glimpse of Aruba’s colourful marine life, including sea turtles, paddle a glass-bottomed kayak through the island’s largest mangrove forest.
And be sure to save time for a wander through Oranjestad with its candy-coloured Dutch architecture, popular market, and renowned nightlife.
The sunniest region in New Zealand for two years running, Taranaki is the natural choice for those in need of a domestic fair weather holiday.
The black sand beaches boasting world-class surf breaks along Surf Highway 45 are perfect for summer swims and winter walks, while Egmont National Park, starring the perfect cone of Mount Taranaki, are best walked between October and May.
Only those with mountaineering experience and equipment should tackle the climb to the summit of Mt Taranaki in winter, when the mountain is covered in snow and ice, but there are plenty of other picturesque walks to choose from. Our top picks: The walk through the magical “goblin forest” to the natural lava slide, and popular day hike the Pouāki Crossing – Instafamous for the pools which reflect the maunga.
A trip down the Forgotten Highway to a self-declared republic where a goat once won the presidency is a Taranaki-must do, as are visits to the Len Lye Centre and New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park, home to one of New Zealand’s best short walks.
Hidden gems include Te Popo Gardens with their life-size animal sculptures, Hideaway Luge Taranaki at the Hillsborough Holden Museum, and the food trucks at New Plymouth’s Liardet Street Projects. Don’t leave without trying the world-famous in Taranaki mince on toast from Elixir Cafe, which is far fancier than it sounds.
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