Travel

These Epic Ice Castles Near Boston Are a Must-See Winter Wonderland

Explore 25 million pounds of ice constructed into tunnels, slides, and towers.

Photo by Lee Denning, Courtesy of Ice Castles
Photo by Lee Denning, Courtesy of Ice Castles
Photo by Lee Denning, Courtesy of Ice Castles

When the weather hits freezing, very few things could draw Bostonians out of their cozy apartments. But the opportunity to traipse around an epic ice sculpture may be one of them, and soon, you can do just that at the Ice Castles in North Woodstock, New Hampshire, just two hours outside of Boston.

The ever-popular winter attraction is now open for the season, and it’s one of the best things to do this winter. This year, the immersive winter experience features towers, tunnels, and tons of space to roam around the one-acre castle, plus a full slate of activities like horse-drawn carriage rides and snow tubing.

Photo by AJ Mellor, Courtesy of Ice Castles
Photo by AJ Mellor, Courtesy of Ice Castles
Photo by AJ Mellor, Courtesy of Ice Castles

The epic structure is made out of 25 million pounds of ice and takes thousands of hours to construct. From the outside, the castle looks a bit unassuming, but venture inside and you’ll find a labyrinth of towers to climb, tunnels to explore, and a couple of slippery slides-and to make things even more magical, the entire space is illuminated with colorful LED lights at nightfall.

Needless to say, IG opportunities abound, although your best selfie opportunity is atop the frozen throne. But if you want to get into something more active, the space also offers horse-drawn sleigh rides, snow tubing, a Mystic Forest walk, a private VIP alcove to book for special occasions, and new this year: an illuminated frozen fairy village as well as a separate ice sculpture garden.

Photo by AJ Mellor, Courtesy of Ice Castles
Photo by AJ Mellor, Courtesy of Ice Castles
Photo by AJ Mellor, Courtesy of Ice Castles

More than a decade ago, a Utahan named Brent Christensen reached World’s Best Dad status when he built his daughter an ice cave in their backyard, which soon attracted every kid in town-and their parents. Buoyed by that success, Christensen decided to commercialize his gifts, eventually patenting an ice construction method that involves vertically growing icicles by hand and then using said icicles to build a large-scale structure. Don’t believe us? Here’s a link to his actual patent, which details a simple method that has icicles slowly growing downward from an elevated plank.

Now as the ice artist behind the New Hampshire castle and other locations in Utah, Wisconsin, New York, and Minnesota, Christensen’s crews grow 5,000 to 12,000 icicles a day and these “farmed” icicles serve as the literal building blocks of his giant, interactive structures, stacked both vertically and horizontally and melded together by slush.

Photo by AJ Mellor, Courtesy of Ice Castles
Photo by AJ Mellor, Courtesy of Ice Castles
Photo by AJ Mellor, Courtesy of Ice Castles

Just a two-hour drive from Boston, the Ice Castles make a worthy day trip. But North Woodstock boasts some pretty decent brewpubs and is located 20 minutes from one of New England’s top skiing destinations, Loon Mountain, which boasts more than 60 trails for skiing and snowboarding, so you could also easily make a weekend of it.

This is not a journey to be taken on the fly: While tickets are technically available on-site, they can cost more and routinely sell out, and with the Omicron variant surging around the country, scores of folks will be seeking another excuse to leave town and frolic safely outdoors.Tickets for the ice castle are $20 per person Monday through Thursday, and $27 per person Friday through Sunday. Kids ages 4 to 11 are $15 Monday through Thursday, and $22 Friday through Sunday. Weekend rates also apply on holidays and winter school breaks. You can purchase tickets online.

Meaghan Agnew is all about nesting this January. Track her indoor activities by following her on Instagram.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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