New Zealand Ski Holidays

New Zealand Ski Holidays

The ski areas of New Zealand are among the best in the Southern Hemisphere.  All of New Zealand’s major cities are within four hour’s drive of the slopes, and skiing and snowboarding is possible in both the North and South Islands. All interests are catered for, from downhill, through snowboarding, cross-country, indoor, night, or heli-skiiing.

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The ski season usually runs from about June to October, and sometimes even a little later.  The major ski areas have snow making machines to help guarantee a good base.

There are three main skiing regions in New Zealand, and many other smaller private club ski areas. In New Zealand, there is a key distinction between ‘ski fields’ (ski areas) and resorts. Unlike resorts in Europe or North America, there is little accommodation actually on the slopes, and the small resort towns are often at least 30 minutes drive away from the ‘ski field’.

Queenstown/Wanaka – South Island

The Queenstown and Wanaka region is home to many of New Zealand’s most famous ski fields.

Coronet Peak is a world class facility situated on the southern slopes of a 1649m mountain, only 20 minutes drive from Queenstown. Coronet Peak was New Zealand’s first commercial ski area, and was also the first to open double, treble, and high speed quad chair lifts.  It also has a high speed six seater, T-Bar, three surface conveyor lifts, and one beginner tow.  There is a restaurant, bar and café on the slopes, as well as ski hire and crèche facilities. On Friday and Saturday evenings, night skiing is also an option. Shuttle buses run every 15 minutes to Queenstown.

The other main ski area near Queenstown is The Remarkables. Situated on top of a stunning mountain range (hence the name), this ski field offers three quad chairlifts to beginner, intermediate, and advanced slopes.  The Coronet Peak shuttle bus also runs a service to The Remarkables ski area.

Queenstown itself is a world famous tourist destination, and the accommodation and entertainment options are plentiful. There’s a multitude of adventure tourism options (like bungee jumping and jet boat rides), world class restaurants, lively bars, great hiking, and absolutely stunning scenery.

One hour north of Queenstown is the smaller resort town of Wanaka, which has equally good access to the snow. Treble Cone (35 minutes from Wanaka) is best suited to intermediate and advanced skiers, as it has steeper slopes, and long challenging runs. It is also a favorite with snowboarders, as it has a natural half-pipe.

Cardrona is the other main Wanaka based ski area. It’s a great option for families, as it has beginner’s slopes, a good range of eateries, a medical centre, and a full range of facilities for kids (crèches, ski kindergarten and ski school).  There are 15 hotel units on the mountain, but these need to be reserved well in advance to ensure a place.
The town of Wanaka offers a range of accommodation and restaurants, and is a slightly more laid back alternative to Queenstown. Like Queenstown, it is situated on lake, so it is busy resort town year round.

Canterbury – South Island

Mt Hutt is located just over one hour’s drive west from the airport of South Island’s biggest city, Christchurch.   This makes it a favourite of local New Zealand skiers, and you might see locals having an impromptu barbeque in the parking lot. There are some eateries on the mountain, but most accommodation and restaurant options are in the nearby town of Methven, 30 minutes away.  The Mt Hutt ski field not only offer spectacular views across the Canterbury Plains and the Southern Alps, but also provides a full range of skiing facilities, including heli-skiing.

Other ski fields in the Canterbury region include Porter Heights (the closest to Christchurch), Ohau and Mt Dobson (in the stunning Mackenzie Country), and Mt Lyford (near the hot pools resort town of Hanmer Springs).

Central North Island

Unlike the South Island’s ski fields, the North Island’s main areas are located on the side of the active volcano, Mt Ruapehu.  Although Mt Ruapehu did erupt and affect ski seasons in the mid 1990’s, the volcano is well monitored and has a warning system in place, reducing the risk to skiers. There are two ski fields on the mountain, Whakapapa, and Turoa.

Whakapapa is the largest ski area in New Zealand, and has a total lift capacity of 15,000 people per hour. At Whakapapa Village, there are a range of accommodation options, but it does fill very fast, so the towns of Ohakune, Turangi, and Taupo also make good bases for visiting Ruapehu. There are numerous shuttle services available from these towns.

On the southern slopes of Ruapehu, near the town of Ohakune, is the Turoa ski field.  It is slightly smaller than Whakapapa, but offers similar amenities.  As both ski fields service the entire North Island (two thirds of New Zealand’s population), weekends and school holidays can get very busy.

Other New Zealand Ski Options

As New Zealand is a very mountainous country, there are numerous private club ski areas and other opportunities for back country skiing. Most club ski fields are open to the public, and can be much quieter than the big commercial ski areas.

In the South Island, there are many small ski fields, and the best idea is to enquire with an information centre in the area you wish to ski in. Most of these ski fields are situated in the Queenstown and Canterbury regions, but there are also some in the Nelson Lakes area.

In the North Island, Tukino (on Mt Ruapehu), and Manganui (on Mt Taranaki) are the two private clubs.

Heli-skiing is also available from most of the main South Island resort towns, including Queenstown, Wanaka, and Methven. From Mt Cook Village, heli-skiing on New Zealand’s highest mountain is available, as is skiing on the Tasman glacier.

In Auckland, an indoor skiing facility provides year round snow for those who can’t make it south to the mountains. SnowPlanet provides lessons, downhill skiing, and a terrain park, with slide bars and jumps.  It is located 20 minutes north of Auckland’s city centre.

Travelling to New Zealand Ski Resorts

The main gateway airports to the ski areas are Auckland, Christchurch, and Queenstown.  The main domestic airlines are Air New Zealand and Jetstar. See the Australia/ New Zealand Central reservations office on www.anzcro.co.uk for flights from the UK.

North Island
Auckland is New Zealand’s main international gateway airport, and many international airlines fly into Auckland (including Air New Zealand, Qantas, Pacific Blue, Jetstar, United Airlines, Emirates, Lufthansa, British Airways, and many other code share arrangements). The main departure points are London, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, and most major cities in Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Australia.  Auckland is four hour’s drive to Whakapapa ski field.

Another option is to fly into Rotorua, Hamilton, Palmerston North, or Wellington, which are all served by direct flights from Australian cities (usually Brisbane or Sydney).  Rotorua and Palmerston North are the closest airports, at just under 2.5 hour’s drive from the ski fields.

South Island
You can fly direct into Queenstown from Sydney or Melbourne, but most international visitors will need to transit via Auckland or Christchurch airports. You can fly direct into Christchurch from the main Australian east coast cities, as well as from Singapore, Tokyo, Osaka, Fiji, and Rarotonga.

Car Hire and Public Transport

Car hire is available from all major airports, and this is usually the best place to collect your hire from. The major brands are Europcar, Avis, Hertz, Budget, Thrifty, Apex, and Ace Rental Cars.  Larger cities will also have inner city depots, but in small towns (e.g. Methven or Ohakune), you will usually be reliant on local shuttle transport or private hire companies.  You will need to make sure you carry snow chains with any hire car.

Ohakune is the only ski town that is served by passenger railway, although Christchurch is also. See www.tranzscenic.co.nz for more information.

Public Holidays

The ski areas can get very busy during holidays. The main winter holiday periods in New Zealand are as follows:
•    Queen’s Birthday – 1st Monday in June
•    Winter School Holidays – Second half of July
•    Spring School Holidays – Late September to mid October
•    Labour Day – 4th Monday in October

Costs

Typical costs for a day on the slopes of the main ski areas are as follows:
•    Day lift pass NZ$86 to $95 (adult), NZ$52 (child)
•    Season pass – NZ$595 (Ruapehu) to $1700 (triple pass for Mt Hutt, Coronet Peak, and The Remarkables)
•    Skis/boots/poles hire – around NZ$40/day
•    Clothing – NZ$40 to NZ$50/day
•    Lessons – NZ$100+ (adults) NZ$55 to NZ$70 (child)

Mt Hutt, Coronet Peak, and The Remarkables all use the smartcard ‘mypass’ system, which integrates lift tickets, gear hire, lessons, and statistic across all three ski areas.