Explore New Zealand’s North & South Island Ski Fields
Not everyone’s lamenting the end of summer south of the equator; the darker mornings and that distinctive snap in the air can only mean one thing – winter is coming. If you’ve been sweating it out through summer’s blazing heat dreaming of whipping down a virgin run up to your knees in fresh powder, the wait’s nearly over; snow season is nigh. If you’re itching for a ‘snowcation’, explore New Zealand’s northern and southern ski fields.
Running from June to October, ski season in New Zealand has gained a reputation for its excellent conditions, uncrowded runs and stunning scenery. Follow us as we break down all the top spots for your next trip.
Although her famous southern sister gets most of the glory due to Queenstown’s adventure capital of the world status, NZ’s North Island boasts spectacular skiing for beginners through to off piste experts. Accessibly situated between Auckland and Wellington, Mt Ruapehu volcano, at a staggering 2,797m, is home New Zealand’s two largest commercial ski-fields: Whakapapa and Turoa.
For the young, young at heart or snow sport novice, Whakapapa’s Happy Valley provides a dedicated beginners area. Away from the rush of the more advanced ski areas, Happy Valley has its own cafe, rental facilities, slow chair lift and easy access to the ski school.
Intermediate skiers and snowboarders enjoy over 30 groomed trails at Whakapapa, including a generous selection of chutes, bumps, bowls, drops and smooth wide runs while snow experts can choose from 24 black and black diamond runs or the lift accessed off-piste Black Magic backcountry.
The 14 lifts at Whakapapa move up to 15,000 people up the mountain each hour; as a result, there are rarely queues at the chair lift.
Located on the south-western face of the mountain, Turoa ski field has a little something for everyone. Beginners can snow plow through in The Alpine Meadow and relax at the Alpine Chalet, offering coffee, snacks and a licensed bar. Adjacent to the Alpine Meadow is a tobogganing area, perfect for enjoying the snow with the kids. Turoa also offers crèche facilities for 2 – 5 year olds, as well as a ski school.
For intermediates, there are 12 groomed runs, all long, wide and interconnecting, so you can enjoy an extended run from the very top of Australasia’s highest base area (quite a sight!).
Turoa’s advanced area is where this ski field really comes into its own. Its 25 black and black diamond runs provide a challenge but it’s Turoa’s two backcountry areas that really offer advanced skiers and riders an epic snow adventure. Carve up the natural half pipes and chutes of the Solitudes and Organ Fields backcountry or play on the gracious open terrain of the Triangle and Glacier backcountry.
Accommodation, Dining and Shopping
Accommodation at both Whakapapa and Turoa is located off-mountain; if you’re heading to Mt Ruapehu, you’ve got a few towns that offer an array of holidaying options. Ohakune and Taupo offer the most in the way of dining and shopping, with Taupo considered the Queenstown of the North Island. Whakapapa Village and National Park Village will have you to the slopes the most quickly, while Raetihi and Turangi have more to offer history buffs and nature lovers.
If it’s deep powder or heli-skiing you’re after, you’re better off heading to the South Island. The slightly cooler climate and more protected ski fields in and around Queenstown-Wanaka mean that powder falls deeper and stays longer. The South Island offers three main destinations for your snowy adventure: Mount Cook Mackenzie, Queenstown-Wanaka and Mt Hutt near Christchurch-Canterbury.
Mt Hutt towers over the landscape just a short one and a half hour drive from Christchurch; Mt Hutt is usually the first ski-field to open in the entire Southern Hemisphere and, traditionally, has the longest open season. There’s no on mountain accommodation at Mt Hutt, so visitors usually stay in Christchurch or the ski town of Methven.
Mount Cook Mackenzie
Roundhill, Mt Dobson and Ohau ski fields at Mount Cook Mackenzie offer a variety of beginners runs, intermediate groomed trails and challenging backcountry for the advanced snowboarder or skier. All three areas are located near the stunning alpine wonderland of Lake Tekapo. A UNESCO Dark Sky reserve, Lake Tekapo is a magnificent spot for stargazing. Tekapo Springs, a winter fun park, has a large ice skating rink, tubing area, ice hockey and curling area; it’s a great spot to take the kids for some off mountain entertainment. There’s plenty of accommodation in and around Lake Tekapo to suit any budget but advance bookings are strongly recommended.
Without question, Queenstown offers some of New Zealand’s best and most famous skiing and snowboarding. Its world-wide reputation as the adventure sport capital of the world makes it a popular year-round destination. You can drive from Queenstown and Wanaka in about an hour, weather and vehicle depending. Between the two towns are four ski fields: The Remarkables, Treble Cone, Coronet Peak and Cardrona.
For beginners, The Remarkables or Coronet Peak are the places to ski or board. The Remarkables is known as one of NZ’s best snow learning facilities and is geared towards families, with the Ozone Snow Tubing Park, family restaurant and ski school all top notch. 30% of the runs suit beginners and 40% suit intermediates, making it an excellent mountain for those honing their snow skills.
Coronet Peak is the closest mountain to Queenstown, just a 25 minute drive from the city. It’s also the ‘longest opening’ resort in the country, with Night Skiing and First Tracks (evening and morning skiing) available. Although it has slightly fewer beginner trails and more intermediate runs, it does have an Early Learning Centre and childcare services for children three months to five years, making it ideal for families with young children. Children six and under also receive free lift passes every day.
Cardrona’s an intermediate snow sporter’s paradise. Cardrona also has a variety of terrain parks making for some interesting and challenging skiing and boarding. They boast the best terrain and half pipe facilities in the Southern Hemisphere, so if you’re a snowboarder, Cardrona is the place for you; there’s even a 22ft Olympic SuperPipe. Cardrona’s an hour’s drive from Queenstown and thirty-five minutes from Wanaka; there are daily shuttles from both towns to the ski field.
Treble Cone’s for the experts; although it has a free beginner’s lift, 90% of the runs are intermediate to advanced level. Treble Cone’s known for its free-riding terrain, long wide runs and deep powder. If you’re heading to Treble Cone, stay in Wanaka as Queenstown is a 95-minute drive away.
Ready for your New Zealand snow adventure? The NakedBus offers daily transfers between most major North Island towns and cities and Ohakune, Whakapapa and National Village. KiwiRailScenic Journeys’ Northern Explorer services runs between Auckland and Wellington, stopping at both National Village and Ohakune. If you feel like exploring the surrounding scenery, the drive to Mt Ruapehu takes four hours from Auckland and approximately four hours and 45 minutes from Wellington.
Air New Zealand offers daily flights to Christchurch and Queenstown; to get around between ski fields, Europcar have fantastic car rental deals to get your winter snow adventure on the road.
Wherever you stay, make time for a visit to one of the countries famous hot springs – they’re the perfect treat to sooth your aching muscles after a long morning in the snow. Enjoy the season!
Main image credit: flickr.com/funkz