Winter in the Southern Hemisphere can be a bit of a buzz kill. Wet, cold, and miserable – my favourite 🙅🏼♀️. I’ll let you in on a secret though… there is one place down around my neck of the woods, that makes a southern winter, a little bit magical. That place is called New Zealand.
Winter in New Zealand is absolutely stunning. I mean, in my humble opinion, winter anywhere is amazing – obviously. But, New Zealand is one of those places that even non-winter lovers can enjoy during winter. How you ask? Queenstown. That’s how.
Queenstown is an absolute mecca of activity. There are a ton of things to do, whether you are a ski enthusiast or not. You get the feeling like you are in a smaller-scaled Canada. The mountains have a ‘rockies’ feel – snowcapped and stunningly reflected in the lake. Everyone is happy and friendly. What’s not to love?!
Of course, New Zealand is a stunning place to visit anytime of year. But this post is going to zone in on winter in Queenstown, focusing on the in’s and out’s of the ultimate winter holiday in Queenstown.
When Should I Go?
Anytime ever! But for Winter – wellllll between June and September is the easy answer. Let me explain.
Ski resorts generally officially open on June long weekend every season – however, this is obviously weather dependent. If you aren’t an avid skier, and are happy for there to be very little snow on the ground, this is a great time to get your hands on some off-peak flight and accommodation deals.
With that being said, we know that you actually want to spend most of your time skiing, so August is your guy!
It is peak season for a reason! I personally wouldn’t pay out a ton of money for flights and lift tickets to ski any earlier. Those beautiful snowcapped mountains have boulders underneath ready to destroy the bottoms of your ski’s or board. Ride carefully my friends.
Where Should I Stay?
If it’s your first time to NZ, you should 100% stay in Queenstown. You will be close to all the activities, bars, restaurants and shopping.
If it’s your second or third time, why not stay in Wanaka? It’s another beautiful lakeside town, surrounded by snowcapped mountains. There is a lot less ‘happening’ in Wanaka, which some will undoubtedly prefer.
In Queenstown, we stayed at the beautiful BreakFree The Waterfront in a huge 2-bedroom lake view apartment. What a treat! There were four of us on this trip, so sharing this size accommodation was pretty reasonable.
Regardless of whether you’re travelling in a group, as a duo or solo, I would highly recommend looking into apartment style accommodation. Even if it is a studio apartment. The key is the kitchenette! We want to keep those pennies in your pocket for après beers and make use of the kitchen facilities ☺️
While you can get around without one, I would highly recommend that you hire a car for your time in Queenstown. And by car, I mean a 4WD or an All Wheel Drive at the very least.
The roads up to the ski resorts are steep, winding and either snowy or gravelly. It can be super sketchy at times, so take it easy if you’re not confident driving in these conditions. And remember, keep left where possible so more confident drivers can get around you.
The first time I went to Queenstown, we didn’t pre-book a hire car, and got extremely lucky picking one up from the airport. But we did paid way too much for it. The second time, I pre-booked a 4WD in advance for a much cheaper price. The lesson here? Book in advance for peak periods 👍🏼 (my motto, right?)
If you aren’t able to hire a car, you can get around using public transport – including to and from the ski resorts. This of course doesn’t give you the flexibility or freedom to come and go when you please, but it is better than nothing!
Where Should I Ski?
Well, there are four mountains between Queenstown and Wanaka, and each mountain has different characteristics.
Just over 20 minutes drive from Queenstown, Coronet Peak is somewhat of an easy choice for holiday makers. Depending on what you would consider small, I would say that Coronet Peak is a small resort with only 4 chair lifts. Small or not, there are amazing views of Arrowtown and beyond to Queenstown from the top 😍.
Something to be aware of is that this mountain can be subject to extremely icy conditions which can be both dangerous and terrifying, even for experienced riders. Hence the aptly created nickname, ‘Concrete Peak’.
The terrain is mostly geared towards intermediate to advance riders, with only a handful of runs suitable for complete beginners. You can check out the ski resort map by clicking here.
Look, at the end of the day, I’ll admit that I am super fussy when it comes to deeming a ski resort ‘good’ or not. Coronet Peak was my least favourite of the four resorts, but I still think it’s worth a visit. You’re most likely, not nearly as fussy as me 😂. If you can time your visit so that you visit just after a load of fresh snow, you’ll be just fine.
The Remarkables is about a 40 minute drive from Queenstown. It’s quite a windy drive, so be prepared 😬🤮. Even though this resort is smaller than Coronet Peak, with only 3 chair lifts, it has a lot more varied terrain that is suitable for all skill types. You’ll see on the trail map that there is lots of runs suitable for beginners, with plenty of expert lines for those after something more challenging.
What I also love about Remarkables is that beginners can go all the way to the top of the mountain, with an easy run all the way down. I think this is really important if ski resorts can manage this. Beginners also deserve to feel like they’re on top of the world ☺️ – especially when they’re likely feeling bruised and battered throughout the learning process 😬.
I actually also loved the Terrain Park at Remarkables (and I am no expert when it comes to riding park!). They boast 7 terrain parks in total! These are aimed at all different skill levels too so no excuse to not have a go.
The only downside I found to Remarkables was that the runs felt quite short and so the mountain can get boring, quickly. But for the most part, it’s an awesome little resort and well worth a visit.
Cardrona Alpine Resort
Cardrona Alpine Resort is easily the most popular of the four resorts due to its size and versatility. Even though it has only 5 chair lifts, the terrain is a lot more spread out and the runs are a lot longer, so it naturally feels like there is more to explore. Check out the lift map here. In terms of level suitability, I would say it is equal across all riding levels. There really is something for everyone!
It sits just over an hours drive away from Queenstown and about 30 minutes drive from Wanaka. The drive from Queenstown can be a bit slow over the Crown Range if the weather is bad, so check the road report and drive safely during winter.
Cardrona is known for being the most family friendly, as well as being home to the most insane park that attracts professional riders from all over the world. Being able to watch these guys shredding from the chair lift is an added bonus. And the views from the top, phenomenal 😱😍
Hot Tip: If you do plan to visit Cardrona more than twice during your trip, it could be worth considering staying in Wanaka, rather than making the trip from Queenstown everyday.
Last but not least, my favourite, Treble Cone! If you’re into stunning alpine views and awesome off-piste terrain, this resort is for you. Treble Cone is a solid 1.5 hour drive from Queenstown, and about 30 minutes from Wanaka.
Hot Tip: If you can visit this resort after bulk fresh snow, you will potentially explode of happiness. I would definitely recommend to plan ahead and schedule your day at Treble Cone after some fresh snow, as without it, it could turn into a very challenging resort, very quickly.
We were lucky enough to have visited Treble Cone after it had been closed for a day due to crazy blizzards. By the time we got there, were were zooming through 30 cm of powder! (relatively heavy, southern hemisphere powder but hey powder is powder 🤷🏼♀️).
Unfortunately, I would not recommend Treble Cone for beginner riders at all. There is only one green run that snakes from top to bottom, and would get very boring, very quickly. If you are a confident intermediate or above though, you will love it. Check out the trail map by clicking here.
What’s the Weather Like?
The weather in Queenstown during winter is similar to that of an Australian ski season. In town, you’ll likely see temperatures ranging from around 0 to 10 degrees during the day time. At night, it can get just below zero so make sure you have a warm coat to wear around town.
On the mountain, I would say the average temperature will range from around -3 to -5 degrees. However, if it’s super windy, this can feel as cold as negative 10. My best advice is to layer up. I actually wear almost the same amount layers in Australia and New Zealand as I do overseas. The amount of times I start off the day too warm, and am freezing within an hour is ridiculous. Also, don’t forget to protect your face from the sun and windburn with a neck gaiter.
All of the resorts have lockers for hire, so if you’re not sure what your threshold is for cold weather, you can always take a bag with extra layers and leave it safely locked away.
What is There to do on Rest Days?
There are literally tons of things you can do on your rest days! The first time I went to New Zealand, we were there for 10 days and only ended up riding 5 of those days.
I’ve put all of my suggestions into a seperate post, ‘Queenstown, New Zealand – A Travel Guide’, because there is literally that much to do!
So, if you weren’t already sold on skiing in New Zealand, I hope you are now! If you have any questions about your upcoming winter holiday in Queenstown, feel free to post them below! ☺️