When it comes to natural beauty few places compare to New Zealand. I mean, honestly, it’s so beautiful it kind of makes my eyes hurt and I kind of find myself driving along saying, “Wow, look at that,” over and over. New Zealand is a magical wonderland and also happens to be home to some incredible spots perfect for a skiing and snowboarding holiday. If you’re thinking of taking a trip to NZ to enjoy a spot of fun in the snow, this is the guide for you! Whether you’re experienced or a total beginner (me) New Zealand has something to offer you and this guide is going to share with you everything you need to know about skiing and snowboarding New Zealand’s South Island.
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Must-know tips for visiting New Zealand’s South Island
If this is your first time New Zealand’s South Island there are a couple of things you need to know before you set off:
- Unlike Australia, you won’t find a never-ending roster of deadly predators lurking around the place. NZ is free from snakes, sharks, spiders and all those other deadly creatures that call Australia home.
- Kiwis love their burgers! You’ll find plenty of great burger shops dotted all over the South Island, including Devil Burger, Red Star, Burger Fuel and the eternally famous Fergburger. Be sure to try as many burgers as possible – it’s kind of your duty, right?!
- You can buy alcohol at supermarkets in New Zealand but will need your passport with you as ID (a driver’s license won’t cut it)
- The border control/customs team in New Zealand are super strict so be sure to clean any dirt off your shoes and don’t try to bring in any wooden or food items
- Kiwis are environmentally conscious, so keep your eye out for recycling bins and sustainable practices implemented around the place
- When driving from place to place make sure you factor in extra time to stop and photograph because you’ll likely spot some gorgeous spots along the way
How to get around New Zealand (safely) in winter
If you haven’t driven in New Zealand winter before or drive in snowy/icy conditions, here are a few things you need know:
- I strongly recommend hiring a car if you’re visiting New Zealand. There is so much to see and do, not having a car is really limiting, so if you can afford to do it, please do! It’ll really maximise how much you get to see and do as well as the great places you’ll get to visit.
- You’re going to need to carry snow chains, so be sure to watch this video on how to fit snow chains
- Don’t leave glass bottles or anything important in your car overnight, like cameras or laptops, as conditions get very cold and your water bottle will freeze and explode while your valuables could also freeze and be damaged
- You should buy a windscreen scraper, which you can pick up pretty cheap ($5), so you can scrape the ice off your windscreen in the morning, making it safer for you
- You need to be aware that black ice is real and it is dangerous. What is it? It’s a thin layer of glazed ice on a surface, like a road, and it’s pretty much transparent which makes it difficult to spot. I recommend you do some reading on how to drive to black ice conditions before you go, like this helpful WikiHow guide here which also comes with some great images.
- There are a large number of single-lane bridges in New Zealand, so don’t just go barreling up to any old bridge in your Yaris, expecting there to be enough room for you. There’s a sign in front of every bridge with a big black arrow and a small red arrow on it. Big black arrow has right of way, the little red arrow must wait. You can read more about how to cross a one-lane bridge in New Zealand here.
- You don’t really need to hire a GPS as it’s pretty easy to find your way around. That said, I would recommend getting a cheap sim card and loading enough credit on there to get some data and local calls, so you can use google maps if you need and call for help if you have trouble in bad weather conditions on the road.
Best time to visit New Zealand’s South Island for skiing and snowboarding
The general rule for visiting New Zeland and catching great snow is to visit from July to September. If you’re looking to beat the crowds you may want to plan your visit from around mid-June to early July. If the conditions are good and the snowfields open you may just find yourself having snowfields to yourself (just about), but the obvious risk here is there isn’t enough snow.
School holidays kick off from early July so you’ll lots of fantastic kids programs on offer at the snowfields (woohoo!) as they open and celebrate the start of the season. The only setback during this time is that you’ll be sharing the snow with lots of other people, so prepare for things to be busy. If you’re after the full winter experience, August is your best time to visit. This is the heart of winter when things are really cold and there’s plenty of fresh powder to go around. Again, it’s a super busy time so expect lots of visitors and peak prices for accommodation.
If you’re keen to avoid the crowds, consider visiting in September or even as late as October, when a number of visitors start to thin out, the days get longer and the weather is a bit warmer as spring begins to round the corner.
Which ski fields and resorts to visit
Need some insight and guidance on which ski field to visit? Here’s some insight on places I’ve visited and would recommend…
If you’re thinking of visiting gorgeous Queenstown, The Remarkables should really be on your must-ski list. We were very lucky to get incredible weather on the day we visited, affording views all the way over to Cardrona and beyond. It was also where I had my first beginner’s group lesson and I absolutely loved it! The Remarkables offers something for everyone, a short 37-minute drive from Queenstown.
You’ll find 3 terrain parks, 3 surface conveyor lifts, 1 six seater express chairlift and 3 quad chairlifts too. There are kids all-day lessons, lessons for adults, an Ice Bar and 385 hectares of terrain suitable for everyone from beginners and intermediates through to experts. Did I mention the food? Yeah, they have some fantastic bites available at the Ratusburn Cafe, Remarkables Cafe and Remarkables Restaurant.
The Remarkables offer a range of packages for visitors including, family packages, group bookings, first-timers packages and expert skiers and snowboarders packages. Also, if you’re keen to see more and save a buck, you can cash in on their Mountain Collective Pass or 3 Peak Pass. The Mountain Collective offers discounts and benefits internationally, while the 3 Peak Pass offers discounts and benefits for The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Mt Hutt. Well worth it if you’re planning on visiting a few spots!
One of my favourite ski sessions from our trip took place at Coronet Peak when we took part in their Twilight Session! After spending a whole day exploring Queenstown we headed up to Coronet Peak in the afternoon, just as most people were leaving. We got to watch the sunset over the stunning mountains (the views from Coronet are insane!) and take advantage of having so few people on the slopes with us. Coronet comes alive as the sun goes down with a DJ playing great music, mulled wine flowing, delicious pizzas on offer and fire pits lighting up the night. It was just the best atmosphere – so chilled and fun. Of all the fields we visited, Coronet offered some of my favourite views.
You’ll find Coronet Peak a 25-minute drive from Queenstown with night skiing on offer from 4 pm to 9 pm on specific days (it was Wednesday, Friday and Saturday during our July visit). There are 4 conveyor lifts, 1 six seater express chairlift, 2 high-speed quad chairs and 1 t-bar. There are 2 terrain parks and 280 hectares of snow waiting to be explored, with the longest run at 2.4kms. You’ll also find a tubing park, the skiwiland early learning centre, lessons for kids and adults alike and a great run perfect for beginners (me!).
Cardrona was definitely another highlight for me. By the time we got to Cardrona I had a few lessons under my belt and was ready to start tackling beginner slopes and Cardrona had the perfect slope for me – it felt great to graduate into being a semi-legit skier and mix it with the adults. Not to mention, the views from the top of the runs are just stunning, allowing you to see all the way over to Queenstown. I also loved the Chondola, which offers a less-stressful option to the chairlift (perfect for beginners or little ones) – it’s an enclosed, gondola-style lift that takes you up to the start of a friendly, green run, with no hassle.
You’ll find Cardrona 35 minutes from Wanaka, 60 minutes from Queenstown and 45 minutes from Arrowtown. The 385 hectares of terrain cover everyone from beginner through to expert and, as a beginner, I found it a really fun spot (note: they have tubing!). There are 3 conveyor lifts, a platter lift servicing the two half pipes and Big Air Jump, 3 four-seater lifts, 8 seater Chondola cabins and a 6 seater chair lift too. Of course, they offer a great kids club and lessons for anyone learning to ski (big and small!). They also have quite a few great dining options at Cardrona, including a champagne and coffee bar perched perfectly at the top of the mountain (yasss!) as well as a noodle bar, cafes, lounges and a pizzeria. Cardrona offers a range of packages for visitors, including some great first timer packages, lift, lesson and rental packages as well as a range of winter specials.
The boys absolutely loved Treble Cone as it offered some amazing terrain for those with a bit of experience. Again, the views from Treble Cone are just stunning, right up there with the amazing views from Cardrona and Coronet Peak. If you’re a beginner it’s a big transition to move from the learner’s hill to the easiest run on the mountain. It took me 1 1/2 hours of very hard work, under the watchful eye of my lovely instructor, Lorna, to make it down the run. But here’s the thing, because it was so hard I felt really confident when I hit the beginner runs at Mt Hutt and Cardrona. When I told people at the other fields that I’d made it down TC as my first ever run, they all said, “Wow, okay, if you can do that, you’ll find this really easy.” It was a great way to kind of rip the band-aid off quickly if that makes sense.
Treble Cone is the largest ski field in New Zealand’s South Island at 550 hectares (wow!) and really well suited to those with a bit of experience under their belts keen to shred hard as it’s comprised of 45% intermediate, 45% advanced and 10% beginner terrain. But, like I said, it can still work for beginners who are keen to get stuck in! There’s a great beginner package on offer which includes beginner lift access, a group lesson, ski or snowboard hire and a scenic chairlift ride. Intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders will love the 700m of vertical which includes the 4km High Street run while Raffles Run provides the very best views of Wanaka, 25 minutes drive away.
Of all the fields we visited, Mt Hutt was the biggest surprise package. From the top, standing on the snow, you can see all the way out to the water, which kind of blew our minds. By the time I visited Mt Hutt I had a few lessons under my belt as well as having made my way down Treble Cone twice and Cardrona a few times, so I was really ready to spend the day working on my turns and trying out my shred skills. I absolutely loved Mt Hutt! Highway 72 was the perfect run for me, offering plenty of space to take some nice, wide turns and soak in insanely good views of the local area.
Mt Hutt is around 1 hour 15 minutes drive from Christchurch, so it’s a great option for anyone visiting Christchurch without the time or funds to make it further down south. It’s also a great start or finishing spot for anyone on a bit of a snow tour around the South Island. You could fly into Christchurch, head down to Remarkables and Coronet Peak, up to Cardrona and Treble Cone then back up to Mt Hutt (or do it the other way round).
The boys also loved Mt Hutt as it offered 4 freestyle terrain parks, 365 hectares of snow to play on, 1 six seater, 1 four-seater, 1 three seater and 2 learner lifts as well. The guys, being more advanced, were able to really get into the terrain and leave the trails, giving them more to explore. Of course, there’s a childcare and a wide range of restaurants and cafes to visit – we ate at Huber’s Hutt and loved the food and coffee (and cold beers at the end of the day).
What to pack
Packing can be tough and a New Zealand snow trip is no exception, here are my tips on a few things you definitely need to pack:
- You’ll definitely need some nice, warm gloves that are waterproof
- A waterproof ski jacket and pants are absolutely essential
- I recommend a neck warmer, particularly one you can pull up over your lips and nose
- A good pair of ski goggles are great to block out the sun, wind and snow (if the blowers are on)
- Warm socks are essential (think really warm, wooly ones!)
- A comfy pair of waterproof shoes to wear to and from the ski fields
- Jumpers and fleece make for great layers underneath your ski jacket
- Sunscreen is another essential, be sure to slather it on before you go and reapply during the day
- It’s also a great idea to carry a good lip balm on you to help avoid chapped lips
- I didn’t tend to wear a beanie on the slopes as I was usually wearing a helmet
- You’ll also want to pop on some long johns or thermal underwear as your base layer, to help keep warm
- Don’t worry about ski or boarding gear if you don’t have it, each of the fields offers great quality gear rental.
Still not inspired to visit? Watch this…
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.