You don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to experience some of the ski world’s best mountains and off-piste pursuits – they’re just across the Tasman.
With alpine scenery as striking as Switzerland’s, mountains as challenging as the Rockies and more off-mountain activities than anywhere else in the world, New Zealand offers even the fussiest traveller the ultimate ski holiday. We look at three ski regions you must visit.
1. The Mt Ruapehu Region
Most Australians don’t even know you can ski or snowboard in New Zealand’s North Island – but the Mt Ruapehu region offers two of Australasia’s largest ski resorts on one massive dormant volcano. You can ski Turoa and Whakapapa (New Zealand’s largest ski area) on one lift pass. Turoa and Whakapapa attract more snowfall than any other ski resorts in the Antipodes.
There’s everything here from NZ’s largest beginner area, to some of Australasia’s best backcountry and in-bounds ski terrain for those seeking extra thrills. You’ll find natural lava half-pipes, huge basins and steep chutes unique to this volcanic terrain and you can even ski between the two ski resorts across the crater of a volcano.
Right beside Turoa, Ohakune is New Zealand’s most unheralded ski village. Once famous for little more than its giant carrot statue (the region has strong farming roots), it’s now a bustling cosmopolitan ski town with everything from high-end restaurants to the country’s liveliest (and quirkiest) bars.
There’s also plenty of off-piste activities, from horse riding to white-water rafting to mountain biking to bungy jumping and you can also try NZ’s best day walk – the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
The region offers some of the most stunning scenery in NZ, much of Lord Of The Rings was filmed here and Mt Ruapehu itself was used to depict Mordor in the trilogy.
The Best Luxury Lodge?
If you like the idea of staying in a preserved chateau built in 1929 surrounded by the Tongariro National Park, check out Chateau Tongariro Hotel.
Got double vision? Guide To Europe vs North America Skiing
Quench your thirst: A Guide To The Finest Kiwi Wine Experiences
2. The Queenstown Region
There’s nowhere on Earth that offers skiers so many activities off the slopes. Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world – bungy jumping and jet boating were invented here – and you can hike, mountain bike, heli-ski, sky dive, or play golf in NZ’s best golfing region (five of the country’s best championship courses are located within 30 minutes of each other).
It’s also a bustling ski village with a ridiculous offering of bars and restaurants: over 100 – including some of New Zealand’s highest-end dining establishments – and they’re all surrounded by the world’s most photographed mountain ranges, and Lake Wakatipu – one of NZ’s largest lakes.
Queenstown’s also located within the world’s best pinot noir wine-growing region – the Central Otago district – where wineries balance above glacier-fed rivers.
But let’s not forget about the skiing and snowboarding Queenstown offers. There’s two of Australasia’s most scenic ski resorts less than 30 minutes from town. The Remarkables offer one of the ski world’s most scenic rides in, a drive along the edge of a mountain range to valleys right on top of the Southern Alps.
There’s terrain here ideal for beginners and intermediates, but for those looking for challenges, the Remarkables offer some of the steepest in-bound chutes a few minutes hike from the chair-lift.
Across the other side of the valley, Coronet Peak is NZ’s most popular ski resort, with Australasia’s best grooming (for those seeking perfect corduroy slopes) and night skiing twice a week overlooking the bright lights of Queenstown.
The Best Luxury Lodge?
To stay where Brad Pitt and Bill Gates have stayed before you at one of the world’s best luxury lodges, look no further than Blanket Bay Lodge.
3. The Wanaka Region
For those wanting a more relaxed atmosphere on holiday, the Wanaka region offers a charming ski village with plenty of high-end après and activity options, but at a slower pace than Queenstown, an hour’s drive south-west.
Wanaka is home to two of the world’s most under-rated ski resorts – Treble Cone and Cardrona. Treble Cone is actually the South Island’s largest ski area, but it receives far less of the plaudits showered on the Remarkables and Coronet Peak.
It’s home to the South Island’s most challenging ski terrain, with in-bound chutes and bowls to test expert skiers. It offers views across the Southern Alps and Lake Wanaka from almost every point of its ski slopes.
Cardrona is also an advanced skier’s dream with some of Australasia’s best terrain parks and half-pipes, as well as its best side-country terrain. But both mountains also offer intermediates and beginners plenty of options.
Wanaka was once a sleepy little farming village, but now it has a lively après ski scene. But it’s also great for couples with plenty of romantic options.
While it doesn’t boast the quantity of wineries of the Queenstown region, you have to try a long lunch overlooking the lakes amongst the grapes at Rippon Vineyard. There’s also boat cruises, hikes into national parks, mountain biking, heli-skiing, kayaking and trout fishing.
Best Luxury Lodge?
If sipping bubbles from a Jacuzzi looking down on Lake Wanaka, or taking a helicopter to the lodge’s mountain chalet sounds like your style, check out Whare Kea Lodge.