Winter Ski Holiday Driving

An important difference of a New Zealand ski holiday is that you'll be driving to your ski area of choice each day. Drive with care in alpine conditions.

Drive with Care in Alpine Areas

One of the biggest differences during your ski and snowboard holiday in New Zealand is that you’ll be driving to your favourite mountain each day.

This is great because, in most regions - such as Canterbury and Queenstown/Wanaka , you’ll have several mountain choices and you can review current conditions and features. 

But it also means that you’ll be driving on alpine roads and weather can change quickly.  These factors can impact on the access roads and how you drive.

Alpine Roads
Nearly all roads to South Island ski areas are gravel (unpaved).   The surface of the road can be loose and move under your wheels……therefore there is little skid resistance.   So if you’re not used to driving in gravel – take care.

The ski resort staff work hard to keep the roads in good condition but you may be faced with mud, ice and on occasion, snow.

There is one road that is sealed (paved) to the top and that is Coronet Peak, near Queenstown.

Ski resort staff are up early in the morning (well before sunrise) to assess the road, undertake any maintenance and provide you with a full report on current conditions.  Take heed.  These guys are experienced and are literally on the spot.  You can check out their information either from reports at your accommodation or via ski areas websites or mobile apps.

During the season you can check out the snow reports for each ski area here.

Remember conditions can change rapidly so always observe any signs or notices.   Adjust your driving to the conditions.

Arranged Transport
All ski resort towns have shuttles or buses to their nearby ski area(s).  The frequency and style will vary, so it pays to check this out in advance.

These vehicles are specially suited to the alpine conditions and have drivers who are experienced in both the road conditions and the winter weather.

If you have any hesitation about driving in an alpine environment, organized transport is a good option.

Check out the transport options here:

Self Drive

This gives you flexibility and convenience, but also responsibility.

You should always drive to the conditions and according to any instructions from ski resort management and New Zealand traffic authorities.  The conditions can change very quickly.  Ice sometimes cannot be seen and snow can be difficult to drive in if you’re not accustomed to it.   The roads are graded, which sweeps the road of snow, but if it is actually snowing then this will accumulate on the road.

Most rental cars will offer chains (sometimes for an extra fee).  Make sure you include them as you’ll never know when you might need them.

Always check the snow and road report for the ski area you are planning to visit.


If you need to fit chains, due to snow and ice, here are some tips:

• Fit them at the assigned location where there is adequate space to do so.
• If you are not sure how to fit chains, have your rental car agency customer services staff provide you with information when you pick up your car, or if mountain staff are available, ask them.
• Usually you’ll be fitting chains when it is freezing cold, muddy and slushy.  A useful tip is to take a ground-sheet and ladies you may like a few wet wipes in the car to clean your hands!
• Some ski areas provide staff that will put your chains on for a small fee – well worth it.

Check out this video for directions.

 Here are some winter driving tips from New Zealand’s Transport Agency.
• Check your car to ensure key items are in good condition; e.g. tyres, window wipers
• Adjust your driving to the conditions
• Watch your visibility and travelling distances
• Break carefully
• Reduce speed
• Dip your headlamps in fog

For full details visit the NZTA website.

Article by

  • Phone
  • Visit our website

Have you got a great story to tell? Add your own article