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New Zealand’s compact geography offers a very rare opportunity where you can go from surfing at the beach to skiing on epic mountains all within a couple of hour’s drive. It is a true outdoor enthusiasts dream playground and you can tour the country experiencing the varying terrains from the majestic Alps in the South to the Volcanic slopes of the North.
Best time to travel:
If you are planning a snow-focused trip to NZ the best time to travel is between July - September. If you have time on your hands start your travels in the North over summer and migrate to the South Island for the winter season.
How to get there:
If you are planning to visit some of the more remote private ‘Club Fields’ it’s probably best to hire a vehicle (preferably 4WD).
For those who are not confident driving, or are travelling solo and would like to meet some people along the way you should consider a hop-on hop-off adventure bus. This will give you access to all the main ski regions as well as other interesting destinations along the way.
Hire a Spaceship: a custom designed, award-winning camper that is like a car to drive but with more useful features than a campervan. Pick up your Spaceship in Christchurch, hit the south island ski fields before touring North to drop your vehicle off in Auckland.
Stray – Hop-on Hop-off Adventure Bus; check out the “Short Arthur Pass”, which starts in Christchurch, going via Arthurs Pass and Franz Josef Glacier before hitting Wanaka, Queenstown and Mount Cook. Northbound you will visit Kaikoura before crossing over to the North Island with an option to hop off in Tongariro National Park for more skiing and hiking options.
South Island Ski Fields
The Canterbury region near Christchurch is home to two commercial ski fields, Mt Hutt and Porters as well as a cluster of interesting private ski fields better known as the “The Clubbies” (Club Fields).
Porters is the closest ski field to Christchurch and is a popular option for families. It’s classified as having 15% learners, 35% intermediate and 50% advances with some beautiful long steep runs in ‘Bluff Face’ and ‘Big Mumma’.
Mt Hutt is Canterbury’s biggest ski field with some of New Zealand’s most reliable snowfalls, a big open southeast facing bowl and plenty of advanced terrain; all serviced by a big high speed six and a triple chair lift. The south face and top towers (double black diamond) offer some of the best skiing!
If you’re an experienced skier looking for a unique kiwi ski experience, visit The “Clubbies”; quiet and relaxed fields in the Canterbury region run by small clubs that still operate like they did in the glory days, with no groomers, but plenty of advanced terrain and powder days! Cragieburn, Plake and Broken River fields are all serviced by rope tows which require ‘nutcrackers’- a harness strapped around your waist which you clamp onto the rope tow, which means you get a work out going up the hill as well as skiing down. The technique doesn’t take long to perfect but can be frustrating for beginners, especially snowboarders. Glove protectors or old gloves are a must. All three “Clubbies” fields have bookable accommodation on the mountain in the ‘Club’ Itself.
When you’re satisfied that you’ve conquered the Canterbury region, jump on a Stray bus (‘Arthurs Pass’ is recommended) in Christchurch and head through the iconic Arthurs Pass, known as the backbone of the South Island, to visit the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers before cruising down into Wanaka.
Wanaka is an iconic ski town set on the beautiful shore of Lake Wanaka. Most people opt to stop off here and spend a few days at the Cardrona and Treble Cone ski fields.
If you are taking to the slopes for the first time, Cardrona (35 minute drive from Wanaka) is considered New Zealand’s best field for beginners with loads of wide-open gentle terrain and reliable snow. There are also some steep options through the Arcadia Chutes to keep advanced skiers interested and for the ‘jibbers and park nuts’, Cardrona boasts NZ’s best park set up. Stray passengers get a special discount at Cardrona on ski packages including gear rental, clothing, transport and lift passes.
Treble Cone is a popular option with Wanaka locals with good reason – it’s one of NZ’s best ski fields for advanced skiers with steep and challenging terrain. The saddle basin offers the double black diamond Motatapu Chutes where the New Zealand National Big Mountain Champs are held each year and beautiful views of the Matukituki Valley and over Lake Wanaka.
Hop back on the Stray bus and head for the New Zealand’s adrenaline pumping heart: Queenstown! World-renowned for adventure tourism, scenic beauty and fantastic skiing at Coronet Peak or the Remarkables ski fields amongst other accolades. Queenstown is undoubtedly New Zealand’s most popular tourist destination so whether you are a skier or boarder, beginner or advanced you’ll definitely want to hop off here for a few days
Just 25 minutes from Queenstown is Coronet Peak, one of New Zealand’s oldest and busiest commercial ski fields. This south-facing field has great facilities and variable terrain with something for everyone including an expansive beginners area. Coronet Peak also offers some of NZ’s only night skiing on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Remarkables is located across the valley from Coronet Peak on the north-facing side of the mountain. It is a newer addition to the Queenstown ski scene and has flat beginner and intermediate terrain, or for those who are prepared to ‘earn their turns’ and hike; some excellent steep skiing is also available in the south facing Lake Alta Chutes… not to mention eye watering views of the surrounding Queenstown area.
Mackenzie Country - Ohau
After visiting Wanaka and Queenstown the Stray bus heads north through Mackenzie Country alongside the Southern Alps and stops for the night at the base of Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain. In Mackenzie Country you’ll find some of the South Island’s quieter ski fields, which are an experience in their own right. Hop off in Twizel to visit Ohau ski fields which runs up from the scenic Lake Ohau. This field has a southeast facing bowl with a double chairlift running straight up the middle, varied terrain and great views over the lake. There is a fantastic lodge at the base which is a beautiful spot to hang out regardless of the ski conditions.
Another option is to hop off in Tekapo for Round Hill, which features New Zealand’s longest rope tow and provides some great options for the intermediate skier/boarder.
North Island Ski Fields
The Stray bus travels up the South Island via Kaikoura where there’s no skiing but plenty of whales, dolphins, seals, albatross and crayfish to fill the gap! Kaikoura is New Zealand’s best place to stop and enjoy the marine wildlife. From Kaikoura you’ll continue north crossing Cook Strait by ferry. The next ski destination on route is Tongariro National Park located in the centre of the North Island.
Tongariro National Park is the oldest national park in New Zealand and is home to three active volcanic mountains: Tongariro, Ngauruhoe (also known as Mount Doom to Lord of the Rings fans), and Ruapehu where all the ski action happens.
Ruapehu has two ski fields with slightly different vibes.
Turoa Ski Field is on the Southwest side of Ruapehu, offering Australasia’s biggest vertical drop, lots of big open runs and being South facing boasts more reliable snow of the two Ruapehu fields.
Whakapapa Ski Field which is located on the North side of Ruapehu has a true volcanic feel, making it a unique place to ski. For the intrepid there are some awesome advanced skiing/riding ‘out west’ along with the option to hike up to the Crater Lake for impressive views over the volcanic plateau.