Winter’s Wonders

There’s snow reason to stay indoors this winter. While other countries brace for wintry weather, in Aotearoa we rejoice in all the wonderful things season has to offer.

From skiing to wine tasting by open fires, hot pools in the snow and plenty of fun events to pencil in – from book festivals to beer, snow to Hobbits and even midwinter Christmas – there’s no reason to spend the colder months simply waiting for spring. Winter is no reason not to  head to the beach, with the winterless north and even the top of the South Island known for their subtropical climates. But it’s also a  wonderful excuse to rug up, head indoors and indulge in the warmth of our great museums, art galleries, food, wine and beer.

Head for a wine region and visit the cellar doors that rejoice in the colder months by lighting the fire and serving up their best pinot noir. Do  a road trip through the regions, or one of our great cities, taking in all the best galleries you can find, or design your own food-centric route,  visiting local cafes and restaurants, roadside stalls, markets, and food and beverage producers. But of course the real drawcard in a New  Zealand winter is snow, best enjoyed on our many ski fields. Whether you’re a skier or boarder from way back or want the simple joys of  playing in the snow with the kids, there are plenty of options.

On the North Island, Mt Ruapehu has two fantastic options for all levels: Whakapapa and Tūroa. Located on the flanks of the country’s  highest volcano, you can ride over ancient lava flows, old crater rims and other exciting volcanic terrain. Whakapapa is one of New Zealand’s  largest fields, and is also one of the best places to learn to ski or snowboard in their excellent beginner’s area, Happy Valley, which has four
carpet lifts. If you prefer to venture up to higher altitudes, the country’s longest gondola, the 1.8km Sky Waka, will take you there in style –  it’s worth the trip for the views and the Knoll Ridge Chalet.

On the maunga’s southwestern slope is Tūroa, famous for its natural halfpipe-like bowls and smooth wide open slopes. It has the highest  chairlift in New Zealand, and the longest vertical. And once you’ve shredded enough slopes for the day, the nearest town Ohakune, which  transforms into a ski resort for winter, is the perfect place for après-ski.

In the South Island, be sure to try Rainbow Ski Area next to Nelson Lakes National Park. Just a couple of hours’ drive from Nelson or  Blenheim, friendly Rainbow is club-run but open to everyone, and perfect for the whole family. Wide, uncrowded slopes and groomed trails  suit all abilities, and the view over Lake Rotoiti from the top of the t-bar is something special. In Canterbury, Mt Hutt has been voted New  Zealand’s best ski resort at the World Ski Awards for the last seven years, for good reason. Soar down the wide-open terrain, huge snowfalls  and ridge-top trails while marvelling at massive views of the sweeping Canterbury Plains below. There are plenty of lifts to take you up
there, and lessons to teach you how.

Then, on to New Zealand’s premier ski resort. Nestled on the shores of Lake Whakatipu, Queenstown is known for its breathtaking scenery,  vast range of experiences, cosmopolitan vibe and, of course, ski fields. The region’s four ski areas, all within a handy 25 to 90-minute drive of Queenstown, offer a range of terrain for all levels – whether you’re keen to conquer the basics, cruise the groomed runs, tackle off-piste, or  throw down some freestyle tricks. Closest to Queenstown is the roller coaster terrain of Coronet Peak, which celebrates its 75th birthday with  festivities from 17 to 21 August. Explore a huge variety of terrain with epic views over the spectacular valleys and mountains and be sure to  try the famous Night Ski, starting on 22 June from 4pm to 9pm.

Across the valley, the rugged, iconic Remarkables range hosts the Remarkables Ski Area, which features the high-speed six-seat chairlift  which opened in 2020, providing access to longer, wider and newer runs.

Heading towards Wānaka, you’ll find Cardrona Alpine Resort, which has arguably New Zealand’s newest in-bounds terrain of two bowls  across 65 hectares, barely used before last year’s lockdown. With views over Arrowtown and Queenstown, it’s worth exploring. Cardrona also offers on-mountain apartments, just a minute’s walk from the lifts. Unsurprisingly, they’re very popular, so be sure to book in advance.

The closest field to Wānaka is the South Island’s largest ski field with the longest vertical rise, Treble Cone. A playground for all abilities, its legendary off-piste terrain and long, uncrowded groomed runs come complete with incredible views over Lake Wānaka and the Southern Alps.

For those in search of pristine powder backcountry, heli-skiing is always an option with plenty of operators happy to take you to the best  spots in the Southern Alps.