Of COURSE it “puked” down (as the young kids say about a snowfall) the moment we bid farewell to our Queenstown snow holiday.
We knew that we had taken our chances on booking a ski and boarding trip to Queenstown when it was so early in the season but I can tell you the lack of fresh snow did not prevent us from having a fabulous snow holiday, so never let that deter you from booking slightly outside of peak season.
We’re only just back in the skiing and snowboarding game after finding our snow legs in January after a very long absence in Hakuba and Nosawa Onsen (Japan) but it’s safe to say that if we’re not enjoying a beach holiday, we now love the appeal of a snow holiday, especially when travelling with kids.
That balance of activity and apre fun is just as appealing (for slightly different reasons 🤦♀️) as it was back in the days of radio Snowbus tours where sleep was definitely optional.
What Queenstown offers and what was attractive to us was the easy access to is a variety of ski options in a stunningly beautifully lakeside location that is renown for its world-class food and wine. And if you don’t want to ski or board, there are still lots of things to do.
9 tips for a Queenstown snow holiday
How to get there
We flew Virgin Australia direct from Brisbane into Queenstown. This is seriously one of the biggest advantages of choosing Queenstown as a base for a snow holiday. In less than half a day we were checked into our accommodation; ready to hit the slopes the next day. It really does make it possible to maximise a week’s holiday when you’re not losing two days in transit. Oh, and the views coming into land are next level amazing.
Queenstown Airport is small. Think the same size as a regional airport in Australia. It’s not a fast process getting out through customs but I think it still trumps flying into another New Zealand city and then flying on a domestic flight into Queenstown.
The airport is in Frankton about 20-30 minutes from the Queenstown centre, depending on traffic. There’s only one road in and out of Queenstown, so in peak hour it can be slower. We caught a maxi taxi (to accommodate Mr SY’s snowboard gear) to our accommodation, which was about 10-15 minutes away and it cost about $NZ35.
Where to stay
There are accommodation options in Queenstown for every budget, from youth hostels, to cabins, hotels, apartments and luxury private home rentals.
Because we were travelling in winter, I wanted a fireplace (such a novelty for a Queenslander!), self-contained accommodation with two bedrooms and a view of Lake Wakatipu. We also wanted easy access to transfers to the ski resorts.
If you’re looking for ski-in/ski-out accommodation, the only option is 15 on-mountain apartments at Cardrona. While this will definitely appeal to some, it very much limits what you can see and do in the evening that doesn’t involve a windy, steep road into the town of Cardrona itself.
There is definite appeal in staying right in the thick of things in the centre of Queenstown but for us, The Rees Hotel, which is about 10 minutes out of Queenstown was a perfect compromise. The hotel runs a free shuttle on the hour (and extra times on demand) into Queenstown and shuttles back. If you miss a time, cabs are about $NZ17 one way. You can also catch the water taxi for a special hotel guest price of $NZ5 per person. In summer, it would make a lovely 30-40 minute walk by the lake into town.
We booked an executive lake view, two-bedroom, two bathroom apartment. The only downside of our particular apartment’s location was the road leading into the carpark blocked a little of the view, making it not so private. I’m sure the couple out for their morning walk are still in shock at seeing us getting our thermals on for a day on the slopes. HAH.
The compact kitchen was perfect for our needs and the washer/dryer combo meant that we could easily wash our ski gear each night. To be honest, the only thing missing was a bathtub to soak weary ski legs at the end of the day.
Staff were incredibly attentive, helpful and friendly. You get the advantages of self-contained accommodation with those of staying in a hotel (beds made; washing up done; daily cleaning).
Where to hire your ski/snowboard gear
In researching where we were going to stay, I needed to know it would be easy to get the gear for myself and my son sorted on the afternoon/evening of our arrival so we could ski the next day. The Rees recommends Snow Pro, a mobile ski/snowboard hire and fitting company that comes to your accommodation. How good is that? I booked and paid online ahead of our arrival and Snow Pro staff arrived with options for us a couple of hours after we’d unpacked. They then placed it in the hotel ski locker for us, ready for the next day. At the end of our stay they picked it up from the ski locker. The quality of the equipment was great. Our son’s boots were even brand new. This arrangement very much suited us as we wanted to ski a couple of different ski resorts.
If you’re only planning to ski at one resort or just skiing for one or two days, then hiring your gear on that mountain might be the go. That way you don’t have to lug it anywhere. You get fitted on arrival, leave the gear there overnight and return at the end of your ski time. If you have any problems with your equipment, you can take it directly to where you hired it from.
In terms of what you need to wear on the slopes, I put together this video to help you buy, borrow or hire the right types of gear.
Where to ski
There are three ski resorts easily accessible from Queenstown. They’re not all operated by the one company, so you will need different lift passes for some. The nearest to Queenstown – Coronet Peak (25 minutes) and The Remarkables (45 minutes) – are operated by the same company, NZ Ski. Your lift passes will work for both of these ski fields. Cardrona is about 60-80 minutes from Queenstown. You’ll need separate lift passes for here.
Each of these three ski fields has a good mix of beginner, intermediate and advanced skiing options. They all need more snow right now to really open up the more advanced runs but I can tell you that the man-made stuff worked just fine for this green and blue run girl. For a fun option, try night skiing at Coronet Peak.
We split our time between Cardrona (three days) and The Remarkables (two days) and loved doing that for the variety. The Remarkables holds a special place in my heart as that’s where I first learned to ski back in 1987 😱- at the time I didn’t get past the learner burner conveyor belt slope but this time I went to the very top and down again many times over. We also loved Cardrona for its scenic runs and modern vibe. Both offered me Champagne options, so that made me a very happy girl. It’s the simple things, I tell you.
Do your research online at each of the ski fields to see what the best package options are for you. There are great deals for learners that include everything to get you started. Buy online before you go and redeem when you get to Queenstown (or the ski resort). Your lift pass is electronically coded and you carry it in your ski jacket for access to the lifts.
How to get to the ski fields
You could choose to hire a car, have your show chains on hand and be prepared to tackle the steep, windy roads to the resorts. This does give you more freedom as to how long you spend on the slopes each day but it wasn’t something we were keen to do.
The bus transport system for both Cardona and The Remarkables/Coronet Peak is efficient and cost effective. Book ahead to get your spot and then be at the bus stop ready for your morning (before sunrise) pickup. Our pick-up was across the road from The Rees Hotel (another reason why I chose the accommodation) and we were already on the way to the snow, being on the right side of Queenstown. We got back about 5pm from The Remarkables and 5.30pm from Cardrona but also had the option in Cardrona to leave earlier.
All the resorts offer great lesson options, from private lessons, to group and kids’ club offerings. If you’re a newbie, book a lift pass and lessons package. If doing a group lesson, do a full day for your first day to keep continuity with the same teacher. Our youngest did this (he transitioned to skiing from a brief flirtation and injury on a snowboard in Japan) and progressed so far in one day. At The Remarkables, he did another full day and this also included lunch.
I didn’t get lessons this time around as it had only been six months since I last was on the slopes. I would get a private next time to help me progress a bit further. And had I known that my instructor from Hakuba, Matt Alcock, was at Cardrona for the season (I ran into him on our last day), I’d have booked with him as he managed to get me up and skiing after 27 years AND save me from an unfortunate chairlift incident.
How to get around
We opted not to hire a car, instead booking the ski resort transfers and using the hotel shuttle bus or cabs for any trips into Queenstown centre. There is also a local bus service.
Where to eat and drink
All I can say is I’m grateful we were so active because the food situation in Queenstown is NEXT LEVEL. So next level, I’ve blogged about it separately HERE.
We self catered for breakfast, snacks and some wine by ordering online at Countdown supermarket for a delivery the afternoon of our arrival. Best. Move. Ever.
What to do when not on the slopes
Queenstown has so much on offer at any time of year but if you want to have a rest day or two from the snow, then consider jet boating, white water rafting, boat cruises, winery tours, Lord of the Rings and Glenorchy tours, fly-fishing or a trip to Arrowtown. More information HERE.
So, tell me, have you visited Queenstown for a snow holiday? What tips can you add to this post?
Why I think travel insurance is as important as your passport
For me, I don’t book a holiday without first taking out travel insurance. Often the time of booking flights and accommodation can be long before the time of travel and you can never be certain of what might happen between then and showing your passport at customs.
I then want to take off knowing that if someone in my family needs it, I’m backed up with help from my travel insurance company. For my last three international trips – to Europe, Hawaii and to Bali – I’ve chosen and paid for Allianz travel insurance. I also take out Allianz travel insurance for any domestic travel like this girls’ weekend or road trips we do.
Obtaining Allianz travel insurance is a simple and easy process. I select and purchase my cover online. I’ve found that the insurance cover is competitive in price for the inclusions I select.
For me, it’s about having peace of mind when we travel. I want to know that if anything goes wrong that my family is backed up through medical help or simply help with extra accommodation or replacement belongings should something be stolen.
When our son was sick six years ago while in New York, we weren’t concerned by the potential expense should we have needed hospital treatment. And when I book holidays in advance, I do so with the knowledge that if unexpected cancellations occur, I have travel insurance.^
In short, I don’t leave home – or book a holiday – without it.
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My 10-step packing guide for any destination
For me, the holiday planning is all part of the excitement and anticipation of being on that escape. I love nothing more than going down the rabbit hole that is the internet looking for inspiration and ideas for what to do at the chosen destination but also for the types of clothes and accessories that will best suit that destination at the time that I’m travelling.
The formula I use for packing is one that can be adapted and applied to every destination and type of holiday. It’s not complicated. If you follow all the steps it’s quite liberating. I can’t ever imagine returning to my bad old days of throwing everything into a suitcase, sitting on said suitcase to get it closed, and hoping that I’d packed what I needed.
Want to get that formula? It’s all in my e-book.