Family guide to a snow holiday in Queenstown
The surrounding mountains
The closest mountain to Queenstown is Coronet Peak, a 25-minute drive on paved roads It is so easy to drive and park there, and you can pre-book your lift tickets, lessons and hire gear online by registering for mypass before you leave home. Get your pass at guest services and then you can top it up online to ski at any of NZSki’s three New Zealand resorts. Coronet’s night skiing is legendary, held on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. Tuck into dinner, enjoy the entertainment and hit the slopes under the spotlights.
Here 25 per cent of the terrain is devoted to beginners. The green runs are easy. But it’s also easy to be distracted by the spectacular views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables: like crumpled lunch bags dusted with icing sugar.
There’s a lovely pizza restaurant, Heidi’s Hut, at the bottom of Rocky Gully. Just make sure the kids know how to ride a T-bar to get back to the top. We almost left one of them down there (and I noticed we weren’t the only forgetful parents). Try the terrific tubing park in between hitting the rollercoaster terrain.
The last time I drove up to The Remarkables, I thought I was going to die. The car started sliding towards the vertiginous drop. Traffic barriers were few and far between. Well, that’s changed. More barriers have been built, the road is sealed and Ski NZ staff are on hand to put your chains on when necessary. (Make sure you give them a tip. The poor guys are there seven days a week during the ski season.) The resort is also part of the NZSki stable and is a 45-minute drive from town. Or atch the shuttle from the Snow Centre so you don’t have to worry about roads or parking.
The Remarks is known for its terrain parks and spectacular views, and the kids’ learn-to-ski program is excellent. Almost a third of the runs here are for beginners. You’re surrounded by snow, giving new meaning to the phrase ‘winter wonderland’.
Within the base building, the resort has the best eating areas, with healthy and tasty choices like green chicken curry, chilli beans and noodles. Our visit coincides with a snowstorm, so we spend a lot of time scoffing and not much skiing.
“First one down without a broken leg is the winner!” the kids cry. We’re at the top of a terrain park at Cardrona, a marshmallow mountain 20 mins from Wanaka. The snow looks so soft you could eat it. (Avoiding the yellow patches, of course.) I agree to the race on one condition: no one ends up in hospital. A little bit of confidence can cause a lot of problems.
There’s a huge variety of runs at Cardrona, from wide and gentle greens to fast and fun blues. (I believe there are blacks, but it gives me heart palpitations to think about them.) This relaxed resort is family-friendly, but the main chairlift can be slow; head for the Whitestar or Captain’s Express Quads instead. Tip: the ‘singles’ queues are quicker, if your kids are older than 10. You can load money onto the electronic lift passes to swipe at the register for lunch in the food court. The systems in the hiring area are equally efficient.
My skiing, however, is not so smooth. Taj and I tear down Big Bucks Park towards one of the jumps, but I veer off at the last minute. Grace makes chicken noises: “Buk, buk, bugerk! You’re a big baby, Mum!” I point to Taj, who’s also skidded aside. “Oh, Mum, I SO want to get some air, but it’s a bit scary,” he says.
Closest to Wanaka, or 90 minutes from Queenstown, our final ski is at Treble Cone. The shuttle from Wanaka is a great option or drive your car, park at the base and take the free mountain shuttle up the hill. At 550 hectares, it’s the biggest resort on the South Island. Treble Cone is famous for its terrain, attracting advanced skiers and boarders who love it steep and deep. 90 per cent of the terrain is intermediate or advanced. I steer clear of that scary terrain and find plenty of intermediate runs. The Saddle area is a lovely big bowl with everything from groomed runs to chutes, while Home Basin has something for everyone. There is a decent beginner area for kids as well.
If you are going to ski Cardrona and Treble Cone, consider staying in Wanaka, a town that is smaller, but no less beautiful, than Queenstown. Wanaka has several family-friendly attractions and activities, including the much-vaunted Puzzling World with its amazing maze and other mind-challenging games and Illusion Rooms. The Great Maze was opened in 1973 and has been challenging families ever since.
Another highlight is a jet boat tour with Wanaka River Journeys. We blast along the Matukituki River into the spectacular Mount Aspiring National Park, which is so gorgeous it leaves us speechless. We pass four sites used in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I can’t help but picture a dashing Aragorn on the riverbank. My reverie is short-lived as we do a spin, then get off the boat onto the snow. We all stand silently, taking in the sheer majesty of this spectacular place. It is a great addition to your snow holiday in New Zealand’s South Island.
Queenstown is the perfect base for multigenerational families, especially if some of you don’t ski or snowboard. Queenstown is gobsmackingly gorgeous, its township prettily spread out around the glassy Lake Wakatipu, with the craggy, rugged, meringue-covered Remarkables Range the perfect backdrop. We are mesmerised by its changing hues and the mirror-perfect lake.
The centre of the town is compact, with restaurants, cafes, boutiques and ski hire places all handy. The choice of places to feed your hungry herd is vast, with something to please every palate, and as for things to do when you are not skiing or snowboarding, you won’t find many places with more to offer.
Queenstown activities with kids
The Lord of the Rings tour with Nomad Safaris is our pick, with a rip-roaring jeep trip through ice-cold creeks.
Try adrenaline fulled activities like jet boating, riding the ‘shark’, ziplining, indoor skydiving, bungee jumping, luge riding, horse riding and bike riding. Or seek more relaxing pursuits such as a cruise on the coal-fired steamship TSS Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu, doing a Segway tour, gold panning or strolling around the lake. For parents, spa treatments and onsens, wining, dining and shopping are all appealing.
We break the speed limit at the Highlands Motorsport Park near Cromwell. A gorgeous young driver makes my heart race on a Lamborghini hot lap: I can’t wipe the smile off my face. We pile into a Porsche for a family ride around the circuit, before battling it out in the go-karts. While I score a big fat zero for avoiding the ski jump at Cardrona, I get 10 out of 10 for winning the kart challenge.
You can’t leave Queenstown without eating one of Fergburger’s iconic massive hamburgers. Also try the delicious dumplings at Madame Woo.
Making family memories
We end our trip over a local Pinot at The Moorings Restaurant & Bar, at the Heritage Boutique Lake Resort. During dinner, we ask the kids about their favourite part of the holiday. Usually it’s “the pool!”, “the beach!” or “ice-cream!” But, this time, it’s different. “Spending time skiing with Mum and Dad,” Grace says, shyly.
It’s the first trip we’ve all been at the same level: There’s no better feeling than making it from top to bottom as a family. “Yeah, and chickening out on those jumps,” Taj says enthusiastically. “I’m glad we did that together! Made me feel like less of a scaredy-cat.”
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