It might be obvious, but Queenstown’s reason for being is all about the winter sports. The area is beautiful all year round, but we were there to ski (along with almost everyone else). That said, other than the mountains, there is a huge amount to do in Queenstown, inside or out.
It makes sense to start with the mountain bit, as, let’s be honest, they have a tendency to dominate proceedings, being mountains and all. There are two ski fields in the immediate area; The Remarkables and Coronet Peak. Both fields are owned by NZ Ski, who also own Mt Hutt, just out of Christchurch. As I’ve said before, one ski pass covers all three fields, so if one’s closed, you can use your pass at one of the other two fields.
The Remarkables is the higher of the two fields in Queenstown, and is higher than Cardrona also (read about my love of Cardrona here). The base of the field is higher in fact, than the top of Coronet Peak. This means that the likelihood of snow in the early season is far higher than on many other ski fields. That, combined with the fields valley based situation makes for some fairly decent skiing. There’s a good mix of beginner through to experienced runs, with enough variety to keep interest levels up. The altitude makes The Remarkables quite cold, so extra layers are a must.
Coronet Peak is situated directly across the valley from the Remarkables. In fact, both ski fields offer spectacular views of the other. Which can be a double edged sword if you’ve chosen the field with blizzard conditions, while in plain sight of sunshine and good times on the other side. Coronet is at a lower altitude, which means early season conditions can be a bit slushy later in the day. However, it’s a very popular field, with varied terrain. It’s popularity comes with crowded lift queues during the school holidays, but there are runs out to either side of the main trails to disperse the crowds somewhat.
Both fields are very close to Queenstown, taking under 30 minutes to reach. The Remarkables road can be a bit challenging (it’s steep and winding) but the views are unparalleled on the way down. Coronet Peak is a far easier drive, but you pay with increased crowds. If you’re keen on night skiing, Coronet also offer night passes, allowing you to ski under lights until 9pm.
While I was there (sadly too late to do anything about it), I found out what all the locals seem to know. Coronet Peak offer a “first tracks” ticket (which you pay for on top of your regular pass), giving priority access to the lifts. If you’re happy to be up early, you can ski from 8am instead of 9am. I spoke to a few locals who say they get in all the best runs early and are out of there by 10am. Don’t tell them I told you.
All the details about lift passes at Coronet Peak and The Remarkables are available here.
If you’re not into skiing or boarding, Queenstown offers all the touristy things that are so well known to be almost cliched. The Shotover Jet, Bungy Jumping, Lord of the Rings tours, winetasting, etc. To be honest, venturing out to do the Shotover mid-winter is not my idea of a good time. I’d be inclined to come back when it’s a little warmer for such water bourne entertainment.
Here’s a few other things on offer:
- The Queentown Gondola/Luge – definitely worth doing, if only to have your breath taken away by the imposing landscape. It’s mighty cold up there mid-winter, so many many layers are a must. The luge is great fun, but smaller kids may need an adult to ride with them. It’s worth mentioning, there’s a Jelly Belly themed store up there to give your kids the sugar rush they need. There’s also a pretty respectable cafe/restaurant, which is also open for dinner.
- XD Dark Ride – On a rainy day, this 3D, motion simulator cinema experience is a good way to pass half an hour or so. They have three options which include shooting at aliens, zombies or robot bandits, with different levels of age appropriateness. It’s VERY expensive, but the kids loved it.
- Ice Skating – this is super cute and winter appropriate for Queenstown. It’s situated in the Botanic Gardens on the banks of Lake Wakitipu. Sadly it’s not outdoor, but this is a blessing on a rainy day when you can’t get up the mountain (see my post on what to do in Wanaka on a rainy day here)