Best Places to Go Skiing in New Zealand
If you love skiing and love campervan road trips, then New Zealand should be at the top of your list. Being an island nation, you don’t have to drive more than a full day to cover a great distance, and the country’s ski fields are top quality and offer fantastic hospitality – even if you are on a minimal budget.
While New Zealand “only” has 9 commercial ski fields, it makes up in quality for what it lacks in volume. Tucked in among glaciers and extinct volcanic mountains, the island nation is a bit of an undiscovered winter sports treasure. Queenstown, the world’s adventure capital, has a bit of an international following, but the south island of New Zealand has three fantastic areas for ski buffs that are quite easy to access for travellers. Here are a few suggested stops when planning the ultimate ski road trip, starting in the north and heading south.
The North Island has fewer ski fields – only two main commercial spots – but it’s still worth a visit and is a great place to start your tour. Mt Ruapehu is one of three active volcanoes that make up what's known as Tongariro National Park, and it is home to two excellent ski fields. Whakapapa Ski Field is a good place to start, because it’s a nicely sized field and has a balanced variety of terrain for all skill levels. Snowboarding and free ski is popular here, and this resort stays busy all the way through spring due to weather patterns.
Mt Ruapehu’s other ski field is Turoa, a wide open field that feels untouched by nature, a great spot on a sunny day to fill your lungs with that fresh Kiwi air. Turoa is open Jun-September. Leaving the volcanoes behind (don’t worry – it’s unlikely they will erupt anytime soon), point your wheels towards the south and catch a ferry over to the south island, where winter makes it a skier’s playground.
The central portion of the South Island is a mountainous landscape, which has a couple of scenic rail lines, hiking areas, and of course – world-class ski fields. If you want to spend some time enjoying the relaxed urban vibe of Christchurch, you’ll find ski fields that are easy to visit as a daytrip, as well as destination resorts.
The two fields closest to Christchurch are Mt. Hutt and Porters ski field. Mt. Hutt is known for its “Kids4Free” program for children under 4 years old, but the field is one of the largest on the island, offering you plenty of terrain to explore medium and highly skilled routes. If you’re new to skiing, don’t miss the Mt Hutt ski school. Porters is closer and easier to access from Christchurch, and definitely is one of the best fields for intermediate skiers. Further afield but still central are the Ohau, Roundhill, and Mt Dobson ski fields. These are known for the surreal scenery, especially in the Lake Tekapo area, in addition to big trails and well-groomed runs.
Heading south to New Zealand’s adventure capital, Queenstown, you’ll find a ski region that is world-famous for adrenaline junkies and snow lovers alike. Between Queenstown and is neighbouring town of Wanaka, travellers have the choice of a variety of superb ski areas, all within an hour’s drive. Treble Cone, the most remote of them all in this area, is worth making the trek: you’ll find the longest vertical run in the country, legendary off-piste experiences, and views that are almost literally breathtaking.
Three other fields closer to Queenstown bring in the international crowds, as you just cannot get skiing this good in many places in the world. The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, and Cardrona offer wide rails, sometimes rollercoaster like conditions, and options for more adventure – such as heli-ski – making this the end to a ski trip you’ll never forget.
Below we take a look at the three best places on the south island to go skiing...
Top Rated Destinations
Christchurch / Canterbury
While not as well known, the Christchurch-Canterbury ski field area boasts the longest ski season of anywhere in New Zealand, pushing the limits of the country’s June to October general season. There are 2 ski fields in this region, about 1.5 hours from Christchurch via motorcoach. Mt. Hutt is one of the best in the region for its dramatic views and intense ski slopes – it’s worth visiting just for the photography options alone -- whereas Porters is more family-friendly and also beginner-friendly. Porters is a great option if you are visiting Christchurch and want a day out on the slopes, but most true ski buffs base themselves in the tiny hamlet of Methven, which rolls out the red carpet for winter sports enthusiasts.
Wanaka / Queenstown
Perhaps the most well-known of all ski regions in New Zealand, most travellers would agree this is also one of the prettiest. Queenstown also boasts innumerable hotels, inns, B&Bs, as well as top-notch restaurants to make a ski holiday here quite comfortable. Between Queenstown and Wanaka are four ski fields; Treble Cone is just past Wanaka and it is the largest ski field on the south island, so if you choose to stay in Wanaka, don’t miss it – the small town turns into a cosmopolitan mix of adventure seekers each winter. Back over in Queenstown, though, three ski fields within an hour. Coronet Peak offers world-class ski facilities and trails that are impeccably maintained and suitable for all skill levels. The Remarkables is just a good, old-fashioned fun ski spot, perfect for families or multi-generational ski travellers. Lastly, the Cardrona Alpine Resort is a large, bowl-like resort, with very wide trails giving new skiers a bit of room to find their feet, and experienced skiers the opportunity to try something new.
Mount Cook Mackenzie
This final ski area is located at the true heart of the south island – that means very dramatic, intense natural scenery, and the higher altitudes that make the snow fields a real treat. You’ll have your choice of three snow fields, about 3 hours from Christchurch, so travellers will want to plan to overnight in one of the smaller ski towns or villages in the area, such as gorgeous Lake Tekapo. Looking for untracked power trails? Then head to Mount Dobson, which has miles of black runs to provide an adrenaline challenge, as well as plenty of groomed trails for those not so brave. Roundhill is a haven for snowboarders as well as those who like to stretch their legs – trails stretch for miles in seemingly all direction. And after a recent upgrade, the Ohau ski field is looking fantastic, with great powder and excellent ski and snowboard trails.