All four snow resorts – each with its own ski school and on-mountain restaurants – are suitable for beginners through to experts, but of course everyone has their favourite. About 15km (25 minutes drive) from the centre, Coronet Peak is the closest resort to Queenstown and therefore the busiest. With a good combination of wide open pistes and well-groomed trails, there’s plenty of fun to be had here. It might be Queenstown’s lowest resort, but a multimillion-dollar snowmaking system ensures good cover throughout the season.
On a clear day, you can see The Remarkables (also known as ‘Remarks’) ski area, 24km (37 minutes drive) from Queenstown, across the valley from Coronet Peak. The two resorts are linked, allowing you to save a few bucks by purchasing a multi-day pass that can be used at either resort; hand it in at the end of your trip to recoup your NZ$5 deposit. Despite having 220ha of skiable terrain to Coronet Peak’s 280ha, The Remarkables is higher and thus receives more powder days. It also has an excellent terrain park, and offers some amazing off-piste for expert riders when there’s adequate cover.
An hour’s drive from Queenstown (43km), Cardrona is particularly popular with families for its wide open basins, abundance of intermediate terrain, and excellent childcare facilities. With world-class freestyle facilities including two halfpipes, it’s also a hit with snowboarders.
Another half an hour’s drive north of Cardrona (27km past Wanaka), Treble Cone requires the furthest trek for fresh lines, though you’ll thank yourself for making the effort. Linked to Cardrona, with similar discounts for multi-day ski pass purchases, Treble Cone is the highest and largest ski area on New Zealand’s South Island, and also boasts the longest vertical (700m) of Queenstown’s winter resorts. With plenty of challenging off-piste to explore, Treble Cone is most popular with advanced riders, but there’s also a special slope for beginners, and several long, leg-burning intermediate runs. Cashed-up powderhounds may also be interested in heli-skiing options in the area, or cat-skiing at the private Soho Basin resort near Cardrona.
Self-drive or ski bus?
A handful of ski bus companies offer daily return services to all four resorts from a range of departure points (around NZ$30-55 per person return); stop in at Queenstown’s Visitor Information Centre (22 Shotover St) for more info. By opting for one of these services, you won’t have to worry about fitting snow chains to your rental vehicle (never fun!) or stress about having to navigate the region’s mountain roads, which can get a little hairy.
Alternately, self-driving affords the flexibility to make last-minute decisions about where to ski each day, and leave a resort whenever you wish. With multiple car rental outfits located at Queenstown Airport, it’s super easy to arrange car hire, and if you’re in a group of more than two, self-driving is likely to be more cost-effective. All ski resorts have free parking.
Where to go for après ski
With more than 40 drinking dens packed into one square kilometre, the sheer volume of Queenstown bars makes up for the lack of ski-in access. Options run the gamut from kitsch to classy; alpine-themed Rhino’s Ski Shack and the new incarnation of local institution World Bar are just two great starting points. For cocktails, head to Little Blackwood, The Bunker, or Bardeaux, which has a particularly extensive wine list. If it’s a dance-on-tables sort of night, boogie down to Winnies on The Mall.
Still in your ski boots? Stop in at the historic Cardrona Hotel for a mulled wine on your way back to Queenstown from Cardrona or Treble Cone.
Where to soak it up
For a small town, Queenstown has a surprisingly varied dining scene spanning Mexican to mod-NZ flavours. Don’t leave town without sampling a ‘fergburger’ from the eponymous burger bar, which are totally worth the hype (and the queue). Next door, Fergbaker is a top spot to grab a coffee and a pastry before jumping on the ski bus of a morning. If you’d prefer to sit down (and keep drinking), Pub on the Wharf has an excellent NZ$20 dinner menu, as does nearby Atlas Beer Café.
For those after something a little more high-end, head to Madam Woo for fancy Malay-Chinese street food, or indulge in some seriously fine NZ dining at Rata, helmed by Michelin-starred chef Josh Emett. If you’re planning to take a day off skiing, schedule a lazy brunch at hip Bespoke Kitchen, which offers one of Queenstown’s best breakfast menus.
Whether you’re looking to take a break from the slopes or don’t ski at all, you’ll be pleased to know that most of Queenstown’s top activities are available year-round. For adrenalin junkies, there’s skydiving, jet boating, paragliding, quad biking and whitewater rafting. You can also brave one of several canyon swings and bungee jumps including the Nevis Bungy – at 134m it’s New Zealand’s highest.
Slightly less extreme pursuits span horse riding to snowshoeing, to taking the Skyline Gondola to Bob’s Peak above Queenstown for activities including Ziptrek (a ziplining ecotour) and the gravity-fed Skyline Luge, while more relaxing options include wine tours, brewery tours, Lake Wakitipu’s Underwater Observatory, lake cruises, Lord of the Rings tours, or simply soaking away your cares at the plush Onsen Hot Pools overlooking Shotover Canyon.
Make it happen
Hugging a pretty inlet on Lake Wakatipu with sweeping views of snow-capped mountains beyond, Queenstown is a stunner year-round. Just 6km from town, Queenstown Airport is serviced by regular buses and taxis, and while you will need to book ahead for accommodation during ski season (late June to early October), there is no lack of options at all price points in and around town. And Queenstown’s compact centre brims with restaurants, bars, ski gear and rental stores, and is easily navigable on foot.
For those looking to ski solely at Treble Cone or Cardrona, consider picking up a hire car from Queenstown airport and bedding down in more low-key yet equally scenic Wanaka, 67km northeast of Queenstown.