There aren’t many places in this world that can boast beautiful surroundings like that of Queenstown, New Zealand. Located on the calm shores of the crystal-clear Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by mountains, breathtaking views welcome you every morning in this winter wonderland.
Queenstown, located at just 310 meters above sea level, is actually extremely low for a ski and snowboard centre. The benefit of this is that temperatures remain reasonably mild and snow in the town itself is scarce. As a result, a whole world of activities opens up for you to experience outside of the snow, something that is not usually available at most ski centres.
Winter in Queenstown runs from June until August. The Ski fields can stay open as late as early October. The best snow conditions though are in July and August.
Living in Queenstown gives you the option to ski at four different ski fields all within a 90 minutes’ drive. These are Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Cardrona Alpine Resort and Treble Cone. A pretty good selection of resorts to choose from, each one offers something a little different.
How to get there?
The most common way to get to Queenstown is to fly into Queenstown Airport. Make sure you book yourself a window seat as landing into the airport is something pretty special. It can be a slightly bumpy ride due to the turbulence around the mountains, but you will hardly notice that as you cruise past snow-capped mountains and breathtakingly gorgeous blue lakes.
The airport is about 7 km outside of Queenstown. There are several options you can take, including taxis, shuttle buses, car hire or public transport to reach your hotel in the centre. The shuttle is most people’s preferred choice of transportation as it goes directly to the door of your accommodation. A shared shuttle ride starts at around $14 per person.
For an even cheaper option, the public bus is a great choice. It departs from the arrivals terminal every 15 minutes and passes right through Queenstown. Let the bus driver know about your hotel, and they will be more than happy to advise on which stop to get off at and basic directions to your accommodation — the public bus costs around $7 per person.
Where to stay?
Spending the winter in Queenstown doesn’t have to be an expensive vacation. You can stay in hostels or smaller more budget hotels found across the town. Don’t be put off by this, as some fantastic hostels come with better views and amenities than you may expect.
My top pick for hostels in town would easily be Absoloot Value Accommodation. It is one of the cheapest ones, but this isn’t the only thing going for it. The hostel, situated on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, has spectacular views of the lake and mountain. One week in this hostel will cost you less than most people pay for one night in the neighbouring hotels offering the same views.
Besides having the best views in town, it also has one of the best all-around locations. By being right in the heart of downtown, you have easy access to everything — all the best shops, bars and restaurants are just seconds from your door.
My second hostel choice deserves recognition as well. I’ve stayed at Southern Laughter Backpackers several times, and it gets a special nod for its hot tub. Just because you stay somewhere on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a few luxuries. Its fun to jump into a relaxing warm tub of bubbling water after a long, cold day up the mountain.
The only disadvantage to living in hostels is that they usually only allow you to book a two-week maximum stay as this is their busiest time of the year. If you plan your holiday correctly, even though you have to pack and move every couple of weeks – a real pain – you can simply shift from one place to another. On the other hand, with moving, comes the advantage of meeting lots of great new people.
What ski pass to buy?
As mentioned previously there are four mountains all within reach of Queenstown. There is only one recommendation I would make, and that is to get the Queenstown Superpass. This pass gives you access to both Coronet Peak and the Remarkables which are the two ski hills nearest to hostels. Coronet Peak is about 20 minutes’ drive away while the Remarkables is slightly further and takes around 40 minutes to reach.
If you are going to be skiing regularly, then this is the only pass you should get. It is also fantastic value for money. If you buy it during the Super Early Bird Sale which runs until January 31st, it will cost just NZD 649. When you break this down over a whole season, it turns out to be quite a welcome deal. The pass also provides free access to Mt. Hutt in Canterbury. So, if you fancy a road trip during the season, it is a cheap way to explore another ski hill.
How do I get up the mountain every day?
The easiest way to travel to the ski points is to use the mountain busses. Each hill has a dedicated fleet of buses that run up and down the mountain. There are various pickup locations around Queenstown so you will never have far to walk. Prices start at $20 a day for a return pass. However, you can buy ten trips for $160 if you are going to be a frequent user.
Hitchhiking is also a trendy way to get up the mountain. You shouldn’t have to stand at the side of the road with your thumb out for too long before some kind soul picks you up. That being said, there are cold, wet and windy days where this can be a miserable choice.
What else is there to do?
The best budget activity on offer is disc golf. The game consists of throwing your frisbee or disc into a chained basket in the least amount of shots. The course is located in Queenstown Gardens at the southern end of town and is entirely free to play. Most hostels have discs that you can borrow for free or go to one of the local stores and buy your own. They start at around $15 for a decent frisbee.
Onsen Hot Pools
For a more pleasurable activity, visit the Onsen Hot Pools. They are located on a cliffside overlooking the beautiful Shotover Canyon. The retractable picture window and roof means the pools are perfect for all weather conditions, but most enjoyable during snowfall. It is an excellent way to relax and loosen up those muscles after a day on the slopes.
The Shotover Jet
Thrill seekers will love this unique jet boat experience. A 700-horsepower boat will fly through Shotover River Canyons at up to 85km and have you spinning 360 degrees. An experience like no other, the boat takes you inches away from the cliff edge and up through flowing rapids. This energetic, high-intensity 25-minute boat ride will definitely leave you excited and with a smile on your face.
Queenstown is one of the most stunning places in the world and the ideal location to spend your winter season. While most of your time is best spent on the mountain, you have endless activities to enjoy on those stormy days. A vibrant and transient community means you will feel at home in no time, meeting people from all over the world, while also interacting with some of the amazing locals. Prepare yourself for a non-stop few months as you enjoy everything that Queenstown has to offer.
About the Authors: We are Luke and Roxy, the faces behind The Coastal Campaign. We are both twenty-somethings who met while travelling. With around ten years of experience as full-time travellers, we feel like we have learned a thing or two on the road. We desire is to share our knowledge with you while sharing some of the beautiful aerial photos we have taken along the way! You can also follow our adventures on Facebook and Instagram.