Winter in Auckland is crap. We get about twenty different types of rain in any given day – driving rain that leaves you soaked to the bone, light drizzle that just pisses you off, and anything in between. The temperatures aren’t too bad by global (even New Zealand) winter standards, but the weather can be downright miserable.
So let’s just say winter isn’t our favourite season.
But there is one major plus about winter – that white fluffy stuff that falls from the sky when it’s too cold to rain: snow. Unfortunately, it doesn’t snow in Auckland.
We love snow sports – I am a skier and Shaun both skis and snowboards. Skiing and boarding is what we most look forward to each winter, and we usually plan our trips to the snow months in advance (especially if we’re going to the South Island).
There’s nothing quite like swishing down a mountain under your own steam, the cold wind on your face, then warming up with a hot chocolate and a bowl of fries in the overpriced cafe, before doing it all again.
Although we’ll readily admit the snow conditions in New Zealand aren’t nearly as good as in parts of the Northern Hemisphere (we were blown away when we visited Whister in Canada and Lake Tahoe in the States), it’s still pretty damn good considering our country’s geography (an island sitting in the middle of the ocean at the mercy of random weather systems). And it’s all we’ve got so we’re happy that we even have relatively good skiing conditions (there’s a reason why Queenstown is filled with Australians for most of the ski season…).
We’ve skied in both the North Island and South Island, and this post covers the ski fields we have visited (we’re not going to recommend – or otherwise – places we haven’t visited!).
Note that we have given the price of a day lift pass for each ski field – all the fields also offer multi-day passes or season passes which reduce the daily cost quite significantly.
In the North Island, your main choice for snow sports is Mt Ruapehu, an active volcano (don’t worry, you’re not in any danger!) pretty much smack bang in the middle of the Island. Mt Taranaki on the west coast also has a field but it’s pretty small. Ruapehu has three fields – the main ones being Whakapapa and Turoa. Tukino is a much smaller, less accessible club field.
Whakapapa and Turoa are run by the same company so lift passes can be used at both fields. Both fields have plenty of mixed terrain from beginner slopes to advanced off-piste areas. Petra grew up skiing at Whakapapa so she has a bit of a soft spot for that field, but we have skied at Turoa more in recent years which generally has wider slopes and a greater terrain area.
Day lift pass cost: $95
Skiing on Ruapehu can be an interesting experience. The weather can be rather temperamental (it is a big volcano sticking up out of the landscape on its own, after all) and it can often be quite windy and blizzardy. On the other hand, a bluebird day at Ruapehu is an incredible experience – but you’ll likely have massive crowds to deal with. As the biggest commercial fields in the North Island, half way between Auckland and Wellington, both fields get incredibly busy in the weekends. Try and do a mid-week dash to the snow if you can.
When skiing at Turoa, the most convenient place to stay is in the town of Ohakune, at the base of the mountain on the Turoa side. Ohakune has plenty of motels, apartments, and holiday homes for rent, as well as restaurants, bars and ski/board rental stores. The drive up to the Turoa ski field takes about half an hour.
For Whakapapa, the tiny town of National Park is the closest town to stay in. National Park has a couple of motels and backpacker hostels, and a few restaurants/pubs. It’s much smaller than Ohakune but if you’re spending most of your time skiing then it doesn’t really matter! The drive from National Park to the chairlifts is about half an hour.
You can also stay at Whakapapa Village at the bottom of the ski field road. The luxurious Chateau Tongariro is there, which is a pricey place to stay but is quite gorgeous. We love getting a hot chocolate and potato wedges there at the end of a cold day up the mountain.
There are many more ski fields in the South Island due to the mountainous topography of that Island compared with the North Island. From Nelson Lakes and Marlborough in the north to around Queenstown in the south, there are commercial and club fields dotted all over the place. We have only skied around Queenstown and Wanaka so we will just cover the fields we have visited (these are the most common fields for visitors to the region, anyway).
Cardrona, a 15 minute drive from Wanaka and 45 minutes from Queenstown, is our favourite field. We love the friendly atmosphere there with a smaller, more local feel than Ruapehu. It can get busy on a bluebird day but we generally go down there for a week so we do most of our skiing mid-week to avoid the crowds. The views are magnificent and the runs are great. There is terrain to suit every level of expertise and we just love it there! The Cardrona Hotel at the bottom of the access road is a great (albeit busy) stop off for a beer/hot chocolate après ski.
Day lift pass cost: $101
Treble Cone, 35 minutes from Wanaka (in the opposite direction to Queenstown) has the most advanced terrain of all the commercial fields in the area. It also has wicked views over Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps – the ride up the chairlift is just stunning! Generally you only get skiers/boarders who know what they’re doing on this field, so chances are you’re not going to get wiped out by a newbie. The runs are challenging but at the end of the day you feel a real sense of achievement!
Day lift pass cost: $106
(The view below is ACTUALLY the view from the Treble Cone ski field. Amazing, huh? And also, if you love New Zealand landscapes and you’re not following Young Adventuress’ Instagram feed, do so, now.)
Coronet Peak is the closest ski field to Queenstown, a mere 20 minutes drive away. Because of this, it’s also the busiest ski field in the area. Not that this is a bad thing, just something to keep in mind if you hate crowds and queuing for chairlifts. We’ve visited Coronet a number of times but are yet to be wowed – perhaps it’s the crowds or something else. However, with the proximity to Queenstown it’s not much of an effort to get yourself there for the day, which is a good thing in our books.
Day lift pass cost: $104
We haven’t visited The Remarkables, the other ski field close to Queenstown. We hope to do so on our upcoming trip there in August!
For access to the ski fields in the Queenstown/Wanaka area, we recommend staying in either Queenstown or Wanaka. Queenstown has more accommodation options and a bigger food and drink scene, but a higher price tag too. We love Wanaka, it’s a smallish town but still has more than enough restaurants and bars to keep us satisfied. It really depends on where you’re going to ski though – there’s not much point staying in Wanaka if you’re going to spend all your time at Coronet Peak!
There are heaps of things to do and see in the area on your days off the mountain. The region is renowned for its amazing wine and adrenaline-pumping activities (if snow sports aren’t enough for you to get the blood pumping!). Check out our post on 36 hours in Queenstown for recommendations of things we love to do in and around Queenstown.
Most of all, enjoy the winter season and be safe on the mountain!
Do you love snow sports? Where is your favourite place to ski or board? We always love getting recommendations of places to go – share yours in the comments below!