Nipping to New Zealand from Australia is an absolute breeze, and getting to the snow has never been easier. Most airports in Australia fly direct to Queenstown, and before you even get off the plane, you’ll get a glimpse of the magic you are set to experience for the rest of your trip.
Our trip to New Zealand took place in spring (mid-September), and when we arrived, we were treated to blue skies and bright sunshine, something that remained for the entire week. Spring perks! No matter how many times I visit I always find myself staring in awe at the snow-capped mountain range that surrounds glistening Lake Wakatipu. I actually lived in Queenstown in my early twenties, but that view still gets me every single time. I love the ocean, but the mountains always take me to a peaceful place that I just don’t seem to get from elsewhere. It’s a real escape, even if it is a fairly active one.
Queenstown is a place for all. Of course, it’s ideal for the thrill seekers, but it offers something for everyone. I went with 25 people (yikes), some who were there for adventure, and others who were there for warm cosy days by the fire, good food and of course mulled wine! Queenstown gives you so much, from cosy fire-lit restaurants, to gourmet food experiences, adrenaline filled days, family outings, bars and clubs, and romantic escapes. It doesn’t matter what age you are or what you’re into you’ll definitely get a lot from visiting this unique South Island jewel.
On this trip, we were there to take advantage of soft spring snow, long light days, and the warmer weather (warmer than winter anyway).
You might already be able to tell, but Queenstown is one of my favourite places in the world. So, what do I suggest you do if you are lucky enough to visit? I can’t cover it all but here are the things to do in Queenstown that I’ll be returning for:
If you are planning a trip in winter or early spring, you can’t go past a trip to the slopes. An active day in the snow followed by a mulled wine comes pretty close to a perfect day for me. Even with young families you’ll find kids clubs aplenty, and tag teaming with friends is always a winner; not to mention taking the kids down the slopes with you – nothing quite beats that. Our daughter first went skiing when she was three – although she can’t remember it now. It was really only a taster, so this was really her first week of trying it on her own. She is a cautious little thing, but by the end of the week she had nailed green runs and was onto the blue. I was amazed by her rapid progress and loved watching her grow in confidence. The mountains we visited cater for all levels but here is a rundown of each of them:
Coronet is arguably the easiest mountain to get to, just 20-25 mins from town. We arranged our passes and then headed to the kids area to drop them off for their group lessons. Coronet has a wonderful day care facility for younger toddlers and full day programmes for older kids (5+). This is so handy because it means that parents can get some good runs in and know that their little ones are fully taken care of. It’s also great fun for them. In my opinion Coronet has one of the best green runs for beginners and some fantastic blue/red runs for those who are more experienced. Coronet also offers night skiing, and sun-downer parties on various nights throughout the week, so make sure you check out the program and enjoy the ease of everything that Coronet has to offer.
The Remarkables are well worth the drive. I’m not a huge fan of winding mountain roads but it has changed a bit in the last 15 years, and felt far more manageable, particularly in our 4WD we hired. Plus, because it’s up high, it tends to benefit from good snow.
We arrived at The Remarkables the day after a 15cm snow dump. The clouds cleared by mid-morning and spring weather set in to provide an on-point day of powder, blue skies, and fun. There are runs for every level at the Remarks, along with an excellent beginners’ area on two magic carpets, plus base camp is situated perfectly so that you can see the mountain easily from the warmth inside, making this one of my favourite all-rounders. If you’re ready to ‘send it’ then there are numerous snow parks with jumps, rails, you name it. Talking of names, they couldn’t have picked a better one for this mountain. It truly is remarkable.
Something both Coronet and Remarks have in common is their excellent lesson programmes. The kids in particular get cards that show what they’ve mastered and what level they are on. This helps them to continually progress at a pace that suits their ability. Our daughter was lucky enough to end up in a one on one lesson with her instructor Alex who was absolutely awesome and helped her improve in leaps and bounds. He had a great rapport with her and made the whole experience fun from start to finish. People like this are worth their weight in gold and we couldn’t have been more grateful for his approach.
The drive to Cardrona takes you over the picturesque Crown Range (approx. 1 hr from Queenstown). Take your time and enjoy these quintessential NZ views. The landscape here is possibly one of my favourite things about New Zealand.
When you arrive at Cardrona you’ll instantly feel the sense of fun. Faced with two half pipes, epic jumps, and runs everywhere, you can be entertained here without even skiing or boarding yourself. They really have created a great vibe, with music, DJ’s, and several cosy bars and restaurants to take your pick from.
Here you can choose between a gondola or chair lift, which is great for those who are less keen on normal chair lift disembarking. We also noticed a lot of disability groups enjoying the slopes which was great to see. Presumably this is because of the great access provided to the slopes. Whatever the reason, it was great to see such an inclusive atmosphere.
Cardrona offers 400 hectares of fun for beginner to pro. Again, we were treated to the most amazing conditions. Soft snow, warm spring temps, and long days which meant the drive home was still a pleasure.
At the end of the day, we highly recommend you pop into the Cardrona Hotel (not far from the base of the mountain). It was established in 1863 and is one of New Zealand’s oldest and most iconic hotels. There are fireplaces throughout the beer garden, and inside is a warm characterful pub and restaurant serving excellent food and drink. I miss the character of British pubs, but places like this in New Zealand always make me feel a sense of home.
You can’t visit Queenstown without a trip to the iconic Skyline, providing arguably the best viewing point of the entire area. The gondola that takes you 450 metres above Lake Wakatipu is the steepest cable car lift in the Southern Hemisphere. At the top you’ll find the Stratosfare Restaurant and Bar, and Market Kitchen Café where you can eat or even enjoy a cocktail whilst taking in views of Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Walter and Cecil Peak and, of course, Queenstown. After taking in that glorious view you can choose from heaps of activities to get involved in. From luge rides and hikes, to downhill mountain biking and even stargazing.
The luge is a fantastic activity for adults and kids. You can take it as slow as you want, or as fast as is safe to do so. We did the luge as the sun was setting, and the sky became all kinds of pink, the luge track lit up with pretty lights, and the snow-capped mountains glistened, which made for the most perfect setting.
After our fun filled afternoon we headed back to the Sofitel for some warm French onion soup and a glass of red. Couldn’t have been a better end to an amazing day.
This is probably one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done. THE pinnacle of adventure.
Jumping on a helicopter with Glacier Southern Lakes Heli, soaring above Queenstown and the incredible mountain range, to land on an untouched snow-capped plateau. Next, we donned red jumpsuits (James Bond style – to keep warm of course) and went on the most fantastic snowmobile adventure with Queenstown Snowmobiles. What. A. Rush.
I am actually not a huge fan of flying, or things that have engines and go fast (I hear you laughing), but with the expert pilot and guides by our sides, I felt safe every step of the way, and I was smiling and laughing to myself the entire time. My confidence grew quickly, as did my speed.
Being up on the plateau on New Zealand’s backcountry terrain, and away from civilisation was next level. There were only 5 of us on the trip and there were constant cheers of excitement to be heard.
This is the only wilderness Heli-snowmobiling experience in New Zealand, and if you visit Queenstown and want to do something special, this is it! Seriously, it was incredible.
Don’t miss the charming village of Arrowtown. The 25-minute drive from Queenstown is a stunner, and Arrowtown is the prettiest little place, full of old historical buildings that once played home to gold miners. You’ll find hidden pubs (make sure you visit the Blue Door – just ask a local to point you in the right direction), cute little shops, and trendy bistros. After a leisurely browse in town and a pint at one of the pubs if you feel inclined (I always do), take a stroll down to the river where you’ll find stone remnants of where the Chinese community once lived, some of the town’s first gold miners. Whilst the gold rush may be over, Arrowtown’s atmosphere and history still live on.
We went to so many little pubs and restaurants, places lit with fires, and swanky cocktail joints, but my absolute favourite was Rātā…
The atmosphere at Rātā was so inviting; warm, on-trend, upmarket, yet completely unpretentious. Just how I like it. Everything on the Rātā menu captured the taste of New Zealand, and in particular the South Island. Plus, they source their ingredients from organic and or/sustainable sources. The wine list featured many of the spectacular vines from Otago which meant that I was always going to love it.
The menu was split into bites, starters, mains, and feasts. I like to try a bit of everything, so sampling a few of the bites was definitely the way to go for me, followed by a starter and main of course!
Highlights were the goats cheese profiteroles with Rātā blossom honey and rosemary. The venison loin was cooked to absolute perfection, and the Havoc Farm pork belly with Bluff octopus was insanely good.
One thing that also got my vote was the kids menu. Finally somewhere creating kids dishes that are fresh and delicious yet still enticing for little ones. Huge kudos.
I can’t recommend this place highly enough. This is one restaurant I will continue to return to when I visit Queenstown.
Sofitel’s Left Bank Café – For some French inspired food that will warm the heart, visit Left Bank Café to try its signature Raclette, or their indulgent French Onion Soup, topped with crouton and cheese. This brought back all kinds of childhood memories from trips to France. The Highlander Oats are also an absolute god send for breakfast. Drop in for breakfast, lunch, or dinner to see for yourself.
Pier Queenstown – you’ll find this little place at the Steamer Wharf. The Blue Cod Tacos were delish!
White & Wongs – try their amazing cocktails and east meets west menu. I got to indulge in my all-time favourite Peking Duck pancakes.
Madam Woo’s – we went here to celebrate our friend’s birthday and enjoyed wonderful whisky sours (my fave) and traditional Malaysian hawker food in an upbeat and quirky/modern environment. Fun little place to go.
We couldn’t visit everywhere but here are some other places you may want to check out. They are on our list for next time.
The Accor Group is our favourite chain of hotels. Their level of hospitality is always consistent and focuses on the little luxuries that many other hotel chains forget.
On this trip we stayed at the stunning 5-star Sofitel. Perfectly positioned in the heart of Queenstown, just a short stroll to the lake, and right amongst the restaurants and shops. You couldn’t get a better position if you tried. As you enter the Sofitel you are instantly greeted with warm smiles and sparkling chandeliers.
The glitz and warmth continues as you walk through to the main hotel passing the Parisian inspired bistro Left Bank Café. Here, we indulged in huge breakfasts and late lunches, where a blend of New Zealand and French delights were on the menu. Located within the hotel’s complex is the Jervois Steakhouse, serving dishes such as Bluff Oysters, Bristol Bay Red King Crab and of course beef and New Zealand lamb. Last but not least, is the 1789 Wine & Jazz Bar, a sumptuous bar serving drinks and tapas.
Our room was luxurious and impeccably clean, with warm touches adding to the ambience of being in a snow resort. The bed was like a cloud of comfort and the spa bath with TV was the perfect way to relax the muscles after an adventurous day on the slopes.
Each night we enjoyed the club lounge for canapés and drinks – an indulgent touch to commence the evening.
The spa at the hotel is pretty special too, so if you have time, be sure to add it to your list.
As always, the Sofitel exceeded expectation on every level. Living the French way in a town like Queenstown is a sure-fire way to create the most memorable of escapes.
I’ve visited Queenstown before without a car. I have to say, I’m completely transformed. I will always hire a car in future. It meant we could go anywhere, anytime. No waiting around, and when you’re ready to go home after a long day on the mountain, you can do just that. We hired ours through Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Pick up was swift and our car was in fabulous condition. We had opted for a Nissan XTrail which had plenty of room for ski/snowboarding gear, plus passengers. We made sure to include snow chains in our booking, although they weren’t needed on this particular trip.
We felt really safe driving up the mountains in our car. I’d highly recommend a quality rental company like Enterprise along with selecting a 4WD to give you good control during winter months.
If you decide not to rent a car then there are buses that run regularly to the different mountains. You can either access these from the Snow Centre in town or they do have a pick up schedule from some of the hotels (you’ll just need to check where). But my vote is for hiring a car if budget allows.
Visit more than one mountain if you’re skiing or snowboarding. They all have their own qualities and it’s magical to experience the different locations. Driving through New Zealand’s countryside is part of the attraction so take it in your stride. And do something epic, you’re in Queenstown after all. It’s THE place of epicness and you’ll never forget it!
Welcome along. I’m Clare, Founder of Take Me To Australia. Having moved to Australia six years ago, I made it my mission to learn more about this epic country we now call home. As we travel across the country to unique destinations, we share with fresh eyes the most extraordinary places we are lucky enough to experience. We aim to inspire others to follow in our footsteps, live their absolute best life, explore what Australia has to offer, and even encourage people further afield to make a similar move. We’ve grown a like-minded community of over 120,000 people. Be sure to join them by signing up to receive all the latest inspo, and connecting with us on Instagram and Facebook. See you soon.