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South Island Skiing and Snowboarding

Skiing Treble Cone, photo: Lake Wanaka NZ

You’re spoilt for choice when picking a ski holiday in the South Island. If you’re thinking of heading somewhere new this winter, have a look at our Snow Guides for an over-view of what the different areas offer.

Skiing in Nelson Lakes

Rainbow Ski Area
Photo credit: Rainbow Ski Area

If you’re looking for a family-friendly, relaxed experience at the top of the South Island, check out Rainbow Ski Area, a club field, set in the Nelson Lakes District. The closest town is St Arnaud Village, a 40 minute drive from the ski field, along State Highway 63. Rainbow offers warm, sunny days, large basins and great ridge-lines. There’s a terrain park, ski and snowboard hire and lessons, and a cafe. It’s open from the 4th July to mid-October. This area is quite stunning, with forest, lakes and mountain ranges. From St Arnaud you can explore the Nelson Lakes National Park on foot, by snow-shoe or ski touring. There are lovely trails through mossy beech forest, around Lake Rotoiti, and in the lake, native eels teem beneath the jetty.  The Rainbow ski area is about 1.5 hours’ drive from Nelson Airport.

More info | Where to stay: Nelson-Golden Bay

Skiing in Canterbury Methven, Hiking Mt Olympus
Photo credit: Methven, Hiking out the back of Mt Olympus

There’s fantastic skiing and very varied terrain within easy reach of Christchurch. You could base yourself in Christchurch and get to any of the Canterbury skifields. It’s an hour and a half drive to Mt Hutt from the city. Or if you want to be on the doorstep of the mountain, Methven is right there, and offers world class golf at Terrace Downs too. There are many smaller fields in this region, as well as lots of beautiful lakes, mountains and small towns to explore, so browse the Snow Guide: Canterbury to find the holiday spot that suits you - with the likes of golf, hiking, mountain-biking or hot springs for time off the snow. Stay at Lake Tekapo for example, if you fancy fantastic hot pools, and ice skating in the winter, and star gazing up at Mount John. From Tekapo you can drive to the ski fields at Mt Dobson in about 1.25 hours, Round Hill 1 hour, and Ohau 1.25 hours.

Snow Guide: Canterbury

Where to stay: Canterbury

Queenstown Lakes - skifields galore Dalefield, views of Coronet Peak
Photo credit: Dalefield, views of Coronet Peak

Queenstown is the southern alpine resort par excellence. Set on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, the scenery is spectacular, and there are five skifields within reach. Queenstown has a busy, holiday feel, with lots of international visitors,  loads of bars, restaurants, shops and a massive array of adventure activities or relaxing indulgences all about. Off the snow, take your pick, from bungy jumping or paragliding, or a romantic interlude exploring wineries, walks and private hot pools at the onsen. Coronet Peak is 18kms from Queenstown, and it is 28kms to the Remarkables ski area.

Closer to Wanaka, you’ll find the popular ski area of Cardrona, and Snow Farm if you’re interested in cross-country skiing. Treble Cone skifield is a 29km scenic drive from Wanaka. Wanaka is set amongst stunning alpine scenery - looking out across the lake, backed by mountains, and with Mt Aspiring National Park on the doorstep. It’s smaller and quieter than Queenstown, while still having lots of options for eating, shopping and family activities, such as Puzzling World, or Cinema Paradiso. There are great hikes and mountain biking trails nearby, or admire the wine and the view at Rippon Vineyard.

Snow Guide: Queenstown Lakes

Where to stay: Queenstown Lakes

Small Commercial and Club Ski-fields

Temple Basin Ski Area
Photo credit: Temple Basin Ski Area

The South Island is home to many excellent club or boutique ski fields. Club fields are run by members, but open to the public, who will often find these smaller fields perfect for a family-friendly, relaxed and less crowded experience. Some fields are easy to access, and have lots of accommodation and activities nearby. Stay in Hanmer Springs for example, and you can catch a shuttle to the ski area 17kms from the village, then come back to soak in the hot springs and explore restaurants and bars in the evening. Temple Basin, on the other hand, requires a 50 minute hike from the car park - but rewards you with unique, challenging terrain in the middle of the Southern Alps.

Snow Guide: Club and Small Commercial Ski Areas

Don’t forget it snows in Otago! View over Lake Ohau
Photo credit: View over Lake Ohau

Think “Central Otago” and “world-famous pinot noir” springs to mind, along with gold-mining, huge landscapes, stone fruit and biking the Otago Rail Trail perhaps. This is also a great place to stay for a snow holiday a little off the beaten track. Cromwell has lots of historic interest and charming cottages in the old town, and sets you close to the famous wineries of Lake Dunstan and Bannockburn. It’s 45 minutes to Queenstown and 35 to Wanaka, and you can be on the skifields in an hour. In Waitaki District, the Ohau skifield offers stunning views of Aoraki Mt Cook, and Lake Ohau. Stay in the alpine village of Ohau for vistas of lake and snowy peaks, with the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail and more on your doorstep, far from the madding crowd.

Where to stay: Cromwell | Lake Ohau

Taking the family to the snow for the first time?

Rainbow Ski Area: Family-friendly
Photo Credit: Rainbow Ski Area

If you were raised in the South Island, we’re betting you’re a snow pro already, but if you’re new to the place, check out our Guide for First Time Family Ski Holidays. You’ll find some handy hints on what to take and where to go.

Guide: First Time Family Ski Holidays


Piwa perched