Each winter a seasonal metamorphosis transforms the South Island of New Zealand into a landscape that’s snow-capped, magical and begging for discovery.
Are your bags packed yet?
New Zealand’s mountains, heavy dusting of fresh white powder and frozen lakes couldn’t be more different to the “brinter” (Brisbane winter) that plays out a mere three hours’ flight to its west.
If you’re chasing a real winter this year – the kind that actually calls for a beanie, mittens and thermals – here’s 8 things to do this snow season on the South Island of New Zealand.
1. Ski or snowboard the South Island’s most famous peaks
Coronet Peak is easily one of the most popular ski resorts in New Zealand - it’s Queenstown’s first ski resort, closest to town (only 16km from Queenstown’s CBD) and plays home to a smorgasbord of ski and snowboard slopes.
Hit the powder by day (a First Pass guarantees you’ll be out before everyone else between 8-9am) but make sure you save enough energy for what happens at night. Over snow season, Coronet Peak lights up for a 4-9pm Night Ski experience, taking après ski to new levels.
Not into skiing? No worries - you can hire a sled or Yooner (picture a sled and scooter combination) for the day or simply take a gondola ride to 1649m above sea level for views over the Wakatipu basin.
If time is on your side, double the snow action by hitting Queenstown’s younger ski resort, The Remarkables, found on the south-eastern shore of Lake Wakatipu. Dubbed Queenstown’s ‘big mountain’, expect 540 acres of snow sport action on the aptly named remarkable range.
2. Ride the Queenstown Skyline
Scope the lay of the land from the Queenstown Skyline, the southern hemisphere’s steepest cable car ride.
Gliding 450m high, the Queenstown Skyline affords passengers some of the best views on the South Island, including a 220-degree panorama over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and out to Coronet Peak, the Remarkables and Walter and Cecil Peak.
The conveniently located Bar at the summit begs for a Boomerang video - just you, the view and a champagne flute – before you take a gondola back or brave the purpose-built 1600m luge track.
3. Tuck into baked goods from one of New Zealand’s oldest bakeries
In New Zealand, when you hear the name “Jimmy’s” you think delicious, because this family-owned bakery, Jimmy’s Pies, has been turning out pies for nearly 50 years.
From its Roxburgh base, this fourth-generation pie shop is responsible for baking 20,000 of their revered pastry parcels each day, with over 20 flavours on offer.
Their secret recipe is so valuable it’s not even written down. Rather, it’s been passed down between generations, so you’re guaranteed the pies are made the old-fashioned way and remain just as you remembered them.
4. Soak in toasty thermal springs
You’ll find Tekapo Springs halfway between Christchurch and Queenstown, with the choice of hot and cool pools – both with lake and mountain views. Although this bath experience isn’t fed with geo-thermal water like Hanmer Springs, pristine water from an underground source near Tekapo creates the experience.
If you’re chasing the original thermal hot pool experience, put Hanmer Springs on your winter itinerary – just 90 minutes from Christchurch – and soak in the benefits of mineral-rich water that’s been maturing for over 170 years.
Whichever spring you choose, you’ll be greeted by a pool menu with a degustation of temperatures so you can find one that’s just right.
5. Walk on ice with a glacier hike
The West Coast of the South Island doubles as glacier country – with Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier its most famous landforms (and incidentally the most accessible frozen rivers in the world).
To see them, simply follow the walking trails to their viewing points. Or, for a closer inspection, you can take a guided tour that will take you onto the ice or book a heli-hike combination, which will fly you right to the top where you can explore the ice caves and icefalls.
If you can stretch your holiday budget for the heli-hiking experience, it’s well worth it to see these rivers of ice, which have been tens of thousands of years in the making.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s your first-time navigating crampons or you know your way around your hiking poles, the heli-hiking combination is suitable for all abilities, provided you’re confident on your feet.
6. Take one of the world's great train journeys
If you like your scenic journeys to be savoured, hop aboard the TranzAlpine, which journeys from the east coast to the west coast of the South Island.
This iconic rail journey winds through the snow-dusted Southern Alps, and agricultural plains of Canterbury up into Arthur’s Pass National Park, before pulling into Greymouth.
You’ll be grateful someone else is doing the driving, so you have nothing to distract you from the winter wonderland vistas of the Southern Alps, Waimakariri River and dramatic cliff faces on both sides of the carriage.
For perfect photos of the experience, up the view ante from Scenic Class to an Open-Air Carriage for uninterrupted views and a sensory experience in the winter elements.
7. Hit the slopes on a dog sled
Mush mush! Full speed ahead and into this South Island must-do.
Underdog NZ have perfected the arctic tradition of dog sledding, running through the Southern Alps in New Zealand.
Enjoy a basket tour or learn to drive your own team, being led behind a team of Alaskan Huskies, Siberian Huskies and a couple of Alaskan Malamutes.
With experiences that range from short 1.5-hour jaunts to overnight tours, provided you’re older than 18 months, not much stands in your way from this paw-some winter experience.
8. Fulfil your need for speed jetboating the Shotover River
They don’t call Queenstown the adventure capital of the world for no reason.
It’s home to the Shotover River, which makes for scenic jetboating when you go out with Shotover Jet who operate through Skipper’s Canyon.
As the only operator to run through the canyon, you’ll enjoy scooting at up to 90km an hour through this narrow canyon whose walls tower over you.
Powering through water as shallow as 10cm, your experienced skipper will show you the power of their high-performance jet boats, designed to turn 360 degrees on a dime.
Pack your mittens not just to brave the elements but to hide those white knuckles induced by the gravity defying stunts you’ve signed up for.
PLAN YOUR TRAVEL
BEFORE YOUR FLIGHT
It may have been a while since you last flew overseas. It's a fantastic time to remember the basics of international travel as well as learn about what's changed.
We can’t wait to welcome you back to Brisbane Airport’s International Terminal, see you soon!