Where to stay in New Zealand

New Zealand’s skiing is really split into two worlds. There’s the tourism oriented ski areas in the Southern Lakes District (Queenstown and Wanaka) which have major commercial resorts clustered around towns that cater to tourists all year round, and then there’s ski areas that are really aimed at locals. These are scattered all over the place but the largest concentration of them is in Canterbury near Christchurch. This includes commercial fields (large and small) as well as some small ski areas built, operated and maintained by local clubs.

In the Southern Lakes, the usual ski town accommodation model applies. You can stay in town, there are bars and ski shops and supermarkets and all the usual things. Each day you drive up to a ski area but there are also buses and taxis and all the usual visitor amenities. If you don’t want to ski there are plenty of other things to do (the region thrives on summer tourism so there’s the usual gamut of bungee jumping/jet boating/shopping type things). The one unusual thing about this area is that there is really limited on-mountain accommodation. The vast majority of skiers/boarders commute roughly 30 minutes from town to a ski resort and back each day.

Canterbury doesn’t really follow the ski town approach. Most of the customers coming up to ski live nearby, so they don’t need hotels or other tourist facilities. They either drive to and from home or stay on the mountain. Most of the Canterbury fields have on-mountain accommodation. It’s fairly limited (maybe 50 people might stay on a moderately busy night) but there generally aren’t many people skiing at these ski areas (on a quiet day there could be 10 guests) so it all balances out.

This can be a bit confusing if you’re used to the normal winter holiday “stay in a ski town and have everything sorted out for you” model. If you want to ski in Canterbury you need to be a little more independent.

We’ve set out the main places to stay for skiing and boarding on the South Island. They cater to really different groups of people who want different things. Some have great resort skiing and convenient facilities. Some have no resort skiing and you need a helicopter to do all the good stuff. Others don’t even have an access road but once you’re there you’ve got ski-in-ski-out accommodation and epic terrain on your doorstep.

We’ve included information for Queenstown, Wanaka and the Craigieburn Range. Eventually we’ll add the other areas (during bad weather when we can’t heli-ski).

All of this information is intended to help you plan the rough outline of your trip. It should give you an idea of what kind of area to go to for your flavour of winter holiday. After that it’s up to you - all these places have plenty of information online. Happy planning! We’ll see you in the hills.



A long, long time ago, Wanaka was a sleepy town on the edge of a beautiful lake. It has a great ski area nearby and its proximity to the mountains made it a popular places for climbers, skiers and mountain guides.

At some point everyone realised it was absolutely stunning and it started to attract wealthy folks looking for second homes or a change from the big cities. Now it’s punitively expensive for regular folks, but you can still find guides with little houses they bought 30 years ago living in the midst of increasingly large and stylish homes.

It’s close to two major resorts: Treble Cone and Cardrone. Treble Cone has the best inbounds terrain of any of the Southern Lakes ski areas and a bunch of good backcountry as well. Cardrona’s inbounds is pretty mellow, but they’ve done a great job of catering to intermediates and families and they’ve cornered the park skiing market. As a complete non-park-skier even I have to admit their facilities there are impressive. There’s some fun backcountry on the back side of Cardrona, but it’s unlikely to make your personal highlight reel.

It’s a reasonable day trip to the Remarkables and Coronet Peak (both next to nearby Queenstown) but it’s a solid drive so not something you’d want to do every day.

Most of the access for ski touring is from the ski areas. There are other options but they usually need a helicopter or a long walk, Wanaka is a base for a bunch of heli-skiing and there are certainly heaps of cool mountains around if you can get to them. It’s not a great base for hut trips. There are a few options around (more private huts seem to be popping up all the time) but the main options in the Pisa Range have pretty mellow terrain. If you want to do the hut trip thing you’re better off focusing your efforts around Mount Cook.

The town itself is really nice. It’s increasingly expensive and touristy but it hasn’t lost all its charm. There are plenty of good places to stay, eat and relax. You can hire ski gear and buy new jackets and do all the usual stuff.

It’s good for:

  • Families - the nearby resorts offer a range of options for all abilities.

  • People who like groomers - Cardrona does this really well.

  • People who want some fun offpiste skiing (i.e. Treble Cone) but don’t want to compromise on convenience.

It’s not good for:

  • People who don’t like crowds. It’s a major ski destination and there are plenty of active locals to find the good snow and track it before you do.

  • People on a budget. Ski passes at TC and Cardrona are both pretty expensive and the town itself is far from cheap.

  • People who want an adventure. If you’re coming from the northern hemisphere you have plenty of great skiing on your doorstep. NZ offers you the chance to see a really unique and authentic local ski culture. Wanaka is touristy enough that its kinks have been smoothed out, and in the process it has lost some of the quirkiness that makes Kiwi skiing so great.

The bottom line:

Convenient, beautiful and close to good skiing. If you want the standard ski holiday experience this is the best place to get it.

What we offer around Wanaka:

  • Nothing! They don’t let plebs like us into Wanaka (just kidding, it’s nice).


Wanaka’s bigger brother, Queenstown is also a scenic town on the edge of a lake. The only difference is that some time, long in the past, Queenstown took an acid trip and never quite recovered. Now it’s a tourist town that specialises in all the craziest ways to separate people from their money. This is the place that invented bungee jumping and they have been feverishly working to recreate that tourism miracle ever since.

On the plus side, Queenstown is amazingly well located. The town is on a lake, surrounded by mountains. There’s cool skiing and climbing and hiking and mountain biking everywhere. It’s a very convenient place for a holiday - there are ski shops and shuttle buses and endless places to eat and relax.

The bad news is that it’s busy. The town is sandwiched between the mountains and the lake and it was deliberately designed to have that confusing “outdoor shopping mall” layout that places like Whistler perfected to keep people wandering around their shopping district. It’s the kind of place where you can rent some skis just a few doors down from a high end fashion boutique. It even has its own casino. The party scene is a serious beast. Stay at any backpackers and you’ll find a bunch of visitors who have made it their life’s work to stay in Queenstown as long as possible, working minimum wage jobs by day and partying by night.

It offers skiers and boarders a few good things. There are two local ski areas:

Coronet Peak has some good terrain but it was built too low. As the climate has warmed and the snowline has crept up the mountains it’s now mostly reliant on artificial snow. That’s fine for intermediates and families but it doesn’t offer a lot for offpiste or backcountry skiers. If they do get a dump to low elevations it’s well worth a look.

The Remarkables is also close to town, Its inbounds skiing is pretty average (again, maybe OK for intermediates and families) but it has some cool chutes and technical lines in the backcountry for strong skiers willing to hike. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a stand-alone peak so it doesn’t offer backcountry access to a whole mountain range as is often the case in NZ.

Otherwise, access to the backcountry is limited. Mostly the snowline is well above the road, so you either need to hike or use a helicopter. The town is a base for several heli operations so that’s an option if you’re willing to spend the cash. There are a handful of huts (some of them private) around but generally they don’t access particularly good terrain. Again, you’re better off in Mt Cook for that kind of thing.

As you can probably tell I don’t personally like Queenstown much. The skiing doesn’t really float my boat and the tacky tourist vibe isn’t my scene. But it is a good base for a convenient ski holiday. It has its own international airport, there’s all the usual rental places and public transport options, and the ski areas are well set up for families and intermediates. If you just want to turn up and go skiing, with plenty of things to do on a rest day, it’s a good option. And if you’re looking to party this is definitely the place.

It’s good for:

  • Families - the nearby resorts offer a range of options for all abilities.

  • People who like groomers.

  • People who want to party.

  • People who like spending money on things.

  • There really are some good lines at the Remarkables.

It’s not good for:

  • People who don’t like crowds. It’s a major ski destination and there are plenty of active locals to find the good snow and track it before you do.

  • People who want to travel to New Zealand. This is what a tourist brochure would look like if it came to life. It’s not what NZ is actually like and most of the people you meet will be other international visitors.

  • People who want an adventure. For the average visitor, the closest thing Queenstown offers to an adventure is queuing 45 minutes for a burger.

The bottom line:

Convenient, beautiful and close to good skiing. This is the standard ski holiday experience at the “touristy” rather than “charming” end of the spectrum.

What we offer in Queenstown:

  • We don’t guide around Queenstown. But lots of people do, so it’s definitely a thing.

The Craigieburn Range

Running parallel to State Highway 73 between Christchurch and Arthur’s Pass, the Craigieburn Range takes all those stories you heard about local ski hills when you were a kid, speeds up their lifts to the speed of a detachable quad chair and completely rethinks their approach to personal safety. This is lift accessed skiing, but not in a form that most people would recognise.

The skiing here is awesome. Rad terrain, no crowds, crazy inbounds stuff and more backcountry than you can shake a P-tex stick at. But it’s set up for locals so it can be a bit confusing for international visitors.

The accommodation along the range falls into two categories:

  • Accommodation in the valley. This covers Castle Hill Village and a few other accommodation providers scattered along highway 73.

  • On-mountain accommodation. All the ski areas off some kind of on-mountain accommodation which ranges from charming lodges with delicious food through to slightly forlorn huts where sometimes water comes out of the walls.

Castle Hill Village is a great base. It’s down in the valley and a fairly quick trip to any of the ski areas on the range. That gives you the option of picking and choosing where you want to ride based on the weather and snow conditions. Calling it a “village” is a bit of a euphemism. It’s a collection of holiday homes. They generally have the usual holiday home things - kitchens, bedrooms, showers, etc. but you’ll need to self cater. There are no shops. None. You cannot buy anything. The nearest grocery store is in Darfield, about 30 minutes back down the road towards Christchurch.

The on mountain accommodation is also a great option, but it’s harder to move around to chase good conditions. That said, you can generally get out of bed and go skiing/boarding, so it’s a good trade off. The lodges usually provide food - check in advance to see what you do and don’t need to bring up. You’ll generally be asked to help out with some duties to keep the place running - it could be helping make dinner, or vacuuming your bunk room. Duties are usually quick and a good chance to meet some locals.

One thing that’s hard to describe is that the whole experience at the club fields is different for people staying on the mountain. If there’s a decent storm the road will close and you’ll be cut off. Which is GREAT! You get the whole mountain to yourself. It’s awesome. Sometimes the staff get bored and turn on the lights for night skiing. If you’re there you ski. If you’re not there, you miss out. Sometimes it storms all day and then clears up for an hour. If you’re there you get first tracks, If you’re not there, you miss out. Staying at a club field is an awesome way to see authentic Kiwi ski culture and meet some locals who genuinely love their mountains. This kind of thing should be on the bucket list of any serious skier or boarder.

One note though - there’s very limited beginner and intermediate terrain along the range, and just about no grooming. Cheeseman has some. Porters, Broken River, Olympus and Temple have a tiny bit. Craigieburn has none. Some of these ski areas use nutcracker rope tows that terrify inexperienced skiers and are brutal for even quite solid snowboarders. Lots of these ski areas require walking between lodges and lifts. This probably isn’t an ideal area for families with small kids or intermediates, but it’s great for advanced or expert riders or adventurous families with more independent kids.

It’s good for:

  • People who don’t like crowds. I’ve had powder days with 11 people at the field including staff. It’s madness.

  • People who like backcountry skiing. The access is awesome and there’s good terrain all over the place.

  • Strong riders.

  • People who want to see an authentic slice of Kiwi mountain culture.

It’s not good for:

  • People who want a convenient tourist experience. There’s inevitably a bit of faff getting to, from and around these places.

  • Families with small kids, intermediate riders, and people who don’t like the occasional challenge.

  • People who want luxury. These places were built by local whose priority was great times in the hills with their friends. They’re not intended to pamper anyone, they’re intended to keep skiing fun and affordable for regular folks.

The bottom line:

Awesome if you’re a strong rider looking for an adventure.

What we offer in the Craigieburn Range:

  • We love this place. We guide here as part of our Castle Hill Base Camp trips and as a bad-weather option on our hut trips.