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Ski to See – Enjoying New Zealand from the Slopes

No backpacking adventure in New Zealand would be complete without hitting the ski slopes, and both islands boast an abundance of fields to suit all levels of experience. Whether you want to rack up the vertical metres, snowboard down the biggest drop in Australasia or enjoy the scenery on a more leisurely cross-country ski, New Zealand has what you’re looking for. And once you’re done with the snow, you can be sure Kiwis put just as much effort into their après-ski as they do their slopes.

Like stunning scenery?

Like winter sports?  

Like drinking in a hot tub on the side of a mountain?  

 

New Zealand has it all - valleys, lakes, dense forestry, glaciers and volcanoes. But there's only so much of this majesty you can appreciate from sea level. Strap on your skis and hit the slopes to get a Kea's eye perspective of this beautiful land.

 

North Island

You’ll find most of the slopes in the North Island located within the Tongariro Park, which itself is a “must-do”, and enjoying the skiing could form part of a multi-day stop at this activity-packed area. Mt. Ruapehu plays host to the main slopes here, whilst also doubling up as New Zealand’s largest active volcano.  


 

Whakapapa  

Situated on the North-Western slopes of Mt. Ruapehu, the Whakapapa slopes are drenched by the early morning sun, giving the early riser unparalleled views over the National Park and a unique glimpse at New Zealand’s majesty. You’ll get skiing for all abilities here, with dedicated beginners' areas to help you gain confidence, and once you’ve got the hang of it you can graduate to more thrilling territory with over 30 multi-terrain groomed trails. And if all of this is still child’s play, there are black runs, boxes, rails and half/quarter pipes, allowing you to really work up a sweat to enjoy the apres ski. Once you’re finished, you can enjoy New Zealand’s highest restaurant, the Knoll Ridge Cafe

The ski resort is served well by Whakapapa Village, 6km from the ski fields and offeringturan basic facilities, a range of bars, a visitor centre and an accomodation park which also offers shuttle services to and from the ski fields (as well as the Tongariro Crossing). Further afield, the nearby bigger towns of Turangi (33km), Taupo (70km) and Ohakune (35km) all provide shuttle access to Whakapapa, and are host to plenty of accomodation to suit backpackers and campervaners. 

 

Manganui

More discreet and less crowded than the slopes you’ll find on Mt. Ruapehu, we’ve included Manganui skiing for its stunning location. Down in the far South West of the North Island, Mt. Taranaki plays host to the ski slopes, as well as being one of the most important Maori deities and a definite “must-do” for backpackers. The skiing itself is probably best described as intermediate and upwards, and there are no beginners' packages or instruction. Unsurprisingly, this makes Manganui attractive to some serious skiers, and you’ll see pros from the surrounding towns learning their craft. It also means you are left to your own devices, and can just get on with enjoying yourself. 

In keeping with its sacred status, Mt. Taranaki is very remote, and you’ll get a real sense of wilderness around this part of New Zealand. Accomodation is available at the base of the mountain, where the Manganui Lodge, run by the Stratford Mountain Club, offers a range of facilities with easy access to the ski lifts. Conveniences are a bit thin, so make sure to stock up on food and drink before arrival. The nearby towns of Stratford (18km) and New Plymouth (56km) offer a wider range of options, as well as plenty of shuttles to and from the ski fields.  

 

South Island

As you’d expect, the South Island offers a far wider range of skiing than its Northern neighbour, although bear in mind most of the resorts and slopes are more remote, and you might want to spend more than one night to maximise your time. Nevertheless, most of the resorts are within reasonable travelling distance of the main towns and cities during your trip, and you generally find small towns have been built to service the mountain slopes. What makes skiing in the South Island unique is the sheer variety of territory and geography on display. Snowcapped mountains and powder drenched runs sit effortlessly alongside forests and lakes, and the ocean always seems within touching distance.  

 

Mt. Lyford 

Located 60km inland from Kaikoura, Mt. Lyford is the perfect mountain and lodge retreat after travelling down the coast on Highway 1 on the South Island. A relatively quiet and untapped area, its unique position close to the East Coast can deliver unique powder conditions that will test even the most experienced skiers, and the sheer scale of Mt. Terako gives the slopes the kind of big mountain feel you get skiing in Europe or the US. All skill levels are catered for, and there are beginner slopes, groomed trails, and plenty of feature terrain to show off on, plus the terrifying 450m Terako Basin vertical drop. And when you’re not enjoying the diversity of the ski slopes, at 1750m the summit of Mt. Terako affords a 360 degree showcase of New Zealand’s own diversity, from the ocean to the Southern Alps, all the way back up to Kahurangi National Park. 

Choice of accommodation is rather limited, but fortunately the nearby Lyford Lodge offers a wide range of facilities to suit all budgets, as well as all the après ski amenities you’d expect in such an environment. The Lodge also provides transport to and from the ski fields, and day passes can be arranged at reception. There is a basic shop on the resort itself, and equipment can be hired on the day. If you have your own transport, the livelier Kaikoura is a 45 minute drive, although the roads up to the ski fields can be “interesting” depending on the weather.  


 

Roundhill 

With stunning views of beautiful Lake Tekapo and offering the largest vertical drop in New Zealand, Roundhill stands on the outskirts of the Southern Alps, and is an ideal stop off point between Queenstown and Christchurch. Roundhill provides some of the most laid-back skiing in New Zealand, with plenty of beginner slopes, and first timer packages with equipment rental and instruction. For more experienced skiers, new terrain has been tapped by the Heritage Express Rope Tow, giving plenty of opportunity to find virgin snow. And if you fancy testing your vertigo, “The Wall” vertical is the largest in Australasia. 

With no on-mountain options, the nearby town of Tekapo is a 30 minute drive away from Roundhill, and provides plenty of accommodation options, as well as a very generous range of bars and restaurants. You will also find a daily shuttle to and from the ski fields. Roundhill itself features two cafes, and you are also welcome to set up barbeque for the day at the base. 

 

Snow Farm 

If big mountain slopes, vertical walls and vertiginous tow topes aren’t your thing, Snow Farm should be more your speed. Nestled in the Cardona Valley in the South Island on the cusp of Fiord country, Snow Farm offers dedicated cross country skiing and snowshoeing terrain, and a unique glimpse into a part of New Zealand where topography is turned on its head – mountains leaking into glaciers feeding forests and lakes, rising back into Fiordland as the ocean beckons. In addition to skiing, Snow Farm’s unique geography makes it ideal for snow-kiting, and equipment and lessons are provided. You can also opt for dog sledding, with Under Dog providing sledding tours and the opportunity to drive your own sled.   

As you’d expect from such diverse activities on offer, Snow Farm also offer unique accommodation. For the full experience of solitude and isolation, try the back country huts. You’ll need to bring your own food and drink, but you’ll be guaranteed peace and quiet. And if you fancy staying on the snow but still want some home comforts, the Snow Farm Lodge offers all the amenities you’d expect from any hotel. Or if you prefer something a little livelier, you can stay in nearby Cardona. 

 

Whatever your level, New Zealand is sure to quench your thirst for winter sports. Remarkable for such a small country, its ski ranges offer a unique and diverse range of conditions and environments which will live with you forever.    

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