Resort Profile: Queenstown

By adamrowden, 12 Dec '12 at 09:05

There are places all over the world where there is no better way to experience it than by rocking up with your belongings on tow, a smile on your face and a little dollar in your pocket, falling merrily on your feet. Queenstown is not one of these places. If you are thinking of heading to Queenstown for a ski season, a lot of money and a good deal of dismay will be saved by planning quite some way ahead.

There are two ski fields near Queenstown - Coronet Peak, 25 minutes drive away, and The Remarkables, 45 minutes drive away. Queenstown itself is in the beautiful setting of the Wakatipu Basin, on the shores of Lake Wakatipu surrounded all around by sky piercing mountains. To get to Queenstown from the UK you will fly into either Auckland, on the North Island, or Christchurch, on the South Island. Start looking early for flights because the best deals go months in advance.

Getting there

The winter season is New Zealand's second busiest period, so on 1st July the cost of flights will rise nearly £200 from the day before. As a consequence, off peak flights get sold quickly, so if you aim to be spending less than £600 on your flight, unless you are very lucky you should look to book 6 months before travelling out. Added to this will be the cost of winter sports insurance, which will cost around £150 for the season.

Because New Zealand is the UK's antipodes (exactly on the other side of the world) it makes little difference which way round the world you fly. You can fly via America with Air New Zealand (stopping in Los Angeles) and a number of US carriers, or via Asia with Singapore Airlines, Malaysian Airlines and Garuda Indonesia. Singapore Airlines are superb and do offer some of the best deals - the 26 hour flight time is eased considerably by the entertainment consoles in the back of every Singapore Airlines seat; a Super Nintendo each and a host of films can only be a good thing. Travel agents will all offer fairly similar deals, shopping around can, though, provide a bargain or two.

You will fly into either Auckland or Christchurch. If you can, try for Christchurch simply because it is closer - unless you plan on travelling round any of the North Island. From there, to get to Queenstown, you have a few options. One is to fly from Auckland or Christchurch. Flights can be purchased on the day or as part of a compound ticket from your travel agent. You can also get a coach which can be booked in the airport, which takes 10 or so hours from Christchurch to Queenstown and a perhaps a day or two from Auckland. After you've flown for that long you would probably be best to get another flight, rather than sit on a coach for hours more.

If you fly into Queenstown you arrive at the airport and it's none too clear what you are supposed to be doing. The airport is about ten minutes drive from the town centre - go to the Super Shuttle desk and buy a ticket into town - they will take you to wherever you need to go. Chances are when you arrive in Queenstown you will stay in a hostel. There are about 20 hostels in Queenstown - some are better than others. For location and facilities the best 5 or so are probably Aspen Lodge, Resort Lodge, Southern Laughter, Alpine Lodge and Bungi Backpackers. Prices for these can vary and you are well worth booking before you come over. At the start of the season Queenstown has its Winter Festival, and everywhere in the town is rammed so pre-booking is essential. The hostel website enables you to book accommodation very easily from the UK. Arrange for at least a week so you have somewhere to settle down when you arrive in town.

Sorting out a job

The two things you have remaining are work and accommodation. The intended dream of being a barman by night and a boarder by day is quickly surpassed by a realisation that there are several thousand people just like you. Working for the mountain is a good thing to do and you should certainly apply as you can always leave the job if things don't work out. Applications for all sorts of positions end in March of the same year - so get your application in early. They are done on www.nzski.com and require a visa - so you will need to apply for a visa early also. If this is your first season you will probably want a Working Holiday Visa, though be aware that these can only be granted once. They are valid for a year and can be applied for with forms downloadable from NZ Immigration Service's website. Working for nzski entitles you to a good number of perks, including a free lift use, free transport to the mountain and a host of other discounts. That all needs to be arranged a good few months before the season starts.

There are jobs in Queenstown, but they are not easy to come by and will take a good deal of initiative. Most of the jobs are taken by those who arrive earlier in the year, so you will have to search hard to get yourself sorted. The Mountain Scene is the local free newspaper which comes out at 5.00pm every Thursday, and there have been 200 metre queues to get one looking for work and accommodation - it is not easy and there are a lot of people in the same boat.

Queenstown itself is not a ski resort and as such does not have the typical après ski scene. There are a good few places to go out, though, and you will start to know a few of those who are here for a while. The kebab on the way home as been replaced by Subway, where you will be sure to have a good selection of breads and fillings.

Bars and Clubs

A small selection of the best and the worst QT has to offer.

Winne Bageos - Easy-going and pretty chilled out. Very popular at the weekends.
Surreal - A cool bar with good reggae and hip-hop nights with live DJs
Candy's - Queenstown's very own gentleman's club...
Tardis - Kickin' locals bar with live MCs and PHAT beats.
Red Rock - Its not red and it doesn't rock. Serves a decent selection of beers though.
The Bunker - classier than most. Open 'til 5am.
47 Sports Bar - NZ's shocking answer to Ritzys. Cheap shots b4 12.
The World - Another fave of the green bus crew - but has cheap pitchers and good happy hours.
Rattlesnake - Popular locals hangout, often gets pretty crazy.
The Pig and Whistle - English pub for those who wish they were still in the UK. Please go back…
Chicos - If you are looking for cheese on a Wednesday night, this is the place.

Eating Out

Pasta Pasta: The most amazing pizza and pasta restaurant. Expensive, but definitely worth it.
Sombreros: Cute, little Mexican restaurant.
Vudu: THE best café/restaurant in Queenstown. EVERYTHING is incredible.
The Wholefood Café: Sounds unappealing, but is actually pretty good.
Naff Caff: Another nice café…
Winne Bageos: Famous for its incredible pizzas.
Lonestar: Southern-style food, massive portions, but a tad pricey.

On the slopes

The mountains themselves are quite small and the snow conditions a little unreliable, but not everyone can say they are skiing in mid August. Be wary, however, that though it is the best skiing in the Southern Hemisphere it really is not the same experience as in Europe or North America; the mountains are very much smaller, there are no gondolas or cable cars, no tree-lined descents, no skipping from one valley to the next. It is good fun though, if a little surreal to be skiing somewhere so unlike what you're used to, even down to everyone speaking English.

Off-Piste

Remarkables
Toilet Bowl: A 30-minute hike-from-hell directly up from the top of Sugar Chair. Drop over the other side for one of the best open powder runs about. Short hike up the road to the pick-up-bus that will take you back to the base. Worth boot-packing if you are up to it.

Chutes: Go to the top of Shadow chair and cut left. A short 10-15 minute hike leads to several steep chutes. Hike higher for steeper chutes. If you can get there first, they are amazing. If you opt for the higher chutes, you have to hike out over the [hopefully] frozen lake. Otherwise, you can traverse back round to the piste.

Homeward Bound: One of the only non-hiking powder runs - and hence the busiest. Traverse high right off the shadow chair and follow the masses! You end up either back at the shadow chair or on the road [where a bus will pick you up and drop you back at base] depending on how far right you go.

Outward Bound: In the same area as homeward bound, but there is a short, steep hike halfway along the traversing line. You can then head way out right for freshies until the end of the day. Short hike back to the bus pickup point.

Coronet Peak
The Exchange: Great on a powder day if it snows low enough and there is no hiking which is a massive bonus. Just head down the M1 and cut off left after the first corner. There you will find loads of natural hits and rollovers to play in.

Snowparks

Remarkables: The park is a reasonable size and incredibly well maintained, making it very popular. Consequently, you often have to queue for over 15 minutes to get a run through. Although it changes every now and again, you can almost always find two small, but kicky jumps, a 20 footer [which grows as the season progresses], a hip, a 'not-so-fun' fun box a rainbow rail, kinked rail and a couple of smaller straight rails. The park is situated at the top of the sugar chair, but most people hike it rather than wait for the painfully slow lift.

Coronet: The park is crap and the boarder cross track is generally too icy to bother with. The pipe is the only reason to go there if you are into freestyle. This year it was probably only about 8 feet high with a short transition and not maintained all that well. Better than nothing though!

Cardrona: This is the place to go for pipe riding. They have 4 half pipes, although only a couple are often reserved for camp use. They are well maintained. The park is also reputed to be good, with a number of hits and several rails.

Waiorau Snow Farm: There are plans to build a super-park & pipe half way between Wanaka and Queenstown ready for next season.

Thanks to Rich Brown and Jenny Byers for putting the majority of this guide together.

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