The Insider’s Guide to the Winter Wonderland of Queenstown & Surrounds
Queenstown is famous for plenty of excitement inducing reasons as well as boasting top class opportunities to unwind, amidst a striking mountain backdrop. Winter is the season which truly showcases what Queenstown has always been about – Adventure and extravagance, in lots of different forms. So here are not one or two excuses to check it out, but loads…..
• The American Express Queenstown Winter Festival: winterfest runs from June 24th to July 3rd, this is the most exciting time to check out the winter dream that is the Queenstown winter scene.Watch the local Village Green become transformed by the annual winter ice skating rink, get to a heart racing ice hockey tournament, watch some crazy fools participate in the Polar Plunge off the Queenstown wharf and of course chase the action on the slopes with events like the Big Air competition.
• Queenstown Gay Ski Week Gay ski week has become increasingly popular over the last few years and has now become well known as THE event to be at within the gay and lesbian community. Known as the largest gay and lesbian winter pride event in the Southern Hemisphere, this event runs from the 27th of August until the 3rd of September and is a colorful, warm and lively affair with people attending from all over the world.
• The Adventure Capital: Birthplace of the Bungy, visit A J Hackett to organize throwing yourself off the highest Bungy platform NZ as to offer. AJ Hackett, the Father of the bungy and a well-loved local celebrity in his own right, has founded the AJ Hackett Bungy empire with options ranging from flinging yourself 43m off the Kawarau Bridge overlooking the frothing river below to the highest (and most terrifying) Nevis jump at 134m, this one is not for the faint of heart. It’s for the certified crazy brave. AJ Hackett also boasts the world’s highest swing experience 160m above a river and a night-time swing only available during winter.
• Snow season – the white stuff: Queenstown boasts two spectacular ski fields on either side of the township. The Remarkables are just that and Coronet Peak is famous for its late night skiing and boarding available on weekends.
•Night skiing and boarding: What better way to spend a chilly winter’s evening? Plus the mulled wine is a tasty bonus. DJ’s spin the latest beats and cruising down a stunning night run, powder gliding underfoot and stars’ twinkling overhead is a memory you will never forget!
PLAN THE PERFECT SKI & BOARDING HOLIDAY
Seasons pass purchase season pass here
Accommodation close to the peaks – check out Swiss-Belresort for Coronet Peak and the Remarkables Mountain Lodge for the Remarkables.
There are many options when it comes to hiring gear in this mountain resort, businesses make the most of the outdoor environs – snow in the winter and sun in the summer so that your general sports store will have absolutely everything you need under one roof. The seasonal businesses specialize in snow gear and professional fittings throughout the busy winter months. Locally trusted and well-known places such as those listed below will get you outfitted in no time, catering for everyone from snow bunny virgins to hardened old mountain goats.
The One Stop Ski and Board Rental boasts of being affordable and family focused, based in The Station, central Queenstown, The One Stop ski and board rental has everything from gear hire to package deals and mountain lift passes all under one roof. Beware: This place can get hectic at times! Book online and save 20%.
Green Toad the Station Building, 48 Camp St
Outside Sports 9 Shotover St
Browns Ski Shop 4 Brecon St, Queenstown
Both mountains provide transport at competitive rates alongside other local businesses making the most of the eager snow bound traffic. Many people stick their thumb out and generally get a safe lift, although it’s best to pick your hitching times wisely and not get caught out at nightfall. Hitching is widely accepted in the community although legally frowned upon. Community notice boards such as those on Facebook and the Lakes Weekly Bulletin can also be hot spots for finding and or advertising a lift. A great way to meet up with like-minded people! See below for transport options to the mountains .
NZ SKI Snowline Express – $20 return to both peaks, leaving every 20mins from The Station, in the Queenstown CBD. Coronet peak buses run from 8:30AM until midday and return from 1:30PM on until buses are filled. The Remarkable bus runs from 8:30AM until 11:30AM and from 1:30PM on return.Ski Link is slightly more expensive but offers up door-to-door service, much more convenient if you have your own gear and don’t want to lug it into down to the NZSKI bus pickup/drop off zone. They also offer a full season’s pass of unlimited travel to all mountains including Treble Cone and Cardrona (Wanaka-based ski fields).
• Eats up the Mountain – Best Insiders Tip is to take your own! If you want a bit of a treat you can make contact with one of the many caterers in town and have your very own mountain picnic organized, or visit the local bakeries Fergbaker or The Bakery for some takeaway options.Make sure you have some Kai (food) which is energy giving. Don’t overload on the sugar and the best drink to have on you is good old H2O, then you can justify that mulled wine or four at the end of a long day skiing and riding! You will get hungry up there so it is best to start the day with a big healthy breakfast, (bacon is healthy right?!) a smoothie is a good way to go too. If you end up just packing your credit card there are mountaintop cafes with all the usual options. A bit pricey though.
Take a bottle of bubbles and indulge yourself with a stunning view fit for a snow king or queen.
Best Eats in Town
Erik’s Fish and Chips – classic and convenient, tucked away from the busier parts of town and worth seeking out.
Taco Medic – has become a Locals fav, these guys just keep getting people coming back for more of their fresh, tasty, always impeccable soft shell Tacos. Great prices too!
(Famous) Fergburger – Need we really say more? You haven’t done Queenstown if you haven’t braved standing in the crowded lines for your bit of burger heaven.
Locals Tip: Phone your order ahead and pick up!
Pub Grub –
Speight’s Ale House – Warm and toasty with a great lunch menu as well as specials, kiwi fare at its best, paired with the pride of the south, Speight’s beer.
1876 – a hot spot for the snow pro scene, this place gets messy later on but serves up the best selection of bar snacks in town with regular specials and happy hours which will make you really, really happy!
Madam Woo – many a Queenstown local has found themselves helplessly hooked on the famous Madam Woo Hawkers Roll, with an ever-changing menu which is Malaysian market style inspired, be prepared to be rolled out the door after sampling everything!
Wild Ginger – Asian cuisine at its best, fresh, complex and beautiful flavors mix with excellent service and a luxury atmosphere for a special night out to be remembered.
Blue Kanu – South Pacific inspired and a delightful experience. Many a Local has been pleasantly surprised by the interesting menu offering up supreme flavors not to be matched elsewhere.
Hikari – well-loved Japanese fare, always a hit with the local crew, Hikari is faultless.
Caribe Latin Kitchen – new on the Queenstown scene, delicious South American fare with Mexican soda available as well yummy churros and the usual Mexican delights.
Bombay Palace Indian – has been going strong for a number of years so they must be doing something right! Some nights you just cannot beat good Indian so get in there.
Botswana Butchery – top notch fancy fare, you will feel spoiled for choice in Botswana Butchery’s elegant dining atmosphere. A winner for special occasions.
Rata – headed by the famous Josh Emmet, NZ celebrity chef, be prepared to be blown away by a creative and seasonal menu with a distinctive nod to NZ cuisine at its finest.
(Awesome Wood-Smoked) Pizza –
The Cow – tucked away down Cow Lane in a restored former cow shed, this place has been going strong for many years and once you try their pizza you will know why! A great place for a date due to its intimate atmosphere.
Skyline Gondola is a great experience during the day but is also a fabulous venue for dinner at night and boasts stunning views above the township. Enjoy a sumptuous buffet year-round – make sure to book ahead in the busy months of winter.
Nightlife:Just a taste….
Winnie Bago’s – famous for its pizza as well as the roof which opens up to let in a few snowflakes on a winter’s night, or for a bit of star gazing – this place really heats up once it gets going. Themed nights are common such as Back to School, Doctors and Nurses and other such fun, this is the place where Queenstown gets its party-hearty reputation!
The World Bar – back from the dead after a fire gutted this long-standing local hero, The World now has a new home on Church St, and has been revamped for you to revel in. The famous tea pot cocktails are still available, where in the world would we be without them?
Cowboys – with a bucking mechanical bull and an extensive range of tequila, things are bound to get messy! This place is great for a bit of entertainment to warm up the night, are you brave enough to ride the bull? Go on, we dare you!
Sky City Casino – offering up live entertainment, a bar, restaurant and all your entertainment needs under one roof right in town. Try your luck at winning big! Open from 12pm daily.
An Insider’s Word on Accommodation
Queenstown is famous for its popularity over the winter months, so make sure you book well ahead to get the best deals available in town. Prices do go up during the busier months – if it’s proving difficult to find rooms then try the Airbnb and Book a bach websites for holiday home options. The list below is by no means exhaustive but is a good start – do your research and be prepared to get creative with room hopping if you have too!
Top of Line…Money’s no option
Blanket Bay -rated in the top ten resorts in the world, Blanket Bay rests upon the shores of Lake Wakatipu near the top of the lake, catering to the privacy requested by some of the resorts famous guests.
Aro Ha- leading the way in wellness retreats and wellness adventures Aro Ha is also situated along the Glenorchy road amid stunning mountainscapes – a resort where you can truly lose yourself to relaxation and rebooting.
Eichardts is central to Queenstown and provides the best in luxury accommodation. With an elegant bar and Botswana Butchery next door, you can relax in style and soak up the cozy winter vibe fireside with the best food and drink at your fingertips.
Local and Affordable….family focus
The Sherwood is Eco accommodation at its best.The Sherwood is truly leading the way in green innovation and boasts a restaurant with fresh fare, foraged from the gardens, excellent drink selection, yoga sessions on site, winter wellness retreats and cozy, nature-inspired accommodation which is great for families and groups. Reasonable rates year round.
The Glebe is another great option for large groups or families, a little pricier due to being located right in the heart of in town. Modern and comfortable, as well as locally established with a high standard of service.
Bella Vista is good value and centrally located, with ski storage and continental breakfast on offer, Bella Vista is a top choice for those who have an ongoing love affair with affordability in Queenstown.
Pinewood, as included below – is also a great option for families and groups with budget accommodation on offer and a choice of housing can accommodate up to 24 beds for larger groups.
Looking to party and crash (backpackers)
Well known as the more popular backpackers in town, these places can get rowdy,but are well run and have good reputations when it comes to affordable accommodation in town over the winter months. Be prepared to book in advance though, they fill up fast! Weekend nights are more expensive than week nights and rooms get a little pricier during the height of winter. Start looking at the end of April/beginning of May!
Pinewood offers Hotel, motel and backpackers accommodation in town; mixed dorms are from $28 pp. /per night.
Nomads is a busy wee spot, right on Church St in amongst the nightlife. Well known as a reliable backpackers worldwide,Nomads facilities include an in-house cinema and sauna! Great to thaw out in….
Base Backpackers conveniently only a short walk from Fergburger this backpackers is also linked with Loco, a Mexican bar with great food and daily deals – you can get messy and it’s not a far stumble to bed!
The Last Resort is a quirky ‘home away from home’ backpackers, not just for the young ones – but for the young at heart as well! The winter of 2016 is upon us and the good folk at The last resort have offered up an extremely generous deal for medium-term guests due to the accommodation shortage that is the Queenstown reality throughout winter. So if you are looking for a place to call home for two weeks or so, look into this option – at $180 per week, it’s a heaven sent deal these guys are offering!
Insider Tips……..Rest your weary bones
Nothing beats coming down of the mountain, peeling off layers of snow gear, having a hot shower and then a massage, exquisite! You can find loads of different options from well-known massage clinics to unwind those frozen muscles as well as mobile massage companies, operating as a team and on an individual basis.
Body Sanctum are reputable and The massage clinic specializes in sports and therapeutic massage – which could be sorely needed after a day/night on the mountain! Mobile Massage are well known for their services and for a more alternative experience. Nadi Wellness also provides massage services among other options such as Chakra Balancing and Theta Healing. The center also provides daily yoga classes and has two studios, one in town and one based in Remarkables Park.
Facebook is great for providing fast, local information for those in need and the page Queenstown Trading is no exception. This page has everything from snow report information, road closures, where to see the best view of the Southern Lights, and of course buying and selling – you can score great deals on second-hand snow gear or last minute tickets to sold out Winter Festival gigs, it is a page worth checking out even if you are only in Queenstown for a short time.
Code of Conduct around town
The dress code around town once the sun goes down is generally smart-casual, but you will be forgiven if you haven’t quite made it back to your accommodation to change out of your gear. All 18+ venues require a current I.D; passports are acceptable for overseas snow bunnies. An 18+ card is generally used by Kiwis and is worth getting if you are in NZ for some length of time but you do need a valid address in order to obtain one. The clubs and pubs generally start shutting up around 3am, with everything pretty much closed by 4am. Taxis can be hard to come by so be prepared to be patient at the taxi stands. There are two widely used services,Green Cabs and Queenstown Taxis
General Rules of Thumb
Banks are open on weekdays between 9-5pm, with Westpac Bank offering a banking service through their ATM machines 24 hours. Post offices are open from 9 -5 pm during the week and from 10-2pm on Saturday. There are banks throughout the township as well as shopping areas such as Remarkable Park Shopping Center and the new 5 Mile development. Not all banks are in these areas although. Major supermarkets include Fresh Choice which is central to town,New World at Remarkables Park and Countdown at Five Mile. The town’s only video shop is in Frankton Village. The petrol stations tend to be dotted along Frankton Road as well, with BP being super busy in winter. Z is the only petrol station in town. The local paper is The MountainScene and comes out on Thursdays. The Mirror is a district paper and the Lakes Weekly Bulletin is more of a community bulletin with jobs and gig guides.Tradeyaskills is a new printed trade’s directory. All are available online.
The thing about Queenstown is that you just cannot beat it on a winter’s day; there’s always been such an electric energy in the air, thrumming between the people as they gather in the various bars and eateries after an epic day up the mountain. You don’t get that feeling of satisfaction and anticipation in many places in the world, day after day and night after night. Most are here to experience the snow, the scenery and the season that is the jewel in Queenstown’s crown – winter in Queenstown is pure magic.
Cover picture @lisayhaymanphotography
Sunset Drinks @_albydiaz
Author: Georgia Todd