New Zealand isn’t really known as an alpine destination and yet it has some of the best winter snow skiing in the southern hemisphere. And the ski capital for many years now has been Queenstown, at the southern end of the South Island – next stop Antarctica.
Every year for 10 days in late June this little town pulls out all the stops to host the Queenstown Winter Festival, which draws avid ski bunnies from around the world and hauls in planes full of excited Australians direct from the major cities across the Tasman. Running for almost 40 years now, the Winter Festival is a blast of ski and snowboard events mixed with lots of festival fun back in town during the evenings. Street parties, fireworks, a Mardi Gras and family-friendly activities keep Queenstown buzzing day and night.
Some long-time favourites include a Birdman competition, where contestants get to ‘fly’ off the wharf into the very cold waters of Lake Wakatipu. Bracing, yeah? There’s night skiing, where the Coronet Peak runs are lit from 4 pm for some great nocturnal snow fun. The Mountain Mayhem day has lots of crazy events like the Dash for Cash where skiiers and snowboarders race downhill before shedding their skis and running back to the top – hard core …. There’s also a Suitcase Race (need we say more?), a Musical Chairs event and lots of fancy dress fun.
Back in town, through the festival week there’s live music around the venues, comedy shows, food events, a charity boxing match, a glam ball, drag racing and a good southern match of rugby. Some say that Queenstown doesn’t really sleep for those 10 days.
With 45,000 people expected at this year’s event it will pay to book flights, accommodation and car rental well ahead. Queenstown Airport car rentals can be found inside the terminal, mostly at the far end towards the luggage carousel. A rental car is strongly recommended as the events are spread around Queenstown and the surrounding ski slopes of Coronet Peak and the Remarkables. And if you’re staying a few extra days there will be time to drive to nearby Wanaka, more distant Milford Sound or to explore the world-class Central Otago wine region.