Have your kids been clamouring to go to the snow this winter? Or perhaps you’ve been thinking of an active getaway with heaps of activities for the whole family to enjoy together. Queenstown, New Zealand in winter can tick both of those boxes. And it also happens to be one of the most stunning destinations you could dream up.
Where is Queenstown?
Located in Central Otago towards the bottom of the South Island, Queenstown is very easy to access. Its international airport has daily flights to and from Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, as well as from other New Zealand gateways such as Auckland and Christchurch. You can easily pick up your pre-booked rental car (4WD recommended) from one of the many agencies at the terminal, too. But this is no ordinary airport. The adventure begins as you wing in between the mountains, which seem so close that your heart will be racing on your descent! The runway is positioned alongside Lake Wakatipu, tucked in underneath the aptly named Remarkable range. Let the kids have the window seats and watch their faces as they drink it all in.
Where to stay in Queenstown, New Zealand in winter
There’s a huge range of family-friendly accommodation in Queenstown and the surrounding area, ranging from full service 5-star hotels to cosy lodges, apartments, and holiday homes to rent. It’s great to have your own cooking facilities – rustle up some bacon and eggs before you hit the slopes for the day! The alpine supermarket in downtown Queenstown is small but very well stocked, or you may wish to pop into the larger New World or Countdown supermarkets to stock up on your arrival – both are just around the corner from the airport.
What to do in Queenstown, New Zealand in winter
For many families, the snow is the main event. There are four skifields near Queenstown – the closest is Coronet Peak (20 minutes) which is very well set-up for children, but its popularity means you can expect queues, especially during school holidays. The Remarkables is a little further away up behind the airport (have a confident driver or take the bus – the access road has jaw-dropping views to match the drop offs)! Over the Crown Range you’ll find Cardrona, which specialises in catering for families – many of the local schools run programmes here. Further afield, beyond the beautiful lakeside town of Wanaka, is Treble Cone – the slopes are steeper and the views astounding. Known to locals as ‘TC’ this is the place to go if your family are proficient skiers/boarders and are looking for vertical!
None of the local skifields are gondola-accessible (yet – plans are afoot) so you will need to be prepared to drive or catch a shuttle bus (often known as the ‘Goat’). Always carry snow chains in your car, even if you have 4WD. The weather can change extremely fast in an alpine environment, and sometimes if you have a bluebird day as you head up the hill in the morning, it could be snowing heavily by the time you return.
All of the skifields offer ski/snowboard group and individual lessons, gear hire, crèche (daycare) facilities for pre-schoolers, cafes and bars, and shops for those gloves you left behind. There are toboggans for hire if you just want to have some fun throwing snow around and sliding down small slopes.
You can purchase lift day passes, multi-day passes, and half day passes up the mountain or online. There are also packages including lift passes, equipment rental, and lessons available for pre-purchase online, saving you time up the mountain – highly recommended with children in tow.
Non Snow activities in Queenstown
If skiing is not your thing, Queenstown has many other options to make your family winter holiday a super-fun and memorable one. There are a multitude of short hikes such as the Lake Hayes Track or the Bob’s Cove nature walk.
You could ride the Skyline Gondola to see an incredible view of the town, mountains, and lake spread out before you. The children will love zooming down on the luge afterwards – and so, I’ll bet, will you.
The T.S.S Earnslaw is a beautifully restored steamship that will transport your family across the lake to Walter Peak Station, where you’ll enjoy a delicious BBQ lunch and farm show. The ‘grand old lady of the lake’ departs from the Steamer Wharf in downtown Queenstown daily.
One of the things that makes Queenstown a truly great family destination are the many fantastic bike trails that wend their way past rushing rivers, over old bridges, and alongside vineyards. There has been a huge amount of investment in these trails of late, and families are lapping them up! Most are very easy undulating trails and there are heaps of options when it comes to bike hire, pick up and drop off, and even multi-day trips. There’s a lot to see here, and the view from on pedals is one of the best. Make sure you take warm gloves to keep those little hands toasty, plenty of snacks, and keep your camera handy.
The Shotover Jet will get the adrenaline pumping as you hurtle through narrow river canyons and tumbling gorges. Hold on tight for the 360 degree turn! Follow up your exhilarating jet boat ride with a family soak at the Onsen Japanese baths nearby. Enjoy your own cedar hot tub with a stunning view of the river valley below.
Day trips from Queenstown, New Zealand
Arrowtown is a gorgeous little historic village approximately half an hour’s scenic drive from Queenstown. You can poke around the shops and then take the children down to the river to explore the old Chinese goldminers’ huts which have been restored. You can rent a goldpan and have a go at prospecting yourselves! Arrowtown has great restaurants, and there are a number of lovely walks in the area as well.
Where to eat in Queenstown
Even if you do elect to go for the self-catering option with your accommodation. You’ll still want to head into Queenstown’s buzzing town centre to dine a few times. There’s lots of family-friendly restaurants such as The Cow pizzeria, a Queenstown institution in rustic stone surroundings. Madame Woo offers Malaysian street-style food in modern, bustling surrounds; and there are a variety of eateries at the Steamer Wharf. Don’t miss a stop at Patagonia Chocolates for a warming drink or some treats to take home.
There really is something for everyone in Queenstown, New Zealand in winter. You can guarantee a family holiday full of fun and action. And when the kids have gone to bed, sleepy and worn-out after their exciting day. You can relax in front of the fire with a glass of the exceptional local Pinot Noir. Heaven!
Have you been to Queenstown, New Zealand in winter? What do you love about it? Tell me in the comments.
If you prefer warmer destination for your winter break, check out these top winter sun destinations for toddlers.
A huge thank you to Michelle Morpeth of Outdoorsy NZ for writing this article. Outdoorsy NZ is an online community inspiring mums to find their energy outside. Engaging with their kids and rejuvenating themselves at the same time! It’s packed full of tips, ideas, and fun activities that families can enjoy wherever in the world they live. Check out the blog, instagram, and Facebook pages and become a part of it. Kick the cabin fever!