Wonderfully wintry family fun in Queenstown

Cardrona Alpine Resort – a great family destination whose surrounding area offers more than just thrills on the piste

A person pulling two kids on a snow sled
  • Helen Hayes
  • June 2013

Tucked away between Queenstown and Wanaka in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, Cardrona Alpine Resort has made a name for itself as one of the best places for families to ski and snowboard.

We fly into Queenstown and are immediately impressed by the scenery. The Remarkables range is mirrored in the still waters of Lake Wakatipu and the town is busy with ski shops, restaurants and visitors high on a holiday buzz. We drive on to Wanaka, a smaller, more tranquil base for our snowy weekend.

Its colourful buildings and clock tower stand out against the wintery-white landscape 

Cardrona is a pleasant 35-minute drive from Wanaka. Its colourful buildings and clock tower stand out against the wintery-white landscape as we stop to rent our skis and snowboards. After booking a private instructor for our teenage boys, we hit the slopes. Cardrona’s Snowsports School is exceptional, with four dedicated centres catering for kids from the age of three, and offering childcare for kids from three months.

Over the next two days, we set about exploring as much of the 345 hectares of terrain that we can. We head for the heights on a McDougall’s Quad chairlift and wind our way down the Footrot Flats run. Then we take the Whitestar Express lift, and fly down Goldrush and Skyline. It is heavenly up here: fluffy white clouds sit over the valley and icy peaks jut into the blue sky. We can’t help but stop and stare.

We tackle the runs around the Valley View Quad lift, head over to the Arcadia Basin trail and up the Captains Express chair to play like children on the Exhibition, Paradise and Eagle Rock slopes. Then we traverse the ridge and let loose down a beautiful, steep, smooth run called Gin and Raspberry.

We love it so much we do it over and over, almost as many times as the kids did the terrain parks and the black runs down the Arcadia Chutes area. It’s no wonder we all limp back to Wanaka, exhausted but all smiles.

Where to eat: Family dinner The Cow Pizza and Spaghetti House is great for an affordable family meal in front of a roaring fire. Open from noon to midnight daily, with outlets in Wanaka and Queenstown. thecowrestaurant.co.nz opens in new window

Where to stay: Wanaka Edgewater, Lake Wanaka is well suited for families with roomy apartments, and kids will be made to feel most welcome at the hotel’s Sargoods Restaurant. edgewater.co.nz opens in new window

Queenstown Watch planes fly in over Lake Wakatipu at The Rees Hotel, which also has apartments with views over The Remarkables. therees.co.nz opens in new window

Off the slopes

Wanaka has several family-friendly attractions and activities, including Puzzling World with its maze and other challenges, but the highlight for us is a half-day jet boat ride with Wanaka River Journeys. Co-owner and driver Brent skims us up the grey-white, glacier-fed shallows of the Matukituki River into Mount Aspiring National Park, a protected World Heritage area. We pass four sites used in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I can’t help but picture a dashing Aragorn on the riverbank.

My daydream is shattered when Brent throws a cheeky 360, coming to a halt millimetres from the bank. We hop off the boat to have a look at pristine forest overhanging beautiful pools. The kids lie on the snow making snow angels, which in this environment feels just right.

We spend our last day in Queenstown, which is packed with activities. We take the Skyline Gondola for serious panoramas and equally serious luge racing. There are two tracks up here, the Scenic Track and the Advanced, which is steeper and has more banked turns. We do both, several times, and the smiles on the boys’ faces are so wide they almost split their lips.

Take me there

Ski Cardrona: Cardrona Alpine Resort, Cardrona Valley Rd, tel: +64 3 443 7341, cardrona.com opens in new window

River jets: Wanaka River Journeys, 64 Ardmore St, Wanaka, tel: +64 3 443 4416, wanakariverjourneys.co.nz opens in new window

Scenic luge: Skyline Gondola, Brecon St, Queenstown, tel: +64 3 441 0101, skyline.co.nz opens in new window