Less than 2 weeks before leaving, my best friend and I decided to spontaneously book a trip to Queenstown in New Zealand.
Reason? I had never seen snow.
We jumped on the one week “Ultimate NZ Ski tour” from Contiki and off we went.
We opted for the cheap student option and went for one that wasn’t direct .
FIRST NO NO! You can definitely find cheap direct flights that don’t waste your whole day (or use two different carriers with different luggage limits!) Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin and Air New Zealand fly regularly from Sydney and won’t break the bank if you choose wisely !
Trust me on this one, you don’t want to be wearing your uncomfortable snow layers on to the plane to get around the mean worker at the weighing counter who won’t let you have that extra kilo without paying your whole life savings.
I have now done Queenstown both ways.
The first time with Contiki and the second one we planned on our own.
I much preferred doing it without the tour mainly because you don’t need to rush out on to a bus at 7am with every single person in the town. The way the tour runs this section turns a simple one hour car ride up the mountain in to a torturous treacherous journey. (One look out the window on the huge, crowded bus and you think you are having your last breath of air before plummeting to your end).
The accommodation for this particular Contiki tour (when I went) is a bus ride from the town. You can’t walk to food or bars. It is freezing, and far.
There isn’t anything to see in the surrounds other than the view (which is beautiful, if you have the time to actually sit and enjoy it).
I found as a first timer being on this tour was helpful mainly as an introduction to each mountain.
Once the week is up, you could definitely see that everything included is achievable and cheaper on your own. The week itself basically consists of free time and 3-4 days where the bus takes you and picks you up at the mountain of your choice. You don’t stay with your group, so single travellers really need to get in and mingle straight away if you want a buddy.
Lift passes are included in the trip price, but also easily available for purchase on your own.
Get more than one lesson. I thought after a night of partying that I would be able to get up and miraculously snowboard after one go with the class and instructor.
WRONG! I fell so badly for half the day that I gave up and basically sat on my board like a toboggan for the afternoon while my friend went on the slopes without me. I had freaked myself out that bad that i couldn’t even get on the chairlift. Yes that’s right.. there’s poor old me acting like a 1 year old. I was of those people that go on the lift without their skis/snowboard just to see the view.
Needless to say, it was breathtaking enough for me to reconsider my humiliating fall and pick myself up and try again the next day.
Go with what you know. If you were good at ice skating/ rollerblading when you were young try skiing first. Skiing actually is much easier to get the hang of for a first timer regardless.
If you were a skateboarder or surfer, snowboarding will probably hurt more, but after a few tries it will be a way more rewarding choice.
Glide down the Skyline Trail at Cardrona. It has a breathtaking view that makes you want to stop every two seconds to get a photo.
Cardrona is my favourite mountain because it has much nicer terrain and shorter lines. Stop on the drive up there at the old school Cardrona Hotel for breakfast or dinner. It has been standing since 1865 and is the epitome of alpine themed goodness.
Don’t spend your day on the magic carpet because you are too freaked out to go on the real runs. Some of my friends have learnt the snow ropes the best way… by getting forced from mates right to the top straight away.
Yes, you’ll have a few slips. BUT! So many people are willing to help and always looking out for you.
Don’t freak out at the speed of people zooming past you. The snow is actually a much more enjoyable place when you embrace the speed and go fast yourself. The slower you go down the mountain, the more strain you put on your muscles and the more chances you have to fall. Ouch.
Don’t let somebody inexperienced with ice roads drive the hire car.
Insurance excess WILL GET YOU. Cars with experienced snow drivers over there are extremely ruthless. They will overtake on a blind bend that hasn’t even got a bumper rail (You could basically fall down the whole cliff with one foul move or ice slip).
Best to be safe and also always carry chains.
Don’t think your normal clothes underneath the ski jacket and pants will cut it!
INVEST IN SOME THERMALS. Especially if you are like me and the tiniest breeze will get you all ready to curl up in front of a fireplace. Kathmandu occasionally have some fantastic flash sales on their thermals.
One pair of tights and two long sleeved compression tops should do the job. Wear them as your first layer, and if you need more (like myself) just pile on top and it will keep you snug all day long! (So you can focus on the more important things- like mountain views and staying upright!)
Must sees in Queenstown and surrounds
Queenstown honestly is a fantastic choice for first timers to visit the snow. It is filled with lively backpacker bars, great food and friendly people – leaving you smiling from ear to ear every visit.
I would highly recommend a stop to get a teapot at World Bar. There are plenty of “tea” varieties to get the night off to a fantastic start.
Have at least one meal at Fergburger or Fergbaker. This chain provides one of the most popular places for snowbunnies to stop and snack. Old mate Ferg really gives a mouth watering variety that leaves the line out the door. Every. Single. Time.
Rejuvenate at the Onsen Hot Pools. They are found halfway back to town from the mountains in an unsuspectingly hidden spot. You can choose your package, which can include anything from sunsets with chocolate and champagne to candlelit nights under the stars. Your muscles will be yearning for a little r&r after you exercise all day.
Finally let’s talk about all you adrenaline junkies. A must see is the Shotover Canyon Swing. It is 109m tall with 70 jump styles.
I can’t say I did it myself, but my bestie freely slid in to the canyon off a slide AND got pushed backwards in to the canyon on a plastic chair. She said it was one of the best things she has ever done.
So there you go first timers! I know a tropical island is very appealing, but for some variety, watching the snow fall whilst sharing a vino with friends by the fire is an unmissable bucket-list item.
I will most likely be back to Queenstown within the next year or two, as it perfectly aligns with the Australian snow season (you don’t have to miss any of summer!) and if planned correctly, it can even be much cheaper than staying in your home state.