Travel

Behind the Endless Winter – Finding a Down Under Wonderland

By Rosie Wheat

It had started as an idea. Sitting around the wooden table in Morzine’s steamy Bec Jaune bar, nursing cidres and pale ales, we dreamt of chasing winter to the other side of the world. Our first ski season was almost over, but 11,000 miles away, snow would be falling soon. The question was, would we go after it?

I hadn’t even realised you could ski down under, but in New Zealand, there’s a spine of snow-capped mountains running the length of the South Island. Friends told us Queenstown would be the best option, where you can ski four mountains, have a good night out, and see “that view” on a daily basis. One Google image search later and we’d agreed. We were going.

I landed in June, along with a few thousand other powder-hounds, and was instantly struck by the beauty of the place. The Alps are a damn fine way to wake up in the morning, but in Queenstown? You can’t walk 10 steps without bumping into a stationary tourist, their mouths agape and phones held high, trying to capture the well-named Remarkables mountains (an impossible task).

Looking over the Remarkables

Like Morzine, the Brits have taken over, with the chances of your cappuccino being made more by a Scouser than a Kiwi. The town itself, a few bustling streets of boutique shops, cafés and travel agencies, is a mixing pot of happy-go-lucky internationals. Like many resort towns, pay is low and prices are high, but somehow, seasonnaires get by, often with a big smile on their face.

But what about the actual snow? Unlike those golden days of flagging down a free bus straight ton the Pleney lift, the nearest mountain (Coronet Peak) is a 20 minutes’ pricey bus ride away. It’s worth investing in a car at the start, but if you can’t, hitchhiking is huge here and often you’ll make new friends who own some wheels.

As I soon discover, the slopes can’t compete with the never-ending powder fields of the Alps. Coronet Peak and the Remarkables (50 minutes’ drive away), have only four or five lifts each and queues grow quickly. The distance is a pain, but if my 68-year-old hairdresser can squeeze in a few runs before her 10.30am appointments, anyone can.

When there’s powder, it’s a good idea to follow a local to find the best off-piste pockets and hidden lines – the Remarkables have some paradisiacal spots you can hike or even split-board to. There are some decent snow parks, not to the standard of The Stash, but enough to help you polish your tricks and night skiing is even encouraged on Fridays and Saturdays (so no more dodging angry pisters in the dark…).

The Remarkables ski fields

Unlike the Alps, the Après-ski is less a Vin Chaud up the mountain, more a local beer in the Queenstown bars below. Though you miss out on those rough runs after a pint-too-many, I quite enjoy having a drink without my bum going numb in sodden salopettes. The locals are big on their live music and parties too, with gigs every night plus winter festivals, gay ski weeks and night noodle markets to keep things lively.

But the biggest shock for me doing a ski season here? I didn’t always want to ski. Despite my love of snow sports having taken me half way around the world, I couldn’t help but get swept up in everything else Queenstown has to offer. From skydiving to white-water rafting, heli-skiing to horse trekking, the town is a playground for adrenaline-lovers with a hundred different ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences to try.

So when the lifts first closed due to high winds, I swapped hibernating in my chalet with Netflix and Milka for something a tad more exciting: bungy jumping. As Queenstown is where it all started, it’s practically a rite of passage to defy death (and gravity) with the sport. Diving 134m into a mountainous valley with just an elastic chord around your ankles certainly beats any duvet days I’d had.

Jet boating on Shotover River

And of course, just a few hours’ drive away, you’ll discover glaciers, glowworm caves, and the famous Fiordlands, where you can sail through an undulating valley of mountains and waterfalls until you reach the sea. It’s the kind of place your face is in a permanent ‘wow’ expression.

Doing a back-to-back season from Morzine to Queenstown is an adventure. The skiing can’t compare with the Alps, but the lifestyle is much more balanced, with its various sports, a close-knit ex-pat community and a stunning country to explore right on your doorstep. It’s up to you to decide whether you fancy one more adventure this year – but the main lesson I’ve learnt? No two seasons are the same.

Rosie recommends:

Top tips:

  • Accommodation is tough! Expect last minute viewings and room shares
  • Like most ski resorts, the town is expensive and wages can be low. Take savings!
  • Be prepared for a competitive job market, so print that polished CV before you arrive

Head to www.rosie-goes.com for more local’s tips

Behind the Endless Winter – Finding a Down Under Wonderland
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