While ski resorts in New Zealand have long captured the imagination of winter sports fan across Australia, the lesser-known resorts in Canterbury and Mackenzie Country are where it’s at.
Your ultimate New Zealand/Aotearoa winter holiday may not be where you thought. Canterbury, with Christchurch city at its heart, is a winter playground stacked with attractions from alps to ocean – from the country’s top-ranked ski field to a bustling urban hub ready to be rediscovered.
And you won’t find a more quintessential New Zealand winter experience than the Mackenzie region, just a little further drive south.
Here is or guide to the perfect winter south island New Zealand escape:
Mid Canterbury and New Zealand’s best ski resort Mt Hutt
Mackenzie and the bucket list of ski adventures
Start with a couple of days in a city famous for its hospitality, vibrancy and open spaces before you hit the slopes. After the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, Christchurch rebuilt itself – now you have the chance to see some of New Zealand’s oldest buildings beside some of its newest. Christchurch has become one of the Southern Hemisphere’s most innovative urban spaces.
Feel the rebirth at The Terrace, home to some of the city’s best new restaurants, cafes and bars overlooking the Ōtākaro Avon River. And check out Riverside, a seven-day farmers’ market coupled with bars, restaurants, a brewery and karaoke bar; or take advantage of the clear blue-sky days of winter at The Pink Lady RoofTop Bar or Mr Brightside, where you can see across to the Southern Alps.
You can also gather around the chef’s table at Inati to share the theatre of the kitchen as you sample tasting plates, or eat some of the country’s best seafood at ocean-themed bistro, Hali. And why not meet fellow diners at shared tables at Little High Eatery – where eight local and family-run businesses operate inside a chic, modern marketplace.
Looking for something alternative? Check out the art studios and eclectic retail and hospitality experiences as you wander through mural-painted laneways in the SALT District. Stock up on your holiday wear at The Crossing, a $140 million shopping district built in restored heritage buildings in the centre of Christchurch.
Christchurch offers plenty more. Head to the beach at He Puna Taimoana (New Brighton hot pools) – where you can soak in hot pools with views of the Pacific; while culture lovers can spend hours at The Arts Centre, home to art galleries, museums and cinemas.
Sudima Christchurch City – Sleep beside some of the best cafes, bars and restaurants in the city at this new, five-star hotel with Christchurch’s best new day spa. sudimahotels.com
The George – Sleep overlooking Ōtākaro Avon River and Hagley Park in one of NZ’s most beloved five-star boutique hotels in the heart of Christchurch and dine at award-winning restaurant, 50 Bistro. thegeorge.com
The Muse Hotel – Stay in Christchurch’s artiest hotel, where local artists hang their work and your surroundings are very designer-chic but luxury prevails. themusehotel.co.nz
Novotel Cathedral Square Sleep in the heart of the city, beside Christchurch’s most iconic landmark, Christchurch Cathedral (currently being rebuilt). Executive rooms have views of the Southern Alps, all.accor.com
In their pilgrimage to Queenstown, Australian skiers often overlook Mt Hutt, the second stop on your winter road trip just an hour’s drive (94 kilometres) from Christchurch. All the better for those who venture here – you’ll find uncrowded slopes (particularly during weekdays) on New Zealand’s best ski mountain (it’s been voted NZ’s Best Ski Resort six years running in the World Ski Awards).
Mt Hutt has the longest ski season in the Antipodes and receives the most natural snow of any NZ ski resort. You’ll find terrain for experts, but just as many wide-open runs for learners (and if your kids are seven-or-under, they ski for free). And you should see the views – you can see across the Canterbury Plains to the Pacific Ocean.
It’s not just about the slopes. Stay in Methven (near the base of the mountain) for a genuine small town New Zealand experience. There are as many farmers as skiers at the town’s main bars, but there’s enough chic ski style to spend three nights here without going to the same venue twice. From hip après-ski venue, Ski Time, to the lively Blue Pub where bands play and pizza is legendary, there’s always a happening vibe; and if you’re looking for more fun, there’s everything from jet boating to golf.
Brinkley Resort – Soak in outdoor spas, play tennis or let the kids run wild at the children’s playground at this four-star resort offering self-contained accommodation. brinkleyresort.co.nz
Methven Lodge – Located in the heart of Methven, choose from a mix of affordable rooms with communal space to meet fellow skiers, including an outdoor spa pool. methvenlodge.co.nz
If you want a genuine Kiwi winter holiday, you must get to Mackenzie Country – it’s where Kiwis ski. Located two and a half hours from Christchurch on the main highway south (halfway between Christchurch and Queenstown), Mackenzie Country is largely unknown to Australian skiers. But it’s here you’ll find quintessential Kiwi ski fields, which include some of the best beginner slopes in New Zealand, with lake and mountain views from every ski run. It’s also where you’ll find Australasia’s biggest vertical drop (783 metres) and the world’s longest and steepest rope tow (Roundhill Ski Resort).
There’s nowhere better to learn than boutique ski fields: Mt Dobson, Roundhill and Ohau. They’re much cheaper than the resorts around Queenstown, and they’re never crowded, but still offer ski schools and instructors. Once you’ve learnt to ski (though these fields also suit intermediates and experts with some of New Zealand’s most challenging in-resort terrain) you’re ready for Mackenzie Country’s bucket-list attraction: glacier skiing.
You don’t have to be an expert (about four days skiing is enough) to ski the Antipodes’ ultimate ski experience. You’ll ski intermediate green and blue runs on the country’s largest glacier – on the longest ski runs in New Zealand after taking a plane from Mt Cook Airport.
The Mackenzie region isn’t just about skiing. Centred around Tekapo on one of New Zealand’s largest lakes, it offers everything from ice skating and volcanically heated hot tubs to day walks and snow tubing for the whole family. It’s also the only international Dark Sky Reserve in New Zealand and, at nearly 4500 square kilometres, it’s the second biggest in the world and visibility is best in winter.
Tekapo: Peppers Bluewater – Stay in rooms with warm, earthy tones that complement the Mackenzie landscape with stunning views over Lake Tekapo. peppers.co.nz/bluewater
Aoraki/Mt Cook: The Hermitage – This is one of New Zealand’s most iconic hotels, set in the middle of Aoraki/ Mt Cook National Park. Take walks from your back door to NZ’s tallest mountain. hermitage.co.nz
Premium: Lakestone Lodge – Watch sunsets over Mt Cook and nearby Lake Pukaki at this luxury lodge, or stargaze from your bathtub. lakestonelodge.co.nz.
Fairlie: Musterers – Families will love unheralded winter destination, Fairlie. Expect mountain views from studios, family units, cabins and powered camp sites, with an outdoor hot tub, mustererers.co.nz