As if champagne skiing isn’t enough, Queenstown lays on some special apres-ski action, writes Travel Editor Susie Boswell.
The ski season opens next month and New Zealand already has good cover on the slopes in what’s usually a highly reliable snow-sports location. The off-piste powder on the aptly-named Remarkables range rising above the alpine resort of Queenstown is some of the best southern hemisphere skiing around. And New Zealand’s South Island gets the season off to a bang with the ultimate winter party, the iconic annual Queenstown Winter Festival over 10 days from Friday June 24 to Sunday July 3.
Queenstown’s magnificent mountains and cosmopolitan vibe are the perfect setting for the festival, an added extra for ski tourists. Revellers take to the streets and slopes for a program featuring live music, fireworks, glamorous balls, crazy races, comedy, charity punch-ups and family fun. Over the years the Winter Festival has “snowballed”, earning it an international reputation, ranked among young travellers as a must-do for its free and ticketed events. From the Mardi Gras on the town’s streets to novelty events on the mountain, there’s something for everyone. Destination Queenstown’s Jen Andrews sets the scene: “WinterFest is much loved”, she tells me. “There are big-ticket events like the masquerade ball, ‘Thriller in the Chiller’ charity boxing, Jazz Night up the Skyline and the comedy gala and free community events like opening night bands and fireworks and Mardi Gras – but there are also crazy community events on and off the snow. They include the Birdman competition where people build contraptions to try to fly into the icy cold lake and jetboat sprints. Some of the adrenalin-stirring on-mountain events are Mountain Bikes on the Snow and Mountain Mayhem, involving a variety of fun events – like sliding down the mountain on a suitcase, in a costume!
“In the Dog Derby, dogs are required to demonstrate their stamina by staying to heel while linked to their owners who race down a ski slope, sometimes on their bottom. Coronet Peak’s packed with high-country farmers racing from the top to the base with their faithful hounds in tow, and townies and their pooches also get in on the action. It’s always a recipe for hilarity – in reality, total confusion, barking, shouting and much ‘rustic’ language. Later in the day the fun moves downtown for the Dog Barking Competition. Anyone in the vicinity of the Village Green, or in fact Queenstown, can’t help but hear the cacophony! If the dog won’t bark, owners have to fill in – much to the delight of the crowds.”
New Zealand is home to the 2011 Rugby World Cup in September-October and Queenstown hosts four of the teams for 22 nights for training: England, Ireland, Georgia and Romania. The Super 14 2010 champions have been training there; half the South African Bulls squad of 26 are slated for the Springboks team. Bulls Captain and most-capped Springbok Victor Matfield loves Queenstown’s “high energy” levels.
For winter, 32 direct flights are scheduled weekly between here and Queenstown. On sale to end May, Virgin Blue offers return economy air and seven nights at the Heartland Hotel for $899pp twin share ex Sydney, $879 ex Brisbane with morning departures from Australia and afternoons ex NZ, in both directions on five days a week. Call 131516 or book at virginblue.com.au/Holidays/Specialsoffers/SkiQueenstown/index.htm. Package wholesalers include Value Tours, Ski Max and Stella/Newmans Holidays: see travel agents and queenstown-nz.co.nz.