New Zealand's best kept ski fields secrets

Round Hill has the longest vertical drop for skiers anywhere in the Antipodes.
Round Hill has the longest vertical drop for skiers anywhere in the Antipodes.

Most Australian skiers won't go further than Queenstown. Some venture just beyond to Wanaka (an hour's drive north-east), and others go to Mt Hutt (90 minutes west of Christchurch).

But there are many more ski fields to try in New Zealand.

There's a ski experience for every type of skier, all you have to do is explore.

Ohau

There is no better secret anywhere in world skiing: a ski resort with inexpensive lift passes owned (for 34 years) by a Christchurch couple, frequented by the US ski team, with a cosy lodge beside it, all on a beautiful lake in the middle of the South Island.

And it's still mostly unheard of, even in seasoned ski travel circles.

Ohau is halfway between Queenstown and Christchurch, and after a fresh snow dump there is no finer place to ski in New Zealand.

Unlike the club fields, here you have a chairlift. But there's never a crowd so you'll ride fresh, knee-deep snow all day.

There are 72 rooms in the ski field's lodge, which looks out over the lake. Three-course set meals are served at communal tables where diners discuss their day (and there's a bar with views to die for and plenty of locals to meet).

Twenty per cent of the mountain is devoted to beginners, and there are so many options for intermediates and experts.

The views up here are as good as any you'll find in Australasia. The access road from the lodge can be a little daunting but a bus can also take you up.

And it's cheap - lift tickets for adults cost about $100 per day.

Methven Heli-Ski

This could well be the best heli-skiing option available for the price anywhere on the planet.

There are numerous heli-skiing operators, including Harris Mountains Heli-Ski tours, competing for runs around Queenstown and Wanaka. But at The Arrowsmiths and Raggeds, there's just one operator accessing what is NZ's best skiing terrain, spread across 1000 square kilometres and three mountain ranges, with over 200 named runs to choose from.

You could choose to stay at high-country sheep farms right beside the take-off zone (for about $175 per person, including cooked meals). On a clear day you can see all the way from the east to the west coast.

The Clubbies

There are no ski fields quite like the Canterbury club fields anywhere on Earth.

Two hours' drive west of Christchurch, you'll access the area via high country sheep farms and steep mountain drives which drop down past green-coloured rivers.

There are six club fields to choose from, all owned and operated by ski clubs.

Lift tickets are much cheaper here (on average, about $85 per day) and you'll never deal with queues. But there's no chairlifts, instead you'll mostly ride rope tows, which they call "nutcrackers" in these parts.

The Clubbies take you back to the good old days of skiing, with basic on-mountain accommodation offering ski-in, ski-out access and bars where you'll meet the most colourful characters in NZ skiing (skiing here is as much a cultural experience as an athletic one).

And on its day (after fresh snow) you won't find better powder snow anywhere in the Antipodes.

While experts will love the back country offerings, club fields such as Temple Basin offer plenty of options for beginners, with instructors, night-skiing and 320 hectares of terrain.

Some of the roads in here (especially to Mt Olympus) may challenge those with height issues.

Mt Dobson and Round Hill

Here's two more ski resorts we bet you've never heard of. Both are located off the State Highway between Christchurch and Wanaka, and both started as little more than places for local farmers to have some winter fun.

Mt Dobson was the dream of owner Peter Foote who first skied the area in 1959. It took him three years to build a road into the ski runs.

Opening in 1979, he still owns the place, with his three sons.

Now there's a triple chair-lift, ski schools, a cafe and some of the country's best intermediate and expert runs (after fresh snowfall), all for $90 a day.

You can also arrange pick-up from nearby town Fairlie if you'd rather not drive the 15-kilometre dirt road in.

Meanwhile, Round Hill is located 35 minutes east of the pretty tourist village of Tekapo (located on Lake Tekapo, one of NZ's most iconic lakes).

It's almost exactly halfway between Christchurch and Wanaka. It was once designed just for beginners and families (there are chairlifts here) but with the introduction of the world's longest rope tow (1473 metres), Round Hill now has the longest vertical drop for skiers anywhere in the Antipodes.

This is actually one of NZ's largest ski resorts (at 500 hectares) and the views over the lake and over to Mt Cook are worth the drive up there alone.

A lift ticket will only set you back about $95.

Mt Ruapehu

Though Auckland and Wellington skiers are loyal fans, most Aussies don't even know you can ski New Zealand's North Island.

But the Mt Ruapehu region has two of Australasia's largest ski resorts on one massive dormant volcano.

You can ski Turoa and Whakapapa (New Zealand's largest ski area) on one lift pass. The two ski fields get more snowfall than any other in the Antipodes.

There's everything here from NZ's largest beginner area to some of Australasia's best backc ountry and in-bounds ski terrain for those seeking extra thrills.

Right beside Turoa, Ohakune is one of New Zealand unheralded ski villages. It's a bustling cosmopolitan ski town with everything from high-end restaurants to the country's liveliest (and quirkiest) bars.

The region is home to some of New Zealand's famed stunning scenery - much of The Lord Of The Rings was filmed here and Mt Ruapehu itself was used to depict Mordor in the trilogy.

Take me there

Fly: Air New Zealand flies to Queenstown and Christchurch from Australia's east coast, see airnz.com.au. It also flies to Hamilton or Wellington (for Mt Ruapehu skiers).

Getting around: Most major car rental companies operate out of Christchurch and Queenstown airports, see hertz.co.nz, avis.co.nz,budget.co.nz. The Canterbury club fields and Methven are best accessed from Christchurch Airport (Methven is one hour's drive west of the airport), while Round Hill, Ohau and Mt Dobson can be accessed from either airport. Mt Ruapehu's ski resorts are best accessed from Hamilton Airport (180 kilometres north).

Explore more:newzealand.com

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