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Queenstown variety

With her daredevil children leading the way (kind of), Tracey Spicer braves Queenstown’s snow quartet and discovers that variety is the key to a winter escape.

T he last time I drove up The Remarkables, I thought I was going to die. The car started sliding towards the vertiginous drop. Traffic barriers were few and far between. Well, that’s changed. More barriers have been built, the road is sealed and Ski NZ staff are on hand to put your chains on when necessary. (Make sure you give them a tip. The poor guys are there seven days a week during the ski season.) Almost a third of the runs here are for beginners. You’re surrounded by snow, giving new meaning to the phrase ‘winter wonderland’.

With its shiny new base building, the resort has the best eating areas, with healthy and tasty choices like green chicken curry, chilli beans and noodles. Our visit coincides with a snowstorm, so we spend a lot of time scoffing and not much skiing. However, with Ski NZ tickets (for Coronet Peak, The Remarkables or Mt Hutt), you can exchange a day’s pass for one of the attractions in town. This is ideal if the weather is inclement.

Flexibility for families
Queenstown is the perfect base for multigenerational families, especially if some of you don’t ski or snowboard. Go jet boating, bungee jumping, gold panning or try the delicious dumplings at Madame Woo. The Lord of the Rings tour with Nomad Safaris is our pick, with a riproaring jeep trip through ice-cold creeks.

I Have Confidence
The next day we build our confidence at Coronet Peak, just a 20-minute drive on paved roads from central Queenstown. Here 25 per cent of the terrain is devoted to beginners. The green runs are easy. But it’s also easy to be distracted by the spectacular views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables: like crumpled lunch bags dusted with icing sugar.

There’s a lovely pizza restaurant, Heidi’s Hut, at the bottom of Rocky Gully. Just make sure the kids know how to ride a T-bar to get back to the top. We almost left one of them down there (and I noticed we weren’t the only forgetful parents). Try the terrific tubing park, through rollercoaster terrain, or brave the night-time skiing, which is always a thrill.

Getting Air?
“First one down without a broken leg is the winner!” the kids cry. We’re at the top of a terrain park at Cardrona, a marshmallow mountain half an hour from Wanaka. The snow looks so soft you could eat it. (Avoiding the yellow patches, of course.)I agree to the race on one condition: no one ends up in hospital. A little bit of confidence can cause a lot of problems.

There’s a huge variety of runs at Cardrona, from wide and gentle greens to fast and fun blues. (I believe there are blacks, but it gives me heart palpitations to think about them.) This relaxed resort is family-friendly, but the main chairlift can be slow; head for the Whitestar or Captain’s Express Quads instead. Tip: the ‘singles’ queues are quicker, if your kids are older than 10. You can load money onto the electronic lift passes to swipe at the register for lunch in the food court. The systems in the hire area are equally efficient.

My skiing, however, is not so smooth. Taj and I tear down Big Bucks Park towards one of the jumps, but I veer off at the last minute. Grace makes chicken noises: “Buk, buk, bugerk! You’re a big baby, Mum!” I point to Taj, who’s also skidded aside. “Oh, Mum, I SO want to get some air, but it’s a bit scary,” he says.

Our final ski is at Treble Cone; at 550 hectares, it’s the biggest resort on the South Island. This is best for experienced types, with 90 per cent intermediate or advanced terrain, and the new Cardrona and Treble Cone Flexi Pass is perfect if your family has different degrees of ability. The Saddle area is a lovely big bowl with everything from groomed runs to chutes, while Home Basin has something for everyone.

High speed Thrills
Later, we break the speed limit at the Highlands Motorsport Park near Cromwell. A gorgeous young driver makes my heart race on a Lamborghini hot lap: I can’t wipe the smile off my face. We pile into a Porsche for a family ride around the circuit, before battling it out in the go karts. While I score a big fat zero for avoiding the ski jump at Cardrona, I get 10 out of 10 for winning the kart challenge.

We celebrate over a local Pinot at The Moorings Restaurant & Bar, at the ultramodern Heritage Boutique Lake Resort. There’s a healthy platter for the kids, while we enjoy salmon coated in furikake on avocado mash. During dinner, we ask the kids about their favourite part of the holiday. Usually it’s “the pool!”, “the beach!” or “ice-cream!” But, this time, it’s different. “Spending time skiing with Mum and Dad,” Grace says, shyly.

It’s the first trip we’ve all been at the same level: There’s no better feeling than making it from top to bottom as a family. “Yeah, and chickening out on those jumps,” Taj says enthusiastically. “I’m glad we did that together! Made me feel like less of a scaredy-cat.”



Getting There
It’s only a three-hour flight from Sydney to Queenstown on Air New Zealand.

Qantas and Jetstar also fly to Queenstown, which will be open for night flights this winter. Hire a car to drive to the ski fields or catch a shuttle bus.

The Heritage Queenstown has large, interconnecting rooms with kitchenette, washer/dryer, king or twin beds, and lounge area. Its award-winning restaurant serves winter vegetable salad, slow-cooked lamb and pizza. The kids love the bucket of marshmallows and sticks next to the open fire. Heritage Boutique Lake Resort, Cromwell, is close to Cardrona. These funky villas are perched over Lake Dunstan with kayaks, canoes, spa and sauna underneath. They feature a full kitchen, two bedrooms, sensor lights, plush carpets, plasma TVs and mountain views from the balcony.

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