New Zealand’s Best Family-Friendly Ski Resort

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Jun 05, 2017

Just an hour from Queenstown is the ski holiday for the whole family. By Glenn Cullen.

Wanaka, about an hour from Queenstown, has two ski areas with contrasting reputations. While Treble Cone is the untamed beast, Cardrona is a place of much gentler pace. Its mellower terrain and highly regarded snow sports school make it a fantastic resort to learn skiing or snowboarding. If terrain parks and halfpipes are your thing, the freestyle set-up is the best in the land. Visitors can choose a base in Wanaka, 30 minutes away, and there’s accommodation in the Cardrona Valley or even on the mountain – a rarity in New Zealand.

Get Active

Ride the Chondola

Is it a chairlift? Is it a gondola? Actually, it’s a bit of both. Replacing the quad chair in McDougall’s Basin, the McDougall’s Express Chondola is a high-speed six-seater with the added bonus of an eight-seat gondola between every four chairs. The net result is faster and more comfortable access to a big slab of the resort’s terrain.

Enjoy the parklife

With an Olympic-standard halfpipe and expertly maintained terrain park, it’s no surprise that Cardrona hosts World Cup events for the globe’s best snow sports athletes each winter. Those new to the freestyle game aren’t forgotten either, with a smaller halfpipe and beginner/intermediate rails and jumps offering the perfect playground to learn and improve. 

Cardrona Bra Fence

Ok, it’s not skiing, but a visit to Cardrona would be incomplete without checking out “Bradrona”. How or why a fence suddenly became a place to hang one's undergarments is a little sketchy but the Cardrona Bra Fence has become a quirky pit stop when heading to the resort proper. Donations at the site go towards the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation so rest assured it's also a tourist attraction with heart.

Where to Stay

Whare Kea Lodge & Chalet

Set on the glorious Lake Wanaka, Whare Kea's perfectly framed views begin a sublime experience. The villa (with six private suites) is reserved for groups of up to 12. It offers the use of a local chef, ready access to Cardrona and Treble Cone and plenty of outdoor adventure options for South Island thrillseekers. For the ultimate on-mountain experience, book The Chalet – at an elevation of 1750 metres on Dragonfly Peak, and a 20-minute helicopter ride away.

494 Mount Aspiring Road, Wanaka; +64 3 443 1400

Edgewater

Relaxed and affordable, Edgewater is a people-pleaser with its great location on the lake’s edge, terrific service and English manor feel. Choose an apartment – they are well appointed and offer better views than the motel section of the resort.

54 Sargood Drive, Wanaka; +64 3 443 0011

Eating and drinking

Federal Diner

"The Fed" is an institution in Wanaka. It’s usually packed out at mealtimes but its breakfast is pretty hard to top. To fire up your morning, try the Hawea Flat – a polenta cake with haloumi, mushroom, tomato and spinach. It pairs nicely with a creamy cappuccino. 

47 Helwick Street, Wanaka; +64 3 443 5152 

Cardrona Hotel 

After a morning riding the corduroy, it's mighty tempting to pull up stumps early for a local beer or mulled wine and a hearty lunch at what is arguably the coolest pub in New Zealand. The old wooden façade and vintage vehicle out the front give you an idea what lies inside the Cardrona, which has been serving beers since 1863.

Cardrona Valley Road, Cardrona; +64 3 443 8153

Francesca's Italian Kitchen

Stodgy Italian is not on the menu at Francesca's where house-made gnocchi, local salmon and venison pepperoni pizza count among the offerings. Make sure to book, as it can get busy, particularly on weekends. If you do find yourself waiting at the bar for a table, consolation comes in the form of the cocktail of the week.

93 Ardmore Street, Wanaka; +64 3 443 5599

SEE ALSO: The Ultimate Ski Trip to Queenstown