The New Zealand winter season has kicked off for 2014 and the 10 day Winter Festival is in full swing declaring – Queenstown is ready for ‘snow’ business. Coronet Peak, Mt Hutt, The Remarkables and Cardrona are all due to be officially opened by this weekend and Treble Cone on the 26th June. Snow lovers and adrenaline junkies from all over the globe will start making their way to the Southern Hemisphere to enjoy the thrilling terrain. This year we are unable to travel to Queenstown for our annual holiday so we are sitting at home watching the webcams and staring longingly at the beautiful pictures being uploaded onto NZSki’s individual Facebook pages. You see we have well and truly caught the unshakable snowboarding bug and with two young avid travellers in tow, Queenstown ticks all the boxes as far as a brilliant family destination.
Getaways are of utmost importance in our household with the holiday budget sitting near the top of our list of financial priorities. Yes, that means we will be a bit slower in paying off our mortgage, but you only live once and we are committed to having fun along the way. Our household runs like everyone else’s these days. Da (Dad) works long hours in a demanding and stressful role and Mum (which is me) juggles the household duties. The most common frustration in our household is finding enough ‘time’ (sound familiar?) so justifying holidays isn’t hard for us at all. It is the ‘time’ of the year allocated to step off the daily merry-go-round to just hang out and enjoying each others company.
2013 was our fourth visit to NZ so we have our routine down pat, including having a Grandmother in tow to help look after the children, while we enjoy some adult time snowboarding down the mountain together. Our Little Man enjoyed his time at the Child Care Centre at both Coronet Peak and The Remarkables on our first holiday in NZ and although they were both great Centres, we have found that enticing a Grandparent with the deal of food and accommodation in exchange for baby sitting, works much better for us. Both Grandmothers have taken us up on the offer on alternating visits and they have more than enjoyed spending the quality time with their Grandchildren – so it’s a win/win. We even manage to sneak in ‘date nights’ – the Botswana Butchery is an exceptional restaurant to reserve a quiet table for two…
Over the years we have used a travel company called Skimax to book our holiday as well as searching the internet for special deals to fit our budget. The advantage with Skimax is they do all the research and email you a list of package options to suit your criteria. It pays to get organised and take advantage of their early bird specials. Although this saves time it may not always be the cheapest option. Last year our cousins stumbled upon a last minute deal on the Virgin Australia website and their return flight came in at the same price we paid one way (we were bummed) – you never know your luck.
Leaving packing to the last minute is not recommended for a holiday in the snow. There are a few essential clothing items you must have if you are planning to engage in any activity, so you comfortably enjoy the cold temperatures and snow. Look out for bargains in the off seasons, check out websites such as eBay or Gumtree or line up ready for the doors to open and prepare to battle crowds at the once a year snow sale at Aldi (usually around May/June). Almost all of our snow essentials have come from Aldi and always works out more economical than hiring gear. Battling the crowds is a small price to pay for good quality, well priced clothing all under the same roof.
Remember winter items are quite thick and take up extra room in your luggage so you need to pack multi-use items rather than clothes you will only wear once. Space bags are terrific to use in your suitcase to ‘flat pack’ bulky winter clothing and save room. Make sure you leave your jackets on the top of your bag or carry on as hand luggage – you will want to grab them as soon as you step outside the airport.
This list is our pick of essential ‘specialty’ items (I’ll leave you to sort out incidentals like jocks and sox etc):
- Waterproof snow gear – two piece is best as you can also wear the jacket with jeans/trousers on a non-snow day.
- Waterproof snow boots – we only take one item of footwear each for our holiday and this is them. Just like wearing waterproof ugh boots.
- Gloves – two pairs if you feel the cold. One waterproof to wear while in the snow another pair to wear when touring around.
- Beanie – there is no substitute for quality when it is freezing; you can’t go past 100% wool.
- Ski goggles if you are a boarder, good quality sunnies for spectators.
- Jeans, long sleeved tops and a jumper to wear under your jacket.
- Skivvies (especially effective for children) – the high neck keeps the wind out without trying to wrestle with scarves.
- Long socks if you have them – more comfy under ski boots and provide an extra layer for warmth.
- The children and I wear 100% cotton stockings (nylon can make you sweat) for extra warmth under our ski trousers and jeans. My husbands insists we call them ‘long socks’ when kitting out our ‘Little Man’.
We have only ever worn our thermals when going night skiing, but if you feel the cold, you might want to throw in one or two pairs.
You can arrange for a hire car to be ready for pick up at the airport as soon as you are off the plane and through Customs. We always request a car with bolts in the back and have taken the children’s own car seats with us. They are checked in as oversized (free) baggage with no complications. For all NZ visits our children have been under five years of age so add a port-a-cot and pram (doubles as a portable bed when we are wandering around) to the oversized pile. Phew – getting to the airport is a combined (but do-able) effort that is for sure! Fortunately on our first visit to Queenstown we picked up a small ‘umbrella’ pram at the second hand store and it lasted us a couple of holidays. Now we have upgraded to a slightly bigger one which we take with us. Queenstown is super easy to drive around and all the mountains are accessible by car, although you might want to book a return ticket on the Snowline Express for the days you head up to The Remarkables – it’s a hairy road!
Self contained apartments are our preferred accommodation style because they come with a fully equipped kitchen perfect to prepare daily meals and a laundry which means you don’t have to pack as much. A ground floor apartment, where the doors open onto an outdoor space so the children can run and play, is much more pleasant for everyone than just having a small balcony. We have family who travelled to NZ in a group and rented a holiday house so they could all stay under the one roof. Great fun and the total bill for accommodation is shared, which helps with the overall budget.
First stop once clear of airport procedures, is checking into the apartment and unloading the car. A quick ‘Ohh’ and ‘Ahh’ at all the features and free condiments in the room, before heading to the supermarkets. Ensuring you land at a time when you can fit in a grocery shop before closing time is a useful tip.
There are three major supermarkets in Queenstown – New World at the Remarkables Park Town Centre, Alpine Supermarket located on the corner of Shotover and Stanley Streets in Queeenstown and the Fresh Choice Supermarket is on Gorge Road as you head out to Coronet Peak. New World is perfect for a big shop to stock up the kitchen and has a decent range of specialty options such as Organic and Gluten Free.
Having a car also opens up the opportunity for ‘T-T-ing’ (town touring) and to explore the surrounding areas. On the first or second night we always sit down with a bottle of NZ wine to draw up a calendar listing all the activities everyone has on their ‘wish list’ for the visit. For although we spend most of our time snow boarding, there are plenty of other attractions to lure you when your aching muscles need a rest day. We have found that two weeks goes so quickly and if you don’t ‘book in’ activities which are important to each individual, it can lead to disappointment. Each year there are a couple of places which repeatedly make it onto the list, as well as some new appearances – but we’ll leave that for part two of this story which will be posted next week… #2 Honey we’re here – where do we start?
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Can you add one piece of useful information which is good to know before setting off to New Zealand or any other ‘snow’ holiday. If there is anything this story is missing please feel free to fill us in via Facebook, Instagram or the comment section below. Great advice before setting off on holidays is invaluable and will be appreciated by our readers.
P.S. All credits for the Feature Picture right at the top must go to My Cousin’s Wife. She took this photo during our first holiday to New Zealand in 2009 and I’m so pleased she did – thank you…:-)