Peter Dragicevich investigates the options for the risk-averse and unrepentantly lazy in Aotearoa's premier ski destination.
Picking up skiing as an adult seems to me like an act of extreme masochism. Firstly, you have to pay a small fortune on kit, ski passes and lessons, then you have to put up with the ignominy of being shown up by precocious 5-year-olds on the beginners' slopes.
If I could just skip to the bit where I was reasonably good at it, I might give it a go – but even then, I know I would rather spend the money sipping whisky in front of a roaring fire somewhere. Does that mean I would turn down an invitation to join ski-bunny friends on a trip to Queenstown in winter? Hell no! Here are some options for getting the most out of a non-skiing skiing holiday.
If your companions are heading to Coronet Peak, get them to drop you in Arrowtown. The cutesy main drag can be walked in five minutes but there is more than enough to keep you busy here for a day. Call into the Lakes District Museum to learn about the area's gold-rush history, then take a stroll through the restored huts of the historic Chinese settlement.
There are some great day hikes in the vicinity – but if the reason you're not skiing is to avoid both the weather and physical exercise, snuggle into one of their comfy seats at the Dorothy Brown cinema to watch a movie instead. If you still have time to kill afterwards, head across the lane to Blue Door, the most atmospheric apres-ski spot this side of the Crown Range. There's a speakeasy vibe to this candlelit cellar bar, and in winter there's always an open fire.
In proportion to its size, Arrowtown has arguably the best dining scene in the country. Once your mates swing by to collect you, insist that they linger for an early dinner. Our current favourite spot is Fan-Tan, an informal nook serving mouth-watering modern takes on pan-Asian cuisine.
The following day, if your perky posse are keen to hit the slopes at The Remarkables, get them to drop you at the Hilton on the way. They need never know that you've booked in for an indulgent "Restore & Rejuvenate" package at the
: 90 minutes of relaxing massage followed by a facial. Afterwards you can use the facilities (steam room, hot tub, swimming pool) for as long as you like. Once you've had enough surreptitious pampering, you can
catch the water taxi
back to Queenstown for a mere $10 – surely the best-value cruise to be had on Lake Wakatipu.
Whatever slopes your buddies choose for the following day's skiing, drop them off and keep the car. The drive to each of the ski fields is glorious, and you can then continue on to
, for an untaxing two-hour stroll around its mirror-like surface. Afterwards, reward yourself with lunch or a wine tasting at the district's best restaurant,
. The classic Amisfield experience is an exquisite multi-course degustation, but since Covid they have also been offering a more casual option: a selection of beautifully presented small plates, available throughout the day, and perfect for sharing over a glass of wine.
Alternatively, continue down the road to the pretty garden setting of Akarua Wines where the fare leans towards hearty yet sophisticated country cooking, showcasing the likes of Mt Cook alpine salmon and Central Otago lamb.
If you would rather not drive, how about booking a tasting trip with Appellation Wine Tours? On their classic tour they will pick you up from Queenstown and take you to three wineries in the Gibbston region, including a visit to New Zealand's largest wine cave at Gibbston Valley winery. Longer tours take in Cromwell and Bannockburn, too.
Winter is also a great time to take a hot-air balloon ride with Sunrise Balloons. Not only is sunrise not so inconveniently early, but the sugar-frosted scenery is at its most sweet.
Of course, you need never leave central Queenstown itself. Pack a good book and spend the remainder of your days window shopping and strolling the gardens. When you have had enough, look for a place with a blazing fire for a bite to eat;
is hard to beat on this front.
Or, if the budget will stretch to it, consider staying somewhere like the excruciatingly scenic Millbrook Resort. Spend your time shuffling between the spa centre and the various in-house bars and restaurants, occasionally taking advantage of the free shuttles to Queenstown or nearby Arrowtown. A round at the famous Millbrook golf course is also an option – but to be completely honest, this level of activity appeals even less to me than skiing.