What’s a woman to do in Autumn when her holiday-packed summer glow has faded depressingly fast? Unpack her favourite Moncler puffer and start planning an epic Queenstown snow holiday to add some spice to the cold season – because if there’s one thing we now know inevitable, it’s that winter is coming. It’s how you embrace it that changes the game.
For decades, Australian snow aficionados have flocked across the Tasman to New Zealand’s ski field between June and October for good reason. The conditions are consistently amazing, the costs are often comparable (if not cheaper) than our home-grown ski resorts – even after flights are thrown in the mix – and the shopping, restaurants and nightlife are as good as anything you’d find in Aspen or St Anton.
The Otago region of New Zealand’s south island has fast become the A-list snow haven of the southern hemisphere, a hotspot for celebrities and sports stars wanting an incognito winter holiday with a champagne twist. (Fun fact: in all of New Zealand, the venue that sells the most Mumm champagne each year is situated on a scenic rooftop in central Queenstown. Tourists here have good taste.)
If Queenstown’s a quintessential postcard-perfect town with a surprisingly buzzing nightlife, then secluded Lake Wanaka around an hour’s drive away is a low-key celebrity’s alternative dream: private, but packed with fine dining and accommodation gems.
Between them, the two towns boast four ski resorts that cater to every skill set: Coronet Peak and The Remarkables near Queenstown, and Cardrona and Treble Cone closer to Wanaka. Contrary to popular belief, though, you don’t need to be a die-hard skier or extreme sports fan to fall in love with Otago’s two best-known towns.
I had the incredible fortune to visit there on three occasions last winter, and while each trip was epic, no two experiences were the same. One jaunt was with P.E. Nation co-founder Pip Edwards (who was born in New Zealand and recently launched a capsule snow-gear collection), celebrity stylist Romy Frydman and social media stars Yan Yan Chan and Ally May Carey. (Five fashion girls who love wine on a ski holiday? What could go wrong!?) Two of us were advanced guns on the mountain, one a cruisy skier, the other two complete beginners. All of us loved the après as much as our on-slope activities.
With early bird deals for the ski resorts and accommodation dropping this month, now’s the time to make solid plans, pronto. Here are five must-tries to consider if you want to soak up the Otago region in star style.
- Hideaway at: Whare Kea Lodge, Lake Wanaka
The ultimate private accommodation for a well-heeled crew, this beautifully-decorated retreat 15 minutes-drive out of Lake Wanaka town centre is an Insta-traveller’s dream. Each of Whare Kea (pronounced Faree Kea)’s six bedrooms boasts a balcony with a view and private bathroom, all leading to a shared kitchen, games room and stunning lounge and dining room with high ceiling and a stand-up bar. There’s an outdoor hot tub up the hill that easily seats 12 and a giant flat lawn that’s seen more than its fair share of helicopters land mere paces from the back door. Photos don’t do this property’s view of Lake Wanaka and Mt Aspiring National Park justice. Little wonder fashion influencer Yan Yan Chan called this view “the most breath-taking place on earth”. You need to see it screen-free for yourself.
INSIDER TIP: If you want to visit Wanaka pronto minus the snow, try the Festival of Colour Arts Festival being held 2 – 7 April 2019.
- Heli-ski with: Harris Mountains Heli-Ski, Lake Wanaka
I’m not ashamed to say I was terrified at the prospect of dropping into Otago’s pristine backcountry for the first time from a small, noisy aircraft that seated just six people, despite having been a snowboarder of pretty advanced standing for the past 20 years. Any trip that starts with avalanche rescue training and mandates you wear a transmitter for safety is worth some trepidation. But with no small thanks to my pep-talking heli-buddy for the day, Will Tresidder, and our very chilled-out bearded guide, I went on to experience one of the most epic days of my life. You’ve never really skied – or in my case boarded – until you’ve stood on the top of a remote mountain, blue sky above, then carved your own tracks into its expansive, glittering white covering. It’s worth every cent to tick this off your bucket list.
INSIDER TIP: This tour comes with a picnic lunch of soup, sandwiches, cakes and coffee supplied in a remote snow-covered ravine at midday. Now that’s service.
- Zen-out at: Onsen Hot Pools, Queenstown
Want to soothe your aching muscles and score the perfect gram selfie at the same time? Then join the who’s who who’ve ventured 10 minutes from Queenstown to the much-lauded Onsen Hot Pools complex. This is no typical day spa. For one, you walk into your private room with cedar hot tub, before a roller door lifts to expose you to the elements. Book-ended by nature, the only sounds you hear are spa bubbles and the occasional power-boat engine on the winding Shotover River below. The water: pure, from mountain springs. The air: crisp, if not plain chilly, but clean. The experience: indulgent, whether you opt for complimentary wine while you soak or not. Just ask Pip Edwards, who described her introduction to Onsen in 2018 as“pure magic”. This is one for multi-taskers who like to Zen to extremes.
INSIDER TIP: follow up your hour-long soak with a much-deserved massage or facial in the treatment rooms upstairs.
- Cruise on: Pacific Jemm by Eichardt’s, Lake Wakatipu
Queenstown has no shortage of chic places to eat, but the most exclusive way to take in its postcard status while you dine is from its spectacular lake. Luxury boutique hotel Eichardt’s – which already boasts some of the most prime real estate in the region, given its shore-front location next to Louis Vuitton in the epicentre of town – recently unveiled its newest offering: an 80-foot yacht called Pacific Jemm. While you can, of course, hire it for the day with up to 45 friends, a more memorable option’s the overnight cruise (four cabins sleep eight people total for around NZ$12,500). Watching the sunset over Queenstown then private dining under the stars is about as A-list a New Zealand winter experience as it gets. Then again, would you expect anything less from a hotel that boasts an NZ$10,000-a-night penthouse with arguably the world’s best balcony hot-tub-with-a-view?
INSIDER TIP: an impressive option for weddings, parties, anything.
Then again, there are plenty of opportunities to see and be seen while dining on dry land too. The QT Hotel’s buffet breakfast always attracts a crowd, while the Botswana Butchery (which despite the rough name is a surprisingly high-brow dining experience) is a regular celebrity haunt. Hotel St Moritz is a chic dinner hotspot too, but the hardest place to score a seat in town is still the rooftop Sundeck at Attiqa. Owned by an Aussie expat couple who fell in love Queenstown’s charm over a decade ago, this bar is literally shoulder-to-shoulder seven nights a week. Scoring a table here is like winning the après lottery, but then again standing makes it easier to check out the view – and the crew.
INSIDER TIP: Sundeck’s signature sparkling might be Mumm champagne, but we’d suggest trying the (warm) alcoholic ginger beer if you want a real bone-warmer.