Winter in Queenstown: A Survival Guide for Non-Skiers

Amisfield, Queenstown. Photo / Supplied

Peter Dragicevich studies options for risky showers and unrepentant sloths in Aotearoa’s premier ski destination.

To resume skiing as an adult seems to me to be an act of extreme masochism. You first have to spend a small fortune in kit, ski passes and lessons, then endure the ignominy of being shown by precocious 5-year-old children on the slopes for beginners.

If I could just pass by when I was reasonably good I might give it a try – but even then I know I’d rather spend the money sipping whiskey in front of a roaring fire somewhere. Does that mean I would turn down an invitation to join some rabbit ski friends on a trip to Queenstown in the winter? Surely not! Here are some options for getting the most out of a ski-free ski vacation.

If your companions are heading to Coronet Peak, ask them to drop you off Arrowtown. The cute main street can be walked in five minutes, but there’s more than enough to keep you busy here for a day. Call in the Lakes District Museum to learn about the region’s gold rush history, then stroll through the restored huts of the historic Chinese settlement.

There are some lovely day hikes around – but if the reason you’re not skiing is to avoid both the weather and exercise, snuggle up in one of their comfy seats at Dorothy Brown cinema watch a movie instead. If you still have time to kill afterwards, cross the alley to Blue Door, the most atmospheric après-ski spot on this side of the Crown chain. There’s a clandestine bar vibe to this candle-lit cellar bar, and in the winter there’s always an open fireplace.

In proportion to its size, Arrowtown has arguably the best food scene in the country. After your friends have picked you up, insist that they linger for an early dinner. Our favorite spot right now is Fan-Tan, an informal corner serving mouth-watering modern dishes of Pan-Asian cuisine.

Enjoy a cocktail at Fan-tan, Arrowtown.  Photo / Krista May
Enjoy a cocktail at Fan-tan, Arrowtown. Photo / Krista May

The next day, if your small group fancy hitting the slopes at The Remarkables, ask them to drop you off at the Hilton on the way. They never need to know you’ve booked for an indulgent “Restore and Rejuvenate” package at

Eforea Spa

: 90 minutes of relaxing massage followed by a facial treatment. Then you can use the facilities (hammam, hot tub, swimming pool) as long as you want. Once you’ve been pampered surreptitiously, you can

take the water taxi

back to Queenstown for just $ 10 – surely the best value cruise on Lake Wakatipu.

The sauna at the Eforea Spa at the Hilton Queenstown hotel.  Photo / Adam Bruzzone
The sauna at the Eforea Spa at the Hilton Queenstown hotel. Photo / Adam Bruzzone

Whatever slopes your friends choose for skiing the next day, drop them off and keep the car. The ride to each of the ski areas is wonderful, and then you can continue to

Hayes Lake

, for a two-hour stroll on its mirrored surface. Then, reward yourself with a lunch or wine tasting at the best restaurant in the area,


. The classic Amisfield experience is an exquisite multi-course tasting, but since Covid they also offer a more casual option: a selection of beautifully presented small plates, available throughout the day and perfect for sharing over a dinner party. glass of wine.

Otherwise, continue on the road to the pretty garden of Akarua wines where the fare leans toward hearty yet sophisticated country cuisine, featuring Mt Cook Alpine Salmon and Central Otago Lamb.

If you prefer not to drive, how about booking a tasting trip with Appellation Wines Visits? On their classic tour, they’ll pick you up from Queenstown and take you to three Gibbston area wineries, including a tour of New Zealand’s largest wine cellar at Gibbston Valley Winery. Longer tours also include Cromwell and Bannockburn.

Winter is also the perfect time to take a hot air balloon ride with Sunrise balloons. Not only is the sunrise not so bothersome early on, but the sugar-frosted landscape is at its sweetest.

Hot air balloon over Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown.  Photo / Supplied
Hot air balloon over Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown. Photo / Supplied

Of course, you never need to leave central Queenstown itself. Pack a good book and spend the rest of your days window shopping and strolling through the gardens. When you have had enough, find a place with a blazing fire to grab a bite to eat;

Botswana Butcher

is hard to beat on this front.

Or, if budget allows, consider staying somewhere like the atrociously scenic Millbrook Resort. Spend your time strolling between the spa center and the hotel’s various bars and restaurants, occasionally taking advantage of the free shuttles to nearby Queenstown or Arrowtown. A round at the famous Millbrook Golf Course is also an option – but to be completely honest this level of activity appeals to me even less than skiing.

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