Australia and Polynesia are associated more with tropical beaches and surfing than they are with snow-capped mountains and winter sports, yet the region has some decent snow options. Skiing in New Zealand is mostly concentrated in the country’s South Island, but North Island also has skiing available; skiing in Australia takes place in the Snowy Mountains, which are surprisingly decent if you don’t know what to expect!
Skiing in New Zealand
New Zealand consists of two main islands, called simply North Island and South Island. The Southern Alps form the backbone of South Island, running north-south down the western side of the island and dividing the remote and dramatic west coast from the more hospitable central plains and east coast, where most of the population lives (although the whole island is quite sparsely populated). A multitude of ski areas can be found in these mountains, on the eastern side of the dividing ridge; the towns of Queenstown and Wanaka form the hub of the main South Island skiing region, and you can also ski further north in the Canterbury region (near Christchurch).
Further north again, on North Island, the ski region is on Mount Ruapehu, in the Tongariro national park, where there are two ski areas; these are actually New Zealand’s largest ski areas, in terms of both hectarage and vertical drop. Ruapehu is in a very exposed location though, and the snow and weather conditions are reputedly not so good, with icy and windy conditions common and the mountain frequently having to close entirely. Spring is said to be the best time there by far. I’ve never skied on North Island, so can’t confirm any of this first-hand; but I did do the Tongariro Crossing hike which was great, and it certainly looked like an area that would have some good ski terrain.
New Zealand’s ski areas tend to be quite small in terms of both vertical drop and the area they cover, and there is also a complete absence of trees; these mountains are very bare! Snow conditions are generally more reliable than they are in Australia, but by European / North American standards the snow is mediocre – powder days are few and far between and the snow is usually on the stickier side. One thing I always found frustrating in NZ was the amount of awesome-looking but untapped terrain; the sparse population doesn’t support a large ski industry, even with ski tourism coming in from overseas, and so there are a lot of enticing mountains which are as-of-yet undeveloped. Perhaps this is a good thing really, but from a purely skiing perspective it must be said that the skiing in New Zealand (at the ski resorts, anyway) is decent but disappointingly limited… if, on the other hand, you happen to have a helicopter, skiing in New Zealand is no doubt amazing! The one day that I forked out for helicopter access to some backcountry skiing (at Mt Potts) was absolutely brilliant, but sadly it had to be a one-off.
Although this isn’t an overwhelmingly positive write-up of skiing in New Zealand, don’t let that put you off – the Southern Hemisphere ski season allows you to ski when it’s summer in Europe and North America, and New Zealand is a good choice. Not only can you ski there, it’s just an all-round fantastic place to visit with amazing scenery, friendly people, and tons of cool stuff to do in addition to skiing – skydiving, white water rafting and river sledging, caving, canyoning, climbing, bungee jumping, zorbing, etc, are all readily available. Here’s my guide to skiing in Queenstown and Wanaka
Skiing in Australia
Australia may not spring immediately to mind when people think about winter sports, but the area along the border of the states of New South Wales and Victoria is home to half a dozen ski resorts. The mountains here are called the Snowy Mountains, and they are high enough and far enough south to justify that name, at least during the winter months. Snowfall in Australia is inconsistent though, and even in a good season the snow tends to be wet and sticky; but there is a surprising amount of decent terrain to ride, and Australia’s native gum trees are very nicely spaced for some off-piste tree-skiing action! The Snowy Mountains boast the Southern Hemisphere’s largest ski area, Perisher, while nearby Thredbo is smaller but has the most vertical in Australia. Here’s my guide to skiing in Perisher and Thredbo