New Zealand has proper mountains. There are resorts on the North and South Islands. New Zealand generally has a later season than Australia. It, like anywhere else, can have bad years. The real disadvantage of New Zealand is extremely limited on snow accommodation at the large resorts, and some daunting access roads. But the exchange rate works in your favour, and there are no road tolls, parking fees, resort entry fees or national park entrance fees.
The club fields of Canterbury are a unique experience: really daunting roads(!), but they do have fresh snow, on-snow accommodation, cheap lift tickets, no queues and super-friendly members keen to help you have an awesome experience. Follow this link to all you ever wanted to know about club skiing in NZ.
- 1 Climate
- 2 Ski Field Areas
- 3 Getting There
- 4 Cultural Info
- 5 Health and Safety
- 6 Resources
- 7 Maps
North Island New Zealand is not that dissimilar in climate to Southern Australia. Melbourne is the same latitude as Hamilton - just south of Auckland. Mount Ruapehu is the same latitude as Bass Strait (a fact that will become very apparent if you are caught on Ruapehu in a storm!) Christchurch is further south than Hobart, and the rest of the South Island equates with Patagonia. These latitudes (the "roaring forties") get strong westerly winds and frequent cold fronts. The climate is maritime - NZ is surrounded by thousands of km of ocean on all sides and the country's furthest point from the sea is a mere 125km, in Central Otago, meaning rapidly changeable and difficult-to-predict weather. Extremes of temperature, such as found in continental areas, are rare. The freezing level drops to sea level on the east coast of the South Island at times, but never for very long, and the normal winter snowline is around 1200-1400m in the south island.
The chief difference between NZ and Australia is the amount of rainfall, which is very heavy on the West Coast of the South Island. The central mountains get this rainfall in the form of snow, contributing to the considerable glaciation of the central Southern Alps. The ski areas tend to be on the eastern side of the mountains, sheltered from the worst of the westerly precipitation, but still often buffeted by the westerly winds.
(An apt description of the West Coast climate is "The West Coast has a rainy season that generally lasts from the 22nd of August to the 21st of August each year. There are occasional droughts of up to 5 days in length." Fortunately the climate of the South Island skifields is less extreme than this.)
Southerlies bring brief storms of powdery snow. Look for low pressure systems forming off the Queensland coast and tracking south-east. When these sit off the east coast of the South Island, they drag cold antarctic air to meet with tropical moisture and dump tremendous amounts of snow to low levels, greatly annoying farmers and delighting skiers. Drop everything and book an air ticket to Christchurch and get there before the airport is shut due to snow (it does happen!)
The snow can stay nice and powdery in South Island mountain areas in mid winter due to the low angle of the sun, short days and little daytime warmth, so melt-freeze cycles and associated crust and corn snow generally do not occur until after mid-August. For these reasons, early to mid winter has better quality snow. However, some winters are dryer than others (i.e. less snowfall), which makes planning a skiing holiday in July a bit of a lottery. Only a few of the larger ski areas have invested in snow-making. Mostly in typically Kiwi tradition, it's pray to the weather gods and see what happens. Usually this works, but there are bad seasons.
In summary, the mountain areas are quite varied in their climate, and the wind direction they get most of their snow from. Hence there is usually somewhere with good snow, even in an overall "bad year", and somewhere that misses out, even in a "good year". The secret to scoring the goods is to be flexible and open minded in where you are going, and when. If forced to book ahead, personal experience favours early to mid August in Canterbury, perhaps slightly earlier in Queenstown/Wanaka region, definitely later in the North Island where the skiing is much better in September/October.
The most honest, accurate and detailed reports of recent snowfalls throughout New Zealand mountain regions are found on avalanche.net.nz, run by the NZ Mountain Safety Council. Their goal is not to sell you a product, but to keep you safe.
The mountains of the South Island (the Southern Alps) were created by relatively recent tectonic uplift of sedimentary rock, hence they are steep rocky peaks, the biggest being Aoraki/Mount Cook (3754m). The North Island was not subjected to such extreme uplift, but the central North Island has a few large active volcanoes, the biggest being Mount Ruapehu (2797m). There are two main ski areas on Mount Ruapehu, Whakapapa and Turoa, both large skifields which attract large crowds from the North Island cities. Avoid on weekends.
The South Island has a string of skifields right down the eastern side of the mountains with the biggest commercial resorts being near Christchurch and Queenstown but lots of others dotted down the island, making a road trip a good concept.
There are multi-mountain season passes available. "Chill" sells season passes and multi-day passes to most of the club fields and there are combined season passes and multi-day passes to nzski.com who operate Mount Hutt, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables. The NZ superpass gives coupons redeemable for lift passes or alternative activities for non-ski days.
New Zealand also has readily accessible and affordable heli-skiing in the South Island. It is possible to find accessible and (relatively) cheap heli ski operators out of Queenstown and Wanaka. See Alpine Heliski heliski and Alpine Heliski, Harris Mountains heliski and Harris Mountains Heliski or Southern Lakes heliski. Or Methven Heliski out of Methven.
Heli skiing is something everyone should do before they die.
Ski Field Areas
Skiing North Island
Skiing North of Christchurch
Skiing South of Christchurch
The traditional means of reaching New Zealand was large outrigger canoes. This method has fallen into disuse. As the place is made up of islands most people fly in to Auckland or Wellington on the North Island or Christchurch on the South Island. Some flights from Australia go direct to Queenstown, but these are limited and seem to fill quickly.
Visas and Documentation
Australians do not need visas to visit or work in New Zealand.
All Australian passport holders have automatic right to permanent residency in NZ. As soon as you (an Aust citizen) get yourself a permanent address in NZ (e.g. evidenced by a power bill in your name) you are assumed to be a NZ permanent resident, and have all the rights of NZ citizens, including voting rights (which is not compulsory).
Mostly relaxed and easy-going places, and you can sleep in them for free with no hassles. A therma-rest and a warm jacket will keep you cosy. See http://www.sleepinginairports.net/pacific.htm
Customs and Quarantine
New Zealand takes customs as seriously as Australia does. Lots of nasty poisonous creatures live in Australia, and NZ does not want any of them hitching a ride on your luggage. New Zealand has stringent restrictions on animal products, fresh fruit and organic matter on shoes and hiking boots. Camping gear, and sports equipment should also be declared when entering the country. It's unclear whether this includes ski and snowboard boots, not declaring them but mentioning them in passing, in the GREEN queue, seems they will be passed without examination. There can be some lengthy waits at customs in Auckland.
NZ is further into the Pacific than Australia, there is a difference in multiculture. About 14% of the population are indigenous Maori, and there are large populations of Pacific Island people (6%), and there is an increasing Asian population (9%). The Pakeha (white) population (66%) is mostly from UK stock, but with noticeable contributions from the Netherlands and Yugoslavia. Smaller minorities from everywhere else. Maori tribes (iwi) can have significant economic and political clout.
The national religion is rugby (union). The national team, the All Blacks, are expected to win every match they play. If they ever fail to do so, the whole nation seems to observe a period of deep mourning afterwards. Other sports are viewed as less vital to the nation, but any opportunity to beat England or Australia at anything is relished.
The outdoors features strongly in the national identity, and the need for conservation of the national estate is (generally) a consensus view. New Zealanders are keen recreationalists in the outdoors, resulting in the tremendous network of backcountry huts and walking tracks, and the tradition of free access to all national parks, beaches, lakes and rivers. Another is the unfortunate death toll of those whom the rugged environment and weather got the better of.
It used to be that New Zealand completely shut down over summer, but now it only partially does. 4 weeks annual leave is now the norm. Statutory holidays are:
- New Years Day and 2 January (or nearest weekdays)
- Waitangi Day, 6 February
- Easter (Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Monday), exact dates vary.
- ANZAC day, 25 April
- Queen's Birthday, first Monday in June
- Labour Day, 4th Monday in October
- Xmas Day and Boxing Day (or nearest weekdays)
- Plus one regional public holiday, date depending on the region.
- FYI: the NZ school holidays are the last two weeks of July, and the last week Sept & first week October. full details on terms
Distances are much further than they look on the map. Driving times are longer than you will expect, and hills and corners make it more tiring. No passenger rail system besides a few tourist trains. Buses not cheap. Second hand cars are much cheaper than Australia, due to cheap, but good quality second-hand imports from Asia (i.e. there is no local car construction industry to protect with tariffs). Petrol is slightly more expensive than Australia. Diesel is cheaper, but diesel vehicles pay a road user surcharge: a valid card must be displayed on the windscreen. Motorways (freeways) are short in length and just in and out of the main cities.
The vast majority of the highway network is single lane each way, and no lane dividers or "rumble strips" at the side. There are still some single-lane bridges controlled by give-way signs on main highways, and large drops off the side of the road without safety barriers. Take care. The roads up to the ski areas are even more primitive, usually narrow rough gravel roads with no safety barriers. It should be obvious to drive carefully in these cases, but even so, some idiots do come to grief in their hurry and overconfidence.
- In winter some high passes on the main highways are closed by snow - take a look at the forecast and check conditions on the day if unsure, see http://www.aaroadwatch.co.nz/index.html. It can take a day or more to clear a pass.
- The road toll is higher than Australia and not just for possums. Expect endless needless tailgating and overtaking on blind corners. Driving age starts at 15.
- Speed limit 100km on open roads, normally 50km in towns except when signposted otherwise.
- Tourists have a bad reputation for (a) forgetting that NZ drives on the left (i.e. mainly Europeans) or (b) stopping in silly places just because the view is amazing and they simply have to take a photo. Try not to contribute to the latter problem.
- The old "give way to the right" rule has been repealed as of 25/3/12. Now road rules are just like Australia.
- Some good deals can be got on hire cars, look at the fine print about whether you are allowed to take it on skifield access roads.
- Always have chains. NZ law does not force you to- the laws of gravity and momentum do, and these laws are unforgiving.
- Hire companies may give you chains with your hire vehicle. These may be of poor quality and have been known to break halfway up the road. Ask about a repair kit when hiring (or buy a shackle at Mitre 10 on the way out of town).
Food and Drink
Generally, you would think you were in Australia.
Typical NZ foods to enjoy include seafood and freshwater game fish, whitebait (tiny native fish - a delicacy) venison, lamb, kumera (NZ sweet potato). Wine is excellent, especially sauvignon blanc and pinot noir. Beers are also very good, especially small local breweries.
Technology and Networks
Cellphone (mobile) coverage good around towns, but minimal in rural areas, and only some ski areas covered.
No restriction is placed upon the use of hand-held CB radios, such as are sold by electronic shops. These are becoming more commonly used by skiers.
A Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 12.5% applies. Unlike Australia, there is no traveller scheme which allows visitors to claim the GST-component of purchases back on exiting the country.
Currently no stamp duty on land purchases, or capital gains tax.
There is a $25 Departure tax that must be paid at the airport when you leave New Zealand. This tax is not included in your ticket costs.
You would think you were in Australia.
Tipping is not expected in NZ, including restaurants or taxis, it's your call. NZ companions may even be slightly embarrassed if you tip.
Health and Safety
New Zealand and Australia have reciprocal health arrangements, so treatment in public hospitals is free should you require it. NZ has an Accident Compensation scheme, which covers all foreign tourists also, so they look after all medical costs in NZ in the event of an accident, including heli evacuations, etc.If you seek treatment under ACC at a private or afterhours medical centre there will almost certainly be a surcharge in the region of $25. You may choose to have travel insurance also, to cover luggage and equipment, etc. ACC legislation pretty well removes the right to sue for personal injury.
Dial 111 from any phone, no charge.
- The police are first contact for all reports of missing persons, e.g. search and rescue in the mountains.
Overall New Zealand has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the most natural disaster prone countries in the world, sitting bang smack on the Pacific Rim of Fire (the principal cause of the spectacular landscape). Volcanic eruptions are a real threat. Mild earthquakes are a frequent phenomenon, and the "big one" threatens to be just around the corner. NZ is right in the firing line of tsunamis. But floods are actually the most frequent disaster. Bushfires are less of an immediate threat than in Australia, and tend to be localised.
If you are caught in an earthquake the best idea seems to be get under a table, or into a door frame, or if outside, get into an open space away from power lines, etc, that might come down. Remember that aftershocks can cause further damage. Landslides can be triggered by the 'quake and fires started by downed power lines.
Anytime the All Blacks lose is also considered a national disaster. Australians in Queenstown bars might choose to tone down their joy, and comiserate with a Kiwi over a few beers, and squadrons of Pigs might soar over the Remarkables.
New Zealand is not crime free. Normal precautions apply, be careful of your valuables - some low-life scum target tourists. Break-ins can occur to campervans left in rural car parks. Ski area carparks are normally pretty safe, but don't tempt fate. Hitch-hiking is as safe as anywhere. Around ski towns you should have few problems.
- Information source: Wikipedia
- Information source: Template:Source skicomau
- Travel Warnings : Smart Traveller
- Resort Reviews : New Zealand Resort Reviews
Pages in category "New Zealand"
The following 24 pages are in this category, out of 24 total.