An eye-popping slice of heaven

Queenstown has all the action naturally, writes Doug Conway.

Rule one for any outdoor activity: choose the most stunning natural setting you can find.

Whether you ski, golf, fish, bike or hike, the backdrop alone will enhance your pleasures or at the very least sustain you through those rough patches when the trout aren't biting, you can't hit a fairway or your ski boots are slowly amputating your toes.

If rule one is your only rule, and skiing is your thing, then sooner rather than later you will ski at Queenstown, an eye-popping slice of heaven in New Zealand's deep south.

The area's two major resorts, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables, are set apart by the jaw-slackening grandeur mother nature has draped around them.

"When you stand up here you could be looking at the most beautiful parts of Europe," says Ellise McLeod, Coronet Peak ski school's Sydney-born group administrator, as the 2005 season cranks into top gear.

"It surpasses anything America has to offer," says Remarkables instructor Lee Blazek, a Californian who has made New Zealand his home for seven years.

What they are talking about are chocolate-box images of snow-capped ridges rising like shark's teeth into azure skies, verdant green farmlands lined by wintry auburn willows and the stark frames of bare poplars, the steely blue waters of Lake Wakatipu and the clear limestone green of the Kawarau River.

The scene invites comparisons with Heavenly, overlooking California's Lake Tahoe, or Zell am Zee in Austria.

Some liken it to the majesty of the Matterhorn at Zermatt in Switzerland.

Advertisement

The winding 14 kilometre road up to The Remarkables qualifies as one of the ski world's grandest drives.

For motorists slightly intimidated by it, or wanting to take in every second of the scenery, a shuttle bus from the base costs $NZ10 ($9).

As for the skiing, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables offer slopes to suit all standards but are renowned as family friendly resorts with superb ski schools and child-care facilities.

Two-thirds of their terrain is suitable for beginners and intermediates.

The more adventurous can tackle the double-black bowls over the back of the Peak, or hike up to take on two steep chutes at The Remarkables called the Elevator and the Escalator.

They offer the best snow in the area as well as you guessed it breathtaking views featured in movies such as The Lord Of The Rings and Vertical Limit.

Advanced skiers should note that more than half of the skiable area at The Remarkables is off piste.

Queenstown itself is one of the adrenaline capitals of the world, a centre for bungy jumping and whitewater rafting. It is full of bustle but remains low-rise and is yet to acquire its first traffic light.

It's a fun town where you might see ski races involving people dressed as kiwis or phone boxes, and your car can be flagged down by human "chocolate bars", as mine was for a promotion featuring Snickers bars.

So that's what they did with those 3 million bars recalled after the Sydney extortion bid, I thought, before deciding no, and happily devouring one or three.

The coolest place in town is Minus 5, a bar where virtually everything is made of ice including the bar, the seats, walls and even drink glasses. So if you can't pay your tab, don't even think of offering to wash the glasses.

Aussies are New Zealand's biggest tourism customers 875,000 visit each year and more skiers are taking advantage of the convenience of flying direct into Queenstown.

TRIP NOTES

· Queenstown's ski season runs from June to October.

· Elevation: Coronet Peak 1650m/Remarkables 1940m.

· Skiable area: 280 hectares/ 220 hectares.

· Average snowfall: 1.97m/ 3.66m (which excludessnow-making).

· Longest run: 1.8 km/1.5 km.

· Distance from Queenstown: 18km/28km.

· Night skiing: at Coronet Peak on Fridays and Saturdays, mid-July to mid-September.

· Further information:

http://www.nzski.com/coronet.

http://www.nzski.com/remarkables.

http://www.airnewzealand.com.au.

http://www.newzealand.com/travel.

· Non-stop Air New Zealand flights operate three times a week in peak season from Sydney and weekly from Brisbane and Melbourne. Phone 132 476 for flights and 1300 365 525 for packages, which start from $865 per person twin share for five nights.

*The writer was a guest of Air New Zealand and NZ Tourism.

Comments