Off-piste: snow fun for the non-skier

Special New Zealand feature

You don’t have to ski or snowboard to enjoy winter in New Zealand, Craig Tansley looks at NZ’s best off-piste pursuits.

Dance on ice

Torvill and Dean once made ice skating look easy, but you can prove it’s not by donning a pair of ice skates at New Zealand’s best outdoor ice skating rink - Alpine Springs in Tekapo. Located on the shores of one of New Zealand’s largest lakes, Lake Tekapo, a family pass costs $NZ48, with adults $NZ14 and children $NZ11 for an hour of ice skating. Lessons are also available if you just can’t ‘get it’.

There’s also a 130-metre long snow tubing course to try - slide down a carved circular track (a bit like bobsledding without the carnage) it’s $NZ15 for an hour, $NZ11 for children. 6 Lakeside Drive, Lake Tekapo, three and a half hours north-east of Queenstown, check out www.alpinesprings.co.nz

See Queenstown as James Bond would

Get on an Artic Cat Panther 370 and ride the deep snow of Old Woman Range for the most unique views of the Remarkables mountains, the Nevis Valley and the Polar Plateau region. You’ll board a helicopter from Queenstown for a 12-minute flight to your private alpine adventure on top of a 1700m plateau. You’ll get to ride the latest, greatest snowmobile across the plateau through deep snow with the best views around Queenstown.

Tours run from mid June to October depending on snow cover, adults cost $NZ640, children $NZ460. The tour starts in Queenstown. Check out www.snowmobilenz.co.nz.

Scale the heights

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Ever wanted to try the challenging sport of ice climbing in the ultimate alpine wilderness? (and you can’t do it in Australia). Aspiring Guides offer a four-day ice climbing course in a landscape so remote it requires a helicopter flight in.

The courses run from late June to early August and are based out of a private mountain hut at Black Peak in the mountain range behind Treble Cone Ski Resort, near Wanaka. The package is $NZ1600 per person and includes helicopter flights in and out, equipment, accommodation and food. It’s an intimate experience with group size limited to four. Tours leave from Wanaka. http://www.aspiringguides.com/winter_waterfall_ice_climbing.html

Walk on by

Leave the busy ski fields far below you and get into the New Zealand back-country without even needing a pair of skis or a snowboard. If you ‘lace’ on a pair of snow-shoes you can float across waist-deep snow and get to the top of the Remarkables Ski Resort for the best alpine views in New Zealand across to Lake Wakatipu.

Take a half day snow-shoeing tour that requires about three kilometres of walking, or a full day tour that’ll take you five kilometres through the backcountry into your own private snowy world. The best thing is it’s easy, if you can walk, you can snow-shoe. Full day tours cost $NZ170 ($NZ100 for children) and half day tours cost $NZ135 ($NZ100 for children). Pick-ups are out of Queenstown, check out www.snowshoeing.co.nz.

Hitch a ride with a dog

If you’d like someone else to do all the hard slog getting you through snow this winter, and feel like you’re in Alaska or Russia at the same time, why not take a dog-sledding tour? Quiet Running run dog-sled tours at Snow Farm just above the ski town of Wanaka. You can take a short ride or really get to know your Siberian and Alaskan huskie team on an overnight camping trip.

The dog sledding season is very short, so book ahead – it runs from early July to mid-August. A short one-hour ride costs $NZ225 while an overnight tour costs $NZ695. Cadrona Road, Wanaka, check out www.quietrunning.co.nz

Get as high as you can

Helicopter scenic tours are the best way to see New Zealand’s stunning mountain ranges. They’re a major tourist activity in New Zealand and you can book a tour from virtually anywhere with snow. Fly over the glaciers and Southern Alps and see the country’s highest peak, Mt Cook (check out www.helicopter.co.nz), or from the north island you can fly over Mt Taranaki and Mt Ruapehu – the two tallest mountains in the north island and they’re also movie stars – used in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai (check out www.mountainair.co.nz).

You can also fly over the country’s largest glaciers – the Franz-Josef and Fox glaciers - on the south island’s west coast (check out www.glacierhelicopters.co.nz). You’re even permitted to land on the Tasman Glacier in a New Zealand invention – the ski-plane – with Mt Cook Ski Planes (www.skiplanes.co.nz). There’s also numerous companies offering sight-seeing tours out of Queenstown and Wanaka (check out www.glaciersouthernlakes.co.nz, www.alpinechoppers.co.nz) - including flights to Milford Sound and even heli-fishing, heli-biking or heli-weddings!

Shoot the curl

Admit it, it sucked you in at the recent Winter Olympics: curling might look like the most ridiculous sport this side of synchronised swimming, but there’s actually a lot to it. You can learn to play at the Southern Hemisphere’s only indoor curling rink at Naseby, two hours’ drive south-east of Queenstown. There’s coaching available too, plus you can nab front row seats for local competitions to see how the pros do it.

There’s also ice hockey to watch and play. Or if you’d like to up the ante, the Naseby Indoor Curling Rink also have the Southern Hemisphere’s only Ice Luge track – it goes for 400 metres and you can reach speeds upwards of 70 kmh. It’s open seven days a week, 10am to 5pm. 1057 Channel Rd, Naseby, check out www.curling.co.nz.

The series of articles has been sponsored by Tourism New Zealand.

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