It’s no secret that New Zealand trumps Australia in terms of snow – both in quantity and quality. Most of the top-rated ski resorts and pistes are found on the South Island, from Cardrona to Mount Cook, and many are within easy driving distance from Queenstown, which has plenty of its own attractions to keep travellers entertained.
While it’s possible to stay in one spot and have a great trip, hiring a car and exploring the island will show off many of New Zealand’s scenic drives and quaint towns.
Skyscanner Australia has scoured the country to find the best road trip destinations from Queenstown so you can plan a winter wonderland holiday in New Zealand.
The closest ski resort to Queenstown is The Remarkables, which is found 24km to the east.
This mountain range is said to get its name because of the stunning sunrises (or sunsets, depending on which side of the range you’re on), but nowadays it can be just as easily applied to the snow and ski runs.
The three terrain parks are split almost evenly between areas for beginners, intermediates and experts, making it ideal for all levels of skiers and snowboarders or big groups.
Read more: 7 of the best ski resorts in Australia
From Queenstown, take Highway 6 north to Cardrona Alpine Resort. The drive is a touch over an hour, taking you to a host of hotels and lodges. Cardrona is New Zealand’s most popular ski resort with a mix of runs for beginners, intermediates, advanced and expert skiers and snowboarders.
Because of its ameneties and ease of use, Cardrona is especially popular for first-timers to New Zealand and for families who want an all-encompassing snow retreat.
There’s more to the South Island than just snow, and for a full trip be sure to see Lake Wanaka. The town of Wanaka, on the lake’s shore, is the hub of activities. As well as direct access to the lake, short road trips from Wanaka help you shape your holiday as you see fit.
Nearby Mount Aspiring National Park gives you the chance to hike in the wilderness and see beautiful waterfalls, and there’s also nearby opportunities to go canyoning, sky diving, kayaking and more.
Read more: 8 beach getaways to enjoy even during Winter
Another lakeside retreat is Glenorchy, on the northern shore of Lake Wakatipu – the same lake that Queenstown sits on.
Glenorchy is a 45-minute drive from Queenstown but feels like it’s a world away. Forget the adventure sports, nightlife and the bungee jumping, and instead pack your hiking boots, hire a bicycle or take a book to a waterside cafe and revel in the serenity.
Franz Josef Glacier
Snow and ice are a big part of the South Island’s allure, and in its two big glaciers you can see it at any time of the year.
Fox Glacier (four hours north) and Franz Josef Glacier (five hours north) let you see the amazing power of the cold whenever the urge strikes you. There are various options to see the glaciers, too. Hiking to the bottom is the most popular, but you can also take an ice-climbing tour or book a helicopter to take you to the top.
If you don’t fancy getting too cold, another way of seeing this dramatic landscape – as well as the sea, the mountains and the rivers all at once – is to book a skydive.
If you want to see big city life, Christchurch is the largest settlement on the South Island. Although small by Australian standards – its population sits between that of Newcastle and Canberra – it’s a showcase of some of the best restaurants, shops and bars in the country.
For iconic Christchurch attractions, you can go punting in the Botanic Garden, get a ticket for the hop-on hop-off tram or take a tour of the city’s best craft beer pubs.
It offers a true mix of national and local beauty, helping give another angle to your holiday.
With six hours of road separating Queenstown and Christchurch, you’ll want to break up your journey to stay refreshed. Luckily, there are plenty of options along the winding valley route. Whether it’s just a lookout by the side of the road, lunch on the side of Lake Tekapo or a stop in the quaint town of Geraldine — home to the world’s largest knitted jumpers, among other attractions — you may find your drive taking considerably longer than you expected.