Travel

A Guide To The Snowfields Of Canterbury

Canterbury New Zealand

There’s a reason so many Australians fly across the Tasman every winter—to carve up the snow-capped mountains in New Zealand. From Queenstown in the South to Tūroa in the North Island, New Zealand is a snow lover’s paradise. One particular region, Canterbury is one of the most popular areas to ski and snowboard. Stretching from the ocean to the Alps, the Canterbury region has sweeping plains and mountain peaks, creating a winter wonderland attracting skiers and snow chasers from around the world every year. 

New Zealand is made for road trips, making a trip out to Canterbury a must-do, especially if you plan to stay in Christchurch or the north island. Admire the crazy beautiful landscape at every turn. It takes a little over three hours to cross the region, with an abundance of stops to make, including Mount Hutt which boasts the longest ski season, and Lake Tekapo, where you can truly get a picture of what New Zealand has to offer. 

To help you navigate Canterbury, we’ve put together a guide on the best slopes and a few things you can get up to if you don’t ski.

Canterbury NZ
Photo By Miles Holden

Where to ski and snowboard

Mount Hutt

This 2086-metre snowfield rises out of the Canterbury Plains and offers skiers and snowboarders different terrains—from expert along the perimeters to a smooth, easy ride down the middle. If you’re a beginner, there’s a ski school to teach you everything you need to know and your own run right at the base so you can learn without being interrupted. Holding the title as one of the most famous ski areas in the world, Mount Hutt should definitely be at the top of your list. It’s an easy two-hour drive from Christchurch and offers unrivalled views of the Canterbury Plains. Expect a dramatic landscape of the towering Southern Alps to the west and the Pacific coastline to the east, and the hidden bays of an ancient volcanic peninsula to the south. The nearby town of Methven is a great place to get a drink and a bite after a day on the slopes. You can also bunker down in one of their accommodation options including resorts and budget accommodation.

Porters

Porters is a local club ski field, which is suited to more experienced riders, and those who are looking for an off the beaten track experience. This ski field is also the closest ski area to Christchurch City. There is a terrain park for those who want to practice their tricks and lodgings at the club with a cafe pouring glasses of fine wine and serving up pub fare.

Broken River

Broken River can be described as a hidden gem, offering an adventurous experience. As a local club, this ski field is also more skewed to intermediate and expert riders. It’s a four-minute ride up through the native forest on New Zealand’s only alpine funicular railway. Riders can spend the day exploring the rolling bowls and chutes before taking the Ridge Tow to Allan’s Basin for fresh powder runs and backcountry scenes. Stop in at Palmer Lodge to sample the region’s own craft-brewed beer or book a few nights in a mountain lodge, which is only a 10-minute walk from the lifts.

Port Hills Canterbury
Photo By Julian Apse

What to do if you don’t ski or snowboard

Christchurch

Stay and explore Christchurch’s local landmarks and blossoming urban setting. Here, you can hop on a restored heritage tram for a hop-on hop-off experience, allowing you to explore the Canterbury Museum and Botanic Gardens, Riverside Markets, the bars and eateries at The Terrace, and more.

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa

Venture north of Christchurch to Hanmer Springs, where you can relax and let the sulphur pools revitalise your body. They offer aqua therapy, hexagonal pools, rock pools, and sulphur pools, with a few water slides for a little thrill.

Waipara Valley Wineries

Just an hour north of Christchurch, you’ll find fields of lavender, olive groves, and more importantly, grapevines. There are over 60 vineyards and dozens of cellar doors to visit for wine tastings in one of the best regions for pinot noir and riesling. 

Lake Tekapo
Photo By Miles Holden

Drive South

Once you’ve conquered North Canterbury, it’s time to venture down south, where lakes, mountains, and stars await. Get some fresh air, snap a postcard moment, and take a breath as you admire all the landscapes the Canterbury region has to offer. 

Lake Tekapo

If you head south to Canterbury, you will find ethereal scenes, including Lake Tekapo. During the light hours, enjoy views of the milky turquoise lake, set with a background of snow-capped mountains, and a foreground of lavender. It’s around a three-hour drive from Christchurch but is worth every second. Stay for the sunset and watch as the stars blanket the sky in a dreamscape. It’s truly an experience not to be missed. 

Tekapo Dark Sky Project

The Tekapo Dark Sky Project is also situated south of Christchurch and is the world’s largest gold status International Dark Sky Reserve. Here, visitors can embrace 4,300 square kilometres free of light pollution, making it one of the best spots in the world to stargaze. While you don’t need a telescope to appreciate the starry sky, there is a rather large one at the Mt John Observatory where you can learn about the universe, spot a few planets, and enhance your knowledge of the Southern Skies. 

Cycle Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail

Take on the 300km scenic journey of Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, which takes riders past alpine lakes, rivers and leads to the Pacific Ocean. It’s an easy-grade trail, although it’s best completed over four to eight days, depending on how far you want to ride in one day. For itinerary ideas and highlights along the way visit the website.

Still dreaming of a trip to New Zealand? You can read more stories and get a dose of New Zealand travel inspiration here.

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