Opening weekend for the Aussie and NZ ski season is just around the corner and we all love the powdery white stuff but sometimes you want to take a day off from skiing and snowboarding. Luckily, New Zealand’s ski regions offer some quirky fun-filled snow-related activities.
Passionate dog racers Ray and Diane Halliday, of Quiet Running, run dog-sled tours at Snow Farm above Lake Wanaka, in New Zealand’s southern lakes region. Dog sleds are mounted on runners, and the "musher" or driver stands behind the basket where the rider sits.
The Hallidays use Siberian or Alaskan huskies, and say the dogs’ agility and thick coats mean they are perfect for the job of pulling the sleds. Riders get a chance to water and feed the dogs after a run, when they are given bits of steak as a treat.
Snow sledding is a family-friendly activity with options ranging from pictures and cuddles with the dogs to short rides or overnight camping trips with the dogs.
Snow Farm’s dog sledding season runs from early July until mid-August.
Helicopter tourism is a major activity in New Zealand, and the Southern Alps mountain range that divides New Zealand’s South Island provides some of the most spectacular scenery.
Scenic helicopter flights over Aoraki Mt Cook - New Zealand’s highest mountain - take visitors over a vast landscape of glaciers, snowfields and mountains.
North Island ski fields also have some fun heli-view options, where helicopters fly out over Mt Taranaki and Mt Ruapehu, the North Island’s two tallest peaks - offering amazing views of the coastline and summits.
On the South Island’s West Coast, visitors can catch a helicopter flight over New Zealand’s renowned Franz Josef and Fox glaciers or land on the glacier to explore the icy landscape.
Mount Cook Ski Planes is the only company licensed to land their ski plane - a Kiwi invention - on New Zealand’s longest glacier, the Tasman Glacier on Aoraki Mt Cook. The aviation company is a Kiwi icon and an industry leader in alpine scenic flights.
Ice luge and curling
Naseby’s Indoor Curling Rink offers cool family activities with outdoor luge, ice skating, and hockey in full swing throughout winter, and year-round curling - on the only indoor curling rink in the southern hemisphere.
Curling is a fun family activity for all ages and abilities, and one simple lesson is all most beginners require. The ice rink is a great place to keep cool during the hot Central Otago summer, and there’s also outdoor winter curling.
For the more adventurous, the ice luge through the Naseby Forest offers fast-paced thrills. True speedsters can reach up to 70kmph on the dedicated 400m track, while novice riders can slide down at their own comfortable pace.
A quirky alternative to skiing, ‘snow-shoeing’ is a popular winter activity in the Queenstown back-country. The high-tech, slim-line snow shoes give a sensation of gliding across the snow.
Guided snow-shoe walks take about five to six hours, with three to five hours walking time. Outings with Guided Nature Walks are led by professional guides who know their way around the snow.
Walks are an easy grade, with options catering for all ages and fitness levels.
Snowshoeing takes place in The Remarkables mountain range, away from the busy ski fields. Guides keep to areas of level, unbroken snow, with views of the lake and mountains.
Snow-tubing is a fun activity for families that involves gliding down a specially-built course in an inner tube. Snow tubing is similar to sledding, except that the rider uses their own weight to propel the tube to the bottom of the course.
New Zealand's main snow tubing destination is Tekapo Springs on the shores of Lake Tekapo, in the central South Island Mackenzie Country. Other facilities at Tekapo Springs include an outdoor ice rink, hot pools and day spa.
Onsen hot pools
Japanese-style onsen or public baths have been given a Kiwi flavour at Queenstown’s Onsen Hot Pools, which are located just out of town and high on a cliff overlooking the deep Shotover River canyon.
Unlike Japan’s communal baths, Queenstown’s onsen are housed in private rooms with a shower and changing room. Each room accommodates up to four adults, and retractable picture windows open to the sky for a romantic starlight experience.
Hot Tubs Omarama, in southern Canterbury, has outdoor hot tubs that are a great place to soak off the aches and pains after a day on the ski slopes of the Southern Alps.
Two of New Zealand’s glaciers - Franz Josef and Fox glaciers, on the South Island’s West Coast - are accessible to adventure-seekers wanting to try glacier walking or ice climbing.
Both glaciers have guiding companies that offer experienced professional guides and equipment hire. Tours are limited to small groups, and ice climbers are tied to a safety rope.
All levels of fitness are catered for, although a good level of general fitness and agility is preferred for the more strenuous ice climbing. For novice glacier-walkers, the easiest option begins with a spectacular helicopter flight up onto the glacier.
On Mt Cook, the Glacier Explorer boat takes visitors across Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake to explore the towering ice cliffs and huge floating icebergs. This is a rare tourism experience because very few glaciers terminate into lakes, and few of these are as accessible. Glacier Explorer's season runs from September through to May.
Ziptrek's flying visit
High in the treetops, Ziptrek Queenstown is suitable for families as well as adventurers. It's a year-round activity but the winter landscape adds a seasonal touch to the adventure.
A combination of adrenalin buzz and environmental awareness, Ziptrek is a sophisticated flying fox that sends patrons zipping high through the trees in the snowline above Queenstown’s dramatic skyline.
Guests go on a fully-guided interpretative journey in the alpine forest, flying from a series of cables suspended between observation platforms high in the treetops. At each platform stop, the guide provides a commentary on the surrounding region and forest.