Queenstown is New Zealand’s premier ski resort town, attracting extreme sports enthusiasts from around the globe as well as a horde of seasonal workers each summer and winter season.
Whether you are after adrenaline-pumping, heart-thumping attractions, a relaxing winery tour, or a scenic hike through the natural and unspoiled hills surrounding Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown has you covered.
Additionally, with over 40 bars in town, Queenstown is far and away the biggest winter party town in New Zealand, and one of the larger winter party towns in the world.
Photo: Looking over the town of Queenstown
Two of New Zealand’s major commercial ski resorts are located near Queenstown, with several others in the region. Coronet Peak is 20 minutes (18km) from Queenstown while The Remarkables is 45 minutes (24 kms). Neither of these are New Zealand’s best in terms of terrain or snow, but for many seasonal workers, the atmosphere in Queenstown more than makes up for this.
The winter season generally runs from mid-June to mid-October, snow dependent.
Queenstown is located on New Zealand’s South Island. Buses around the South Island are relatively cheap and easy to use and run from and to all major cities. Christchurch is the biggest city on the South Island.
The bus from Christchurch to Queenstown takes around 8 hours with prices usually between $NZ50 - $NZ100 depending on how early you book and whether you book in peak season. The two major bus companies are:
Christchurch international airport is the closest major international airport to Queenstown. If flights do not arrive from your country directly into Christchurch, you may need to transfer through Auckland.
Queenstown also has an international airport (ZQN) for flights arriving from Australia. Jetstar, Virgin and Qantas fly from Australia to New Zealand. Only Air New Zealand flies internally in NZ.
To get up to Coronet Peak and Remarks from Queenstown, plenty of people hitch a ride. It is generally easier to hitch to Coronet Peak than The Remarkables due to the larger amount of cars going to CP.
Both The Remarkables and Coronet Peak are small by European and North American standards, with only 4 lifts each, a combined 500 hectares of skiable terrain between them (1235 acres), and a relatively small vertical drop.
Yet, though the trail maps look small, there is enough here to keep you occupied for an entire season if you include all the nice back country terrain.
Within the resort boundaries, nothing on either mountain is particularly steep – high-speed downhill racing is not what these resorts are about. Rather, New Zealanders and Queenstown seasonal workers love to hit the back country and find fresh powder among stunning terrain.
Photo: Hucking a cliff at Coronet Peak
While the snow can be great, you should not expect North American, Japanese or even European snow conditions in Queenstown.
You can find great powder on certain days, though the warmer weather means that the quality of the snow can quickly change to icy and crunchy conditions and, in general, the snow is wetter and heavier than at North American resorts.
Both Remarks and Coronet Peak are located above the tree-line and are consequently quite exposed. As a result, the weather conditions can get super nasty, to the point where the resorts will close down several times over the course of the season.
The lack of trees can mean poor visibility when it is foggy, while white-outs and blizzards are not uncommon, although the weather around Queenstown tends to be a little better than at resorts further north.
Average snowfall at Coronet Peak is 2m and average snowfall at The Remarkables is 3.5m.
Spring riding is particularly fun around Queenstown as it gets warmer and slushier but the weather becomes less prone to blizzards.
Photo: Carving at The Remarkables
The scenery at The Remarkables is truly magnificent and true to its epithet.
In-bound terrain at Remarks is made up of three north facing bowls and beautiful Lake Alta. Because it is enclosed, Remarks has fewer ‘closed days’ than CP.
The vibe at Remarks is family oriented, with plenty of first-timers and good learning facilities. If you are a seasonal worker and a beginner rider, there is plenty to enjoy at the Alta Chair and under Sugar Bowl.
Remarks also has a much better terrain park than Coronet Peak, with a few different lines each season for beginners, intermediates and experts, including at least a 20ft jump. Note the lift is quite slow and most people just hike up each time.
When there is good snow, ‘the Stash’ is accessible which is full of solid wooden features and a hut roof to boost over.
If you like to hike into the backcountry, Remarks has more to offer than CP. Most seasonal workers who are advanced riders spend most of their time here in the backcountry or hiking to the better runs. Remember your avalanche gear.
Photo: Skiing near Queenstown
A 30 minute hike from the top of the Sugar Chair will take you to Toiler Bowl. Drop down the back side to enter into an open powder bowl. There is then a short hike back up to the road.
At the top of the Shadow Basin Chair, cut left and hike 15 minutes to take you to ‘Chutes’. Here, there are steep chutes and, if you hike higher, you will find even more untracked couloirs. The higher chutes lead you to a hike over frozen Lake Alta otherwise you can traverse back onto the runs.
Homeward Bound runs take you out of the resort to the road where a bus picks you up to take you back to Remarks base. These runs don’t require any hiking, but tend to get tracked out much more quickly as a result. To get there, take the Shadow Basin Chair and then head right off the top of the chair.
Coronet Peak is best for intermediate riders, with a number of good groomer cruisers to tackle. In-bound terrain offers more variation at Coronet Peak than at Remarks and includes a good couple of mogul sections for skiers.
CP is the busiest resort on the South Island but the crowd spreads reasonably well, and advanced riders tend to hit the backcountry or steeper, quieter runs anyway. If you are keen on hiking at Coronet Peak, there is always a new powder stash to be found.
On a powder day, the Exchange is particularly nice. Take the Coronet Express chair, go down the M1 and cut left at the first corner, taking the natural jibs as you head down.
Coronet Peak also offers night skiing to lengthen the time you can spend on the mountain over the course of the season. This is run from early July until mid-September, Friday and Saturday nights from 4pm until 9pm.
Night riding includes the terrain park which is open under the 'Park after Dark' and also includes the giant air bag on which to practice tricks. The park is not as good as the park at Remarks, however.
Cardrona is around one hour away. It is a much smaller resort and worth only a day or two to check it out.
On the other hand, Treble Cone is around 90 minutes drive. Treble Cone has consistently been rated among the best resorts in New Zealand, with arguably the best and steepest terrain in the country.
Additionally, on a powder day, a visit to the club fields in the region is worthwhile. These are small, member-run resorts with usually only a rope tow and access to back country terrain. See Work a Winter Season in New Zealand for more information on the club fields.
There are two main options for finding a job for the season: (1) work at one of the resorts or (2) work at a local business.
See Jobs Available at Mountain Resorts for a description of ski resort jobs.
NZSki owns and operates both Coronet Peak and The Remarkables. Consequently, if you are looking to work for either resort, you apply with the same application through their employment website www.nzski.com/employment/NZSki-Jobs.jsp
Recruitment opens in February each year.
In short, the major advantages of working for one of the resorts include:
The major disadvantages include:
For more detailed information on working at either Coronet Peak or The Remarkables see Work a Winter Season at Coronet Peak / The Remarkables.
Every winter sees an influx of seasonal workers into Queenstown looking for work. If you decide to look for a job in town, you will need to head over much before the season starts in order to secure a job.
Early May is a good time to go and starting handing around resumes. Look for the position vacant advertisements in the windows.
Most local businesses will require a face-to-face interview before hiring you. Be aware that, even if you are offered a job, a number of businesses may not actually start employing you until June when the tourists start to arrive. Ensure you have enough money to tide you over until your first pay cheque arrives.
Bars and Restaurants
Many of the bars and restaurants will not advertise online as there is an oversupply of walk-up applicants each season handing in CVs. You will need to approach them directly with a CV.
With over 40 bars in Queenstown, it is possible to get a job in a bar as a non-local (though experience helps enormously), unlike most other ski resort towns where bar jobs would usually go to locals.
Ski Shops, Hotels, Hostels and Professions
There are also a large number of ski shops in town, hotels and hostels which look for seasonal workers. Experience is useful, but most places will offer training.
A year-round population means Queenstown has all the usual services of a city. A number of seasonal workers are able to find work in their professions each season such as accounting or in a trade.
A good inside tip is working at the Queenstown SkyCity casino as you get to work at night and ride during the day.
While the best option is to walk around and hand in your CV, there are also a number of other job resources which may be useful. These include
www.queenstown.com has further information on the town of Queenstown.
Season pass prices for Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Mt Hutt are around $1,000 for an early bird ticket (usually purchased before the end of March) and around $1,500 for a full price pass. Student prices are around $800 and $1150 respectively.
Minimum wage in New Zealand is currently $NZ15.25 an hour, (see Employment New Zealand) and most entry level seasonal jobs in Queenstown will pay around that.
See Work a Winter Season in New Zealand for information on getting a working holiday visa to New Zealand. Australians do not need a visa to work in New Zealand.
You are unlikely to get a business or the resorts to sponsor you for a visa unless you can show specialised skills that are unable to be found in New Zealand (such as snowsports instructor or snow groomer).
Queenstown has a very diverse range of people, with a huge number of the seasonal workers each season. Many of the shop staff will greet you in accents from around the world. There are always plenty of Australians too.
There is a great, relaxed vibe in Queenstown each winter season as locals and foreigners mix to ride and party.
There are more bars here than you could experience in a single season, with competitions, music, beats and food deals every night of the week. If you are looking for a season with lots of nightlife and activity, Queenstown is the best place in New Zealand.
The Naughty Penguin is Queenstown’s premier craft beer and cocktail bar. Minus 5c Ice Bar is a bar made entirely of ice which is worthwhile checking out during the season. Winnies does great pizza and has a chilled atmosphere but gets packed on the weekend as it turns into a dance spot in the later hours. Tardis is a favourite local’s bar with live music and beats. With Asian fusion dining during the evening, Surreal is unique as it then turns into one the better places to dance in Queenstown, with international DJs as well as hip hop and reggae.
For a bit more class with cocktails and fine dining, The Bunker is a wine bar open hidden down a back alley, open until 5am. World Bar has burgers and cocktails. Sombreros is a cool little Mexican restaurant with great food. Vudu Café is pretty much amazing and worth eating at a lot for breakfast and lunch.
Queenstown has a reasonably even ratio of girls to guys, certainly the best in New Zealand ski towns, though there are still slightly more guys.
Whether you work for NZSki or at a local business, staff accommodation is not provided. You will need to arrange accommodation yourself.
While you look for a place, the www.blacksheepbackpackers.co.nz is a hostel with a good atmosphere and is not too expensive.
You can expect to pay around $150-200NZD/wk for accommodation in town per room in a share house. If you are with a group, you can find a real estate agent in town and they may be able to set you up with a place that is not too expensive.
Queenstown rentals are used to the influx of seasonal workers each season and it is consequently well set up for people looking for a seasonal rental. However, there are always people who can’t find a place and end up living way out of town or in the hostel for the whole season. Rental properties are most expensive near the centre of town.
It is best to arrive by early May to sort out a place.
Be mindful of trying to find a place during the Winter Festival (usually the last weeks of June). Queenstown can get extremely busy during this period, particularly in the hostels.
www.queenstown.com has further information on the town of Queenstown
There are two towns on the outskirts of Queenstown, Arrowtown and Frankton. If you don’t mind a quieter vibe and have your own transport these are both good options for accommodation.
The supermarket in Frankton is the best value for groceries, which means having a car is helpful if you are living in Queenstown, though the bus runs out to Frankton frequently throughout the day.
You don’t need a car to work a season at Queenstown and move around, but it does give an extra bit of freedom to explore wider New Zealand. www.trademe.co.nz is a New Zealand classifieds site to look for a second hand car.
If you can stay for summer, Queenstown comes alive and into full bloom with kite surfing, bungee jumping, para-gliding and a whole host of other extreme sports.