Queenstown, Part II (Cardrona)
One of the big highlights of our trip to Queenstown was driving to the Cardrona Alpine Resort about an hour away from The Rees hotel in Queenstown. We decided on this ski destination (as opposed to The Remarkables or Corronet Peak, the other nearby choices) based on recommendations from the car rental folks who said it had both the best snow and the best setup for kids. Clearly the locals are a great way to get good information, so we rolled with it.
There are lots of busses and shuttles from Queenstown to Cardrona, but we were able to make the easy - and spectacular! - drive with no problems in about an hour. There was ample free parking on the mountain. On our first day we were down in Parking Lot 5 and took the free shuttle to the top. On our second day, we were able to park just down from the base resort and walked up.
Upon arrival, we dashed the kids over to the Ski Kindy and Ski Den. The Kindy is for kids under five. They have a whole day care set up that feeds the kids lunch and provides ski lessons! Little kids can take private lessons at either 9 am or 1 pm. The older and/or more experienced kids can also participate in group lessons at 10:20 and 2:20. The Kindy has all the gear needed for even the tiniest skiers on site. It’s a one-stop shop for preschoolers. It is necessary to make a reservation ahead of time as there are limits to how many kids they can take in the day care portion of the Kindy. A full day of Kindy with a private ski lesson is NZ$169 (about US$115). An extra private lesson is an additional NZ$99 (about US$67). This includes lunch and all the gear they need to ski.
The Ski Den, right upstairs, is for kids 5-14. Like the Ski Kindy, kids can participate in group lessons and private lessons and all the equipment they need is onsite. They also get food at lunch time and entertainment outside of normal skiing times. Because this isn’t a day care, the Den isn’t subject to the same rules and regulations about how many kids can participate. You can just show up here. A full day of Ski Den plus two group lessons is NZ$149 (about US$100).
My daughter absolutely LOVED her instructor, Clemmy, and is still talking about her days later. She adored all of the coloring and crafting available inside as well. My son was a little less sure of the Den. He was on the younger end of the spectrum, and it was his first time skiing. I think the combination was a bit much, but next time we go (and there will definitely be a next time!) he’ll be more prepared.
After getting the kids settled, my husband and I went back to the beginning of the base resort to check in, buy lift tickets, and pay for ski rentals. We each got a red plastic card that we scanned for access to just about everything on the resort: locker access, each rental station, and the lifts. Basically everything except food. The next stop was the long Hall of Rentals. First up: boots. A swipe of the card let the man behind the counter give us a part of boots to try. The next station was for skis, and we grabbed poles on the way out the door. It was well set up and only took a few minutes. A full day lift ticket and ski rental was NZ$160 (about US$108) per person. There are lots of packages and deals that will save money depending on your specific needs and length of stay.
Right outside was the kids’ and beginners’ area. The slope was so gentle, that there were two “magic carpets” installed to bring newbies up a few feet to practice basic stops and turns. Since I hadn’t been skiing in eighteen years, I started here. After two runs, I felt ready to head up the chandola (a hybrid chair lift/gondola) and try my first run.
Let me tell you, skiing is like riding a bike. I was feeling quite confident just a few minutes in, and I HAD A BLAST! A few runs on green trails later, and I was cruising down the mountain like I knew what I was doing. The views were spectacular as the low clouds burned away by the sun. The weather was perfect.
There were several food options on the mountain that served predictable fare: french fries, pies, assorted sausages and frankfurters, some soup. It was edible, slightly overpriced, but fine. The Base Cafe was always crowded, but we were able to find seating when we needed it. It looked like quite a few people brought food with them, so there appears to be that option as well. There are also options for pizza, noodles, sit-down, restaurant style service, and a couple of bars and lounges scattered throughout.
The biggest surprise with Cardrona wasn’t with the ski resort itself. What was most unpleasant and surprising was how bad the traffic was when we made our way back to Queenstown at the end of the day. We were tired, hungry, and ready to get back to our hotel, but instead we found ourselves sitting in a horrendous traffic jam as everyone left the mountains at the same time. I’d definitely recommend either leaving a little bit early or stopping off at the Cardrona Hotel for a little après ski beverage before making the drive back.
Alternatively, there appear to be a handful of self contained apartments on the mountain. They look very basic and utilitarian, but if you want to be the first people on the slopes in the morning and the last people off, this may be a good option. There aren’t many, so I’d definitely recommend booking well in advance. There are also quite a few people who choose to stay in Wanaka, which is west of Cardrona. We didn’t make it there, but it appears to knock down the drive to about 36 minutes should you choose Wanaka over Queenstown.
We’re already talking about making this an annual ski trip for the family. It was a perfect, easy get away that everyone enjoyed. I’m only sad that we didn’t have more time on the mountain and another day or two of skiing.