Immanuel Debeer explores the possibility of a trans-Tasman trip across the ditch.
With the looming prospect of a ‘travel bubble’ between Australia and New Zealand, many of us are wondering, is it too soon (or late!) to plan our 2020 ski trip to the land of the long white cloud?
Ski resort destinations in New Zealand are calling for the bubble to be instated as soon as possible, to help inject some much-needed funds into their operations after the country’s strict lockdowns caused the tourism industry, both domestic and international, to grind to a halt.
In anticipation of the bubble’s arrival, airlines, resorts and ski fields have been issuing enticing early bird deals, as the ‘book now, stay later’ movement starts to gain momentum around the world.
These deals often come with the added advantage of flexibility, to offer a safety net and encourage people to book in a time of ongoing uncertainty.
If you’re hoping to squeeze your South Island ski season in this year, and you’re willing to take a leap of faith that the bubble will indeed come to fruition, these deals may just be the nudge needed to get you there.
But when to go?
Most ski fields around New Zealand will open by 4 July – and they’ve already experienced their first snow falls – which coincides with the proposed travel resumption between Australia and New Zealand on 1 July.
If you’re jumping at the chance to travel but want to avoid being surrounded by droves of people – particularly kids – you may wish to avoid 4–19 July, which is term two school holidays in New Zealand. Even though there will likely be no competition from other international travellers, Kiwis will be keen to hit the slopes during that time as well.
If you want to hedge your bets and wait it out a little longer, there will still be plenty of time to travel, provided the restrictions are lifted, as the ski season for most fields concludes at the end September, early October.
Where to go?
Having lived in New Zealand for six years (and yes I married a Kiwi!), my first choice is always Queenstown. It’s a stunningly beautiful destination with so much to offer on and off the slopes, making it the ideal place to escape to in winter even if you’re not into skiing.
The most popular ski fields in Queenstown are due to open in the coming weeks: Cardrona on 26 June, Coronet Peak on 26 June, and The Remarkables on 4 July.
A bit further up the road you will find Wanaka – smaller than Queenstown but the scenery is equally as stunning. Treble Cone there is due to open 27 June. You can also base yourself in Wanaka for great access to Treble Cone but also to have Cardrona within easy reach.
Further north in Christchurch, you have the choice of several local ski fields while also having access to a bigger city, if you’re looking for more balance. Mt Hutt is already open, while Porters opens 26 June, Mt Dobson 3 July, and Mt Cheeseman 4 July.
Most ski fields are around two hours’ drive from the city, so you might want to look to stay somewhere in between, such as an Airbnb near the mountains.
Even further north towards Nelson and 20 minutes out of Blenheim, you will find the Rainbow ski area in Saint Arnaud, due to open 24 July. It’s not as big as Queenstown but if you’re looking for something with a village atmosphere and a local vibe, this one is for you.
How to get there?
Qantas has already started selling flights between Australia and New Zealand, with flights currently available towards the end of July, so we can take that as a sign of things to come.
If you’re into frequent flyer points (like I am!), you’re in luck. From my research, I found that at the time of writing, most dates in July had award space availability – when you can book using your points.
If you’re using points, you can get to New Zealand and back in either economy or business.
- business return on points: 83,000 Qantas points + $247 in taxes
- economy return on points: 36,000 Qantas points + $247 in taxes.
Keep in mind that Qantas is only scheduling the B737 on NZ routes for now, so the benefits of flying business might not be worth the extra cost of points.
If you don’t have access to frequent flyer points, a cash fare will be your best bet. Tickets are rather expensive with Qantas at the moment, but Jetstar is offering cheaper fares if you don’t mind flying with a low-cost carrier:
- Sydney to Queenstown: $418 return with Jetstar or $818 with Qantas
- Melbourne to Queenstown: $374 return with Jetstar or $802 with Qantas
- Sydney to Christchurch: $577 return with Jetstar or $690 with Qantas
- Melbourne to Christchurch: $306 return with Jetstar or $859 with Qantas.
Right now, redeeming points offers a good value proposition, considering the high prices for Qantas flights.
Where to stay?
Accommodation providers from resorts and hotels to B&Bs and lodges are keen to fill their rooms after such a long period of downtime, so keep an eye out for good value deals and offers.
Luxury Escapes has a deal on right now at the QT Queenstown – one of the most luxurious and trendiest hotels in the area – $899 for three nights in a lake-view room with the following perks:
- a welcome bottle of your choice of red or white local wine in room on arrival
- daily breakfast at the Bazaar restaurant
- daily beer, wine or soft drink per adult at Reds Bar.
While these third-party deals can often be great value, my advice is to always contact the hotel directly and see what they might be offering. More often than not, you will get some extra perks and maybe even an upgrade since they won’t have to pay a commission to the booking sites.
Another good option is the Hilton and DoubleTree Queenstown; this can provide good value especially if you have Hilton Honours Gold status or higher, since you will be able to enjoy complimentary breakfast among other perks. The only consideration with these properties is that they are around 10 minutes’ driving from the city centre.
Don’t want to risk it?
If you’re risk adverse, or not comfortable with the idea of getting in a plane right now, you can always consider a winter wonderland holiday in your home state, with ski resorts in NSW and Victoria (including Thredbo, Charlotte Pass, Perisher, Falls Creek, Mount Hotham and Mount Buller) planning end of June openings in time for school holidays.
One of Australia's most active frequent flyers, Immanuel Debeer earned and spent more than three million points in the 12 months pre-COVID-19, travelling 332,533km to 28 different countries on 100+ business and first-class flights. When not travelling, Immanuel Debeer helps others travel in style without breaking the bank, by sharing tips, deals and reviews on credit cards, airlines, five-star hotels and luxury travel destinations via flighthacks.com.au.
Are you considering a trip to New Zealand soon? Will you visit the snowfields?
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