The Mountainwatch Guide To Wanaka – Gateway to Some of New Zealand’s Best Skiing and Snowboarding

April 2nd, 2024
Fresh tracks in Treble Cone – an enticing reason to head to Wanaka this winter. Photo: Treble Cone

Mountainwatch | Matt Wiseman

As temperatures drop and the softer autumn light takes hold our thoughts turn to winter with fingers crossed that cold front moving out of the southern ocean will deposit a heap of snow over the next few months. If you are thinking of heading across the Tasman for a snow holiday one of our favourite NZ destinations is Wanaka and as you’ll see from our guide, you should add Wanaka to your travel bucket-list.

Lake Wanaka and the “Wanaka tree”, one of the most photographed trees in New Zealand.

Wanaka, which is nestled at the foot of Mount Aspiring National Park, is the perfect staging ground to experience not only the best skiing on the South Island of New Zealand, but some of the best skiing in New Zealand as a whole. It is also one of the most beautiful, scenic places in the world.

Visitors have their pick of two world-class resorts in Cardrona and Treble Cone and can even dabble in a little cross-country skiing at purpose-built Snow Farm. Not only that, but the Wanaka region, despite being smaller than Queenstown, actually has the largest area of skiable terrain to offer. In particular, it is known for having the largest heli-ski terrain in the Southern Hemisphere.

Lake Wanaka and the mountains of the Southern Alps. A spectacular part of the  world.

Treble Cone and Cardrona are both owned by the same company and you can ski both resorts on the same ticket, a great way to mix things up if you are there for more than a few days. Cardrona and Treble Cone are the yin to each other’s yang – Cardrona combines old-school mountain-town vibes with new-age park terrain and facilities. A mountain where both first timers and Olympians feel at home.

Wanaka is home to some of New Zealand’s best skiers and snowboarders, not surprising as the combination of Treble Cone’s terrain and Cardrona’s incredible park make it a freeriding Mecca. But skiing, snowboarding and the mountains are part of Wanaka and the people who live there. Many of the pro skiers who come from Wanaka are second or third generation skiers and skiers like the Wells brothers, Finn and Hank Bilous, Sam and Anna Smoothy were introduced to the skiing and the mountains by their parents.

Jossi Wells, at home in the Cardrona park which attracts the world’s best riders each winter.Photo: Mark Clinton


Cardrona considers itself the “peoples’ mountain”, and for good reason. It comes complete with the Southern Hemisphere’s most extensive terrain park facilities – four parks and two half pipes, tailored kids skiing areas and wide groomers on which to lay the planks over.

Cardrona also boasts some of the most reliable snow in the region, thanks to its high elevation topping out at 1860m and favourable southerly aspect.

There has been significant investment in Cardrona over the past five years, including the addition of a chairlift in the Soho area on the southern face of Mt Cardrona. Named Willow Basin, the area covers 65 hectares and made up of two big bowls, with undulating intermediate terrain. It opened for the 2021 season and the basin is south-facing with fantastic snow quality and stunning views towards Queenstown.

This expansion if  part of  the significant investment made by the resort over the past four years and follows on from the the opening of the McDougall’s Express ‘Chondola’ in 2017, New Zealand’s only gondola cabin-style lift and the purchase of Treble Cone last year.  Last December the resort announced it was adding the Soho Basin to its ski area and foundation work has commenced on a six-seater high-speed chairlift which is scheduled to open for the 2025 winter.

At 150ha, Soho Basin’s skiable terrain is the equivalent of 150 rugby fields. It increases Cardrona’s lift-accessed skiable terrain by 24%, taking the resort from 465ha to 615ha – which will make it the biggest commercial ski area in New Zealand.

Cardrona has some of the best  terrain parks in the southern hemisphere.

Mountain Stats:

Skill Level – 20% Beginner / 45% Intermediate / 25% Advanced.
Skiing Area – 345 Hectares.
Average Snowfall – 2.9m.
Base Elevation – 1670m.
Peak Elevation – 1860m.
2021 Season Dates – June 12 – October 17
Lift Opening Hours – 9.00am – 4.00pm.
Travel time – 35 minutes from Wanaka/ 60 minutes from Queenstown
Cardrona website

Jess Hotter, 2022 Freeride World Tour Champion taking flight over her home turf in Treble Cone.

Treble Cone

Beloved by locals and visitors, Treble Cone (TC) is known for breeding freeride skiers who dominate on the world stage. The South Island’s largest ski area, Treble Cone is famous for its lengthy runs, legendary off-piste terrain and stunning views over Lake Wanaka.

It is also a serious contender for offering the most beautiful views of any ski resort in the world. A 35-minute drive from the centre of Wanaka, guests are offered spectacular vistas of the surrounding Southern Alps and Lake Wanaka beneath, reminiscent of a Norwegian fjord.

Try not to get too distracted by the view while racing down the groomers… Image:: Wanaka Tourism

The resort’s scale is evident in it offering the most vertical in all of the Southern Lakes at 700m, its longest run a positively leg-burning four kilometres. The resort can also boast the title of largest South Island ski and snowboard resort, its 550ha tenure spread across two large basins. Treble Cone has some of the most revered terrain in New Zealand, loaded with steep chutes and gullies, open bowls and natural half pipes, making it particularly suited for the intermediate to expert riders. So, whatever your off-piste preference, TC is sure to have something for you.

Treble Cone family time with a view. Image:: Wanaka Tourism

Don’t let this entirely dissuade any beginner skiers or snowboarders out there though, Treble Cone offers FREE lift access all season long to its ‘Nice n’ Easy’ surface lift, located alongside the comforts of the Base Area.

Mountain Stats:

Mountain Stats:

Skill Level – 10% Beginner / 45% Intermediate / 45% Advanced.
Skiing Area – 550 Hectares.
Average Snowfall – 5m
Base Elevation – 1260m
Peak Elevation – 2088m.
2021 Season Dates – June 26 – September 26
Lift Opening Hours – 9.00am – 4.00pm.
Travel time – 35 minutes from Wanaka/ 60 minutes from Queenstown
Treble Cone website

Snow Farm

Snow Farm is unique in this list of Wanaka ski resorts in that it is not designed for the kind of skiing you’re likely here to read about, that being conventional downhill skiing. Instead, the Snow Farm is New Zealand’s only Nordic Ski area. In winter it offers over 55 km worth of classic cross-country skiing and ski skating tracks. Not to mention snowshoeing, fat biking, tobogganing, dog sledding and conventional ski touring options.

Cross-country skiing along part of Snow Farm’s 55km long trail. Image:: Wanaka Tourism

Heli Skiing

As mentioned, Wanaka entertains the largest heli-ski terrain in all of the Southern Hemisphere. In keeping with the general theme of the place, it’s also arguably some of the most spectacular, spanning the ranges in and around Mt Aspiring National Park.

Considering New Zealand boasts the largest number of helicopters per capita, it should come as no surprise that no less than three separate heli-ski operations service the Wanaka region; Harris Mountains Heli-Ski, Southern Lakes Heli-ski and Alpine Helicopters. Harris Mountains Heli-ski have the largest amount of terrain and have been operating in the Southern Alps for over 40 years.  Check out the packages here.

Another powder day with Harris Mountains heli ski. Photo: Harris Mountains Heli-ski

Food and Drink

Wanaka a has no shortage of dining options from Mexican street food at Burrito Craft, vegetarian-friendly Asian/Indian fusion at Buddha’s Corner, and wood-fired pizza classics Francesca’s Pizza and fine dining with local produce at Ode. The Wanaka region is renowned for its wines and Archangel and Ripping Vineyard are two wineries close by and there are also day trips available to wineries in the nearby Otago region. If you like craft beer, check out Wanaka Beerworks and Ground Up Brewing.

How To Get There

The easiest access from Australian is to fly into Queenstown and then taking the hour-long drive, either by car or coach. Getting from Wanaka to any of the aforementioned resorts involves a scenic 30 to 40-minute drive around one of the most picturesque lakes in the world. There is also an extensive public transport service to get skiers and boarders up to the resorts.

Wanaka sounds pretty amazing right? So, if you want to get over there yourself check out our Wanaka Mountainwatch Travel early bird packages here.

Treble Cone forecasts,
snow reports and
live snow cams.

Cardrona forecasts,
snow reports and
live snow cams.