The Australians are coming to Queenstown by the planeload -
it must be winter.
About 7000 people will pass through the resort's airport
today, with nearly half that number international visitors
crossing the Tasman to hit the region's skifields.
A southerly change on Monday has brought badly needed natural
snow and cooler temperatures for snow-making, with the
Remarkables opening yesterday - 12 days later than scheduled
- to join Coronet Peak, which opened on June 7.
About 1800 skiers and snowboarders headed up to the
Remarkables for its opening day yesterday, with about 200
waiting in line when its new six-seater, 1.2km Curvey Basin
chairlift began operating at 9.30am.
Ski area manager Ross Lawrence said about 30cm had fallen on
the field from Monday afternoon until yesterday morning and,
with temperatures plummeting, snow machines had been running
More snow was expected today before the weather cleared for
the weekend and the expected influx of local school
''Winter picks the time, but to be up and running now is just
At the Curvey Basin chairlift loading station, six
snowboarders claimed their spots at the front of the queue to
ensure their place in history and a ''First On the Chair''
One of them, Australian Brad Markey, camped out in his car
from 6pm on Wednesday.
The new chairlift was part of a $45 million redevelopment
during the off-season that included a 20% expansion of the
learners' area, 1.6km of new trails and a doubling of the
number of snow guns.
Queenstown Airport spokeswoman Jen Andrews said the beginning
of the Australian school holidays had ushered in the
airport's busiest period of the winter.
Transtasman flights from mid-June until September were
expected to be up 25% on last winter, with a record 50 direct
transtasman flights arriving each week on average - up 10 a
week on last year.
While domestic flights into Queenstown were on a par with
previous years, the number of international flights was
''ramping up every year'', she said.
Destination Queenstown chief executive Graham Budd said this
week's cold snap had come just in time.
While the Queenstown Winter Festival kicked off the season,
the school holidays were ''another step up''.
The next two or three weeks would be the busiest time of the
winter, with July and August equalling January and February
for visitor numbers, Mr Budd said.
Australian visitors typically spent between seven and 14 days
in Queenstown during winter, and spent more each day than any
Craig Douglas, general manager sales and marketing of the
Remarkables and Coronet Peak owner NZSki, said about 60% of
the visitors to the two ski areas this week were Australians.
That percentage would drop off slightly once the New Zealand
school holidays began today, but Australian visitors made up
just over half the number of visitors to the two ski areas
throughout the season.
Contrary to custom, it has been skifields in Australia rather
than New Zealand that have had the best early season snow.
Places like Smiggin Holes, Blue Cow, Mt Hotham and Perisher
have been revelling in falls of up to 1.4m.
The owner of Wanaka ski rental shop Racers Edge, Steve
Schikker, said Australian skiers and snowboarders flying home
today would have smiles on their faces after a ''pleasant
In contrast to New Zealand, which had experienced a ''soft
opening'', with rain, warm temperatures and a dearth of snow,
Australian ski areas were labelling their good luck
Many Australians who had booked skiing holidays to New
Zealand were questioning their decision.
''They were going: `I think we are in the wrong country',''
Mr Schikker said yesterday.
However, the Cardrona Ski Resort's limited opening a week ago
appeared to have helped save the day for Queensland families
who chose the New Zealand option for the first week of their
''I haven't had anybody who has come to the shop who has been
disappointed,'' Mr Schikker said remarked yesterday.
Wanaka Tourism general manager James Helmore said there could
be a positive spin-off for New Zealand ski areas later in the
season from Australians who had skied at home and were
thinking to themselves: ''What's next?''This season had had a
more typical opening after a couple of years when big, early
snowfalls had ''coloured people's perspectives'' of what was
However, it was ''fairly fortunate'' snow came this week
ahead of the school holidays when skifields made the bulk of
their money to carry them through the rest of the season.
About 100 skiers enjoyed the opening for the season of Ohau
Up to 27 snowguns had been operating since 3am on Tuesday,
with levels boosted by fresh snow on Wednesday - 10cm of snow
on the upper mountain and 4cm lower down, lifting the base to
40cm and 18cm respectively.