I have loved writing this guide because Cardrona is one of our favourite ski resorts in New Zealand because of the size and varied terrain. Cardrona is located on the South Island of New Zealand, in the Otago Region, between Queenstown and Wanaka.
Base Area Elevation: 1670m
Highest Lifted Point: 1860m
Vertical Rise: 600m
Skiable Area: 345 hectares
Terrain: 25% beginner / 25% intermediate / 30% advanced / 20% expert
Lifts: 1 Express Chondola (8 seater gondola cabins & 6 seater chairs), 2 high-speed quad chairs, 1 fixed quad chair, 1 T-bar, 3 surface conveyor lifts
Average snowfall: 2.9 metres per annum plus snowmaking
Operating Hours: 9am to 4pm (5pm during spring)
Getting TO cardrona
It is a bit more of a distance from Queenstown compared to Coronet Peak or The Remarkables but we believe it's definitely worth the drive. Give yourself about 70 mins to get there from Queenstown or 35 mins from Wanaka. As with most roads in the region, the drive is super scenic - particularly from Queenstown where you will drive across the Crown Ranges. If this is your first time, give yourself some extra time because you'll want to take a photo or two along the way.
Always check the snow report before leaving so that you are aware of the road conditions and whether you need to carry chains with you. During severe weather, it is common for the Crown Range Road to close so stay safe and check the report before you go! If the Crown Ranges are shut, you can still get to Cardrona from Queenstown via Cromwell and Wanaka. So don't dismiss on a great powder day - just give yourself an extra 20-30 mins for the journey through Cromwell.
The last part of the journey to Cardrona Alpine Resort is via gravel road that stretches about 12kms from the intersection of Cardrona-Valley Road. If you don't feel like driving the gravel road, a shuttle is available from the start of the unsealed road. It costs $15 return for adults and $10 return for kids. If you don't have a car, Cardrona operates a bus service from Queenstown, Arrowtown and Wanaka direct to the resort.
Cardrona is the only commercial ski resort in New Zealand which offers ski-in-ski-out. Prices are really quite reasonable considering the convenience of ski-in-ski-out and there are 15 apartments available in 3 different configurations so there will be something to suit no matter how big or small your group is. Check them out here.
Close by there are plenty of options too. Consider staying in the Cardrona township for a very relaxed, out-of-the-way stay. You can stay at Benbrae Resort, Cardrona Hotel, Cardrona Valley Lodge and Waiorau Homestead. Across the valley, Snowfarm also offers accommodation.
If you don't mind travelling a little further, you'll be spoilt for choice in Wanaka or Queenstown.
Cardrona offers half day and full day lift passes as well as flexi multi day passes. The great benefit of the flexi pass, aside from a daily discount, is that you can also use it at Treble Cone Ski Resort (about 30 minutes from Wanaka). Additional discounts are given for children and seniors. Those under 6 years old and over 75 years old ski for FREE! They also have a discounted learner's pass which we think is brilliant as so many beginners will only be able to experience a very small portion of the mountain. The learner's pass gives access to the conveyor lifts as well as one ride up the gondola at any time during the day.
You can purchase a lift pass from any of Cardrona's three ticket offices:
On mountain at Cardrona
Queenstown at 37 Camp Street
Wanaka at 20 Helwick Street
Make sure you activate your pass online so that you can keep track of all of your on mountain stats! If you are planning on skiing or snowboarding at Cardrona for more than 12 days, then definitely check out the season pass. And if you are super organised and looking to book your ski holiday nice and early, the early bird season pass it worth exploring as it saves you almost 50% over the standard season pass (you pay it off in less than 6 days of riding).
If you're heading to Colorado, as a Cardrona season pass holder you are entitled to ride 21 days per season (7 at each resort) at Copper Mountain, Steamboat and Winter Park. We can vouch for Copper Mountain being a very fun mountain! In Japan, you get up to 7 free days at Hoshino Resort Tomamu, ALTS and Nekoma resorts in Hokkaido. The caveat is that you need to book accommodation through Cardrona's preferred suppliers – all the details can be found on Cardrona's season pass page.
Oh and if you happen to be lucky enough to extend your winter adventure into summer, Cardrona offers one of the best mountain bike parks in New Zealand (XC and DH). You can actually get a combined winter/summer season pass if you're so inclined – something I'll be doing for sure!
Food and Facilities
If you're hungry, thirsty or need a caffeine fix, Cardrona has you covered. With 8 different areas to grab a drink or a bite to eat, you'll have plenty of options around the mountain which is pretty impressive for a New Zealand ski resort.
Base Cafe - in the main base building, offering pies, sandwiches and daily Mountain Meals.
Juice & Java - next to the Base Cafe. Apart from the obvious (BTW, the coffee is good here!), they have breakfast and lunch options.
Mezz Cafe - upstairs from the Base Cafe. Head here if you want table service and a restaurant feel.
Noodle Cafe - just over from the Base Cafe in Bob the Builder building. One of our favourites for a well priced and good sized lunch meal.
The Lounge - a very relaxed area next to the base building, overlooking McDougall's Chondola. Sit out the front on a blue bird day and enjoy a wine, craft beer or deli-style bites.
Vista Bar - want to enjoy a sensational view while sipping your coffee or Mumm Champagne? Head to the Vista Bar at the top of McDougall's Chondola - fancy, fancy!
Captain's Pizzeria - at the base of Captain's chair. Apart from pizza, you'll find pies, chips, ice cream and other goodies. Great coffee here too!
Little Meg Cafe - an outdoor cafe at the base of Valley View chair. Offers snacks, coffee and beer.
There's a good tuning centre too, next to the ski rental area. They have a $22 deal, which gets you a hot wax and free coffee at Juice & Java. A great way to the get the gear back to its best while you get your caffeine fix.
Oh, and the Cardrona shop has plenty of options if you need to update your gear to the latest and greatest, or if you've simply forgotten your gloves back in your hotel room!
Around The Mountain
With a mixture of express and fixed chairlifts, getting around Cardrona (or 'Cards' or 'Cardy' as locals call it) is pretty quick and easy. There are 2 main areas – the front side serviced by the McDougall's Chondola and the Whitestar and Valley View chairs. The backside is serviced by the Captain's chair. With 2 major valleys and awesome terrain parks, there's plenty of variety to keep everyone happy!
For the beginners and novices, there's a covered magic carpet out the front of the base building. You can also access two green runs - Weston's Trail and Skyline, from the Chondola. Captain's also offers a green run, A Real Journey, but there's a fair amount of cat-track traversing involved getting there and back, which tends not to be a favourite for the novice!
If you're intermediate to advanced, you'll have so many options. If your legs are feeling up to it, you can take Upper Goldrush/Goldrush from the top of Whitestar Express to the bottom of Valley View and experience one of the longer runs of any NZ ski resort. Apart from these, our other favourite 'groomers' are over at Captain's - look to do some nice wide carving on Eagle Rock and Highway '89.
When there's some recent fresh snow around, and you're looking for something a bit more challenging, our favourites are the Arcadia and Secret Chutes - some hiking might be required but only for 5 or so minutes. We've also had plenty of fun in Arcadia Valley and Powder Keg too. Arcadia Chutes, Arcadia Valley and Powder Keg are accessed via Whitestar and the Secret Chute via Captain's Express Quad.
Have I mentioned the parks? If you want to go big, drop into Big Bucks Park, rated XL! And if you're not quite XL status, Stag Lane and Antlers Alley will still offer you more than enough challenges. You can boost your confidence before hitting the medium and big terrain park features by heading over to Lil' Bucks Park.
Gravity X is Cardrona's boardercross track – great way to earn bragging rights if you beat your mates to the end of the course!
There are not many half pipes in NZ but Cardrona offers 2 – the Olympic Superpipe and the International Halfpipe. If your riding buddies are Travis Rice or Mark McMorris, you might want to check out 'Big Air' - an 85ft monster jump right next to the Superpipe. Way beyond this old blogger's abilities or kahuna's...
So it probably comes as no surprise why we find Cardrona one of our favourite places to ride in NZ. A trip to Queenstown is not complete without heading up to Cards for a few turns or hits. Being a fairly spread-out, largish mountain (in NZ terms), you can have a great time exploring. We've had many an awesome day riding with a large crew and everyone always comes away impressed with what Cards has to offer. Make the 70-minute journey – you won't be disappointed!
And on the way home, make sure you stop in at the iconic Cardrona Hotel. Established in 1863, you can't miss it with the old car sitting out the front. A beautiful beer garden with fires to keep you warm, great food and drink options and a rustic charm makes it a must-do experience. Definitely a favourite of ours to have a mulled wine and relive those ride stories of the day!
Have you been to Cardrona and want to share something about your best days there? Do you have a favourite run you want to let the world know about? Or do you have any questions? If so, please leave a comment below.
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Mick is a lover of speed runs and hitting every feature on the mountain. Ex road bike and motocross racer with plans to dabble in mountain bike racing. Spends a lot of time looking at fast cars and bikes. Jen’s instagram model and selfie camera holder due to long arms. Sometimes an optometrist.