Three fun things to do on a family holiday to the snow

We travelled in style with Underdog NZ in Wanaka.
We travelled in style with Underdog NZ in Wanaka. Photo credit: UnderDogNZ

Some like it hot, some like cold. My family's favourite kind of holiday has always involved snow.

For a range of cool activities on offer, it's hard to beat Queenstown and Wanaka.  Here are three things I can recommend trying:

Go dog sledding

If you like dogs, I think you'll love dog sledding. It was definitely the highlight of my recent family holiday.

The tours, run by Underdog NZ, operate from the Snow Farm in Wanaka. They have a range of different options and we chose a day drive, trying out both sled self-drive and a basket ride with an experienced musher at the helm.

My five-year-old was too young to drive her own sled but was allowed to share the basket.

Carl, one of our guides, gave an overview about the sport of dog sledding and he introduced us to some of the 40 plus dogs owned by Underdog NZ. 

The company uses a mix of Siberian (the lazy but clever bunch) and Alaskan huskies (the grunts) and most are veterans of the North American race circuit.

11-year-old Alaskan Huskie, Block, led the charge for my group of six athletes pulling the basket sled. He’s apparently the most powerful dog and one of the calmest.  While the rest were howling in excitement as they were harnessed up for a run, he stood there quietly and patiently, as long as I kept stroking his bottom.

We tried out a self-drive sled led by the dark and handsome Leap. A sought-after movie star, he’s appeared in films such as Pete’s Dragon and hung out with Taylor Swift in her music video 'Out of the Woods'.

Our guides taught us how to control the sleds and what words to use to start and stop the dogs.  We were given a stern warning on how to brake properly so that we didn't crash the sleds into the back of the dogs when going downhill.  Our safety was important but the dogs' welfare also mattered.  These dogs are part of one huge Underdog NZ family. Some of them are even named after dinosaurs, thanks to the owner's five-year-old son.

My own daughter loved the experience and was able to engage with every one of the dogs. They seemed to love the affection. To make sure they're not overworked, they're carefully rotated by the Underdog NZ team.  At the end of each ride they get a well earned pat and treat.

The experience costs $245 for a self-drive and $265 for a basket with guide.  If you're looking for a special treat on your next holiday, this is most definitely it.

As Underdog NZ operates from the Snow Farm which is also the perfect place to introduce your kids to the snow for the first time with some gentle tobogganing or snow walking.

Some of Underdog's huskies. They're only on chains for a very short period just before they run.
Some of Underdog's huskies. They're only on chains for a very short period just before they run. Photo credit: Emma Brannam

Have a skiing lesson

With four commercial ski resorts to choose from in Queenstown and Wanaka, you'll be spoilt for choice for where to go but Cardrona is definitely my pick for families wanting to learn to ski or snowboard or improve their skills. It's got wide slopes, plenty of green runs and a superbly run kindy and ski school for littlies. It's also got several eating areas to choose from for when the kids have had enough!

You can't go to Queenstown and Wanaka without heading up at least one snow capped mountain.
You can't go to Queenstown and Wanaka without heading up at least one snow capped mountain. Photo credit: Cardrona

But that's not all. The staff are amazing. My daughter gets carsick at the most inconvenient of times.  Such as in full ski gear, in a borrowed car, halfway up a mountain and not a towel, change of clothes or wet wipe in sight.

Not only did Cardrona's host services come out with armfuls of towels, gloves and sprays, they amazed me by insisting on cleaning the carseat and car themselves. They even lent my daughter a ski-suit and said we could return it the following day. And no, they didn't know I was a journalist!

The Cardrona team looked after my car-sick daughter awesomely even providing her with skiing gear.
The Cardrona team looked after my car-sick daughter awesomely even providing her with skiing gear. Photo credit: Emma Brannam

Hop into a hot pool

A hot soak on a cold day is a must-do activity and there are few places you'll enjoy this more than at Onsen Hot Pools at Arthur’s Point, near Queenstown, which sits high up on the cliffs overlooking the Shotover River canyon.

There are six rooms in total, each with their own hot tub and a retractable roof.  Despite the wide view, the rooms themselves feel incredibly private and luxurious.

The perfect way to warm up on a cold day. Each hot pool room is private.
The perfect way to warm up on a cold day. Each hot pool room is private. Photo credit: Emma Brannam

We first visited Onsen Hot Pools several years ago for a romantic soak by candlelight. Now with a five year old in tow, we were trying an early morning dip complete with bubbles and nibbles. 

Onsen Hot Pools overlooks the Shotover River
Onsen Hot Pools overlooks the Shotover River Photo credit: Emma Brannam

You can imagine my daughter’s delight when she discovered she was allowed a small tub of icecream for breakfast whilst watching the jets do dizzying turns on the Shotover River below.

If you're worried about the quality of the water or perhaps smelly bathers taking a dip before you, don't be. Water for the pools is captured from the surrounding mountains. High intensity ultraviolet rays bombard the passing water flow which eliminates the need for chlorine. Then if required, they add a touch of Bromine.

The water is constantly refreshed and checked and kept at just the right temperature - up to 39.8C during a snowstorm.

A one hour hotpool Tandeki experience (which includes the drinks and nibbles) for two adults and a child costs $150.  Might be good to soak those aching muscles after a day on the ski field or to round off the holiday.

Don’t forget to book though. This place can fill up weeks in advance, the newly opened massage facility adding to its popularity.

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