Canberra Wellington Rainbow Ski Area? NZ ski secret!

snow action team 09.06.2020

Rainbow Ski Area is a South Island secret, almost totally off the radar for Aussie visitors, but it could suddenly become a surprise first option to ski NZ if the proposed Canberra – Wellington bubble busting flights happen.

Canberra Airport are taking “registrations of interest” for trial flights on the 1st and 2nd of July.

Rainbow is known for cruisy intermediate terrain but there’s plenty of tempting off piste too © Rainbow Ski Area

Trans-Tasman Bubble Canberra – Wellington flights

Canberra Airport is proposing an incremental opening of the Trans-Tasman bubble with the first flights being between Canberra and Wellington (which are both COVID-19 free cities) on 1 July 2020. Here is the available detail (register on the link):

These flights would be the first flights where passengers would not be subject to the mandatory 14 day hotel quarantine.

We are inviting you to register your interest for flights on the 1st and 2nd July (two flights each day – ideally to be by both Air New Zealand and Qantas). Registration will ensure you are emailed with a booking link for these flights as soon as it is released.

The incremental approach will allow the early recommencement of travel between Australia and New Zealand and it will reunite families and friends who have been desperate to reconnect since the borders closed on 19 March 2020. It is proposed that passengers will be able to travel from Wellington throughout New Zealand and that travellers arriving in Canberra will be able to travel to NSW and Victoria and any other Australian State that has reopened its borders.

Please note that whilst 1 July is being targeted for these first flights, this is subject to the approval of both national governments and maybe be delayed by up to 7-10 days and is also subject to a continuation of good health outcome.

An empty Canberra Airport could sure use the traffic! © Carmen Price

Rainbow Ski Area

Assuming they happen, or any flights to Wellington do, skiers will then have the mainstream option of driving the 350 odd kilometres north to Mt Ruapehu and NZ’s most developed ski areas Turoa and Whakapa. No surprises there. And Ruapehu will be open subject to snow conditions from July 1st.

Of they could hop on the ferry from Wellington to Picton and head south. Rainbow Ski Area is just 100 minutes or so drive from Picton, in the heart of the beautiful Nelson Lake area near the picturesque village of St Arnaud.

Last lifts © Rainbow Ski Area

Rainbow is little known to most Kiwis, except locals from the Marlborough region at the top of the South Island, which includes New Zealand’s sunniest city, Nelson, and a host of famous wineries. Some skiers from Wellington also prefer it to busy Ruapehu. It’s popular with local families.

For Aussies interested in getting totally off the beaten track it’s well worth the trek north from Christchurch. The shortest way is to take Hwy 7 over Lewis Pass, then hang a right at Reefton towards Hwy 6. Going this way you can stop a night or two at Hanmer Springs and ski nearby Amuri Club field, which even boasts a poma lift.

Or you can head up the coast on Hwy 1 past wild Kaikoura to Blenheim and back around doing the reverse of the above.

Or take the ferry to Wellington and the North Island. Or head on to the West Coast and back past Arthurs Pass and Temple Basin. Plenty of options for the adventurous!

Lake Rotoiti © Rainbow Ski Area

Rainbow Ski Area is a typical Kiwi alpine basin, with just one long t-bar (that used to be at Ohau – ski lifts never die in NZ, they just move around) serving a modest 218m vertical. Touring along the range opens up more opportunities, like into neighbouring Powder Valley.

They have one grooming machine, which keeps the beginner and intermediate runs under control. Beyond them is like your typical Kiwi club field, au natural.

The drive up through magnificent Antarctic beech forest is a highlight, very different from the more arid/cleared landscapes around the southern lakes ski areas near Queenstown and Wanaka that most are more familiar with.

We found Rainbow on a motorhome trip round NZ back in 1987. The Maui campa somehow made it up the access road. That night we found a powered site in front of a lake with a little open picnic chalet fully stocked with firewood. So we plugged the van in and lit a big fire – totally in the middle of nowhere, free. You probably can’t do that anymore, but you can stay in picturesque St Arnaud village nearby.

Rainbow is expecting to operate as normally as possible this season, with whatever limitations are required by the NZ Government’s COVID-19 policy. Moving their resrictions to Level 1 already this week has boosted hopes all round.

Rainbow Ski Area trail map

Getting to Rainbow Ski Area / Shuttle

Rainbow Ski Area is only 90 minutes drive from Nelson Airport, 80 minutes drive from Blenheim, or 100 minutes from Picton where the ferry from Wellington docks. That last fact accounts for some of it’s popularity – it’s an alternative to the big Ruapehu ski areas for Wellington skiers.

Rainbow 4WD Shuttle Service operates daily the bottom car park if you don’t want to drive the access road. Pre-bookings are available online. Priority is given to pre-booked passengers. Departures from bottom car park 9:00, 10:00, and 12:00. Return 15:00 and 16:00. Please arrive 15 minutes prior to departure. 

On weekdays, the 9:00 shuttle may not be available to book online due to school group trips. Passengers may book online for the 10:00 trip and space permitting, may be able to depart on the 9:00 shuttle instead. If you wish to depart earlier, please arrive at the car park at 8:45 and be prepared to wait until your scheduled departure time in case no space on the earlier trip is available. If you contact the ticket office, we should have an idea of whether this earlier departure will be possible on the day you wish to book.  Click here to make a shuttle booking.


Adults$28.00 (return)
0-17 years old$22.00 (return)
Family special*$76.00 (return)

* Family special 2 adults & 2 children 0-17 years old. 

Rainbow Ski Area access road
The access road can get a bit hairy, you can opt for the shuttle in that case © Rainbow Ski Area