Coolest small-town ice rinks in Aotearoa

July 4

BLADES OF GLORY. HOCKEY ON THE NASEBY ICE RINK. PHOTO: ADRIAN HOOD, ROYAL HOTEL, NASEBY

See what we did there?

ICE SKATING HAS BEEN AROUND FOR A WHILE. IT PROBABLY DATES TO THE BRONZE AGE, WHEN SCANDINAVIANS AND RUSSIANS STRAPPED THE BONES OF ELK, REINDEER (SORRY, RUDOLF) AND OXEN TO THEIR FEET SO THEY COULD GLIDE ALONG FROZEN WATERWAYS. MACABRE, BUT EFFECTIVE.

The Dutch improved things by replacing the bone with metal blades and, in the 20th century, strap-on skates gave way to the now-familiar bladed boots. Skating in Aotearoa gathered pace, with skaters taking to frozen dams and lakes, holding the first national champs on the Manorburn Dam in Alexandra in 1939.

What has always stood out about ice skating is its populism. From the start it was a sport women and men did together, and because it often happened outside, and often on naturally frozen surfaces, it didn’t cost a lot to take part in. In many smaller places, this is still the case. There’s something about ice skating that says “community” in a way that, say, CrossFit doesn’t.

(Important safety note: We have not included frozen lakes in this list. This is because we don’t want your favourite secret skatey spots overrun by rabid 1964 readers, and also lake skating can be dangerous for obvious reasons. You know the warning “skating on thin ice”? Don’t.)

ICE SPORTS SOUTHLAND, GORE

Indoor rinks can be pricey, but not in Gore. The member-owned Ice Sports Southland is run like a club field; members help with coaching, paperwork, driving the Zamboni, you name it, so you can skate it cheap! Dear parents, this is a perfect place to take kids. Five bucks gets you a session with a Penguin Skating Aid, a child-sized plastic penguin that helps wee wobblers stay upright and serves as an imaginary friend so you can go drink coffee in the corner. There are also two-bladed bobcat skates for hire. Strap them over little shoes, then stand back and behold: toddler triple lutzes.

ICEINLINE CENTRAL, ALEXANDRA

IceinLine is the Southern Hemisphere’s largest outdoor ice-skating rink (it’s a regulation Olympic-sized arena), and, if you ask me, and I know because I’m Canadian, it has the best vibe. Loitering teens? Check! The Friday night public skate is a local youth hangout, giving the rink an American Graffiti / Grease / BMX Bandits pre- digital age ambiance, maybe because it’s hard to Snapchat while cornering on blades. Ice Hockey? Check! The Alexandra Flames ice hockey team is based at IceinLine. They came third in the 2020 Erewhon Cup, the oldest ice hockey tournament in New Zealand. Hot chips? Check! Important, because the winter lows in Alexandra hover around -2.5 degrees.

“yes, we have Ice Blacks, and, yes, they do a haka on skates”

NASEBY ICE RINK, NASEBY

Naseby is a charming ex-Gold Rush town tucked in a corner of the Maniototo off the already-remote State Highway 85. The place is magic in winter. It brings to mind a Disney set, complete with a Victorian-era watchmakers’ shop and Aotearoa’s tallest Christmas tree, both of which look like they were put on this earth specifically to be dusted in snow. The outdoor rink is nestled in a stand of pine trees (more perfection), and if you’re there on the right night in July, you can see it lit up by Chinese lanterns and packed with more than 100 costumed skaters (including Sumos, pirates and, for some reason, lobsters), during the Naseby Ice Dance and Costume Party. Pop next door to have a hurtle on the 360-metre long Naseby Ice Luge, the only one of its kind in the country.

BYO BROOMS AND WHISKY. CURLING ON THE NASEBY ICE RINK. PHOTO: ADRIAN HOOD, ROYAL HOTEL, NASEBY

FAIRLIE ICE RINK, FAIRLIE

The ice rink at Fairlie is a “natural ice” affair, as in it relies on cold weather to freeze, not some reverse version of underfloor heating. Things can get a bit mushy when a Nor’wester blows in, and some winters it never freezes at all. But it’s a charmer when it does. Tucked behind the Fairlie Domain, this is a proper old- school facility with a relocated weatherboard school building for a clubhouse. It probably hasn’t changed much since the 1930s, and that’s a good thing.

THE FAIRLIE ICE RINK. PHOTO: SHELLIE EVANS

QUEENSTOWN ICE ARENA, QUEENSTOWN

Like Queenstown itself, the Queenstown Ice Arena is a tad more bourgeois than the other rinks we have mentioned, but it is still worth a recce. For one, it hosts the Skycity Stampede, the current New Zealand Ice Hockey League champions, and the home team of several current Ice Blacks (yes, we have Ice Blacks, and, yes, they do a haka on skates). Also, Queenstown has UFO-shaped, neon- adorned Ice Bumpers Cars, and if there’s a human on earth who isn’t excited by the idea of Ice Bumper Cars, I have yet to meet them.

LAURA WILLIAMSON

 

 


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