Queenstown, on New Zealand’s South Island, may be a playground for luxury-seekers and extreme-sports enthusiast, but there’s another, more relaxed side to it.

For adventurous sorts, it’s arguably the centre of the universe. Loads of snow-capped peaks for skiing and snowboarding; a lively bar scene; and an infinite variety of ways to jump off very tall things and be scared silly. And, I note as I fumble with my bag in a charmingly quaint customs area in the international airport, an awful lot of visitors seem to look like they got lost on the way to the X Games.

Yep, Queenstown can make you feel old, even if you’re only in your late 30s. If, like me, you can only ski on your face and have no desire to unearth unknown reserves of bravery, you might even feel it’s not really the place for you. But you’d be wrong.

While Queenstown caters to the bold and the crazy in a manner in which few places can compete, that brash reputation cloaks enormous possibilities for those who want to experience its magical alpine surrounds with far less bravado and emotional effort. Perish the thought, you can even pencil in a properly serene, grown-up experience.

Slip and Slide

Coach potatoes, hut-hut, stand to attention. Actually, there’s no need, this activity won’t even require you to get off your bum. It’s the BMW Alpine xDrive course and the concept’s pretty simple — jump into a BMW and drive like a maniac all day on snow-covered tracks.

It’s a big-ticket item, obviously (NZ$2000 or $1661) but you do get a two-night stay at Millbrook Resort. You will also be a better driver for it — and get a certificate as proof.

All the action takes place more than 1500 metres above sea level at the epic Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds, a colossal 400-hectare facility used by car makers for cold-weather testing.

Things kick off with a theory lesson from BMW’s expert Alpine xDrive tutors on the physical fundamentals of driving on low-traction surfaces. Then — after choosing your BMW from a long line-up — it’s onto a snow racetrack, where the intention isn’t to break land-speed records, but tootle about and get a feel for how the car behaves.

The gloves come off thereafter, with a trip to a 400-metre-diameter circular skidpan. For those unfamiliar with the vernacular, a skidpan is pretty much as it sounds — it’s a place where you can slide a car without having to worry about hitting anything.

You are taught to hold a car in oversteer (when the rear slides) in both directions around the big circle, just like those rally drivers you see on TV. With all the time in the world, nothing scary to slide into and tutors egging you on to give it a real shake, you will grow horns. Your face will also probably hurt from the rampant grinning.

And that’s just the start. Later in the day, you’ll practise your new skills with timed laps on a course that has both left and right turns. Then, after a slap-up lunch (alcohol-free obviously) — you’ll move to another obstacle-free snowy expanse to compete against others in drag and slalom races that involve a standing start and full stop in a marked area, testing throttle, braking and cornering skills. But the real eye-opener is a joyride around the snow racetrack in a properly fast BMW that doesn’t have all-wheel-drive like the other-course cars do, meaning it’s not nearly as well planted.

The tutors can certainly drive — inside, it’s all genial conversation and pointing out landmarks, combined with a bit of relaxed wheel twirling and the odd handbrake pull. The reality, though, is that you’re absolutely flying, arriving at every corner sideways or, as our driver did, re-entering the starting area backwards. I clocked the speedo prior to this particularly jazzy manoeuvre and it read 170km/h. Take it from me — you’ll be a better driver for doing the Alpine xDrive course, but maybe not quite good enough to attempt this kind of enthusiastic lunacy.

Road Trippin’

If you can’t blow big bucks on fancy driving courses, try the next best thing — hire a car and do the 130-kilometre return trip to Wanaka via Crown Range Road, which, at 1076 metres, is the highest sealed road in New Zealand. The views as you zigzag up to the flat Crown Terrace — over the Kawarau River to the lofty Remarkables Range — are gob-smackingly majestic, and keen drivers will weep like a mother at a wedding at the non-stop string of challenging corners.

Once up on the plateau, follow the lovely Cardrona Valley down to Wanaka, a town sitting in an almost impossibly picturesque lakeside spot. Wanaka’s proximity to snow fields and various other outdoor pursuits has made it an international destination, so it’s well stocked with refuelling options. If you have time, continue the drive an hour north to immense Mount Aspiring National Park. Stopping just short of the beautifully rugged West Coast fjords, including famous Milford Sound, the park’s views of soaring mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and sheer rock cliffs are absolutely stunning and, if you start early enough, you might just fit in a short walk — one of the many on offer.

On the drive back, stop off at the historic Cardrona Hotel, where you can mingle with the après-ski set, mulled wine in hand, in a charming beer-garden setting complete with fires.

The perfect end to a great day’s driving is in the old gold-mining town of Arrowtown, 20 kilometres from Queenstown, with its fetching historic vibe and great selection of bars and eateries. Saffron has an always-changing menu with exceptional curries — we enjoyed a trio that featured the likes of candied pork belly and soft-shell crab — while The Blue Door just across the arcade (also part of the Saffron empire) offers pre-dinner lubrication in an intimate, historic building with fireplaces.

Up, Up and Away

Sit still long enough in Queenstown and you’ll hear the familiar thuck-thuck-thuck of a helicopter, many full of intrepid skiers and snowboarders being dropped into the lofty, untouched snowfields unreachable by other means. Guided Snowshoe Walks uses the same mode of transport for a rather less gruelling form of alpine exploration.

Physically, it’s a cinch. The chopper puts you right in the midst of virgin scenery, and picks you up at the end. Modern snowshoes make walking across soft snow surprisingly effortless, and the downhill nature of our half-day journey — punctuated by a stop for tea, coffee and cookies on a frozen lake high up in the spectacular Remarkables — only emphasised the walk’s mellowness.

You really do get considerably more out of helicopter snowshoeing than you put in. You’re exploring and learning about the kinds of very cold and extremely isolated places that it might have traditionally taken serious mountaineers days, or even weeks, to travel to — yet only moments ago you were standing more than a thousand metres below in sunny central Queenstown.

It’s worth it all just for the helicopter ride, which swoops you tantalisingly low over the rocky, snowy outcrops, offering views of the epic mountain and lake scenery that are, truly, nothing short of awe-inspiring — kind of like Queenstown itself.