Ski New Zealand 2012 - Part 2

Lake Tekapo
After a great day's skiing in the Mackenzie region the top apres-ski activity - at least the best one I can think of - is to soak away the evening in the hot springs at Tekapo Hot Pools.

The three huge hot outdoor pools have varying temperatures and they are divine. Mmmm ...hmmm!

The sun sets over the snow-capped mountains. From the pools you can spy where we were skiing above the clouds at Mt Dobson earlier that day.

The stars come out one by one ... what a way to end a day of powder skiing!

Refreshed and invigorated the next morning, we leave the pretty village at Tekapo and head towards the South.

Lake Pukaki and Mt Cook
The road bucks and bends through the Mackenzie region ... twisting one way then the next as it skirts lakes and rises up and down the steep glacial moraines.

The second great lake in The Mackenzie is Pukaki, and its is a stunner, a bit of a crowd-pleaser, you'll not see a better lake than this! Views of Mt Cook are the icing on this aqua blue cake.

A little further along from Lake Pukaki we arrive at the turn-off to our skifield for the day - don't forget what we're here for - pretty little Ohau.

Like Mt Dobson, Ohau was having a great year in 2012, although it rarely disappoints in any year to be honest. Ohau picks up a bit of snow in most weather systems situated as it is between the Canterbury and Southern Lakes skifields.

Ohau is very remote as South Island ski areas go, far from the populated or tourist areas, but so reliable every year and well worth the visit to anyone doing this trip.

Ohau 22 September 2012
The snow cover was fantastic, especially up high, and the views over Lake Ohau are just magnificent.

This year's visit to Ohau was on a very warm day, and this made the snow spring-like, it was softening as the sun moved around in the sky. We started on one side of the mountain where the still fresh snow softened up for fun turns.

This was probably the best day we've had at Ohau over the many years we have been visiting, the good snow cover in 2012 opening up some areas we hadn't skied before.

Back on the road after Ohau, a few hours drive brought us to our next destination ... beautiful Wanaka. So great to be back! Oh so good to be back in this beautiful town.

Treble Cone 27 September 2012
We had only decided to come down to Wanaka a few days before as we were scheming away in Methven, and I can't believe that we had even considered giving it a miss. I don't think that it was seriously an option - once you get over the Tasman you just have to go to Wanaka!

Wanaka is the smaller of the two great South Island, New Zealand adventure capitals. Less brash, ostentatious and hectic than its neighbour, Queenstown.

While both towns have stunning natural settings, what Queenstown has in terms of cosmopolitan drinking and eating, Wanaka makes up for in terms of a serious, uncompromising focus on outdoor pursuits and lifestyle.

A half an hour drive from Wanaka is the skifield at Treble Cone. An overnight snowfall had delivered a 20cms fresh dump across the upper mountain.

Wanaka 27 September 2012
The sun warmed the snow and the morning gave way to a packed lunch overlooking the lake and the township of Wanaka.

A quick drive down, a change, and then we were walking along the lake in t-shirts in the sun, the sparkling water shimmering and the mountain peaks - where we had been skiing that morning - framing the beautiful landscape.

We usually stay in privately rented accommodation like holiday homes when we're in New Zealand, but this year we made an exception in Wanaka staying at the Oakridge Resort just outside of the township. It was a bit of a gamble as we like our peace and quiet, but the resort was not too busy, the apartments were fantastic, and the views lovely.

Oakridge Resort Wanaka
The hot pools at the centre of the resort were a favourite every day ... a place to soak and swim after a hard day's skiing as the sun goes down, a glass of warmed cider in hand.

As well as nearby Treble Cone, the skifield at Cardrona is also only a 30-minute drive away. We had two great days at Cardies during our extended stay at Wanaka.

The snow at Cardrona was Spring-style, firm to start and then softening across the mountain. We've been coming here so many years that we know where to pick up the best snow during the day ... and were frankly a little amazed at the lack of local knowledge. We just loved the empty runs in the Last Shot Bowl and Powder Keg this year.

Spring Snow Dragon at Cardrona
Eventually - there's only so much soaking you can do in hot pools - we decided to make our way back to Canterbury again. The lakes in the Mackenzie were looking fantastic in the sparkly early Spring sunshine ... so much so that we decided to stay a night at a motel overlooking the lake. What a wake-up call!

This also gave us the opportunity to hit Mt Dobson again for the second time this trip! While the conditions weren't quite a great as the earlier visit, we did manage to find some fresh turns in the softening snow before heading down to pretty Geraldine for the night.

Geraldine is a great base for walks, or tramping as it is known in NZ. For something different on a couple of windy days in the mountains we hiked around the Peel Forest and near Mt Somers. Beautiful!

Then we made our way back to Methven to finish off our trip with a few more days at brilliant Mt Hutt. The skiing was still great ... fun, some fresh ... and it was October!

Til next year NZ!


Ski New Zealand 2012 - Part 1

Spring is a great time to ski in New Zealand. The snow season starts a little later than in Australia, and finishes a touch later as well. A few days before I wrote this post, the brilliant skifield at Mt Hutt reported a 30cms dump!

Amazingly, my first sight of New Zealand from the airplane was an unique view of the summit and ski lifts at Mt Hutt rising out of the cloud that had blanketed the land and sea all the way across on the short flight from Melbourne to Christchurch.

In two and a half weeks we drove between Christchurch and Wanaka (and back) and skied all but a handful of days. The map below, if you play with it a bit and click and enlarge it, shows all the locations of the different skifields mentioned in this and the follow-up post.

View New Zealand Ski Trip 2012 in a larger map

After picking up the 4WD hire car and stocking up with food, mucho cheese and bueno cider at a Pak 'N' Save supermarket, we drove the short distance from Christchurch Airport down the highway to Methven, a resort town at the base of Mt Hutt on the Canterbury plains.

We spent our first five nights in New Zealand at a perfect little apartment in Methven that had everything we needed for a comfortable stay.

Two of those five days we skied at nearby Mt Hutt, which had been having a very good snow season with a couple of metres snowdepth.

Mt Hutt 16 September 2012
This Methven stay was the only accommodation we had booked in advance this year as the skifields down south around Queenstown had been struggling a bit and we wanted to keep our options open.

The snow cover at Mt Hutt was as good as I can remember it in the last six or seven years. There were areas of the mountain open and runs groomed that I have never seen open before. For those who know the place, The Bluffs was being skied and Bob's Knob was groomed. Thanks Bob!

On another day we went to Porters, which is a highly recommended scenic drive from Methven on a gravel road that eventually skirts along the side of an eerie, misty lake. It appeared like sea fog and, coincidentally, it was International Talk Like A Pirate Day so I expected a ghost ship from Scooby Doo at any moment!

Porters 17 September 2012
The snow at Porters was good up at the top, but the bottom was rocky as always around this time of year. The problem with Porters is that it takes three T-bars to get up to the good stuff! Compare that to the Mt Hutt six-seater that rockets to the top of the mountain, 2000m above sea level.

The view to Christchurch from the top of Porters is great though, and there was some nice skiing up high.

Entree over ... the main course on this year's NZ trip was a first heliskiing experience!

YEP, the big ski adventure in New Zealand for all you serious skiers. One of us had been very unhappy about the helicopter idea ... but I'm glad to say those fears quickly evaporated and were overtaken by the thrills, the realities, and the sheer beauty of the mountain landscapes. Only a few moments of terror! Just a few ...

Methven Heliskiing's base at Glenfalloch Station
Methven Heliskiing's base is at a working sheep farm station in the mountain ranges behind Mt Hutt towards the Divide, about 40 minutes drive from Methven. The setting is stunning. You get the feeling that there is nothing but wilderness for miles around this property.

The helipad is basically a raised mound in a paddock ... albeit with a lovely farmhouse setting looking out on the mountains. Before you get to go anywhere near the helicopter you are provided with avalanche beacons that you must wear, instruction on how to use them, as well as a crash course on how to find and extricate people buried in an avalanche.

The helicopter ride was fantastic, really fantastic - so much more smooth and gentle than I had expected. A calmness descended in the midst of the wild mountain landscapes ... until we realised where we were going to land!

Heliskiing - First Landing - 18 September 2012
This first landing was a total surprise. I'm not sure what I had expected our landing would be like ... a big H in a circle perhaps! Not this though ... no, not this.

The helicopter hardly hovered before it perched on the mountain ridge line, effectively a narrow snow-covered cornice. No ski lifts, no people, no ski patrol ... nothing ...

You unload the ski gear from the carriers, keep your heads down, hold onto the gear as the helicopter leaves and suddenly ... silence.

As you stand up to see where you are you look over the edge on one side and find a sheer snow-covered drop of hundreds of metres. Your guide takes a deep breath of the mountain air to encourage you! All around you are mountain peaks, virgin snow, and blue skies. It would be invigorating if it wasn't a little terrifying .... you feel yourself wobble.

Heliskiing - Pickup - 18 September 2012
This heliskiing operation has hundreds of named runs they use in many ranges of mountains, but they cycle around them so that they are always untracked by skiers and riders.

The first run was a bit tricky for us! Grippy, deep, snow and steep, combined with some nerves, and we didn't do so well. The thing with heliskiing is suddenly you're at the bottom of the class again! At least that's how it felt for the first half of the first run.

The second half of the run felt much more like .... woohoooooooooooooo! Gliding across the fresh snow, taking whatever lines we felt like, nobody there except your four friends and your guide. More of that please! More!

Heliskiing - Looking back at our first run - 18 September 2012
The helicopter picks you up and you're heading back up to a new summit ... the helicopter is basically your ski lift but the passengers are the only ones to ski that terrain that day.

It takes some getting used to ... being left with your gear at the top of a mountain with no prepared way down to the bottom. But there's your guide and your fellow passengers ... and once you let go and get going, the experience is just amazing!

To get an idea of what its like in the heli from pickup to dropoff, take a look at this video.

After five fun days in Methven including the heliskiing adventure  we drove the few hours south to Lake Tekapo, stopping at pretty little Geraldine to stock up with more food, cheese, and NZ vino at the supermarche!

Busy Morning at Mt Dobson - 21 September 2012
Tekapo village sits on the beach of a stunning turquoise glacial lake in the Mackenzie high country. We stayed two nights in this pretty little spot in a lovely, tiny, new cottage that had all the mod cons.

The first morning in this new base we made the short trip back the way we had come to visit Mt Dobson, a private family-owned skifield between Lake Tekapo and Fairlie.

A few years earlier we had had a stunning fresh snow day at Mt Dobson with our friends ... this year was so similar!

One of the two bowls at Mt Dobson - 21 September 2012
It was almost like deja-vu, so much so that I couldn't resist texting our friends from the previous trip when we got back to the Tekapo cottage that evening and ate our homemade pizzas!

A good fall of snow in the preceding days reflected a great season for Mt Dobson in 2012. The Friday we visited was a sunny day, no wind, no people, fresh lines all day!

This part of the South Island is fairly quiet for tourists in September and is not really close enough to any major town centres to attract too many locals.

What this means is that when the skifields here in the Mackenzie open on week days you can get fresh tracks all day ... something that is in great contrast to those skifields around Wanaka, Queenstown and Christchurch, even on a week day.

Clouds in the valley at Mt Dobson - 21 September 2012
Mt Dobson sits high above the Mackenzie and the whole area was bright, pristine white under the sun but with fresh winter snow to start the day. We shared the two bowls with a few dozen other skiers and riders.

The ski area is very intermediate-friendly, the wide bowls giving access to whatever lines you might want to take down. Off-piste is the way to go here as there are only four or five groomed runs, but the terrain is nice and rolling so that you can pick your lines and steepness and work your way up to the more challenging stuff.  Its easy to hike a little to get access to a lot more lines also,even if you're lazy like us! A great day! What will the Mackenzie bring next in 2012?