South Island 2009
Back at Christmas time, an ex Taranaki mate Paul living down in Queenstown put a great idea into my head – come down south for his wife’s 40th, but leave 5 days earlier than my wife for a boys’ trip from Christchurch to Queenstown, visiting the club fields on the way. Great I’m in!
Day 1 Fri 21st Aug
My bags are packed and I get a phone call 5 hours before my flight. Paul had slipped at work on Monday tweaking his back and physio over the last few days had not fixed the pain. He was not picking me up at Christchurch airport. Bugger.
Lucky for me I convinced my Dutch mate Eric to join us 3 weeks earlier so it was a matter of booking a rental car at late notice and just getting on the damn plane.
I connected with Erik at Wellington airport and flew to Christchurch, picked up the rental car and made it to Smylies accommodation in Springfield by 11pm. Trip underway, despite the hurdles.
Day 2 Sat 22nd Aug
We woke to a clear frosty morning, early up and on our way through the Southern Alps to Temple Basin, which is just past Arthur’s Pass. There’s a goods lift by the main road then a 500m drive back to the car-park and track. This track puts our Stratford Mountain track to shame, the grand daddy of all tracks and you are well and truly warm when you get to the rope tows. The field hadn’t had any new snow for a week, so we waited a while for the morning sun to soften the sun-facing slopes.
One of the first Naki people we bumped into was Mitch Davies from Oakura, who was visiting his brother Morgan (studying at Christchurch and VP of the Canterbury University ski club - loves his cask wine I hear) and both were staying for a week. As for staying, many asked how long we were there for and when we told them it was just a day trip they thought we were crazy.
We got to move around the different lifted areas with short 10 minute hikes horizontal and vertical linking upper bowled slopes with the bottom lifts while taking in continuous breathtaking views in all directions. This is the place you go for an adventure and a work out.
A beer to finish riding our first mountain, then a quick hiking decent back to the car and a one hour drive back to Springfield. To our bonus, we find out that our accommodation has a Japanese bath, the Japanese ski team was staying and a traditional Japanese dinner to cap it off. The connection – Smylies owner, Colin, has a Japanese wife.
Great watching the All Blacks beat the Ozzies at the Springfield Pub.
Day 3 Sun 23rd Aug
Overcast, windy North West conditions greet us for the drive to Broken River. The new vertical funicular people-mover was running taking us from the car-park to the base lodges in no time.
It was great that the club fields gave us concession priced tickets for SMC being an affiliated member.
Loads of steps past all the accommodation huts (on a ridge with tress camouflaging them) lead us up to the access tow (Rugby tow), which runs up the right hand side of the large bowl. Now, this rope tow has the potential to damage people - it runs fast and has a bend that pushes goofy-footers towards the pullies. Watch out!
Lucky for us there was about 7cm of new powder from the night before, enough to make it fun. It didn’t take long to cut up the fresh slope and cover all aspects of the basin.
Lunch at Palmer Day Lodge gave us time to chat to the local members about the clubs history. Most of the guys staying with us in Springfield were also up here enjoying it.
The top Ridge Tow opened after lunch letting us experience some of the steeper black runs down the Flutes.
Day 4 Monday 24th Aug
It was time to move on from Springfield heading south for the one hour trip to Mt Hutt. Another blue bird day, the runs were groomed flat and we rode fast all day.
Some of the field was closed for international racing and when the competitors did some free skiing they were rocketing down - made our speeding seem like a slow run.
We did the big traverse to the black runs beside the chutes and enjoyed the steepness and soft snow getting blown down after every turn.
Later in the afternoon they opened the ridge road that gave panoramic views towards Christchurch and a black run that was steep, with fast and sun rays directly in your face.
I spotted an old yellow Del Free & Easy sticker on a straight pair of Dynastar skis that belonged to a guy from Toko. He had tried carving skis but didn’t think they were as good as the Dynastars. Yes, a real retro man and, yes, he had a moustache.
We knew the storm was close to this ski area so we headed south and arrived at Lake Tekapo right on dusk. We arrived to the last rays of light on the old church by the lake side - amazing views and very calm.
Day 5 Tuesday 25th Aug
The front had hit with gale winds and rain on the mountains. Dobson was closed, but Ohau reported sunny and light winds. Yes, it may have been like that at 7am, but when we arrived at the turn-off and looked up at the ski field, it looked grey and wet. 20 minutes later at the ticket office we decide to get only a morning pass because it was wet, wet, wet. The snow was sticky off the runs and slow on, so not much of a selection. But it looked like good terrain... if only the weather gods had given us a better day.
Nothing like standing in front of the fire in the day lodge with huge amounts of steam rising from your body. There were a few inside also wondering why skiing in the rain is a fun thing to do. To me, it still beats being at work.
A few hours down the road we hit Wanaka, still raining. Lucky for us we find the only backpackers with a spa pool. Curry in a hurry takeaways and drinking cold beers in the rain, kicking back in the spa – priceless.
Day 6 Wednesday 26th Aug
Windy, clear powder day - the day a few things did not going our way. First, we slept in a little and arrived at Treble Cone’s car park at 9:45am. The 6-seater was running, but very crowded because the 4-seater is on hold (gale winds in the Saddle Basin) By the time we get to do our first run, most to the main face is already well cut up.
5 mins up, 5 mins down, then 10 mins in the queue – not priceless.
Heading up the 6 just before lunch we see everyone heading over to the Saddle Basin, so we high-tail it over there too - fang it to the lift. The lift was slow as the wind was very strong at the top, so it gave us plenty of time to watch others doing fast powder turns down the main bowls. Just before we get to the top, they close the Saddle Basin and we are forced to take the road back. Bugger. At least we got a short, untouched powder run before dropping back into the Home Basin.
3 hours later the Saddle was open again, but this time it had a slight wind blown crust on it. We raced in 2 runs before again being told last run just as we get to the top of the lift. Not our day for scoring extra powder runs.
We were sombre on the road back to Queenstown. The boys’ trip was over, the wives were waiting. 5 fields in 5 days - not bad at all. But were have 5 more days in the Queenstown area to look forward to, staying with friends and gearing up for Rachael’s 40th party on Saturday.
Day 7 Thursday 27th Aug
The 7am text report for Coronet Peak was grim - cold, snowing and little visibility but clearing later in the day. 10 seconds later I was fast asleep with my first real lie-in for a week.
It was raining when Keryn & I went to Arrowtown for brunch at the famous bakery café (lamb and mint pies are the best) and then went for a nice stroll around the assorted souvenir and arty shops.
During the drive up to Coronet, we could see the clouds clearing so we were keen to get going at 12:15pm when the tickets became available.
A few runs later on the Green Gates chair and we caught up with Erik and his family. The kids were stoked to be skiing for their first time in the South Island and loving the soft powder runs.
The sun came out fully with 5mins before the lifts closed - typical.
Day 8 Friday 28th Aug
The 7am text report for Coronet Peak was worse than yesterday, warm, raining and OK visibility. It was a repeat with brunch at Arrowtown then up to Coronet for some sliding in the rain.
The Winter Games women’s giant slalom were racing down the course. The world’s best going hard out with Canadian Marie-Michele Gagnon wining Gold, Poland 2nd and Sweden 3rd. Pity about the conditions.
Day 9 Saturday 29th Aug
The day for Rachael’s 40th was sunny with light winds, and she was getting us up early to hit the road for Cardrona. We needed chains for the last 2km on the mountain road.
A primo day for the Winter Games woman & men’s free skiing halfpipe finals.
It was fantastic to finish the trip with such an awesome day. Cold and windy on the chairs, but the snow conditions were excellent. Fast, wide runs with plenty of room to go hard out – even with the crowds.
Apres ski and Rach’s 40th party at the Cardrona Hotel topped off an epic trip. Cold beer, mulled wine, fine food and great company!
Rhys Williams, Vice President SMC