Photos courtesy of David Ross @ www.goodtogether.com.au
Recently I returned from the lands of Hobbits, Orcs and White Wizards- that is, New Zealand. Before I spill the beans, I write this poorly executed recount in the hope prospective travellers of Middle Earth can benefit from some advice..
It was a 12 day, 8 personnel trip that centered around the loveable town of Queenstown- who for those unfamiliar is a loose NZ South Island equivalent of NSW’s Jindabyne [I say loose because beside their function as base camp for the surrounding ski fields, Queenstown is exponentially superior to Jindy in all facets geographical and socio-economic.] Although Letsbehonest, QT is a true international tourist town; Its gears churn thanks to a plethora of ex-pats and extended visitors that keep the placing buzzing all winters long, plus its LOTR-ish undertones- Jindy just can’t compare.
Comparisons aside, the trip had a dual focus: the first being all things pow![…der] while the second were all things beauty.
In regards to snow, we travelled to 4 different ski resorts: Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Cardrona and Treble Cone. Before we left for NZ, the group was curious to which ski resort was the best. We had heard rumours that Cardrona was the best out of the bunch and questioned whether going to each ski field was only going to be a hassle. Thank goodness we committed- I couldn’t recommend travelling to each mountain enough. Especially with the ease of a bus services that runs across town, you’d be a sucker to not try each resort at least once.
This is even more pertinent as each mountain is quite removed from one another and travel time to each peak varies drastically. E.g Coronet was a wee 35 min bus ride [one way] whilst Treble Cone is a sluggish two and a bit hour bus ride [one way].
Our first day on the slopes was spent at Coronet Peak, the closet of all the resorts, and probably the most beginner friendly. It featured the most accessible black runs out of the 4 mountains, so for those in the hope of boosting your snow ego, check them out. We found the best runs were on the extremities of the field, that is, the far left [4 seater] and far right [T bar] of the mountain. It also has two four-man chairlifts in the middle. The only real thing to watch out for are the bus lines. Snowline bus services run a sort of monopoly up to Coronet so lines in the morning can be pretty horrendous if you don’t get to the pick up point before the first bus. The early rise is definitely worth it; if you can grab a seat on the first bus you’ll be drawing lines on the morning corduroy.
We then visited The Remarkables- the smallest of the resorts with 3 lifts, all extending from the same valley. Remarks offered up a quality mix of easy blue to difficult blacks, as well as a novice and expert terrain park. It was also only a 45min bus ride, making it one of the closer mountains. On second thought, It definitely featured some challenging black runs. Hour Glass anyone? Plus a whole expert only traversing peak that made me feel weird just looking at the path up. Snowline also work the buses up to Remarks so same deal as above.
Cardrona boasted the highest peak and seemed to be the largest mountain in my eyes with 4 chairlifts from different valleys. It was definitely the all-rounder of mountains and featured a plethora of stimulating blues plus a scary looking terrain park and three half pipes…if that tickles your fancy. The bus trip was about an hour and twenty minutes.
Supposedly Treble Cone is larger than Remarks and CP combined, although features only two chairlifts. TP is known as an intermediate/advanced ski field, with good reason. It features a lone green run back to base surrounded by all that is off piste and steep. The run make-up was something along the lines of 5% beginner, 45% intermediate and 45% advanced. It was the only peak we skiied that featured red ‘advanced’ runs that sit somewhere between blue and black. These were mostly off-piste slopes with some shrubbery and a couple of small drops or groomed runs that resembled difficult blues NZ blues or easy blacks. To the far left side of the mountain there is an entire slope dedicated to black diamond chutes which due to poor visibility we didn’t get a good look at, but basically, TP can serve it up as hot as you like.
As Cardrona or Treble Cone aren’t run by the same people as CP or Remarks, we used a third party company, Kiwi Discovery, to get up and down Cardrona and Treble Cone. They have an office just off Shotover st where you can buy lift and bus passes. I should add they I was unsure whether we could book everything in town, but shops are open till 7-8pm and you can book all your passes the night before or even morning of if need be. Unlike Thredbo and Perisher, lift passes are the same online as they are in the shop so don’t feel pressured to purchase it all before you get there.
Now, If you pinned me down and threatened me with the japanese bamboo torture method I would have to sat that Treble Cone was my pick of the peaks [as well as the pick of many of the locals I spoke to]. But don’t go off my word, check ’em out yourself!
Although we stayed in Queenstown our entire visit, both Cardrona and Treble Cone are actually closer to the humble town of Wanaka. A group of Melbournians we met in the TC cafe said they were staying in Wanaka after spending the previous week in Queenstown where they had skiied Remarks and Coronet. Their two cents were that they were enjoying Wanaka more than Queenstown as it was quieter and more of a country town vibe. Preference what you will, if you are in search of powpow, you can’t argue with shaving nearly two hours off your journey to Treble Cone and nearly an hour off your jouney to Cardrona. If/when I return to the South Island I will definitely split my time between QT and Wanaka.
The other piece of advice I heard from a number of locals was that there a handful of smaller, club-run ski fields around the area that not many people now about; mostly single lift or tow-rope only, one even being heli-access only I heard. I don’t recall the names of the ski fields, but if ungroomed pow and untouched back-country is your thing it would be worth doing some research.
There are one or two miscellaneous snow related advice that I shouldn’t leave out. First one out of a plethora of ski hire shops we rented from a place called Quest, located on Shotover St [one of the main roads], they were cool and kitted us out nicely- I recommend. Second piece of advice: avoid New Zealand school holidays. Sahh many people.
Snow wise, the first two days were pretty good. We then got a beautiful dump and for the next two days boarded the best pow I’ve ever ridden. The snow put Australia to shame. Although like in Aus, it’s about finding those powder bowls; some high-traffic runs and exposed ridges did get icy towards the afternoon.
So that’s the snow side of things sorted. When we’re ripping slopes to bits or sucking on a local brew or mulled wine, we were out walking and taking in the outrageously beautiful landscape of Queenstown. On the first day we committed to the Skyline Hill trek, which featured a cool luge track and zipline tour at the top. We neglected to do either but heard from others that the luge track was heaps of fun so don’t make the same mistake we did.
Other walks we committed to were Queenstown Hill [via the FWD trail]. Make sure you travel to the very top, which is another 10-15minutes ascent from the psuedo-top [characterised by a large dish]. We also had a day trip to the antiquated Arrowtown and did one the many walks around the river.
Before we jetted, I was worried that 12 days would be too long, but I was seriously wrong. In fact, we didn’t have enough time tick off a lot of activities we had planned including visiting Fox Glaciers, and Milford’s Sound, committing to the Giant Swing/Bungy.
One activity we did get to tick off our list was a Lord of the Rings tour. Although a number of us were big LOTR fans, we decided to give the dress-up and rein-acting tours a miss and to do a horse tour with Dart Stables. They took us around their property, which Peter Jackson used heavily in the trilogy, especially the Fellowship. In fact he payed for the tour path to be built as a thankyou to the owners of Dart Stables. The hour and a half tour featured some iconic backdrops to the LOTR trilogy including the tree line of Fangor Forest, the tree Aragon was pinned against with a shield at the end of Fellowship as he deals with the Uruki leader, plus the general backdrop to that final scene, among other things. It was interesting hearing how much post-production was done on the backdrops of LOTR, one guide claiming Jackson would at times merge three different pictures to create a single backdrop.
Whilst some were ripping the slopes of Treble Cone, others were comforting their palettes with the grapes of the Central Otago region. Supposedly the South Island is the ideal climate to produce the sweet red that is pinot noir. If a light red is your thing, definitely keep an eye out for a pinot noir from the Central Otago region next trip to the bottlo.
When it came to feeds, we were blessed to have resident chef James ‘Sticks’ Gutteridge serving up the finest holiday home-cooked I’ve had including birthday smokey pork ribs, cooked-the-same-day-as-caught salmon and trout, as well as some gourmet spag-bol and mystery dish pasta bake-both making great sanger filling/energy hits/wallet saver for the days on the slopes.
That isn’t to say we didn’t check out the local grub. Undoubtedly Queenstown’s most famous feed is Fergburger. I was a self-confessed sceptic but without a doubt they were the best burgers I have ever placed inside my digestive tracks. You only need check out out the the ‘Chief Wiggam’, which pairs roast pork [with crackling], hash brown and apricot relish, genius or genius? For a more authentic red-meat experience check out the ‘Southern Swine’, or something more cutting edge the ‘Sweet Bambi’ for some little baby deer. yum. Keep in mind, there is a perpetual line to order and a minimum wait of 20-30mins for a burger at any given time of the day.
Fergburger was good, but my favourite place to dine was a little bar tucked into the corner of the wharf complex called Atlas. They arguably serve the best steak in town for 20NZDs in addition to an unbeaten range of craft beers on tap. Another place worth checking out.
The last highly recommend institution features 10NZD litre beers and a mechanical bull- none other than Cowboys. A place for the looser nights, Cowboys is supposedly the local’s pick for nights on the town. It’s just off the laneway that runs directly parallel to Shotover St. An honourable mention to The Bunker for a bit of upper-echelon experience and a dishonourable mention to Kiwi Crawl, a good way to meet fellow travellers, but don’t expect much from the complimentary free ‘drinks’.
Our last night was spent in Christchurch as we waited for connecting flight home the next morning. We stayed in some budget accom only a 10 minute walk from the centre of town and went for a mid-day stroll through what we thought would be a bustling city centre. Little did we know that Christchurch was in still heavy recovery from the earthquake that devastated the city nearly two years ago. Whole streets were sectioned off, and those that were open were nearly deserted; Hotel and high-rises were as empty as the park’s water features. The whole city echoed a ghostly melancholy. The silver lining came in the form of a lovely make-shift retail precinct that featured local businesses coupled with large retailers all fitted inside a small city of warehouse containers. To a tourist this small precinct gave the entire city a gleaming hope of full recovery, although the greater reality of it all was that after the news headlines fade, cities hit by natural disaster battle on years after the public eye turns to the next big story.
On a lighter note, Queenstown and general Otago region were unrelentingly beautiful. It is down right weird to think how close New Zealand and Australia are considered in terms of longitude/latitude/time zones, but how fiercely contrasting they are aesthetically. I love my home and wouldn’t have it any other way but sorry Aus, NZ wins this one.
Next stop: the powder parks of Japan!