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Posts from the ‘Winter Roadie ’11’ Category

The snow storm arrives

The morning arrived and I peered through the curtains… still no sign of falling white stuff. I was starting to feel a bit let down!

After wrestling our bags out of the hotel and checking out, it was off to revisit our fave Queenstown breakfast cafe, Motogrill. Fortunately yummy coffee and food came fairly quickly. Queenstown has a bit of a nazi reputation with parking and many spaces are regulated by the quarter or half hour, but we escaped unscathed.

The main objective today was to get to our accommodation for the next few nights in the Cardrona Valley. It is somewhat isolated, or at least not in easy reach of supplies, so we found a supermarket to stock up in before we left town.

With bags of food and drink wedged into what little space remained in Mike’s car, we set off in lightly falling snow. The next stop wasn’t far away, to have a coffee with Ants. We heard that those in the group from last night who were to fly home had their flights cancelled, the first real sign of the impending weather.

We decided to call into Arrowtown, a lovely place that has retained a look and feel from its gold mining days. A short walkabout ensued before it was time to get our act together and go. Pie no.4 called out to me but I showed surprising restraint.

A short stop in lovely Arrowtown

The Crown Range Rd is the most direct route between Queenstown and Wanaka and goes through the Cardrona Valley. At just over 1100m high, a lot of the road is well into the snow line during a half-decent winter. On the way to the turnoff snow started to fall heavily and continued as we made the hard-left turn and began to ascend the zigzag.

The snow began as we headed for the Crown Range Rd

A few minutes later we arrived at the sign directing us to fit chains and we joined the little hub of vehicles already undergoing the transformation. Mike purchased our set off TradeMe a couple of years ago and they sat unused, until now. Looking at our neighbours struggling with their chains, and looking at the tangled pile that was ours, did cause us to wonder how long this would take.

Mike getting down to business

However, Mike managed to interpret the Japanese instructions – or at least, make sense of the diagrams – and after 20 or so minutes they were on.

That is one finely fitted chain

We slowly nudged back onto the road and found ourselves behind the most unlikely of vehicles given the conditions. Very keen!

You don't often come across a car with chains on the rear wheels. Zephyrs probably aren't your typical alpine transportation

Travelling at an average speed of 50kph, the road seemed much longer and it took ages to reach the summit. The conditions made me a bit on edge so it wasn’t exactly a relaxing drive, but creeping along gave us more opportunity to take in the amazing white landscape.

The slippery white road with ressurance of a barrier to the left and bank to the right!

A few k’s later on the other side we* were able to shed the chains (*clearly I mean it was Mike out there doing the detaching) and a few minutes later we rolled into Cardrona.

The end is nigh - arriving in Cardrona

Made it! The comfy lodgings at Benbrae

Now that we were at the resort, with its fantastic insulation and heating and outdoor hot pool, it could snow all it wanted…

Go here to pick up the rest of the trip.

One night in Queenstown

So there I was checking into the hotel, trying to fulfil the standard request for a credit card, and realised with horror – I didn’t have mine. Just starting one’s holiday and no credit card… disaster! (Luckily Mike was less forgetful.)

It was Saturday night in Queenstown. We were having tea with friends and then going to a concert. Our hotel was a 10-15 minute picturesque lakeside walk from town and we set off before the shops closed. Mike was keen to scope out a couple of snowboard and skate shops owned by friend Ants, who had also organised the evening’s activities. With a couple of purchases lined up for the end of the week we went to sort ourselves out with a pre-dinner beverage.

We met what turned out to be a group of 12 at Lucianos on the wharf. The meal was excellent, and the local pinot gris not bad either. The big storm front reportedly on the way was a discussion point as a few of the group were planning to fly home the next day.

Then it was out to the events centre at Frankton, venue for a concert featuring a few kiwi performers including Shihad. The show was the after-party for the Burton NZ Open (snowboarding comp) held that week. Due to his work connections Ants got us into the VIP lounge which was the mezzanine level and looked over the main floor where the majority of punters were. Though it was still a cash bar we had good views and didn’t have to stand on the cans and so forth as was the scene below. It was great to be amongst live music again, and while dub stuff is all well and good, I’m more about the rock stuff so it was great hearing Shihad for the first time.

We caught a free bus back into town and decided to walk back to the hotel. Going past the masses queuing outside the Queenstown institution that is Fergberger made me feel hungry. We deviated into the 24hr food mart and, well, there were the pies. So I notched up no.3 as we made the quiet lakeside stroll back to Fernhill.

It was a great night but the question still remained: when would the storm arrive?

A serene stroll into town

The TSS Earnslaw steaming back to base

A dusky Lake Wakatipu shore

End of the wharf at twilight



Shihad doing their thing

Southward bound – yay!

It’s always a surreal feeling to be finally free of the day-to-day and have your holiday stretching out before you. The chore of packing isn’t such a chore, and 10 days away seems like a looong time. At the beginning at least.

Before it all becomes a distant memory I’ll recap the first couple of days of our trip down south, this post covering the journey down to Queenstown. This is almost a month ago now – I can’t believe how fast the year is going. Anyway…

A winter holiday generally requires more space to pack all the woolly layers, not to mention extra bags for snowboards and gear. It was a good call to drive down rather than fly and we filled every nook and cranny in Mike’s car. At a respectable hour on a Friday morning in August we set out for the Interislander ferry terminal.

With car locked and loaded, the happy travellers wait to drive onto the ferry

Onboard the ferry, though not a day to linger on deck

Once on board we found the lounge bar and staked out our patch. The weather was a bit dubious but fears of a rough crossing were soon dispelled, and later when the announcement was made that pies were being served, yours truly cut a brisk path to the cafe. Mmmm pies.

We didn’t linger in Picton and pressed on to Kaikoura for a coffee stop. The stretch of coast on the way is home to a seal colony and we had to stop maybe three times to watch them for a while. Very cute.

Cute wee fella

Couldn't resist veering off to look at this chap as well

We’ve done the ferry-and-drive-through-to-Queenstown-in-one-day thing before and as well as being a slog, much of the scenery is traversed in darkness which is a waste. So we broke the journey with an overnight stop in Methven, located near the Mt Hutt ski field. From our hotel we walked along to the Blue Pub for dinner (across the road from the Brown Pub).

The Rakaia River near Methven

Saturday morning began with a quick soak in the outdoor hot pools – a tad hot to linger for long, but a novel way to start the day. Yesterday’s cloud had cleared to blue skies and we were treated with our first views of the alps. A breakfast stop in Geraldine may have resulted in pie no.2 of the trip…

Between Methven and Geraldine we got our first view of mountains

Along the way are a couple of stunning lake views. Tekapo is a near-compulsory stop for all travellers even if you’ve seen it all before. The glacier-fed Lake Pukaki creeps up quite suddenly and its gorgeousness is rather distracting. Luckily I wasn’t driving.

Being driven round the bend! In the nicest way, with Lake Pukaki unfolding in front of us

Tarras is a very small community made famous in recent years by Shrek the sheep. It is now a thriving wee hub offering a few shops (including beautiful merino garments) and a small Shrek museum. Not much further on is the Lindis Pass, the boundary between North and Central Otago. We remember it well as last time through there we pulled off to turn the car inside out looking for Mike’s wallet.

In the Lindis Pass. A couple of days later snow descended, lots of it, and closed the road

Lake Wakatipu from outside our hotel

We made it to Queenstown mid-afternoon, hoards of people everywhere. TomTom guided us to the hotel and while checking in I made a shocking discovery.

A base for bonspiels and brass monkeys

On our drive through the Maniototo we stopped at one of our favourite spots, the Idaburn Dam. Located near the settlement of Oturehua, the dam is a bit of a year round facility for various endeavours but it’s the winter activities, history and beautiful setting that holds the appeal for us.

The dam is fenced off but the gate isn’t locked so on our occasional visits there we always pop in. This was the first time with so much snow around so we didn’t venture onto the flat land above the dam. The Brass Monkey Motorcycle Rally is held there each June – they got off lightly this year on account of the mild start to winter.

In our not overly suitable footwear we trudged through the fluffy white ground covering to get a closer look at the ice. In winter the dam usually freezes over (to some extent) and in some years the winter is cold enough to create ice thick enough to support activities such as skating and curling. In some years conditions permit the bonspiel to be held. This has been the venue for almost 80 years and the national outdoor curling tournament was most recently held in 2010, 2007 and 2001.

The weathered facilities at the dam hint at the history of ice based activities and beg closer inspection. We wandered around until damp and numb feet made us head back to the car.

The main road and the Central Otago Rail Trail run along the boundary

During bonspiels, curling teams sprawl out across the ice, the St Bathans Range making a stunning backdrop

The ice layer seemed fairly consistent and solid...

...but wasn't solid enough to withstand me!...

...and in fact wasn't solid at all on the far side of the dam. Unless the swan has skates on.

Around the corner further is the dam, originally constructed to irrigate local farms

The main buildings where presumably scores are kept and food is sold

A small locked shed contains rows and rows of skates

A few good relics

One of the things I love about Otago is its history. We’ve explored aspects of this in more detail on previous trips including mining remains and the rail trail. On this trip we only had time to revisit a few favourite places. This is a bit of a random assortment of some of the old stuff we came across. And no I don’t mean us…

Some of the backyard at the Cardrona Hotel

Walking through spectacular landscape created by gold sluicing

Remains of a building in Cromwell that was demolished prior to the flooding of Lake Dunstan

Demolished remains of a primary school on the shores of Lake Dunstan

Suspension bridge on the road into Ophir

Ophir has many original buildings from its days as a mining town

The old railway line was ripped up for the Central Otago Rail Trail - this is a section through the Ida Valley

The famous green Wedderburn railway goods shed with adjacent station and ticketing office

The Moeraki boulders, relics of a kind on the Otago coast

Southern lakes & snowy scapes

Over our last two full days down south we tiki toured through some of our favourite parts of Central Otago before reluctantly pointing the car north.

We started in Wanaka where the day dawned crisp under still blue skies. Seeing the amazing lake views out the window of our motel unit started my trigger finger twitching so I shot out the door for a walk with trusty compact camera to snap a few pictures.

Early morning moon over Lake Wanaka and mountains

Lake Wanaka view from our motel. The marina somewhat spoils the view but I like how the curve matches that of the reflected hills

Both of us were hobbling a little from the previous day’s exercise and happy with the decision to have an indulgent day of sightseeing. After a cafe breakfast and short walk around the shops and lakefront we were off.

Lake Wanaka shore

Not far away, past the flourishing Albertown, we found the small township of Lake Hawea more pleasant than our previous visit there in an icy gale. The lake level seemed low and it was quite a downhill scramble to reach the waterline.

Lake Hawea looking across to the Mt Aspiring National Park

The next driving stint brought us to Cromwell via a picturesque drive along Lake Dunstan and its perfect reflections. We paid a quick visit to Old Cromwell, the part of town that became compromised by the hydro development resulting in the creation of Lake Dunstan. I walked along the lakefront to see the demolished remains of buildings which I hadn’t done before. I love old ruins!

Lake Dunstan looking splendid

Happy travellers beside Lake Dunstan

That night we were catching up with friends for dinner in Queenstown so as we were about to drive through the Bannockburn wine region it seemed a fine idea to make a cellar door purchase. We went to the Mt Difficulty winery. Central O is renowned for pinot noir and white varietals and after the red wine drinker among us did a small tasting, a purchase was duly made.

Along the road a little further is the DOC-managed Bannockburn Sluicing Historic Reserve. We’ll do the longer loop walk another day but did venture in a quarter hour or so to the striking landscape left behind by gold sluicing over 100 years ago. You get an appreciation of how extensive those activities were.

Landscape carved carved by water sluicing. Mt Difficulty winery in the background to the left of Mike's head

The road to Queenstown goes through the Kawarau Gorge, a fascinating place for spotting remains of old miners huts on the opposite riverbank. There is a visitor centre from where you can go exploring which I haven’t done yet. Beyond the Roaring Meg power station we crossed a bridge and suddenly the snow left behind after the storm in the preceding days began to appear. It continued the rest of the way.

The road goes on through the Gibbston Valley, another prominent wine area, and then past the Crown Range Road turnoff that could take us back to Cardrona and Wanaka… but we continued on, detouring into Arrowtown for a late lunch. I did contemplate the bakery but by that time they really only had pies and I was pretty pied out. The flats down by the Arrow River we walked across a few days before were now beautifully white.

The Arrow River next to Arrowtown

In Qtown the roads were clear but there was still loads of snow around. From our very comfy hotel in Fernhill it was a 10 minute drive to the friends in Arthur’s Point, over the Shotover River, where we enjoyed a homecooked meal and swapped photo viewings of our respective trips to Europe. Can’t believe it’s a year ago since ours.

The next day it was time to leave Otago, but not without some meandering along the way. From Queenstown it was back to Cromwell, then taking highway 8 south. We drove past Clyde, the starting point for our rail trail cycling holiday 2 ½ years ago, and stopped briefly at the visitor centre in Alexandra. Always interesting stuff to look through there.

Heading north again along highway 85 we jumped off for the short detour into the very small and quiet Ophir, location of the second coldest recorded temperature in NZ. (Ranfurly, not far away, takes first place.) From there we took some quieter roads through the Ida Valley, looking absolutely stunning with snow and fabulous ranges in all directions.

Driving along Boundary Rd, the subject of one of Grahame Sydney's paintings

Driving through the Ida Valley

The small community of Oturehua is home to the Idaburn Dam, famous for hosting bonspiels if winter conditions permit, and the brass monkey rally each June. I’ll do a separate post on our visit there.

Wedderburn was the next stop, another blink-and-you-miss-it place but famous for the old railway buildings.

We turned off for the short drive to Naseby, keen for lunch and to see the remains of the snow that had cut off the town a couple of days earlier. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, it is a bit surprising that Naseby has the southern hemisphere’s premier indoor curling facility. The Winter Games curling tournament was happening when we passed through but we didn’t have time to linger. Lunch at the Black Forest Cafe was excellent.

Naseby was still buried - easy to see how it got cut off for a couple of days

Huge snow piles on the streets of Naseby

Snow had closed Dansey’s Pass, the rather isolated and unsealed road that we had planned to take. So we headed back to highway 85 and followed that, the snow petering out as we got nearer to the coast and highway 1.

The fabulous Hawkdun Range

Leaving Central and heading for the coast we enjoyed the last few minutes of snow laden landscapes

A couple of hours later we crossed the Waitaki River, putting Otago behind us. It remains my favourite part of NZ. Who knows when it will have that much snow again but hopefully I’ll be down there to enjoy it when it does.

Last day of snowplay

The last couple of days have seen energy levels at their lowest and highest with activities ranging from tummy bugs to heli boarding.

Wednesday was to have been our second day up at Cardrona. However, unbeknownst to us there is a vicious wee bug doing the rounds down here which I would pick up. So Tuesday night was, well, unpleasant. Mike had to suffer through my repeated trips to the bathroom but luckily didn’t get it himself.

The following morning saw a couple of tired people with one especially pathetic person unable to do more than really lie there with body aches and chills. Mike ended up doing an afternoon at Cardrona though it was again very cold with flat light. He had big plans the next day and didn’t want to overdo it.

In true 24-hour bug fashion, by yesterday morning I felt much better. Fortunately, as logistics were a little complicated. We were due to check out of Benbrae and Mike was heading to Qtown for the day and I wasn’t.

Mike had a great opportunity to fulfil a long time goal to go heli boarding. That endeavour is completely beyond me so I made my own more sedate plans. Mike left early with all our gear to meet his group over in Queenstown and I caught a shuttle bus up to Cardrona. The weather has been getting progressively more mild and no chains were required either over the Crown Range Rd or up the mountain.

At Cardrona, where I continued my quiet laps of McDougalls, the conditions were cloudy clearing to blue skies. Crowds were bigger than the other day though at times the lift queues died right back. From the lift there were good views of the Winter Games boardercross event and adventurous people on the half pipe. I had a good day.

So did Mike. They got in eight runs somewhere at the south end of Lake Wakatipu and finished off with a drink at the very swish Hilton. The helicopter diverted at one stage to assist in rescuing a guy (in another heli party elsewhere) who found himself under 2m of snow. He was ok.

I got to Wanaka via snow bus around 5.30pm and parked up beside the lake to wait for Mike returning from Qtown. There are far worse places in the world to be waiting! Gorgeous.

The day rounded out with pizza from well known local eatery The Cow. While chowing down on melted cheese (sorry food allergies) and whatnot we decided to enjoy some local sights the next day rather than head back to the mountain. The appeal of Otago goes way beyond snow!

About to embark on our separate missions

Waiting for my ride up to Cardrona

At the bottom of McDougalls. Another cloudy day

Fence at the top of McDougalls

The cloud did eventually clear

Mike was among two groups sharing a heli

Heading down to their lunch stop

Not bad views over Lake Wanaka

Powder day

The mountain opened today and though conditions were going to be a bit dodgy, the lure of fresh powder was more than Mike could bear. So we were off… after the not-insignificant tasks of getting clothes and kit together, de-icing the car windows, putting chains on etc. Mike did a great job of the latter, under my excellent supervision.

There was a bit of new snow overnight but not bucketloads. Wellington is still being hammered by the southerly storm and I’m a bit sorry to be missing it actually. I feel a bit short changed where we are as the Cardrona Valley seems to have gotten off relatively lightly. Maybe I’ve just hexed it by saying that?

At the bottom of the mountain access road there was a car jam as chains were fitted, so with that task already done we blew right by. As much as you can blow by with chains on.

The first few k’s were ok but higher up the road steepened, the wind got a bit ferocious and the road more icy. Still, Mike’s 2×4 wagon held its own amongst the convoy of 4x4s. Though when the road got quite slippy you can betcha I had a firm grip on the door handle and was relieved when eventually we arrived at the top.

At that stage of the day only a couple of runs were open and they were selling lift passes at the half day rate given the rest of the mountain was in doubt. We bought our passes and I bought a lesson and then Mike literally headed for the hills.

Having not been to the mountain for a couple of years and only reaching the status of a vaguely competent novice I wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence. My lesson was early afternoon so I filled the time just puttering around the beginners’ slope.

I booked a private lesson this time, only an hour mind you given the price of these things, in an effort to kick start my re-acquaintance with the snowboard. My instructor Jesse was from Lake Louise so I mentioned my brief visit there a few years ago. He was good value and maybe I didn’t suck as much as I thought I might, so I was feeling pretty good about things at the end of the hour. At least to the point of continuing to putter around McDougalls on my own.

But after a few more runs my legs started to fatigue – unfortunately I let work get in the way of fitness leading up to the trip – so I pulled the pin. And happily waited in the bar for Mike to finish up, which he was in no hurry to do on account of the insane (quote/unquote Mike) conditions over at Captains.

The weather had started to clear by then but earlier in the day snow fell quite consistently and the wind whipped through, causing exposed hair and woolly hats to grow ice coatings. The snow and the sky were the same colour and you could not really discern the terrain. Still the snow was nice and soft should one have cause to involuntarily eat it. Happily I didn’t come a cropper too spectacularly.

We headed back to the resort at about 4pm and made a beeline for the jacuzzi and the refreshments. 🙂

The convoy heading up the hill

Higher up the wind was obvious to see. The roads are nice and wide which makes it all feel a bit safer

Morning rituals underway in the carpark

Mike good to go

Murky conditions for much of the day made very bearable by the powder snow

Mike visited briefly but I'm too much of a handbrake for him to stay for long! Hat and hair looking very white by this stage

View of the valley on the way back down

Snowed in and loving it

Right now we’re in the Cardrona Valley on day four of our winter break. I had been recounting my North America trip of a few years ago with a goal to finish before heading down south. However that master plan was scuttled by work pressures so I’ll get back to it later. There are more immediate travel tales to get on with!

We should have been up at the ski field today but it was closed on account of the dose of Antarctic weather currently sweeping the country. Amazingly there’s also been snow at home in Wellington and even in Auckland. Unheard of.

Cardrona is a teeny place and it was a bit of a mission getting here yesterday, which I’ll post separately about. We were planning to stay in Wanaka but a special deal came up at the Benbrae Resort, a fantastic place about three minutes walk from the iconic Cardrona Hotel. A little further along are the access roads to Cardrona ski field and Snow Park / Snow Farm. Since we were planning to spend most mountain time up at the Cardrona fields, staying close by in the valley made sense.

The scenery is stunning and white and it is a real novelty to stay somewhere like this. I’ve grown rather fond of the perfectly temperatured outdoor hot tub, especially being submerged in it while the snow is falling. We’re fully self contained but will also make good use of the pizza bar here at the resort and the food and drinks down at the hotel. We may have been down there a couple of times already…

Some others staying here have had travel plans mucked up by the weather given roads and airports have been closed. It is nice to not have any of those pressures; still, with snowboard gear not being used cabin fever may yet set in!

The snow status in the resort this morning!

The Cardrona Hotel

How cool is that! My mocha from the Cardrona Hotel this morning.

Backyard at the Cardrona Hotel

The awesome outside fireplace

Walking through a new subdivision - Cardrona could look very different in a few years

The Cardrona River. Brrrr.

How to combat bitterly cold wind on the morning walkabout

Not standard attire, unless one is heading for the hot tub

The place to be on a cold snowy day!

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