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Posts tagged ‘snow’

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.

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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

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!

A quick peek at Alaska

We awoke to snow. It was late September by now and easy to see why the town closes its tourism operations at this time. The power went off – luckily when it didn’t matter.

The plan was to head back to Whitehorse and we had a couple of options. Return the way we had come, or go the longer way via the bottom of Alaska. The snow was a mildly worrying factor but we were both keen for the experience and so opted for a road called the Top of the World Highway.

We shipped out – which wasn’t too far from the truth as we had to catch a ferry across the river. First we scurried around for some final photos.

The ferry was a humble but practical affair and its operator warned us about the highway being slippery. Which made us think: were we doing the right thing?

We pressed on – albeit in cautious nana fashion.

Conditions determined that we didn’t veer off the road for photos on this day, rather just stop on the road. We saw only a couple other vehicles on the 127km long highway.

The landscape was amazing.

We reached the US border early afternoon and passed through the small customs post, staffed by two officers. Interesting job, stuck in the middle of nowhere like that.

Then we were in Alaska.

A teeny town off the highway called Chicken was closed but a highway service centre was open. Several hours of high concentration at the wheel was quite tiring and a pit stop was well earned!

And we still had a few hours to go.

Highway through the icefields

Jasper was next on the destination agenda. From Lake Louise it is about 230km north via the Icefields Parkway, a highway through the Banff and Jasper national parks. To extract maximum value I booked another bus tour to get me there.

Being a tour there were several stops along the way and being eager tourists we filed off the bus each time to photograph the awesomeness. Crowfoot Mountain was one such stop.

Peyto Lake with its luxurious milky looking waters was another.

The lake viewing platform was down a sloping path which ice had made quite treacherous.

The main stop of the day was on the Columbia Icefields to see the Athabasca Glacier. Unfortunately as with many/most glaciers in the world today, this one is receding at an alarming rate so I’m glad I saw it when I had the opportunity. This is the view from the visitor centre. You can see from the moraine that the retreating glacier has left behind that it used to be substantially bigger.

From here we boarded a bus and travelled a short distance before transferring to purpose built vehicles that would take us onto the glacier. There we could walk around, albeit in a carefully marked off area.

It looks nice and peaceful… though in the other direction, and with this happening several times each day, it is easy to see why this is the most visited glacier in North America.

We got to Jasper early evening and I began my next hostelling adventure… a shared 30 bed dorm!

Snowy trail to the Plain of Six Glaciers

From Banff I booked a shuttle for the 40 minute drive over to Lake Louise, where I was to stay for one night. Specifically this was at a hostel in Lake Louise village, about 5km from the lake.

The weather had turned drizzly but I had lots of walking planned so I pressed on. I caught a taxi up to the lake to find a completely different landscape to the one experienced the previous day, when we stopped at the lake during a bus tour. Drizzle down in the village translated to snow up at the lake and it was amazing to see.

There is a big chateau at the lake and I lunched in the cafe before setting out on the 5.5km hike up to the Plain of Six Glaciers. While visibility was clearly going to be an issue, the appeal of visiting the teahouse at the end of the trail was an irresistible pull.

The first 2km was getting to the other end of the lake. This is from the far side looking back to the chateau:

The trail then started to ascend – and I began to realise that my everyday travelling boots were not really up to the task of today’s challenge. Some patches were just slushy and relatively easy going. Not to mention spectacular.

However, the higher I got the icier it got. My pace slowed as I navigated some of the trickier parts. It snowed all the way and it was impossible to really know what the scenery was actually like.

Eventually I made it to the teahouse, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Quite a small place it was nonetheless full with other hikers seeking refreshments. Despite the effort to get there I only stayed for a few minutes due to being concerned the trail would ice up more. Still I enjoyed those few minutes sitting on the deck.

Just beyond the teahouse there are apparently views of six glaciers, but on this day that was going to be a redundant mission. So I headed back. The descent turned out to be relatively quick and easy. Once back at the chateau I decided to take another trail through the woods to get back down to the village. Nearing the bottom I belatedly noticed a sign cautioning trampers about bears…

For that reason, and the fact I was cold and soaked, I was glad when I finally made it back to the hostel!

Another snowy southern sojourn

While I take a break from study and indulge in one of my favourite tv shows I thought I could manage a bit of multi-tasking.

This time it’s our Wanaka trip from 2009.

We flew to Christchurch and drove south. Lake Tekapo is a great wee stop-off for lake views and the wee stone church.

We stopped overnight at Lake Ohau (hiding behind the cloud).

The road south took us over the Lindis Pass…

…and via the Crown Range Road between Queenstown and Wanaka, which is not complete without a stop off at the iconic Cardrona Hotel.

We based ourselves in Wanaka and made the most of the gorgeousness.

This was my third year of snowboarding (noting that a season for me consists of about four days) and this was shall we say not an unfamiliar pose… occasionally a little more spectacular 🙂

A night in Queenstown rounded out the trip before flying home.

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