Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ski Goddess' Road Trip Part 2

After a weekend at Akaroa the ski goddess moves on down the South Island to Mackenzie Country. This is up on a high plateau, taking in wild mountain scenery and vast brown plains. It has beautiful glacial lakes and is home to NZ's highest mountain: Aoraki or Mt Cook.

The ski goddess spent most time up on the ski fields of Round Hill and Mt Dobson, both family friendly fields with not too demanding terrain for beginners and intermediates. Round Hill, in particular, caters for all levels, because right next to the cruisy slopes of the main part of the resort is a kick arse huge mountain with a rope tow going vertically up it. Ski Goddess wimped out on trying the nutcracker on her first day there - a mixture of poor weather and visibility and just plain cowardice - hoping to get back again later in the week. That didn't eventuate....

Dobson was more to my liking, with some nice ungroomed slopes higher up the slopes where the beginners dared not venture. It was lacking full snow cover however, resulting in a few nasty rocky surprises to avoid.

After three days skiing it was time to take advantage of the beautiful scenery and do the trek up to Mt John, an observatory overlooking Lake Tekapo, where the night skies aren't polluted by too much light and the frequency of cloud free nights is high. Having timed my visit with some very cloudy nights and a full moon, I failed to take advantage of this aspect of Tekapo, but the daytime views were still worth the effort.

Thursday afternoon I received a phone call. The weather window looked good for a trip on the Tasman Glacier for Friday. Plans for braving the Round Hill nutcracker were shelved, and as I watched the rain coming down Thursday night I hoped Friday would be a bluebird day.

Will I get to knock one more experience off the bucket list?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Windy and Rainy in Akaroa

Banks Peninsular, just south east of Christchurch, is the remains of a couple of volcanoes, their craters making up the harbours of Akaroa and Lyttleton. It's scenic as. But not so pretty when the clouds hang down low, the wind blows and the snow begins falling on the peaks. What was to be a couple of days of rest and wandering in the hills ended up mostly indoors and out of the weather.

I did manage a stroll or two on Saturday, with an obligatory lunch at Akaroa Fish and Chip shop, reputed to be one of the best in NZ. Yep, they lived up to their reputation.

So here's a wee photo tour around Akaroa Harbour.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Ski Goddess' Road Trip Part 1

Welcome to the ski goddess's guide to the club ski fields.

South Island New Zealand is home to not only a bunch of big ski resorts, but some small commercial fields and some even smaller club fields. Club fields are open to the public, frequently have on snow accommodation but rarely have chairlifts. It's usually either T-bars or rope tows, using the aptly named nutcracker, to get you to the top of the hill. But there's no crowds, no queues and the slopes are not churned up. Meaning skiing powder all day long!

I purchased a midweek Chill pass, which allows me access to 11 club and small commercial fields between Monday and Friday. All I have to do is turn up to a ski field of my choice, pick up a day pass and I'm away. Longest queue of the day: picking up the day pass!

Day one was spent at Porters, the closest ski field to Christchurch. I only had a half day here due to the afore-mentioned snow chain debacle, but with heavy cloud and poor visibility only clearing in the afternoon it ended up the better part of the day on the mountain.

Porters has 3 T-bars and a platter tow for the learners' area. The first tow takes you up to some pretty easy groomed runs down to the carpark. To get you into off-piste terrain you need to head up T2, where you have a few more options, but the real stuff happens off the third T-bar which takes you up to the top of the mountain and some lovely views. T3 wasn't open on my first day, which was also Porters' opening day, and my legs weren't up to the task of skiing difficult off-piste yet, so some sweet turns in Julian's Bowl sufficed.

Day 2 saw me taking the snowy drive to Mt Cheeseman. Definitely need chains to get up this mountain.

Cheeseman is a wonderful club field. Friendly locals, absolutely no queues, you have to load yourself onto the T-bars (there are two), and the cafe sells great cheap food. Oh, and awesome dry powder on the shady Cockayne bowl. I went up and down that run until my poor legs gave out and I was falling over on the groomers. Which meant it was time to go home!
View from the Mt Cheeseman carpark
Day 3 saw me back at Porters for another bluebird day and an opportunity to check out the terrain off T3. And to enjoy the awesome views.

There's a massive traverse track that allows you access to a huge amount of terrain, much of it open bowls full of very nice snow. The sunny sides had some icy crusts on them, but as they softened there were some nice runs to be had as my legs began to do what they are supposed to do.

My final run of the day was the traverse right across to Bluff Face. The descent is straight down, the snow was soft and dry and I made it top to bottom with only two rest stops. To give you some idea how long this run is, here's a couple of photos. The small speck in the middle of the first photo is a skier.
Can you see the traverse track right up the top?
Zoomed in shot of the top half of Bluff Face, see the boarder lower left?

My thighs were burning, I'd conquered a long steep run, and I had a date with the Mountain Designs outlet store in Christchurch for a new pair of snow boots.

We'll finish off with the footage of my Bluff Face descent. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Ski Goddess has landed

What a mammoth effort it is to make the trip across the ditch. Not a simple affair like the east coasters, it's a good 36 hour trip from regional WA.

First a bus ride down to Perth. This is a nice relaxing way to begin the long haul trip, and saves a considerable amount of money. Short regional flights are expensive! This is the second year that I've taken the trip, and it really is a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

By mid afternoon I find myself in Perth. Having failed to catch up with my mate Naomi last week (some labouring woman got in the way of a leisurely lunch) and with the kids on school holidays, we spent a few hours having fun together before the inevitable schlepp out to the airport for the red eye to Sydney.

An eyepad and earplugs, add a neck cushion, and an overnight flight isn't too bad. Ignore stupid food offers (who eats at 2am??) and get some snooze time. Only woke up once!

In Sydney the changeover was a little hectic. Not only did we have to wait to disembark due to a plane still in our landing bay, but we had to transfer to the international terminal, all in less than an hour. Turns out that half the passengers on the Christchurch flight had also transferred with me from Perth meaning we all made a mad rush to board, then had a half hour delay whilst our baggage caught up. So all my worries were allayed, and the luggage arrived intact.

Next step was picking up the cheapy hire car, complete with snow chains and roof racks, then supermarket shopping and an hour drive up the Arthurs Pass road to Springfield and my accommodation for the next 3 days. A quick dinner and crash for the night. Jet lagged and down for the count!

This morning the ski goddess actually feels human. I even got up early, cooked porridge and headed off  early up the hill. An attempt to fit the snow chains became an impossible task and back down the mountain went I. Back at the hire car place the chains fitted perfectly - guess who's a little red faced now? Back up the mountain again, now 3 hours behind schedule. A stop at Sheffield for their "famous pies" then up the snow covered road to Porters for my first day back on skis. And yes, the chains fit fine! Duh!!!

Porters was cloud enshrouded with poor visibility, something this ski goddess finds rather challenging. At the bottom of my first run I did the whole dizzy spell fall over routine then hopped back on the T-Bar for another go. After a few runs the cloud began to clear. Luckily this coincided with my legs getting back into gear, so I braved the second T-Bar up a little higher. I found a lovely little bowl full of nice snow, even carved a few freshlines given today was Porters opening day and discovered I can still ski. A little wobbly, a little weakly, but still with a little style.

And then I called it a day!

So just a short sweet 2.5 hours on the legs today - they need a little getting used to this ski palaver.

But tomorrow the sun comes out and I'll be able to see where I'm going. Wonder where I'll go.....

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

More on the wall

The epic saga of my wall continues. I've done all I can for now, as I'm soon off to New Zealand for 3 months, meaning garden activities are all in maintenance and clean up mode prior to leaving.

The second tier structure is up, including a massive set of steps, 8 in total, from the lower terrace up to the level near the chook enclosure. It's hard to appreciate the grandeur of these steps at present, but once they are fleshed out with rocks, cans, bottles and chicken wire - then rendered - they'll be magnificent. That's a job for later in the year, or even next year. I'm still in the process of collecting enough cans and bottles for the job, so a bit more time for friends to consume liquid refreshments is fine by me!

I've incorporated another level for the water feature/ waterfall which again can't be appreciated whilst in it's basic structural form. I hope to find a nice flat rock that I can use as a lip for the top waterfall. Once I've cleared more vegetation above - more work for the chainsaw - I plan on a babbling stream type arrangement. Why not dream grand hey?

The final stretch over to the right is causing me a bit of a dilemma as there's a large black wattle in the way. My current plan, which is a lot of work, is to build the wall behind it. But this may just destabilise the wattle's roots and bring it down, which isn't a problem, as it will need to go at some stage anyway. It's a job I'll leave to ponder on my return.

I've begun to dig the foundations for the pizza oven, but again, won't be pouring concrete till my return.  There's a lot more work to be done in this backyard before it's ready for entertaining.

Meanwhile, in the vege patch, I've got winter greens coming on as well as lots of tomatoes ripening. Lettuce is everywhere and I've even managed to propagate some coriander. The heat here tends to force coriander to bolt to seed pretty quickly, so it's very much a winter crop in this climate.

Eggplant have begun to fruit and the broccoli are just beginning to set flower, so my house sitter will be reaping the rewards not me. Lucky her. Never mind, I shall be planting a few seeds just before I leave, for her to nurture till my return.

We've at last had some decent rainfall, so I'm topping up the extra water tanks to get maximal storage for the summer. Last year I did the same thing: filling the two extra tanks and then everything else works straight off the main tank, the one connected to the downpipes as well as the pump and plumbing. Keeping it simple for my house sitter so the garden gets watered!

Ah yes, packing for the trip.... I'm taking the SLR this year, which means a bit more paraphernalia to schlepp around, but as I'm hiring a car for the first couple of weeks down to Wanaka it won't be much of a hassle. Travelling with ski gear puts you over the 23kg airline luggage limit pretty quickly, so with an extra 23kg purchased, and transport sorted, why not pack a little more? But the real reason I want to take the SLR is I'm hoping to get some Aurora Australis shots at Tekapo. And to muck around with a bit of time lapse photography. July should have some clear night skies and it's a peak year for solar flares, so here's hoping.

One week to go!!