Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lambie goes on a road trip

Meet Lambie. Born in China and adopted by a storekeeper in Arrowtown NZ, she was given away as an unwanted item to anyone who spent more than $50 in said storekeeper's tacky little souvenir shop. One day a German lass came into the store, bought some presents for family back home, spent the requisite amount but she didn't want Lambie either.

Luckily for Lambie, that German lass had just been to Paradise, and her road trip companion was quite happy to give Lambie a new home. Even if it was just on a bed at a backpackers in Wanaka. But Lambie knew there would be a day, a day when her new owner would go on another road trip, and she'd be joining her. Well that day at last dawned and Lambie took her seat for a grand adventure.

Lambie had to sit in the back, squished between bags, because there was a chap from England, let's call him Nigel, who also came along for the ride. But Lambie didn't mind, she was going places she'd never been before. No longer was she unwanted stock in a crappy backwater near Queenstown, she was going to see the world!

The jolly trio headed out of Wanaka one bright sunny Monday and headed north, over the Lindis Pass, past the Ohau turnoff, then turned left to Mt Cook. Nigel will point it out for you.

Once at Mt Cook village, the ski goddess enquired about Heliski trips, Nigel learnt all about the place in the museum, and Lambie just sat around looking pretty and working on her tan.

A short walk up a small ridge afforded a good view of the Tasman glacier lake and terminal moraine.

The next morning the gang headed up the Hooker valley,

crossed 3 swing bridges,

heard and saw a big avalanche as a lump of ice fell off a glacial ledge,

and arrived at the base of Hooker glacier.

Then on the way back Lambie almost got taken by a rare New Zealand falcon!

Well that's all for today folks!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ski Goddess leaves Wanaka

After almost 2 months in Wanaka skiing at Treble Cone it was time to leave town. But not before a sneaky day trip to Ohau to ski 20-30cm of fresh powder on a near empty hill.

Ohau is only a 1-2 hour trip from Wanaka, so totally doable as a day trip, or alternatively there's the Lodge at the bottom of the mountain by the lake if you want to stay over. There's also a backpackers on the highway near Omarama for those with a limited budget.

After no snow top ups for almost a month, the gods began to produce the treasured white stuff mid August in small but significant amounts. But the weather remained warm and the trees started producing leaves and blossoms and it looked like Spring was on its way. Then in the second week of September a huge cold front came through and we were entertained by an impressive all day lightning and thunder storm. Further north destructive winds tore down trees and disrupted electricity supplies for almost a week. And the road to Haast and the West Coast got knocked out by a massive rock slide which closed the road completely for nine days, and claimed the lives of a Canadian couple driving through the storm on Tuesday night.

After my Sofa Ski School this year I continued to improve my off piste skiing technique by skiing a lot with local friends Catherine and Philip Jay who not only introduced me to every gnarly run on the mountain, but also took me down the Motatapu Chutes, Hollywood Bowl and Sunset Boulevard, all the way to the bottom creek and the inevitable walk back out. Then another day I joined "no hat, no poles" Rachel down Hollywood Bowl before taking the precarious traverse back out. I bottled at some point (traverses actually freak me out a lot more than skiing down a steep narrow chute), bailed from the traverse and took one of the chutes (10 I think) down a little further then traversed and walked out. Can't quite see the point in traversing when the snow is so good that you're missing out on some awesome skiing just to avoid a bit of a walk. Mmmm... I think I'm ready for backcountry touring.

Suffice to say, I can now confidently and safely ski the entire mountain, including the Motatapu chutes. This is a massive achievement for me, but it's taken alot of hard work, money and time to get to this point. So on my last couple of days I took the GoPro out and did some filming. Including my final afternoon when I went skiing for 2 hours with ski instructor and friend Heidi Kynoch and she filmed me as we skiied the stashes of soft spring snow. Stay tuned for the edited footage but it may be a few weeks coming.

This time I'm driving a Mazda Demio, a much classier vehicle than the Nissan Sunny, and with better fuel economy. I had to schlepp over to Queenstown to pick it up, and took the opportunity to feed a massive hangover with a Fergburger for breakfast! Of course I had a Red Star burger for dinner!! Two burgers in one day is the perfect way to categorically state that Red Star is DEFINITELY BETTER!! So there...

Last Monday I left Wanaka and headed up the Lindis Pass. On a road trip with travel companions. That's the next adventure...

Friday, September 20, 2013

A bluebird day for flying and cruising

Sunday was a beautiful sunny day without a cloud in the sky. After a few days skiing in a row I tend to get a bit jaded and need a change of scenery, so had a little think about alternate activities. I'd long thought I ought to get down to see Milford Sound, but it's a long road trip, albeit very scenic. It's one road in and out, takes about 5 hours from Queenstown each way and I didn't have a car. But I could take a bus!

Alternatively I could reduce my travel time considerably by taking a scenic flight, and choosing to fly from Wanaka not only saves time but has a much more scenic flight path than flying from Queenstown. Sure I miss out on driving through lush Fiordland scenery, but I get snow capped peaks, massive glaciers, vast coastlines and a flight through the Sound itself. And very reasonably priced too.

Having missed the morning flight I went up the mountain instead, enjoying a bluebird day at TC, spring skiing with friends followed by a few cold beers on the verandah in the sun, and watching local paragliders pass by. Then with the weather looking just as good for Monday, I booked my seat.

Monday dawned as spectacular as the day before. Blue skies, no wind and just one curious cloud that looked spookily like my transport for the day...

The friendly chaps at Southern Lakes Air picked me up from my accommodation and drove me out to the airport. Just 2 other people joined us for the trip.

Our young pilot loaded us in the plane and we took off over Lake Wanaka and headed over the Buchanan Mountains (where I heliskiied last year), tipped our hats at Mt Aspiring, then headed west.

Crossing the Southern Alps in a small plane is spectacular. Snow covered mountains and countless glaciers, narrow valleys with winding braided rivers, all with commentary. Highly recommended. We flew directly over the Olivine Plateau, one of the most isolated regions in the South Island, with no DOC tracks, access roads or huts, just a huge glacial plateau in the middle of the wilderness. Apparently one Xmas the pilot flew over to see a naked man standing in the middle of the ice, a lone tent encampment his only shelter!

Soon we were flying over glacial lakes and had arrived on the West Coast. Huge cliffs and surf battered bays extend in both directions as we head south to the entrance to Milford Sound. Milford's entrance is quite narrow, in fact Captain Cook missed it on two successive visits mapping the West Coast and it was only discovered 50 years later by seal hunters sheltering from a storm. There's your historical trivia fact for today!!

The flight through the Sound itself is a highlight of the trip, as you soar between walls hundreds of metres tall, past waterfalls thundering down from perched valleys, then land at the end of the fiord and park up with Mitre Peak filling our view.

The boat trip seems a bit of an anticlimax after the beauty of the Alps, but with only six passengers we head out for a 2 hour cruise up the Sound to the entrance and return. Seeing the huge cliffs soaring vertically above you, getting very close to the waterfalls, and spying a little local wildlife sunning on the rocks all make for a very enjoyable time. And the weather is superb, not a common occurrence down here where the average yearly rainfall is over 5m!!

We walk back to the plane, giving us a chance to check out the rampant greenery, see a Weka, and snap a few more shots of Mitre Peak. Then back into our flying chariot and up into the skies again for the return to Wanaka.

The return route flies over the Hollyford Valley and the region walked if you do the Routeburn Track, before skirting the top of Lake Wakatipu near Glenorchy. Paradise looks mighty more inviting on a sunny day! Then we traverse more snowy peaks, check out the Treble Cone skifield and fly back down Lake Wanaka to the airport.

What a glorious day, and now it's time for lunch!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Conquering Roy

I have come to Wanaka for 6 years in a row. Admittedly I only came for 2 weeks the first two times, and in 2010 I broke my arm, but I have no excuses for 2010 onwards.

This year, I donned the trainers, packed the daypack and headed up the hill. The long, winding, switchback track that is the climb to Mt Roy.

There are two reasons to climb Mt Roy: for the exercise and for the view. If there was a gondola option, I'd take that.

But if you're a Wanaka local you do Mt Roy as a training exercise for your next mountain race. I counted no less than 5 hardy souls doing the up and down run, god love em!

Aside from the fact that the walk is steep the entire way, with no respite at all in the gradient, it offers spectacular views over the lake and surrounding landscape.

 A little snow up the top made for some careful stepping, and the view at the top made the long slog so worth the effort.

And as for the walk back down: no comment!!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Pokemon, Pikachu and the Halfpipe

Every 2 years New Zealand hosts the Winter Games, an international event involving skiing, snowboarding, racing and freestyle, as well as some adaptive sports events. With the Winter Olympics in Sochi only just around the corner, most of the World's top snowsports athletes were in town for a few weeks.

A regular visitor to Wanaka each year, and one of my room mates, is Shuri Terada, who ranks up in the top 25 for Halfpipe skiing. She's a really committed athlete who spends her whole year training and competing, dividing her time between here at Cardrona, home in Japan, or at Breckenridge in Colorado, USA. She's also a really beautiful and lovely person, and someone who's been my friend for a few years now.

So on Halfpipe qualifying day, a troupe from Wanaka Bakpaka made a Japanese flag from an old towel and blanket and hitched up the mountain to Cardrona to act as the official Terada support team!

An overcast day with less than perfect visibility meant a bit of a delay in proceedings, so we watched the boys finish from the warmth of the Noodle Bar before heading up the hill to the Halfpipe grandstand. We didn't have long to wait before the girls began their practice rounds, and then the sweepers came through to prepare the Pipe for the event.

Halfpipe takes balls. Unlike most freestyle disciplines where the jumps are landed onto a gentle gradient and you usually have a little space to line up for the next one, half pipe jumps are all off a kicker, the landings are steep, and you have to land clean and link immediately into the next jump. It is amazing to watch and almost like ballet.

Not long after we took our seats for the event, Pokemon character Pikachu arrived to cheer on team Terada. And didn't the crowd get excited then!

Shuri did really well, though had a fall doing a huge move on her second run, so came 14th, failing to qualify for the finals. But it was an awesome effort, we all had a great day, and Shuri remains our hero.
Here's Shuri's blog for her take on the day.

We'll keep cheering for you Shuri xx