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New Zealand: Sept 10-25 2007 (warning: long...)

post #1 of 33
Thread Starter 
Free of immediate family obligations for the first time in 20+ years, cloudpeak and I decided to catch the last bits of winter in NZ. So off we went for two weeks. Every single day was great. The trip can only be described as a celebration of life and time together and friends and good company and nature and the wonder of it all. And some pretty decent skiing, wine, beer and food too .

I decided to include the "non-skiing" stuff due to its outdoors orientation - which IMO makes it sort of skiing related. It'd be just plain wrong to head over to NZ and never take your eyes off the ski slopes.

We flew into Christchurch, grabbed our car and headed out toward Aoraki/Mt Cook. We stopped for a delightful lunch at the Old Library Cafe in Fairlie. We then spent our first two non "on the road" days in Aoraki/Mt Cook. The first day we hiked to Hooker Lake. Kind of a standard that everyone seems to do, but well worth it.

We'd planned to do a short hike the second day. Maybe Kea Point or one of the easy Tasman Glacier hikes - and then head for Wanaka. Instead we we said "what the heck", took Julie's suggestion and looked into "skiing" the Tasman with Alpine Guides. The reason for the quotes is that most of it is super low angle - but it became clear you don't do this trip if skiing the steeps is all you are after. On a lark we booked it despite the weather being questionable. At 7:30 AM we got a thumbs up and the day just got better from there. Our guide Trevor rocked.

Icebergs in the lake at the base of the glacier.

A photo op as we unload the plane.

Not for the last time, we note that your sense of scale and proportion just does not comprehend things correctly here. The place is big. The departing plane has tons of room.

Did I mention the place is big?

OK, this is getting to be way cool.

Now it is exceeding the cool-o-meter's range...

Like I said, it is mostly pretty low angle. So what...

Before heading up for lap #2, the pilot kept complaining about some big surfaces that had unbalanced the the plane the first time around

We're going down there?

It's not so bad - plenty of room to avoid the huge drop offs behind and in front of you.

Cloudpeak soaking it up!

Guide Trevor points the way. He rocks.

It'll make your head explode. Really.

For a good time on the Tasman, call Trevor & co. at http://www.skithetasman.co.nz If you can ski at all, you can do this. Except for a little optional (by group consensus) billygoating, the trip was really easy skiing. Nothing steep - mostly what would be rated green or easy blue most places. On our trip, we had great snow. Even the billygoating was pretty easy - 5 minutes, give or take, of postholing and a few rounds of sidestepping. Based on this trip, I'd also be up for doing heliskiing in that area with Alpine Guides.
post #2 of 33
Thread Starter 
After wrapping up the Tasman Glacier trip in the afternoon, we hopped in the car headed for Wanaka. We stayed at Te Wanaka Lodge , a wonderful B&B. This was my second time staying there. Proprietors Andy & Graeme Oxley, and Karen, and the rest of the folks there run a pretty special place. Even cloudpeak, who usually dislikes B&Bs gives it a big thumbs up. It is conveniently located in town, charming and just plain friendly. The common areas are inviting and comfortable. Graeme and Andy are both ski fanatics, so things tend to work well there for skiers. They are knowledgeable about all the local ski hills and the bc scene. Naturally, much of their winter clientele is made up skiers of all abilities and nationalities, so the company tends to be compatible and interesting. The ski storage and drying area is convenient. You can walk to everything in town. Highly recommended.

While we've never even been there, some long time friends are big fans of the Riverrun outside of town - and are friends with proprietors John and Meg. When we mentioned this to Graeme and Andy, they gave a thumbs up to Meg and John, and their establishment. If you prefer the quiet "out in the country" sort of thing, check them out.

Our first day in Wanaka we headed up to Cardrona. Every picture tells a story. This one during a lower white out moment summed up the day.

End of story.

Friday we opted a laid back day in advance of a bunch of weekend skiing. We puttered around Wanaka.

The Outlet Track makes for a nice walk or run.

I liked the local navigational aid....

A glance at the Clutha, for you fishing peeps. Yes that's a fish...

That night Julie rolled into town for some weekend skiing. Sort of spur of the moment, we pitched an alternative to spending Saturday at Treble Cone. The result was probably the world's shortest heliski trip...

Despite a crystal clear dawn, some weather was possibly rolling in and we were warned that either the guides or the pilot might call it. But...since they were going to fly to check it out, we loaded up just in case we got a thumbs up.

Air Bob spins it up...

When we got to the rim of this saddle, Bob, our pilot, and Whitney, our guide, looked at each other and it was clear it was a no-go. We faced a wall of clouds flowing into the mountains and lots of obvious slide activity in the areas that were still clear. Any time a pilot chooses not to fly, or a guide not to guide - they won't hear a peep from me...

Ten minutes later it was lunch time in the state of the art combo sheep paddock/heli-port.

End of heliski trip.

The day was not a loss though. Air Bob was mostly heading toward Treble Cone, so it was time to hitch a ride and do a rock star arrival at TC.

Bob spins it up again...

Looking toward Wanaka on our way to TC. None of us thought to shoot our landing in the parking lot. DOH!

We spent that afternoon and the next day at TC. We headed to Saddle Basin and were greeted by a group of Keas, the world's only alpine parrot. If Raven is the Trickster out our way, Keas are his close cousins from the South. Smart and mischievous are both understatements. They kept an eye on us whenever we were in the mountains. And yes, it is weird to watch parrots playing in the snow.

Julie on her home turf.

Julie and cloudpeak posing with their guardian Keas in the background.

TC has lots of natural half pipe type gullies. For spring skiing there, I think it helps if you like this sort of thing.

The Keas can be quite dignified.

But don't often bother They need lots of fat in their diets and cream seems a favorite if left unattended for even a moment.

Sunday afternoon, Julie headed for home due to non-moveable work obligations. Everyone makes mistakes! We, on the other hand, kept our names on the heli call list...
post #3 of 33
Thread Starter 
Monday morning we got a call from Harris Mountain Heliski. This time it was a definite go. First time actually doing the heliski thing...

Thank you for flying Air Nigel. Where would you like to ski today?

Our guide Whitney chatting with cloudpeak and Andy.

Somehow cloudpeak managed to cope with the crowds.

Andy heading for the "trees". A big tussock will make it up to your knees.

The Keas arrived to assert their role as quardians of the mountains.

Cloudpeak working through even more challenging crowds.

Aspect is everything.

Graeme frees the heel.

The day just kept giving.

Kiwi "tree skiing"

The Fellowship sets off in search of a magic flat place.

Cloudpeak and Andy waiting for a ride while Graeme does the strap thing...


Harris Mountain Heliski was great. They seem to have earned an incredibly unanimous positive reputation in all dimensions. As far as I can tell, it is deserved. The guides are all very experienced & on the ball. Whitney was a great guide. As was Jeff on our second trip (read on...). The other guides we saw in action were also impressive. The pilots were great. The weather can be fickle. HMH lets you know how things are looking the night before and then early the morning of. One more example of why it pays to be "nimble" with respect to itineraries. Being able to go with the flow when the weather changes is a good thing. While the heliskiing not cheap, it is cheaper than I remember posted U.S. rates being. We felt it was a great deal.
post #4 of 33
Thread Starter 
Unsure of what the weather would bring, we waited until the next morning to decide what to do. A good window for flying opened up, so we booked with Southern Alps Air and an hour later we were off to Milford Sound. The place speaks for itself. If you are ever within a few thousand miles, make some time to check it out.

Southern Alps did a fine job - and the other two main operators in Wanaka have very good reputations as well.

Worth noting though - a couple of years ago, I did a similar thing from Hokitika with Wilderness Wings. If you end up in the Westlands, don't hesitate to fly with Murray. Your trip will be a bit less regimented than with the bigger operations in Wanaka and Queenstown.

Another day. Another set of choices. Over breakfast, we kicked around our options and decided 1) to stay in Wanaka a couple more days and skip our trip leg to the south and 2) to hike to the the Rob Roy glacier that day.

The hike starts in sheep grazing country down in the Matukituki Valley, but around the corner rises reasonably fast to the right.

We arrived at the glacier literally moments after hearing a seriously big avalanche let loose. Rushing around the corner we could still see ribbons of snow running and a huge cloud of snow and mist drifting across the valley.

Cloudpeak enjoying some afternoon avalanche watching at the Rob Roy. Not too shabby...

A glance to the left.

A glance to the right.

"You may pass, but I am watching..."

One of a million great moments...

As we returned to the trailhead, we ran into the Harris Mountain Heliski crew, who reported excellent spring skiing that day. So, we decided to say "what the heck". The next morning, it was time to fly Air Nigel again...

Getting dropped off.

It was tough fighting all the crowds again.

There were only a couple of tight spots.

Lunch is over & load one heads for the ridge.

Our fearless leader scoping the line.

Cloudpeak gets ready to take her turn.

Oh yeah, yet the umpteenth place where your sense of scale and proportion just ceases to operate correctly.

Air Nigel bringing it home...

...to the trusty sheep paddock/heli-port.

Those who have been there can confirm that Wanaka has a surprising number of great restaurants. Some of our favorites included Relishes, Gusto, Missy's, Tuatara Pizza, Reef, and Trout. We also had dinner at the old Cardrona Hotel - well worth the drive. And probably a no brainer if you close down Cardrona some afternoon. Also worth noting - the food at the main Cardrona cafeteria was awful (maybe the Noodle Bar is better?). In contrast, the on-mountain food at TC was a pleasant surprise (try the "Mountain Meals"). If you stay at Te Wanaka, they always have the latest scoop on what's good...
post #5 of 33
Thread Starter 
Next it was off to Dunedin for a bunch of wildlife and landscape geeking out with Julie and Dave. Before I forget, it is worth noting that Dave's photos are even better in real life than they are online.

We made a slightly extended day of the trip to Dunedin by following the scenic (and very switchbacked) Crown Range road to Arrowtown where we had a very nice outdoor lunch at the Amisfield winery. They were on our list of several recommended places in the Arrowtown and Cromwell areas. (I lost the list, so that's it for my knowledge base of the area). Then it was off through Cromwell and on to Dunedin. The cafe we expected to find was not so be seen ( again, list lost since then... ). Seeking a break and a quick coffee, we stopped at the Hyde Hotel where we were informed they were closed as they merrily served half a dozen folks on the restaurant deck???? It seems we were not the first to have this kind of experience there. Oh well... We ended up stopping at the Kissing Gate Cafe in Middlemarch. It was a delightful and friendly place. Neat veggie & flower gardens out back. So, should you find yourself in Middlemarch, give it a try.

Chasing around looking at wildlife and landscapes was definitely our idea of a good time.

What are we going to find today?

Oyster catchers. Always cool.

We never did get any pictures of an albatross, but they are way cool too. Cooler than cool. Your sense of scale fails yet again when looking at a bird with a 12 foot wingspan. My brain put it way far away until it swooped in front of the nearby ridge. Then my brain just went "tilt".

The nesting shags were pretty spiffy.

Something left some pretty strange tracks on a remote beach. What could it be?

Cool-o-meter red-lined again... At least if you are into wildlife. We were floored.

On Monday it was time to head for Christchurch. The morning proved, once again, that when in NZ it pays to take Julie & Dave's advice. Indeed, the advice of folks with local knowledge in general. We stopped in at Fleurs Place in Moeraki planning to have a quick cup of coffee.

It was only mid-morning, but it was such an inviting place that we opted to have a second breakfast & just skip lunch. The food and atmosphere were both extraordinary.

It was just one of those special places.

And the Moeraki Boulders were well worth the stop as well. It would have been tragic to miss them. In short, if you are driving between Dunedin and Christchurch, don't pass up the chance to check out the Moeraki Boulders and swing through the little town of Moeraki for a stop at Fleur's.

I could go on with the last few pics, but it is not that hard to find pics and info about Christchurch... All I can say is that the journey to NZ is well worth it. We had a great time in every dimension.

And finally ---- a big Thank You to Julie and everyone else who gave us helpful advice, offered their Kiwi style hospitality and kept us pointed in the right direction. I'm not exactly sure who wants or does not want their name blasted out on the Internet, so just let it be known that it was all deeply appreciated!!!!!!
post #6 of 33
nice trip report and great pictures....
post #7 of 33
Great report, wish I could have shared more of it (smirk)

Getting some local advice and meeting up with bears on my US trips made a huge difference, it is nice to be able to repay the favour. And it is such a hardship having to go skiing and wildlife spotting - NOT!

The penguins we saw look like this is close up, they are the rarest penguin in the world. They are very timid so you have to hide in the sand dunes or they will waddle back to the surf.
post #8 of 33
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by julie from nz View Post
Great report, wish I could have shared more of it (smirk)
There's always next time! We'll plan better - I promise!

The penguins were insane. And somehow, I don't know how, Dave's pics keep being better than mine . Cloudpeak and I just found a nice spot on the wall, so please ask Dave to add http://www.magiclight.co.nz/wildlifePages/YEP2.htm to our order...
post #9 of 33
Wow, wow, wow! Spindrift, are you and/or Cloudspeak coming to the Western Washington Bears meeting in Mukilteo on 10/20? I would really like to hear you regail us with stories from your trip.

If you haven't seen the thread about it go here: http://forums.epicski.com/showthread.php?t=58906
post #10 of 33
In awe.
post #11 of 33
Wow! Looks like I've got another spot on my list of "must visits."

Well done.
post #12 of 33
Fond memories of 3 trips ...

A year ago I had a great day with Harris http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boa...pic.php?t=2209 . I think they get lots of first time heliskiers. The scenery down there is so spectacular that lots of people are unable to resist the impulse. At any rate, Harris did a great job of managing the customers, plus I know all about the fickle weather from my previous trips in 1982 and 1997.

Both of those times I used the only clear day in the Southern Lakes for Fiordland (Milford Sound by air and boat like this post in 1982, Doubtful Sound by car, 2 boats and a bus 1997). 1982 was a "wander around NZ" trip with just 4 days of skiing out of 14, one of those being the Tasman Glacier. 1997 and 2006 were shorter trips, mostly skiing. Great hospitality all 3 trips, though having a local contact like Julie must make it even better.
post #13 of 33
Originally Posted by spindrift View Post
Free of immediate family obligations for the first time in 20+ years, cloudpeak and I decided to catch the last bits of winter in NZ. So off we went for two weeks. Every single day was great. The trip can only be described as a celebration of life and time together and friends and good company and nature and the wonder of it all. And some pretty decent skiing, wine, beer and food too .
This one line says it all!
Your pics are fabulous. Your trip is inspiring!
post #14 of 33
Ohhhh . . . . that's wonderful. THANK YOU for sharing.
post #15 of 33
Nothing that you wouldn't see right here in Maine. Ya, right!!!!!

OMG!!!! Wow!!!!!!

I got dizzy looking at some of those photo's. Really, really cool. What a trip, eh??

One of my greatest joys in life are hearing from people that go out on a limb to experience far out and groovy places that make the heart pound!!

Good for you!! Phenominal!!
post #16 of 33
Originally Posted by Sugaree View Post
.....One of my greatest joys in life are hearing from people that go out on a limb to experience far out and groovy places that make the heart pound!! ....
NZ isn't really far out, its just the other side of the World (from you). Quite a civilised place actually and they speak english.
post #17 of 33
Wow, one of the hugest trip reports I have see. Nice work, and congrats for getting to the other side of the world and meeting up with Julie. Not a bad way to get past the end of our summer and enjoy the NZ spring skiing.
post #18 of 33
post #19 of 33

now this is a TR!!!!!!!!!

Ok Spindrift, what travel agengy ya workin for?????? Dog dangit that's some beautiful country! Great to see you guys having such a great time! No one is more deserving a trip like this than you and Cloudspeak!
post #20 of 33
Thanks for sharing all that...I think I'm going to have to scrape my jaw off the floor now.
post #21 of 33
Just stumbled across this thread and stumbled out of my chair in amazement. Well done and thank you.
post #22 of 33
GRACIAS!!!!!!!!! If we ever get the chance to ski NZ, I'll copycat your trip to the T. Perfect.

Well, maybe Julie won't be there....
post #23 of 33
Great report. NZ really is an amazing place.
post #24 of 33
I spy R33 Nissan Skyline

the pictures are all amazing

that one is my favorite. Also love the part about the surface area spindrift i got what you got this year but one size bigger.

awesome TR, make me think how lucky I am too not know yet where I will be next summer.
post #25 of 33
I can't stop looking at this thread.

And I look like this : every time I do.

Marvelous. Inspirational. Awesome.
post #26 of 33
wow!!! really amazing trip and pix. thanks for sharing. i was in nz about 20 years ago in december. we flew up to mt cook but just walked around a bit. the ski areas (remarkables) were all closed since it was their summer, but it looked like it would be a blast in the winter. we loved nz, really amazingly beautiful country. thanks again.
post #27 of 33
That looks like a truly amazing trip! Wow!
post #28 of 33
That looks like an incredible trip you had. I second that pic that Bushwacker chose followed closely by this one. I'm getting dizzy just
looking at the picture. Was it as steep as it looks just a few feet away?
You and Cloudpeak rock (julie too).

looking at the pic.
post #29 of 33
I did not get to enjoy the heli-skiing so was not there that day. I was dropped in similar places a couple of years back, the chopper drops you on top of ridges that drop away to nothing - this is usually not the side you ski down, thank goodness. It is probably as steep off the back side as it looks.
post #30 of 33
C'mon Julie I know we can convince you to go for that backside!

Spindrift, fantastic stuff.
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