Tuesday 23rd August
A bit of a false start as I get my days for when I’m going snowboarding mixed up. I was a bit a bit sheepish when I left the Hake Tours hostel but everyone was good about it! Go for a run around the local nature reserve and wetlands and help cook tea. The weather is really sunny during the day – about 14C.
Wed 24th August
As I’ve a spare day I make plans for a day trip to Akaroa, a series of bays and inlets on the Banks Peninsula about an hours drive from Christchurch, for a 7 mile hike up and down a mountain. Claire kindly lends me her 4×4 so after dropping her at the hospital I’m off out of town. The forecast is for 20C heat and blue skies all the way, but it’s a cold morning. The drive along highway 75 is great with flat straights, mountain switchbacks and steep descents and when I get to the Peninsula the views of the mountains and bays are stunning. I stop in Duvauchelle for breakfast, which consists of a coffee and a cereal bar as they’ve only pies for breakfast. At first I think the cafe/shop owner has picked up on my Northern accent but I find out later that pies are eaten at any time in New Zealand.
The road signs and place names here are all in French as it’s the site of the first landing of the French years ago. No-one I meet speaks French or seems in any way French and it gives the area a curious feel. Akaroa itself is a small town right on the water. It being winter many of the few shops are open but there are still people milling around and a couple of campervans parked up.
The walk is up Stony Bay Peak, maybe the biggest mountain in the area at 806m. I start from sea level and the walk is steep from the outset and hot in the fierce (even in winter) sun. The views are stunning throughout and as the walk goes up it passes through a heritage park with various carvings. I spend my first ever penny in a composting toilet too!
The endless climb has little respite and it’s not just the views that are taking my breath away. I definitely haven’t brought enough water and beginning to regret not having a pie for breakfast! The last ascent is very slippy as there is soft, sludgy snow on the ground. There’s also a lot of burnt shrub as a lightning strike a month previously had set it all alight – it makes for unusual conditions. Of course it’s all worth it for the 360 degree panaroma at the top, looking at snowy mountain ranges in the far distance, the Pacific to the East and the bays below.
If the climb up was a calf killer; going down is a quad burner. The path switches back and forth down the steep descent and I’m chased down by sheep. I reach a grassy road which is still quite steep and decide to descent via the Mrs Gow method – running! [you would’ve been proud Mum :)] . The problem with this is that I don’t realise how long the run is so after about 1-2km I’m knackered but can barely stop and my legs are screaming. I think I’m going really fast until I’m passed by two nonchalant sheep who could do this all day! As the path comes to a road I manage to slow down and stop to catch my breath and I’m rewarded with seeing a stick insect on a branch!
As a treat to myself (and not the other diners) I stop at a fancy French restaurant (Ma Maison) for lunch. They don’t bat an eyelid at my casual dress and my salty face and I demolish a plate of green lipped mussels in a white wine and garlic sauce but don’t manage to finish the fries – they’re hundreds! Drive back is via Lyttleton which was badly hit in the earthquakes and some roads and buildings are still knacked. My timings mean I hit the Christchurch rush-hour which isn’t a patch on the M60 and moves quite freely.
Thursday 25 August
Today is definitely time for snowboarding! I’ve organised the trip through Haka Tours who are based in Christchurch and do numerous adventure tours of New Zealand. On my trip are: 1 Ukranian, 1 Kiwi-Englishman, 1 Aussie-Englishwoman, 2 Aussies, 3 Americans, and Steve, the Kiwi tour guide/driver/fixer. We leave the Haka Tours hostel before breakfast and head over to Mt Hutt for my first day boarding in about 18 months. But boarding is like riding a bike and I’m back up and carving like I’ve never been away. The weather is perfect with blue, sunny skies and it’s a great introduction to Kiwi boarding. Mt Hutt is one of the few ski fields in the world where you can see the ocean from the top of the runs and as ever with this country the view is spectacular.
We have a two hour drive then to Lake Tekapo for a quick dinner in a local pizza place before a relaxing hour in the hot pools at Tekapo and get to watch the locals who are curling on the ice rink next to the springs.
Friday 26 August
Up early for breakfast and realise the YHA is on the banks of Lake Tekapo (it was very very dark when we arrived). The views as the sun comes up are terrific and we’re soon off for our next destination – Treble Cone.
Our guide Steve has had word that our original destination Ohau is all ‘bullet-proof ice’ which is rubbish for boarding on so he makes the decision to have an afternoon and full day at Treble Cone instead. The route takes us past the usual stunning scenery and vast canals and lakes that power New Zealand’s hydroelectricity. The most spectacular is at Lake Pukaki and it’s view of Mt Cook, the country’s tallest peak.
With my confidence up we try all the runs at TC (what the locals call it – the Kiwis love to shorten names, they’re not big on formality), including some icy, mogully chutes which aren’t enjoyable. After a pit-stop, Steve shows/takes/drags me down the gun-barrell, a natural steep run that looks like it is called, with steep sides that form a natural pipe. After giving me a few pointers about how best to ride it I’m really loving it and finish the day smiling but knackered!
Our base for the night is the Purple Cow YHA on the banks of Lake Wanaka which is a great hostel and our four bed dorm has it’s own ensuite. We head for a group tea at a local Mexican place which serves good food and it starts snowing, which is great news.
Saturday 27 Aug
Powder Day! Up early to get the fresh runs. Steve is so super keen for the good snow that he gets a speeding ticket on the short run out of Wanaka! We head over to the chutes that were icy and difficult the previous day which now have 20cm of fresh snow. I tackle the run which was a struggle yesterday but today I take a higher line through the snow, knocking of plates of snow as I go. It’s amazing and on the next go back up the chairlift we notice a few people trekking on foot up to the very top of the mountain. Three of us attempt it and after 30 mins hard, sweaty slog with all our gear, make it for spectacular views and a great 10 second run of immaculate powder.
It’s a hard morning’s boarding and I’m glad we rode so long and did what we did as the main lift out of the base breaks, leaving us stranded at the bottom in the cafe. At least the local Kea’s keep us entertained with their antics.
Sunday 28th Aug
We leave Wanaka behind and head to Cardona for another resort which has loads of runs, a great Boarder X park, and some massive jumps for the really experienced. There is also a Super Pipe and the competition for the 100% NZ Games is today which provides great views when going up the chairs. I give the Boarder X a few goes, albeit much slower than the professionals and can feel my skills improving while enjoying it.
On the hour’s drive to Queenstown we pass over the highest sealed road in New Zealand through the Crown Range for the usual epic views a quick photo opp.
We’re staying in Queenstown for the next three days at the Pinewood hostel, which is nestled under a gondola and has great views of people parasending down the mountain into a playing field nearby. We head out for a legendary Ferg burger which is great but massively filling and the queues are long and then tackle a few pubs and bars in QT/Queeny, depending on how you are with brevity.
Monday 29 August
Today is our day off, where get to kick back and relax, so five of our group decide to take on the Nevis Bungy, which at 134m over a canyon is one of the longest drops in the world. I’m nervous but the views are terrific. My legs wobble as I’m stood on the platform and looking down to the river far below. On the count of three I take a big dive and sail out with a moment of OMG! but then it’s great. Apparently you have 8 seconds of fall but it’s over very quickly and when I’m being winched back to the canopy I can hear myself laughing – at what I’m not sure. Check the video out below of my jump including superman leap off the end:
Tuesday 30 August
Queenstown is served by two skifields and today we tackle Coronet Peak and the legs feel good after the rest day. It has a lot of runs for a New Zealand resort and even has a sealed access road! It’s another sunny hot day and the snow gets slushy by 3pm but Steve takes a group of us on loads of runs that really test my skills.
Wednesday 31 August
The last day of a great trip is in the Remarkables, the second range out of Queenstown. It’s cold and windy today and the range could do with some snow. It’s smaller than Coronet Peak but has a fantastic terrain park so I get up the courage to tackle a few rails and boxes, which I’ve never done before. I quickly get the hang of them and gradually get confident enough to increase the speed. On my 8th run I take a spill off the end of one, scrape my head and decide to call it a day at about 2pm. The bus is leaving the resort for the long journey back to Christchurch at 3pm so I feel I’ve learnt and done enough.
There is just time to stop in Queenstown for a present for Ethan’s birthday tomorrow and pick up a lovely baguette from the Ferg Bakery. The drive back takes us through great scenery and past Lake Aviemore with it’s dam looking eerie in the twiglight and it’s water still a shimmering blue as the sunlight fades and provides a great end to a fantastic trip.