Thursday, October 1, 2009

New Zealand Snowboard Trip

If the Webby Awards gave awards for least chronological and most chronically outdated, I would win. About a month ago, Shannon and I arrived back from a six day trip to New Zealand, where we had planned to go snowboarding. The weather was a bit warmer than we had hoped (and historical data indicated it would be), so we didn't spent as much time on the snow as we might have liked, but I think we made the most of it.

Considering how delayed this report is, I'll strive for brevity. I'll likely fail.

After an uneventful flight on Thursday night into Christchurch on Jetstar (the Qantas subsidiary who tells you that "its essential to do up your seat belt low and tight" - which amused me), we spent most of Friday exploring Christchurch, and generally relaxing.

Christchurch really is that British.

After a stop in the town square, we made a pit stop at a regional brewpub for morning tea. While sitting outside, we chatted with a man delivering fruit. It turns out, he used to live just down the street from where we live now. We traded some stories, and before he left, he gave us some apples, saying "people were always good to me when I was traveling." Indeed, sir. Thank you.

A bit more meandering through town, and we stumbled upon a burrito shop. After being in Australia for so long, we were skeptical, but the menu seemed legit, and a burrito was only NZ$11, which wasn't completely outlandish, so we took the plunge. It was a bit more "Chipotle" than "El Matate" but not bad, except for making us want to get some of that Matate action.

Soon, we were in the car and headed to Methven, NZ, which is more or less the village of Mt. Hutt. Our car came with an excellent suggestion.

Along the way, we naturally saw the normal plethora of sheep, but we also saw this gem.

Unscathed, we arrived in Methven to check into our hostel. We had been told that the first night would be at the sister property down the street. Generally no problem, until after dinner, when we learned our room key didn't work, and the owner was getting wasted at the fireman's ball. Luckily, the intern from the hostel was able to get us taken care of eventually.

Mt. Hutt

Ready for action, we got breakfast and hit the car for the drive up to the mountain. The resort starts waaaaaaay far up the mountain near the snowline, which is remarkably high. But, the peak is about 2100 meters, and the base, at my best guess, is at about 200, so it makes sense that you'd have to go up a bit.

It's not the biggest mountain in the world (not even close to anything at Tahoe) but it's pretty quality terrain. It's European (so I'm told) in that there are no trees and it's essentially open season on the mountain. Backcountry, too, if you know what you're doing and tell the ski patrol.

The views from the top were amazing. The Southern Alps continue to impress.

Ze Coupel, at the top (as the German hostel intern referred to us)

The afternoon brought high winds that shut lifts down for a while. Most reopened in a few minutes, but the summit remained closed all day. A few more runs down the mountain, and it was time to call it a day. The snow was getting blown off leaving nice sheets of ice. Luckily, with the closures, people left early, and you could pick your lines.

Remember when I said it was a bit of a drive from Methven to Mt. Hutt? It's only like 20k, but the last 14 or so are up this sort of ridiculous dirt road that's about a lane and a half, and winds up the cliff side. Don't make a wrong move. The views up and down are pretty sweet though.

Mt. Hutt has a bad habit of closing down because of the high winds that it gets. If it's not closed, it's often "on decision" for the morning, as it was on the Sunday of our visit. We met a ski instructor from Chicago in our hostel who said that Sunday is typically the busiest day. Between that, and the weather, we made our own decision - to keep the boards put away and go see some of the always lovely Canterbury countryside.

We made a stop at Rakaia Gorge, which had the typical amazingly blue water. Great mountain views, too.

We made a stop at Lake Coleridge, which was completely random. By now, the weather had turned partly to crap, but I'm convinced on a clear day, this was Lord of the Rings territory. It would have been great on a nicer day to go explore the area more. We were up in an alpine plain that seemed to go on for a long time.

We headed over an alpine pass back to the main road with a lunch stop at a self proclaimed scenic overlook. Best lunch spot I've had in a long time. We cruised and cruised for a long time, only once taking the hire car through a water crossing. We wound up in the town of Springfield, where, no joke, they had a giant doughnut with a bite taken out of it. Springfield, NZ made the world tour for The Simpsons movie. Amazing.

And what of those Canterbury Plains and Southern Alps? Simply Amazing.

Mt. Hutt, Redux
Monday morning, we awoke to mostly fine skies, so we hit the slopes early. A little bit of fresh snow, plus some grooming, and things were looking better on the hill. Sadly, it was nearly 4 degrees, so things were melting rapidly. Mashed potatoes was the theme of the day. By afternoon, there were rocks on some of the lower slopes that had not been there in the morning. But man, blue skies, calm winds, and not at work. I will take it every time.

You mostly get a reprieve from photos here, dear reader, as you've largely seen them before. I will share the kea bird that was on the prowl in the parking lot. I had to chase him to get a shot. He must have thought I was going to take his lunch. He was fast, and I never got a great shot, despite looking like a moron, running after this bird.

Also, did you know that if you're financially gifted, you could take a chopper from Methven to the lodge?

Mt. Shut!
As we sat around that Monday night, all signs pointed to the mountain being closed the next day. We knew it, but two American ladies (one who looked EXACTLY like Jennifer Agsten) didn't and were holding out hope. We had a bottle of wine and chatted with them over their six pack. Then we had another bottle of wine. Then it was to the pub, where half the mountain staff was nothing short of shitty. A few jugs later, and it was sleeping in and headaches the next day. Luckily, it was a good decision for us all, and the mountain's nickname held true, with winds at the summit over 130kph.

So we went south, with hopes of a hike. Not to fear. If the weather is bad in one place, well, it may just chase you.

It was a beautiful day, but only if you were in a car or a building. Otherwise, the wind was insane. We did mostly find shelter at Sharplin Falls. There was a nice little track that took us to it, and continued for what could have been a two day trek.

But once we left there, and went to the other end of the track to see Mt. Somers, we got on the receiving end of some wind. We were standing in the sunshine, and looking at a cloud a few miles off, but getting rained on from it. Totally bizarre.

And so we cruised for a lot of the afternoon. It was still beautiful, mind you.

We saw yaks.

We got stuck behind and in herds of sheep. We checked out the Ashburton gardens. And then we hit what might have been the gem of the day.

The Banks peninsula turned out to have some really epic views when you drove to the top of the mountains. The roads turned to dirt near the top, and we were awarded nearly 360 degree views. There were more sheep. While it was still amazingly windy, the sun was out, and we were relatively warm and stayed at the top for a while, just soaking in the view. What's even more amazing is how close to Christchurch the area is. The riding would be amazing.

And that was that. Back into Christchurch for a night's lodging, some Thai food, and some beers.

Christchurch, Again

We spent the night in the Windsor Hotel, a B&B where we had stayed last year. Remarkably, we were in the same room. It was again fantastic. The staff there is wonderful, the full breky is outrageous, and the location is great.

We started our day with a scenic tour of Big Money Christchurch in a 1928 Ford. The thing ran almost as well as the Focus, just as a three speed.

After that, we spent time walking about the CBD, soaking up any cheap outdoor gear that was to be had, and having coffee and snacking. It was but a short morning, as we then had to go to the airport for our flight back.

Wonderful trip, all around. I just wish it was longer. New Zealand continues to amaze. Next time, I must get to the southern tip of the South Island.

No comments: