Trip Report Our 2016 trip to the Mackenzie Country and Wanaka

GlenH

One of Us
Ski Pass
Aug 13, 2007
850
914
263
On 7 August we set off to repeat our adventure first undertaken last year to the Mackenzie Country (in the middle of the South Island) and to Wanaka. For background reading, I’ve put a link to last year’s report below.

This year the later flight schedule meant that by the time we got out of Queenstown Airport and into Wanaka to collect the ski hire, even with a clear run straight over the Crown Range, it was dark for our journey northwards towards Tekapo.

We had some concern about crossing Lindis Pass but fortunately the roads were dry. I did have to make our customary stop at the lookout to get out and run around the car in 1 deg temperature, and although I didn’t stay out long the light show from the stars in the clear night sky was just stunning.

As Wanaka had been too busy to stop for dinner on our tight schedule we a took a local’s recommendation and made for Omarama where sure enough there is a little takeaway window hidden at the back of the pub which serves the nicest chips, best eaten warm when you are strolling along the streets, now at minus 1.

We’d been rather worried in the lead up to our trip as the NZ season had started very slowly and even major resorts like Treble Cone had not opened until late July, but we were lucky to hear that a good fall of snow had settled on the Mackenzie fields just a few days before we arrived at Lake Tekapo Village Motel.

Not only that, but we enjoyed exceptional weather throughout our stay, and skied every one of the 8 days we had planned, all but one being in beautiful sunshine. There was so much skiing that I was becoming exhausted half way through, and finding time to buy souvenirs was quite a challenge.

Our first day at Roundhill coincided with the season debut of their Heritage Express Nutcracker rope tow, which climbs 1.4km up the side of a hill that is anything but round. Although we had no ambitions of that tow ourselves, after my failed attempts last year, we knew that its opening is a good barometer of what conditions are like at Roundhill because when its on, its really on.

We still called by to watch the nutcracker and got chatting to the liftie, whose job it is to sit in a picnic chair and watch the hill through binoculars, just to make sure that everyone is making the progress down that one would expect.

Roundhill rates as one of our favourite fields, with classic NZ groomed runs, wide, smooth and steep enough, and so few people that by mid afternoon they still ski like they have only just been groomed. The café has been expanded since our last visit and we enjoyed made-to-order toasties whilst letting our knees and calves recover.

Second day we headed off to Mt Dobson on a road that we always find more torturous than the one to Roundhill. No pressure though as there’s no traffic sitting on your bumper, just the occasional cow to give way to. One does wonder how these fields stay afloat financially, given the cost of operating lifts and maintaining their access roads, with such small numbers of visitors. When we arrived at Mt Dobson at 11am there were just 16 cars in the car park, and by 1pm this had increased to only 21.

Mind you, Mt Dobson does save by minimising on some of the modern luxuries of life, for instance the running water to the bathroom sink is, well, literally running water, in fact constantly running water which flows through a rubber hose strung from the ceiling and, being gravity fed just keeps on running. No taps required. Very creative!

We’d allowed a third day in Tekapo in case of bad weather but there was none of that to be seen so we did a repeat visit to Roundhill, then drove back through town and headed south to our next home for two nights at Lake Ohau Lodge, nestled on the beautiful lake beneath Ohau ski field.

This lodge is highly recommended with fantastic views, a roaring log fire, cosy rooms and beautiful meals. At dinner the staff ask if you would like to sit with others, which is a good opportunity to meet new people. We enjoyed some great chats and were amazed to later run into the same people at two different ski fields further south along our journey.

Ohau is the smallest of the ski fields on our trip but even though one of the runs was closed off for race training, and had been shaved back to ice (they can have that) we still found plenty to occupy us for the day. For a small field, it does offer a particularly wide variety of food. Or as the lady behind the counter said when we complimented her on the range, “this isn’t a ski field, it’s a fat farm”.

Next day, now at the half way point we motored on back to Wanaka where we stayed the following 5 nights at Te Wanaka Lodge, a favourite spot with its wonderful cooked breakfasts, delightful outdoor hot tub and in a location so close to everything in town. I would never get tired of visiting Wanaka, it is such a beautiful town and although it has unavoidably developed since I first saw it 20 years ago, it still stops a long way short of Queenstown and that’s what we like about it.

First off we went to Cardrona which I hadn’t skied for 10 years so in that time the changes have included replacement detachable chairlifts, the new Valley View quad and further development of the base. To us Cardrona is always a very cruisy place, great for hooning around, although by contrast with our preceding days it felt like we were back in civilisation, with so many people around.

Being a Saturday it was busier than midweek and we found ourselves parked a fair way down the road, however the shuttle buses soon pick you up and have you up to the base in no time.

Cardrona seems to be pitching itself more as a Queenstown field these days to rival Coronet Peak and The Remarkables, and we hear locals in Wanaka say that the tourism industry is getting confused about which town Cardrona really ‘belongs’ to, Queenstown or Wanaka. This is certainly reflected in its increasing popularity. I can just imagine that one day there will be some fancy gondola to take you right up from the valley floor avoiding the road altogether.

In keeping with variety, next day we headed for Treble Cone, another ski field, another dusty windy NZ ski road, though it certainly becomes tamer each time you drive it and is really nothing compared to the smaller fields further north.

Upgrades to TC since my last visit now sees the majority of the mountain served by just two chairlifts and, when you are used to the myriad of T bars at Perisher, it is amazing just how much terrain you can access with two well placed chairs. The Saddle Basin was our pick of course, offering so many choice groomed runs.

We managed to not need chains during our entire trip, in fact the worst conditions we found for traction was in the mud on the roads around the TC base. As the day progresses the road seems to get slipperier rather than drier and even our hired Prado was noticeably sliding around a bit on the descent, not dangerously so, but still they could do with some decent road base.

After another two days, one at each, it was sadly time to head home and leave behind those stunning lake views and kiwi culture until next time.

This year’s video, only one sorry, here:


Link to last year’s report and videos:
https://www.ski.com.au/xf/threads/our-2015-trip-to-the-mackenzie-country.72794/

This year’s pictures below and following:


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On the road to Roundhill, skirting Lake Tekapo. Driving there is almost as much fun as skiing there.


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The view beyond T2 at Roundhill.


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Heritage Express Rope Tow, Roundhill, 1.4km going up, and nobody gets in your way coming down.


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On the groomers at Roundhill, just another run to yourself, great skiing in Mackenzie Country.


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The only traffic on the road to Mt Dobson.


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Climbing towards Mt Dobson. Glad we only do this on sunny days.


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Unlike at Perisher, the Mt Dobson lift indicator board does not make you watch countless inane commercials whilst waiting for the information you really need.


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Mt Dobson Chairlift, second hand from Mt Buller but who cares.


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Midday at Mt Dobson and the car park is, well, slightly busier than when we arrived.


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Freshies at Mt Dobson, but always room for one more.
 

GlenH

One of Us
Ski Pass
Aug 13, 2007
850
914
263
2016-08-12-1176.jpg
Destination Ohau, chairlift in centre view, just a few more switch backs to go…..


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Lake Ohau from Ohau. I must have photographed that lake, oh, about 50 times that day.


2016-08-11-1122.jpg

A bunch of boarders heading for the Ridge Run at Ohau and one who thought better of it. The Ski Patrol sign says “anywhere out of view is out of bounds”.


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Sunrise from my bed at Lake Ohau Lodge.



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Lake Ohau Lodge, nestled beneath the Ohau ski field.


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Lake Ohau.


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Lake Ohau.


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Looking into Soho Basin from Cardrona’s ‘Queenstown Return’ home run.


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View of the backcountry from Cardrona.


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Saddle Basin, Treble Cone. So much area accessible from just one chairlift, and this is not half of it.
 
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snowgum

A Local
Ski Pass
May 4, 1999
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vic
Hey GlenH, a great travelog'

Sounds like wonderful trip & a great combo of weather & snow!

(We did something similar in ~ 2005/2006 - all good fun!!) ⛷
 

oreo

One of Us
Ski Pass
Jun 15, 2007
1,648
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www.skidescent.com
Our first day at Roundhill coincided with the season debut of their Heritage Express Nutcracker rope tow, which climbs 1.4km up the side of a hill that is anything but round. Although we had no ambitions of that tow ourselves, after my failed attempts last year, we knew that its opening is a good barometer of what conditions are like at Roundhill because when its on, its really on.

We still called by to watch the nutcracker and got chatting to the liftie, whose job it is to sit in a picnic chair and watch the hill through binoculars, just to make sure that everyone is making the progress down that one would expect.

Nice report and some great photos!

I was at Roundhill that day. Pretty good. You (and I) picked the right time to head to NZ. Here is a short video of that day up on the rope tow. Great pow but a bit shallow. Hit a few rocks that day.

That was a hell of a storm and the snow kept great for a week afterwards with all the cold weather.

Particularly nice photo of the northern chutes at Roundhill (past T2). They are really fun, steep, usually a bit sheltered from the sun - have seen a few avalanches through there - and it's a gruelling walk back to the roundhill t-bars from that creek.
 
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DPS Driver

A Local
Jul 18, 2014
5,595
6,566
563
Nice report and some great photos!

I was at Roundhill that day. Pretty good. You (and I) picked the right time to head to NZ. Here is a short video of that day up on the rope tow. Great pow but a bit shallow. Hit a few rocks that day.

That was a hell of a storm and the snow kept great for a week afterwards with all the cold weather.

Particularly nice photo of the northern chutes at Roundhill (past T2). They are really fun, steep, usually a bit sheltered from the sun - have seen a few avalanches through there - and it's a gruelling walk back to the roundhill t-bars from that creek.
Is this you Oreo???;););)
 
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