Monday, August 22, 2016
In Australia we often feel far away from everywhere - but New Zealand is a pretty close neighbour. It can even be a bit quicker and cheaper to fly there than to Perth, on the other side of Australia. I always knew I would go there at some point, and finally the excuse came when a friend planned to spend his 40th birthday in Queenstown. As you probably know, I am a sucker for a ski trip, and one thing about NZ is they have higher mountains and also a good deal more snow than us.
I started with a weekend stay with an old friend in Wellington, which was just lovely. I really enjoyed what I saw of the city. She lives in a lovely renovated old house way up in the trees. Though almost everyone lives somewhere up a hill in Wellington, where there is almost no flat land, her place was extra special, with over 100 steps to climb up from the street. (And nope, no driveway or garage up there). I woke up to this peaceful view.
Then I met up with my skiing and boarding friends in Queenstown, way down on the South Island, From there we could access several skifields, but we stuck with the two closest, Coronet Peak and the Remarkables. On our first day, at Coronet Peak, I was blown away by the amazing views (top photo in this post. And several more below).
At the Remarkables, we got to the top of the highest lift, higher than the ones at Coronet Peak. And I briefly thought I was higher than I had ever been before. But a bit of research that night revealed that the highest lift at Thredbo is actually a bit higher.
The Remarkables does not have the amazing views in almost all directions that Coronet Peak can boast. However it does have some cool carved stone birds. (And some great skiing, of course)
It seemed to be colder there, at least on the days we were there. We had ice forming constantly on our goggles. On our second day up there, in the morning it was minus 10 C plus wind chill, leading pretty quickly to an extra, mid-morning coffee break to defrost. Now I know if (when) I ever ski in Japan I'm going to need more layers!
It was beautiful at the Remarkables once the sun came out. The snow was great in both places - we were really lucky, as just a week or so before we arrived there had basically been no snow. I had decided not to check any reports beforehand, because (a) our local skifields in NSW were getting massive dumps of snow just before I left and (b) my NZ trip had long been booked and paid for.
The views from Coronet Peak were just stunning. Jaw-dropping.
It was a bit weird at first to see no trees, just wide open space and varying terrain.
I had a day up at Coronet Peak on my own when all my friends were having a day off, and I arrived just in time to join up with a free guided tour. This was one of the best things I did all week, even though I was the slowest in the group, especially on the off-piste runs. It was just enough for me to feel challenged and pushed a bit, without worrying that I was seriously holding up the group. (I've had that situation in group lessons and it really sucks.) There were only two other 'clients,' a skier and a snowboarder, both a good bit more experienced than me, with two guides and also a 'media guy' who was taking photos for the local newspapers. The highlight was a real powder run, something I've never really done before - and by this point after having a couple of mild stacks in slow motion earlier, I managed to keep enough momentum to stay upright too. I was thrilled with that!
On the last of my five ski days, Coronet Peak won, and it was a stunning bluebird day.
We had some good times in Queenstown as well of course, including a special birthday dinner at the Stratosfare restaurant, with a gondola ride to get up the hill, and people bungy jumping not far from the restaurant window.
They also had Jelly Belly art.
Yep. Pictures made by mosaicing mini jelly beans. So now I've seen that.
On the last day we had time to wander around the town before going to the airport. We stopped for a while to listen to pianist/composer/busker AJ Hickling (Evolving Rhythms).
He rescued his piano from the rubbish tip and restored and learned to tune it himself. His music was beautiful.
I'm sure you could come to take it for granted, but my favourite thing about Queenstown was that everywhere you look, there are gorgeous snow-capped mountains in the background.
Also much of the time, paragliders in the sky. The Queenstown area is quite the centre for adventure sports, with the bungy jumping, whitewater rafting and of course heli-skiing, if you can afford it.