Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Awakino!! September 12

The NZ club ski fields are fairly legendary in the ski world as being one of the last holdouts of dirt-cheap, back-to-basics skiing. Almost all the fields, unfortunately, are up in Cantebury, between Christchurch and Arthur's Pass. A bit of digging around, however, reveals that there's one outlier - Awakino Ski Field is located about 2 hours north of Dunedin, near Kurow in the Waitaki Valley. Run by the Waitaki Ski Club, Awakino is right under the radar, no reliable website, no ski reports, only open on weekends - it's hard to find out anything about it. But after trying for a few weeks to get a hold of the one contact I could find, I finally tracked Chris down last Thursday night. Would they be open on the weekend? Yeah, said Chris, it was pretty good the previous weekend, so they'd try again that weekend.

Well, that was good enough for us - so we rounded up all the telemarkers we knew in Dunedin, both of them, and headed out on Sunday morning. After being a bit late picking up Aroha, we missed Hyram at our scheduled rendevous point on the way out of town, but we continued on, figuring we'd find him later. About 2 hours after leaving Dunedin we found ourselves driving through farm paddocks at the base of the ski field road. Awakino is accessed via a spectacular narrow valley and we'd been warned that the road was pretty rough and steep, but that we should make it up in our Subaru legacy. Just as we started up the road, we found a Peter, a telemarker from Christchurch, and his daughter waiting at the last gate. Their lift up the road hadn't shown, did we have room? Sure we did - we piled all the gear in and started up the road. The road wasn't too bad, though 2 inches more clearance would be nice, but the Subaru finally ran out of low gears just before the main lodge, about halfway up the road. We parked the car at the side of a turn and just at that moment Hyram and Adrienne turned up in their Hilux. So we transferred all the gear and, with Peter and Kieran hanging off the running boards, headed up to the day lodges and tows.

When we got up there things were, well, quiet. Two of the clubbies, Chris and Arthur, wandered out of one of the huts to see if we wanted to go skiing. We paid up our $20 each (yup, that's right - $NZ20 - cheapest in the country) and grabbed a tow belt while Arthur started up the main tow.

A word about NZ rope tows. These aren't your beginner area tows. This one was a couple of hundred metres long, rose probably 200m and ran at a few metres a second. You grab the rope, get up to speed, then attach to the rope with a sort of hinging clamp called a "nutcracker". The nutcracker attaches to a harness around your waist and away you go. After a few aborted attempts we got the hang of it and were hurtling up the hill at speed.

At about this time, Malea (Peter's daughter) discovered she'd left her boots and helmet next to their car. Right at the bottom of the valley. So Hyram and Peter jumped back in the Hilux and headed back down the field. Meanwhile the rest of us started skiing...

Aroha grabs first turns of the day.

At this stage we had the field to ourselves. All four of us, plus Chris and Arthur. Later in the day things got a bit crowded - there were 9 people.

Peter and Rochelle coming up the rope tow.

Looking down Awakino Ski Field (check out the crowded carpark), over the Waitaki valley and out to the Pacific Ocean on the horizon.

Rochelle traversing across the front slope.

Arthur overseeing proceedings, midafternoon. (A bit earlier he'd wandered off for lunch telling us "if there's an emergency, come and find me...")

The snow in mid-September wasn't anything to write home about, but there was plenty of it and plenty of sunshine. So much so that by the middle of the afternoon Rochelle and Aroha found the warm sunshine in the main day hut irresistable and went off to snooze. One by one the skiers wandered off to sit in front of the hut and soak up some sun. One of the most relaxing days skiing ever.

Eventually it was all over and Malea had managed to convince Chris to close the field so that her Dad would stop skiing. We repacked all the cars, slid back around the corners back to the Subaru and down to the pub at Kurow. We only got to ski the front slope this day, because the top tow was closed due to a bit of snow instability, but there looks to be some more brilliant skiing back there in good snow conditions and lots of touring to be had. With a big hut halfway down the road to stay in, it's a tempting place for a weekend trip (weekend packages are $50 for 2 days skiing and accom, I think). Thanks to the Waitaki Ski Club for a great days skiing - we'll be back for sure sometime.

Loading up the Hilux at the end of a great day.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

The Old Man... (and, coincidentally, Kev's visit)

Just kidding Kev, just kidding...

For those who know him, a friend of ours, Kev Moore, was over visiting us recently. The plan was to take off and go skiing, but before visiting us Kev was skiing at Craigieburn Valley and hurt his ribs quite badly, so resort skiing was out, and he came down to hang out in Dunedin instead.

Naturally, Dunedin turned on some good South Island weather and we had rain, sun, wind and cloud while Kev was here, with the emphasis on rain and wind. We did take off for a day (4 September) to Central Otago in an attempt to go ski touring on the Old Man Range, near Alexandra. By the time we drove out there, found some topo maps of the area and got the car up the muddy dirt road, however, it was nearly midday. The car lost the traction battle at about the 1100m point, still several hundred metres below the snowline. Given we could see that the snow cover above was pretty patchy we decided not to haul our skis up to the ridgeline and instead we went for a short hike up to a rock outcrop for lunch and flew our kite a bit, before heading home via Ranfurly and Middlemarch, which is an excrutiatingly dull drive.

Rochelle and Kev just below the ridgeline of the Old Man Range. No skiing here...


Rochelle and Kev twisting on a very solidly frozen puddle.

Kite flying high above the Clutha valley.

The weather packed it in again the next day, so amongst other things, we went and played Putt-Putt Golf...

Rochelle tees off on the 6th.

Hopefully there'll be more photos (of seals, sealions, penguins etc) to come (When Kev sends them to us. Kev?)