MAGIC IN MACKEN­ZIE

Queen­stown is not the only gem in the South Is­land’s high coun­try

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - DESTINATION NEW ZEALAND - ROWENA RYAN THE WRITER WAS A GUEST OF TOURISM NEW ZEALAND.

Oh, wow. I’m stand­ing at the top of the chair­lift at Ohau ski fields on New Zealand’s South Is­land over­look­ing the most spec­tac­u­lar sight. Deep within Macken­zie High Coun­try, Lake Ohau sparkles be­low me, while at the end of the snow­capped val­ley sits the tow­er­ing Ao­raki Mt Cook. On a road trip around the South Is­land, I’m vis­it­ing some of the ski ar­eas that are of­ten over­shad­owed by the big Queen­stown draw­card, and I’m al­ready hooked on their beauty.

OHAU SNOW FIELDS

To say I’ve stum­bled across one of New Zealand’s hid­den gems is an un­der­state­ment. I’m us­ing up most of my phone’s stor­age with end­less pho­tos of THAT VIEW. It re­ally is that spec­tac­u­lar.

The re­sort is owned pri­vately by Mike and Louise Neil­son who also run the ac­com­mo­da­tion at the base of the hill – Lake Ohau Lodge. The snow field is small, cov­er­ing just 125ha, but the ter­rain is in­cred­i­bly var­ied – the US race-ski team trains here ev­ery year. There are a cou­ple of groomers but most of the ter­rain is off-piste and if you like to “earn your turns” then hik­ing up to the top of Ridge Run will get you some freshies. Be­sides the view, the best bit is its lack of crowds. It’s rare to ever find a queue here.

When it’s time for a cof­fee break, head to the day lodge for a great flat white (I have never had a bad cof­fee in New Zealand, no mat­ter how small or re­mote the town) and a bite to eat.

If you’re du­bi­ous about stay­ing at ski lodges, put your thoughts aside for a mo­ment. A stay at Lake Ohau Lodge is not about com­mu­nal cook­ing and clean­ing, it’s a fam­ily-owned busi­ness rather than a club. While the rooms are sim­ple, you’ll sit down to hearty din­ners – think slow-cooked lamb shanks and roast chicken – and a cooked break­fast in the morn­ing. Perched on the edge of the lake, you will feel com­pletely off the grid.

OHAU.CO.NZ

MT HUTT

My trip starts in Christchurch and in the same time it would have taken me to drive from Syd­ney to the Snowy Moun­tains, I have flown to Christchurch and driven just an hourand-a-half to Mt Hutt ski field. The hill is renowned for its big snow and it snows the en­tire day we’re there.

With a ski­able area of 365ha and an al­ti­tude of 2086m, it con­sis­tently has one of the long­est snow sea­sons in the South Is­land.

Fu­elled with yet an­other great cof­fee, I take the Sum­mit Six chair­lift straight to the top and spend the morn­ing ex­plor­ing the range of begin­ner, in­ter­me­di­ate and ad­vanced runs. If you’re keen to head off the groomers, Mt Hutt has plenty of off­piste lines for pow­der days.

Skiers stay in Methven vil­lage, a 35-minute drive to the moun­tain or at Ter­race Downs, a golf re­sort that also of­fers other ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing horse rid­ing, clay shoot­ing and bike rid­ing.

It has spec­tac­u­lar, photo-wor­thy views up to Mt Hutt.

NZSKI.COM/MT-HUTT

MT COOK

From Mt Hutt, it’s a three-hour drive, or just over an hour from Ohau, to New Zealand’s tallest moun­tain, Mt Cook. Sit­ting in a na­tional park, it’s just how you imag­ine the Swiss Alps to be. Im­mense, jaw-drop­pingly beau­ti­ful, hum­bling and cov­ered in snow. It’s one of the most dra­matic and ex­treme land­scapes in New Zealand – the tallest moun­tain, largest glacier, dark­est skies and the only glacial lakes with ice­bergs.

Stay­ing at the Her­mitage Ho­tel gives you a di­rect view of the mighty windswept Mt Cook, its peak il­lu­mi­nat­ing in pink as the sun sets. The ho­tel has a fas­ci­nat­ing and dark his­tory that can be ex­plored in the Sir Ed­mund Hil­lary Alpine Cen­tre next door.

To truly ap­pre­ci­ate the tow­er­ing moun­tain range, a scenic flight with In­flite Ex­pe­ri­ences is worth ev­ery Kiwi dol­lar. Af­ter an ini­tial false start from wind hold and sub­se­quent can­cel­la­tion, the fol­low­ing morn­ing I strap in with six other pas­sen­gers, ea­ger to wit­ness some of the best views on Earth. We see where the glacier cliffs meet the lake, soar over parts of the Fox Glacier and get our cam­eras ready for the glacier land­ing. (The plane has skis to glide in on.)

INFLITEEXPERIENCES.CO.NZ

ROAD TRIP

If you don’t mind in­cred­i­ble views, the odd sheep on the road, quaint coun­try towns and Kiwi ra­dio, the best way to take in a trip of the South Is­land is by car. Pick up a rental car from Christchurch Air­port and make your way to Mt Hutt, drive on to Ohau and loop back up to Mt Cook.

TOP ROAD STOPS

Christchurch: The city rav­aged by an earth­quake in 2011 is re­build­ing it­self with in­ter­est­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, food and shop­ping out­lets.

Geral­dine: This pretty town is just un­der an hour’s drive from Mt Hutt. Sam­ple the lo­cally pro­duced cheeses at Tal­bot For­est Cheese and head to the Vil­lage Inn for a great pub meal.

Lake Tekapo: Part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Re­serve, stay for the night and go stargaz­ing (weather de­pen­dent), bathe in the out­door hot springs and visit the fa­mous Church of the Good Shep­herd on the shores of the bril­liant turquoise-coloured lake.

PIC­TURES: NZSKI.COM, NATURESPIC.CO.NZ, ROWENA RYAN

Mt Hutt ski field has one of the long­est snow sea­sons on the South Is­land; the Church of the Good Shep­herd sits on the shores of Lake Tekapo (be­low left); Mt Cook is New Zealand’s high­est peak.

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