Go Travel New Zealand - - Contents - By Carla Munro

Nowhere wears white like Wanaka!

I have dreamed of heli-ski­ing in the epic moun­tains of Lake Wanaka for years. Bright blue skies, soar­ing white slopes, a cobalt lake rip­pling in bril­liant sun­shine and drifts of danc­ing snow teased into pirou­ettes by de­part­ing he­li­copters. A world of pris­tine ex­tremes and au­da­cious joy. Be­ing dropped to a pre­cip­i­tous peak in the mid­dle of a land­scape straight out of The Hobbit, and scrib­ing the moun­tain­side with my own per­sonal sig­na­ture - what more could a girl ask for?

It is only fair to tell you that I am not the world’s great­est skier. I can hold my own, and – so I’ve been told – am more brave than skilled! And yet, the idea of heli-ski­ing is one of those spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ences, those ‘once in a life­time, if you’re re­ally lucky’ I couldn’t

stop think­ing about.

Last sea­son I took on the back coun­try for the first time – on Nordic skis. Fun? A re­sound­ing yes! Hard work? Ab­so­lutely. Worth it? You bet your sweet self! Prior to that I’ve had two sea­sons on the slopes of Cardrona just thirty min­utes from Wanaka, putting my­self through lessons, hu­mil­i­a­tion, and fi­nally ju­bi­la­tion at mas­ter­ing a smooth turn. In­spir­ing con­fi­dence and giv­ing me that edge I needed to grad­u­ate to more chal­leng­ing runs, Cardrona was the ideal ski area to learn at. I then grad­u­ated to Tre­ble Cone – re­cently voted at the World Ski Awards as the Best Ski Area in New Zealand. Tre­ble Cone sep­a­rated the girl in me from the dare­devil. Steeps and runs that just never end and the most pro­lific snow­fall in the coun­try! Claim­ing the long­est thigh-bust­ing 4km run with a ver­ti­cal of 700me­ters, Tre­ble Cone prepped me for heli-ski­ing bet­ter than an in­jec­tion of pure adren­a­line!

So, of course, I felt com­pletely pre­pared for the thrills and spills of leap­ing from a hov­er­ing he­li­copter into per­fect pow­der and carv­ing a path of magic down an unadul­ter­ated slope. Er, yeah, and then I woke up…

For­tu­nately there are op­tions. I love op­tions. In Wanaka there are so many! I could have cho­sen to blast the bud­get and re­ally treat my­self to four days in Minaret Sta­tion, he­liski­ing with Alpine He­li­copters in the pri­vacy of my own per­sonal moun­tain. Sounds like bliss. Of course, once you add your own glam­orous tent com­plete with pos­sum fur throws, pure merino wool car­pets and a pri­vate Jacuzzi, well, that sim­ply adds up to Utopia.

I can also opt to in­vite the fam­ily, take the man, or bet­ter yet, go girls-only and stay at one of the awe­some apart­ments in Wanaka. Self­con­tained, rang­ing from lux­u­ri­ously lush to metic­u­lously prag­matic, Wanaka has an apart­ment to suit ev­ery­one – and ev­ery one boasts a stun­ning lo­ca­tion! Whether you want to walk to town, be sur­rounded by vast coun­try or be a bliss­ful blend of both, Wanaka pro­vides apart­ment liv­ing in an ex­tra­or­di­nary en­vi­ron­ment.

Or I could choose any one of the mul­ti­tude of gor­geous, sump­tu­ous, and most im­por­tantly, wel­com­ing, lodges scat­tered in ex­clu­sive pock­ets of beauty around Wanaka and its breath­tak­ing sur­rounds. Ev­ery sin­gle lodge has its own charms and a host or two with a fas­ci­nat­ing story to share. In­evitably, it is the peo­ple I am drawn to, their sto­ries, their pas­sions and their kind­ness. And in Wanaka, the peo­ple make the place – which is say­ing some­thing when you con­sider the place hap­pens to be one of the most beau­ti­ful places on earth, has been voted one of Na­tional Ge­o­graphic’s top 25 Ski Towns in the world – the only one in the Southern Hemi­sphere. I love a good lodge, es­pe­cially when trav­el­ling on my own. It takes mere min­utes for me to dis­cover unknown and un­re­lated fam­ily just wait­ing to wel­come me home. And the in­sider knowl­edge and

ad­vice on where to eat, what to do and who to ski with, is priceless – and free! And be­lieve me, the ‘what to do’ is more im­por­tant than you can imag­ine! Yes, ski­ing, that’s a given. Of course I’m go­ing heli-ski­ing. But there’s some­thing very spe­cial about a Wanaka win­ter.

This is some­thing that re­ally needs to be ex­plained prop­erly. Win­ter in Wanaka de­faults to blue skies and sun­shine. You will need sun­glasses and sun­screen. Yes, the snow is out­stand­ing and an en­tire day on the slopes will rock your socks off – but get down from the moun­tain, shrug off the lay­ers and re­lax in an après en­vi­ron­ment of al fresco din­ing, street mu­si­cians and laugh­ter till late.

You can jet boat into Mount As­pir­ing Na­tional Park, a World Her­itage Area, and revel in pris­tine, oth­er­wise in­ac­ces­si­ble land­scapes in win­ter in Wanaka.

You can spend the day on a fab­u­lous wine tour in win­ter in Wanaka.

You can take a flight over glaciers, snowy peaks and wild oceans and na­tive for­est in win­ter in Wanaka.

You can ski in the morn­ing, he­li­copter to the West Coast beaches in the af­ter­noon and catch a cray­fish for an al fresco din­ner in win­ter in Wanaka!

You can even (some­times) wear shorts down­town in win­ter in Wanaka! I’m not kid­ding! It’s hap­pened!

But I di­gress! I’m so en­am­oured of the place, I find my­self ex­tolling Wanaka’s virtues long af­ter my com­pan­ions have ei­ther fallen asleep, or shoved my own rocked­off socks into my mouth. Heli-ski­ing! The ul­ti­mate win­ter ex­pe­ri­ence! There is no other win­ter ad­ven­ture quite as re­mark­ably em­pow­er­ing, in­vig­o­rat­ing and ut­terly awe-in­spir­ing. Or adren­a­line in­duc­ing. I’m quite sure my cam­era feels rather abused af­ter my glee­fully snap-happy first day. I’m also cer­tain that if a cam­era could talk mine would be mut­ter­ing, ‘stop the gig­gling – you sound pos­i­tively un­hinged.’

We were dropped, me del­i­cately (read fall­ing grace­lessly into the pow­dery snow un­der the thwump­ing blades of my il­lus­tri­ous ride) onto our drop off peak. Need­less to say, my cam­era was mor­ti­fied. Af­ter shuffling out of the way of the blades and other skiers far su­pe­rior in their exit to me, we donned skis, gog­gles and fig­u­ra­tive Su­per­man capes, and be­gan our des­cent. I was in heaven. I carved it up. I felt lighter than the feath­ery snow fall­ing onto my gog­gles, lis­ten­ing to noth­ing but my own ex­cited gig­gling and my skis whis­per­ing hearty en­cour­age­ment as they sliced the vir­gin snow like a hot knife through whipped cream.

Daydreams of grandeur and glory ran through my head as I made my way down the seem­ingly end­less slope of un­tracked pow­der. It was a day of ut­ter bliss, com­plete

sat­is­fac­tion and im­mea­sur­able pride as I nailed the last slope of the day. For­tu­nately, the heli-ski guides know the ex­act ex­pe­ri­ence you want and where to find it. I needed an in­tro­duc­tion to heli-ski­ing that would chal­lenge, but not scare me. That would in­spire me and make me crave more. Job done!

On our way home in the peach and vi­o­let twi­light, our pilot gave us the ul­ti­mate treat to end our day. We flew over a glint­ing sap­phire lake – prac­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble to reach by land and so beau­ti­fully deep blue in the gen­tle dusk it looked like the heart-shaped gem from Ti­tanic. What a bonus!

And what a spec­tac­u­lar end to an im­pos­si­bly per­fect, ut­terly Wanaka day.

Ul­ti­mate Day - Har­ris Moun­tains Heliski

Tre­ble Cone ski­ing

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