MI­RAGES are not just seen in the desert

Go Travel New Zealand - - Wanaka - by Justine Ty­er­man

A squat lit­tle A-Frame hut shim­mered in the dis­tance… “You look as though you have seen a mi­rage,” a fel­low skier said to me, as I squinted across the daz­zling white ex­panse at the shape in the dis­tance.

But as I skied closer, I dis­cov­ered peo­ple loung­ing on deck chairs in the snow. They were drink­ing mulled wine, schnapps and beer, out­side a tiny bar on skids over­look­ing Lake Tekapo on a fresh-snow day so clear and sharp and bright it made my eyes wa­ter even with my gog­gles on. I skied to the win­dow and im­pul­sively or­dered a schnapps, re-en­act­ing a ro­man­tic mem­ory of a ski hol­i­day in Aus­tria in my younger days when our in­struc­tor-guide in­sisted we par­take of the lo­cal fire-wa­ter in a quaint lit­tle moun­tain bar to warm up be­fore brav­ing the sub-zero tem­per­a­tures out­side. Ra­tio­nal­is­ing it was well nigh im­pos­si­ble to come to grief on Round­hill's in­cred­i­bly gen­tle slopes, I at­tempted to skol my schnapps - so much for the mem­ory. It was ghastly, and I in­stantly handed it over to the near­est young male snow­boarder who gave me a quizzi­cal look but didn't waste any time down­ing the stuff in case I changed my mind. In hind­sight, I sus­pect the schnapps we were drink­ing back then was se­ri­ously di­luted with fruit juice be­cause I seem to re­call a pleas­ant peachy flavour - not clean­ing fluid. And no one skied into trees or was worse for wear af­ter a schnapps ses­sion long ago in the Ty­rol. We had run away from Wanaka's crowded slopes to ski the smaller fields in the MacKenzie High Coun­try, and were richly re­warded with fresh pow­der, cloud­less skies and no queues. Round­hill Ski Field is just as the name sug­gests - a mound with no cliffs, drop-offs or craggy peaks, and lit­tle chance of get­ting up too much speed. The main slopes are no chal­lenge to any­one be­yond the snow-plough stage but it is the most pic­turesque of ski fields, look­ing to­wards the beau­ti­ful God­ley Val­ley to the right, Tekapo town­ship 32 kilo­me­tres to the left and straight ahead, be­yond the turquoise-blue lake, to Ao­raki Mt Cook. The field also boasts the long­est, steep­est rope tow in the world and Aus­trala­sia's big­gest ver­ti­cal drop (783 me­tres). The last time I used a nutcracker was in the pre-chair­lift days at Coro­net

Peak when it was a sign of great pres­tige to own a rope tow belt - it's still in the at­tic some­where - but I de­cided to give it a miss in favour of drink­ing in the view and a glüh­wein at the "mi­rage" while my hus­band tack­led the tow. who were sprawled about the lounge in bean­bags. We ea­gerly joined the mer­ri­ment and gazed out the huge pic­ture win­dows as the sun­set painted the snowy Ben Ohau Range pink and gold. Just when we thought things couldn’t get much bet­ter, a de­li­cious three-course din­ner was served be­side an open fire, roar­ing away in the huge old stone fire­place dat­ing back to when Sir Harry Wigley es­tab­lished the lodge in 1951. We skied all af­ter­noon un­til the shad­ows were long and loath to leave the moun­tains; we spent the night 123 kilo­me­tres down the road at Lake Ohau Lodge. When we ar­rived, rosy-cheeked af­ter a day in the alpine sun, we were beck­oned by an­other mi­rage - the wine­maker from Terra Sancta at Ban­nock­burn was pour­ing gen­er­ous free tast­ings of Mys­te­ri­ous Dig­gings Pinot Noir and other de­lights to a bunch of an­i­mated après-skiers Early next morn­ing, with the land­scape sparkling un­der a thick layer of frost, we soaked in a hot spa pool on the lodge deck over­look­ing Lake Ohau as the sun rose. Af­ter a hearty skiers' break­fast, we drove 20 min­utes up the road to Ohau Snow Fields, high above the lake.

We were two of only seven skiers on the moun­tain be­fore the rush of 30 or so hit the slopes, and what Ohau lacked in breadth of ski­able ter­rain, it made up for in snow qual­ity and the sheer num­ber of runs we had on un­clut­tered slopes. A few keen souls were hik­ing the ridge above the dou­ble chair­lift to make first tracks in the pow­der, and a pair of hardy ski trekkers were head­ing off to an alpine hut in the next val­ley. Ski­ing Ohau, like Round­hill, is as much about the scenic ex­pe­ri­ence as the ski­ing it­self. To stand at the top of an empty slope with pris­tine un­touched snow, and no need to plot a course to avoid ma­niac snow­board­ers, kamikaze skiers and un­pre­dictable learn­ers was a rare treat. And the view of Lake Ohau and sur­round­ing moun­tains is mes­meris­ing, all the more so be­cause of the peace and soli­tude.

“EARLY NEXT MORN­ING, WITH THE LAND­SCAPE SPARKLING UN­DER A THICK LAYER OF FROST, WE SOAKED IN A HOT SPA POOL ON THE LODGE DECK OVER­LOOK­ING LAKE OHAU AS THE SUN ROSE"

IM­AGE: Justine Ty­er­man

Hik­ing the ridge to make first tracks in the pow­der at Ohau Snow fields

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