Learning to ski teaches you much about life. First, when you fall over, pick yourself right back up. Second, the more fearful you are, the more you need to lean forward. And, finally, it’s very hard to use the bathroom wearing snow boots.
Cardrona and Ohau are both fantastic places to learn. The instructors I’d met had been teaching for decades, and the improvement in my skills and confidence had been rapid. I’d gone from being a complete novice to taking on blue runs with ease in under a week. My knees had already stopped hurting.
At Mt Hutt it all comes together, with some kind prodding from Aussie instructor Marc. Despite the full sun on the mountain, it’s cold. The snow guns are pumping non-stop all day, every day, for the entire 3 days.
By sheer coincidence my teenage cousin Raena from the Gold Coast is on the mountain with a school group. Distance means we don’t see each other often, so this is a bonus – plus, I’m clearly a pro on the slopes by now, so I can give her some pointers.
“Keep your head up! Try not to look at your toes!” I yell, dropping a pole and losing balance.
She gets her revenge that night, giving me pool tips at their lodge in Methven.
Never a dull moment: busted chain saved by Matt the rescue man © Nic Lever
It’s been a day or so without some sort of van-related disaster. Too long, the Spice Rack decides, and, as we drive up the steepest part of Mt Hutt the next day a few links in our snow chain promptly break. Other cars helpfully signal the fact as they roar past, horns sounding – but we have to limp on, with one chain flapping like a flail, until we find a flatter, wider spot to stop. Just when the situation starts to look desperate, Marvellous Matt arrives. He’s the man with an orange mattress on the front of his ute for pushing people out of trouble. Matt’s also got spare chain links, and very big pliers, so in a few minutes the Rack is back.
Hutt’s long runs are perfect for improving on and Owie and I are greedy for more time on the snow. Days like this with incredible views and great skiing are peak New Zealand – it’s certainly a sinking feeling to think tomorrow night I’ll be back on the sweaty streets of Sydney.
It’s just after dawn on our final day. We’re on the road again, Owie and I are chatting, keen to be among the first skiers on the slopes at Mount Hutt. It’s another freezing New Zealand morning, and the heater fogs the windows – obscuring a view of sheep, low hedges and more sheep.
Suddenly, Owie notices the sliding door of the van is open, and our scattered belongings are trailing out onto the highway. “Shit! Shit! Shit!” he says, pulling over in cranky mode.
We get out of the van and squint back along the road to see what we’ve lost.
“I thought it was a bit breezy in there” I say, picking up a glove.
Not wanting to get dusty fitting chains on our last day, or have another snow chain related incident, we opt to take the Methven Travel shuttle from the gate. The bus is a stress-free alternative, and faster summiting than the Spice Rack by ten minutes at least. Owie uses the trip to get his TomTom helmet cam working. To my delight, he doesn’t manage to.
time for a final selfie at the top of Mt Hutt © Owain Price
Unencumbered by the van we’re some of the first on the slopes. We don’t stop for lunch, getting run after run on just a sweet muffin and mini sausage roll.
We get to skip the shuttle down – Owie has lined up Hutt’s Marketing Manager Richie to get us back safely to the parking lot. I read this as time for one more lap on the quad chair.
Turns out Richie’s a bit of legend, and he keeps us laughing with stories the whole trip down. It’s 1:30 when we leave Hutt, and we’re aware of cutting it a little fine for our 6pm flight, but Richie has us back at the Spice Rack with time to spare. We get to the JUCY depot near the airport before 4pm – congratulating ourselves for not having to empty and clean out the toilet tank. Good decision. The Spice Rack is certainly battle-worn, but it never failed us.
Blasting off from Christchurch Airport aboard an Emirates Airbus is a great way to finish the trip. Owie has put me down for gluten-free meals for some reason, but there’s no complaints from me. Chewing on a rice cracker, I sit back to review a week’s worth of pictures. I glance over to Owie, who has a pair of headphones on. He gives me a thumbs up. He’s listening to Pink Floyd on the sound system, a fair choice after a solid week of Australian pub rock. Comfortably Numb plays, but I think Goodbye Blue Sky is more appropriate.
For a great campavan deal check Jucy NZ here.
If you don’t wat to drive the road use the Methven Travel shuttle; they are also great for organising cheap accommodation packages locally.
Check Nic’s NZ Road Movie here