By Tricia Byrnes
New Zealand, a country that has more sheep than people, a national bird that is almost never seen, and a town that proclaims itself the "adventure capital of the world" is also quickly becoming the must-go destination for summer shredding. Wanaka, located on the South Island of New Zealand, on the southern end of lake Wanaka, is the starting point and home base for some of the best snowboarding experiences New Zealand has to offer. X Games worthy pipes and parks, along with steeps, chutes, cliffs, and pow are all a 30-minute drive from Wanaka and with heli operations departing from Wanaka Airport to Mount Aspiring National Park, this really is the place to be!
Jake Bauer and Eric Willet ride into the sunset at Snow Park. Photo: Jeff Hawe
Where To Ride
A 30-minute drive in either direction puts you at the base of either epic freeride terrain or perfect parks, but not both; it's really one or the other so choose wisely and call ahead to get weather reports and park conditions. To say that New Zealand has inclement weather would be a major understatement. It's been said that getting there is half the fun and in New Zealand this is completely true, assuming driving up winding dirt roads on the opposite side of the road in a snowstorm without guardrails is your kind of fun. If you're not into rallying rental cars, hitchhiking to the mountain is totally safe and acceptable, and there are shuttle services to each of the mountains.
Snow Park--Snow + Park (Need We Say More?)
Snow Park is a bustling pipe-and-park extravaganza. Snow Park's one lift allows you to access two pipes, one quarter-pipe, and three parks, offering jumps, boxes, and rails for every level of park rat, and enough pipe to accommodate every American high-school student, all of Asia, and every other professional snowboarder from around the globe. Potato wedges with sweet chili sauce and chicken, Brie, and cranberry sandwiches from the Wool Shed will keep you satisfied after a zillion laps through the park.
Distance from Wanaka: 22 miles
Best for: pipe, park, and pro brodowns
Web site: snowparknz.com
Treble Cone--Pow, Cliffs, Chutes, And More Pow
Treble Cone boasts the largest rideable terrain and the highest vertical rise on the South Island--this is where you want to be on a powder day. So when that powder day comes, be ready--the rest of Wanaka will be ready and waiting to get it while it's good. While patrol finishes up avalanche control on Saddle Basin, do a couple laps in the indicator chutes, once the Saddle Quad opens race over there for some steep and challenging terrain. As that gets tracked, head out-of-bounds to the Motatapu chutes or hike to the summit for steep runs in the open bowl. Nothing beats a powder day at Treble Cone, so expect lines and a lot of stoked locals. Look out for wind and some bony sections as this place can get scoured and visibility can be poor. Plan accordingly and bring beacons and shovels if you're heading out-of-bounds. Keep an eye out for the Kia birds but definitely don't feed them, these local parrots are not afraid to beg for french fries and are known for eating the rubber off your windshield wipers. Pesky as they may be, they are one of New Zealand's native birds and unlike the Kiwi you might actually see one.
Distance from Wanaka: 12 miles (one of the sketchier roads)
Best for: freeriding, powder days, Wanaka locals
Web site: treblecone.com
Cardrona--A Little Bit Of Everything
Just before the turn off for Snow Park, across the street on the Crown Range Highway, is Cardrona. Cardies offers more of a traditional snowboard experience with a variety of terrain as well as pipes and parks for every level. The Heavy Metal Park boasts bigger jumps and rails, while the Playzone is designed with the beginner park rider in mind. It's noticeably less crowded than neighboring Snow Park, and Cardrona offers you the chance to work on tricks without the lineups, but potentially without the daily perfect pipe cuts as well. If freeriding is your thing, head over to the new Captains Quad, which has steeper terrain complete with cliffs and hikeable chutes as well as amazing views of Queenstown.
The New Zealand Open has relocated to Cardrona from August 11-15, 2009. Check opensnowboarding.com for more info.
Distance from Wanaka: 21 miles
Best for: A little bit of everything--pipe, park, freeride
Web site: cardrona.com
Jeremiah Favara scores the goods off Captains Quad in Cardrona. Photo: Jeff Hawe
New Zealand is known for its epic backcountry and is often compared with Alaska. If snow conditions are right and heli-time is in your budget, there's no better place to experience heli-boarding. Several heli operations are located right in Wanaka and can access terrain for all levels of riders.
Backcountry Helicopters NZ
Web site: heliskinz.com
Web site: alpineheli.co.nz
Harris Mountains Heli-Ski New Zealand
Web site: heliski.co.nz
Photo: Jeff Hawe
Despite its newfound popularity, Wanaka is still a small town that's slowly growing to accommodate the influx of seasonal warriors. A small skatepark is the primary after-shred spot for the majority of groms, and the cafés and pubs are bustling day and night. This extremely picturesque location begs you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the laid-back New Zealand café lifestyle. The two main streets of Wanaka are Ardmore, which loops down to the lake, and Helwick, which runs perpendicular to it. You'll find everything you need in Wanaka on these two streets ... or at least everything that is offered.
Kai Whaka Pai
No trip to Wanaka would be complete without a "flat white" or a "long black." This café is one of the original hangouts in Wanaka, ideal for spending late afternoons drinking coffee or sampling the local beer and wine as the sun sets on Lake Wanaka.
Corner of Ardmore and Helwick Streets
Web site: kaiwanaka.co.nz
Another local hangout for great coffee and even better food. Located underneath Speight's Ale House, this spot has a variety of lush salads, delicious curries, and a plethora of sinfully delicious deserts.
Corner of Ardmore Street
Located just on the outskirts of town, Café Fe has the best breakfast in town and is conveniently on the way to Snow Park and Cardrona. Stop there for amazing French toast, mint mochas, and some of the local cheese.
Corner of Orchard and Cardrona Roads
This is the place to go for freshly squeezed juices and an assortment of amazing variations of eggs benedict, curries, and fresh salads.
80 Ardmore Street
Gusto. Photo: Nick Hamilton
Soul Food Organic Store And Café
This is Wanaka's organic market with a little eatery inside serving all of the finest in organic foods. The ambience leaves a little to be desired, but if you're looking for organic goods stop here.
74 Ardmore Street
The Snack Shack
This little red shack on the lake serves up insane gyros, Kumara fries, Turkish kebabs, and anything else you might need for a quick fix. The Snack Shack also doubles as the pickup station for airport shuttles.
139 Ardmore Street
Located next to the snack shack, the Doughbin offers traditional New Zealand bakery fare: breads, cakes, cookies, bars and the ever-popular meat pies. No trip to New Zealand is complete without sampling one of these traditional meat pies. Psst, the secret side window opens from midnight until about 3:00 a.m. selling fresh baked meat pies for all the late-night pub crawlers.
123 Ardmore Street
Speight's Ale House
If beer is your thing, it's worth a visit here--they've been brewing beer on the South Island since the late 1800s. Speight's is better than your average alehouse, offering your classic New Zealand pub cuisine: big burgers, fish and chips, and an assortment of gold-medal brews.
155 Ardmore Street
Flat Whites and Long Blacks?
When you first venture into a Kiwi café, you may be surprised to see flat whites and long blacks on the menu and surprised to see an absence of your standard drip coffee. A flat white is the same as a properly made North American latte, but it differs from a regular latte in the preparation of the milk. The flat white is generally made with a third espresso and two-thirds steamed milk. The volumized milk is made by folding the top layer into the lower layers so the resulting drink has only a very thin layer of froth at the top and generally comes with a beautifully crafted milk design of the New Zealand fern leaf. A long black is basically an americano and is made by pulling a double-shot of espresso over hot water. So where's the drip coffee, you ask? They don't do that down there, unless of course you visit the Starbucks in Queenstown. Happy drinking!
Everybody parties at Shooters. Photo: Nick Hamilton
In the heart of downtown, this afternoon lakeside hangout turns into a pretty sloppy bar scene by night, complete with an empty dance floor, billiard tables, and a lounge area with a fireplace. Wednesday's karaoke night is not to be missed.
145 Ardmore Street
This upstairs locals' spot is the place for DJs and bands nearly every night of the week, as well as weekly pool tournaments. Happy hour drink specials and three fireplaces make it the perfect place to unwind after a long day on the hill.
68 Ardmore Street
These two bars sit side by side across from Red Rocks and offer two different kinds of atmosphere: Barluga is the swankier upscale wine bar, while Woody's offers that laid-back chill environment for hanging out and playing pool with friends.
Post Office Lane, 33 Ardmore Street
This small classic movie theatre is a real gem and a great getaway from the bar scene. Paradiso shows classic, indie, and recently released films to viewers perched in comfy old sofas and beanbags. (03) 443-1505
Web site: paradiso.net.nz
Wanaka can fill up quick in the high season so plan ahead. Here are a few of the many housing choices.
Alpine Motel Apartments
Comfortable, affordable, and within walking distance of town. The Alpine Motel is a no-frills establishment complete with kitchenette and charming owners.
Web site: alpinemotels.co.nz
Purple Cow Hostel
By far the most popular backpackers place--the place to go if traveling solo. You can't miss this funky hostel located in the heart of it all in downtown Wanaka.
Web site: purplecow.co.nz
If being close to the mountain is important to you, Benbrae is an excellent option. These brand-new, swanky apartments are at the base of Cardrona and Snow Park, and come complete with all the latest necessities.
Web site: Benbrae.co.nz
Cost: $169 and up
Wool Shed Bunkhouse/Luxury Apartments
If riding at Snow Park isn't enough, you can also stay at the brand-new Wool Shed Bunkhouse or the swanky new luxury apartments located at the base of the park.
Web site: snowparknz.com
Cost: bunkhouse, $40; luxury apartment, $145-350
Sheep. Photo: Nick Hamilton
Driving In New Zealand
If you decide to rent a car in New Zealand expect to memorize this chant for the first few days, "right left right", and be ready to "give way" instead of yield, and definitely keep left. Expect to be driving up to the resorts on winding dirt roads without guardrails, and make sure you have chains for snowy days, and mud-bogging skills for warmer days. Resort shuttles are also available for those less inclined to rally the rentals.
If you decided to stay in New Zealand for an extended period of time look into buying a beater car down there--insurance is cheap and so are cars. They are fairly easy to resell, especially if you fly in and out of Christchurch and spend a few days on both ends of your trip at the car auction.
Inclement weather is a part of the New Zealand experience, so if you want two weeks of riding you might just need to stay for a month. Here are a few things to do on those windy, snowy days.
Stuart Landsborough's Puzzling World
Puzzling World seems slightly out of place in the outdoorsy town, but this illusionist's playground is a huge hit with travelers and tourists alike. Puzzling World offers illusion rooms and a huge outdoor maze that is a-maze-ing--duh.
Web site: puzzlingworld.co.nz
No trip to New Zealand would be complete without hucking your carcass off a bridge with nothing but a stretchy string attached to your ankles. A short 45-minute drive from Wanaka gets you to A.J. Hackett's smallest bungee jumping bridge, and also the original. If you've never done it, at 80 bucks, it's well worth the experience.
Web site: ajhackett.com
If you're looking for a bigger jump, or more thrills, head into Queenstown, a 50-minute drive from Wanaka, and go to the self-proclaimed "adventure capital of the world." You can sign up for jet boating, parasailing, skydiving, the canyon swing, and the world's highest bungee jump--the Nevis at a mere 440 feet.
Web site: queenstownadventure.co.nz
Wanaka Flightseeing Scenic Flights
Wanaka airport offers daily scenic flights to Milford Sound, Mount Aspiring National Park, and Mount Cook. Milford Sound is one of the South Island's natural treasures and is totally worth the trip. By car Milford Sound is one long day's drive just to get to the mouth of it, but by plane you can see and do the whole thing in half a day. If flying in small planes is not your thing, you might want to reconsider; the flight can get a little hairy on the descent but the views are worth the nail-biting journey. Flights leave Wanaka airport every day, weather dependant.
Web site: flightseeing.co.nz