For those wary of mountains, like myself, travelling down one while balancing on two skinny lengths of plastic-coated wood with a couple of sticks is a pretty hard sell – but Cardrona is well worth a step out of your comfort zone.
An hour from Queenstown, Wanaka is the nearest main centre. It’s here where you can gird your loins for that early-morning start and some likely backside-first collisions with the white stuff.
Fortunately, it’s one of the most picturesque spots in New Zealand, with the famous lake a serene accompaniment to the hustle and bustle of eateries, bars and ski/snowboard stores.
Forty minutes south are the stunning slopes of Cardrona Alpine Resort. It’s advertised as fun, freeride terrain, with world-class parks and pipes, but the beginner’s McDougalls trail was my destination for the two-day trip.
My partner, Sarah, is a former ski instructor, so her advice and guidance was invaluable – especially the purple long johns. Even a warm-blooded pommy needs help, you see!
The mountain this Saturday is very busy. Cardrona has a family-friendly reputation, thanks to a nursery and four dedicated kids centres, and there are plenty of younger ones on the piste.
I take special notice of them as I fall over before reaching the lift, and they easily sidestep my dormant frame – bless ‘em.
The views are spectacular, although I’m frequently looking down, trying to transfer my weight from one leg to the other. Due to my sporting co-ordination (I’m particularly skilled at darts), I make good progress and am quite proficient by the end of the day. Another high point is the cafe food. Sarah’s balsamic mushrooms and my corn fritters with salmon are gorgeous.
The region’s culinary prowess is further illustrated back in Wanaka, when we visit Thai Siam for dinner. A reasonably priced menu is backed up by the restaurant’s food and service. The Water Bar is a popular spot to imbibe, with happy hour from 5.30pm, while Barluga is more of a hidden gem, thanks to a log fire and eclectic music selection.
Day two on the slopes is actually tougher than the first. My 38-year-old thighs felt the strain – as did my relationship, with Sarah patiently picking me up. Turns out skiing is as much about feel as technique, and that day I just wasn’t feeling it.
But the pros among me were happy with a fresh dusting of powder as the snow heavens opened. And whatever your skiing ability, the stunning vistas and friendly atmosphere are worth the trip alone.
Cardrona was a timely reminder for this city boy of the country’s stunning natural environment – coupled with the typical Kiwi determination of getting up when you fall.