- Highest Point: 1860m
- Descent: 600m
- No. lifts: 6
- Lift Pass: 1 Day - $110 / 6 Days - $585 (inc. access to Treble Cone)
If you've ever considered doing 'back-to-back' winters, heading down south to New Zealand is well worth your time. Whilst there's nothing on the scale of European or North American ski resorts, instead you'll find tiny ski fields packed with full face grins and charm. However, if you're after somewhere to keep you occupied for the whole two-to-three month season or even a lift you can sit on, your options start boiling down a bit, with the most popular these days seeming to be Cardrona.
The first thing you'll notice is that it sits a way out of the nearest town, Wanaka, so you're looking at about a 45-minute drive, including some dirt-covered switchbacks that definitely require snow chains when the white stuff is pumping! If you don't have a vehicle then there's a semi-official hitchhiking spot on the way out of town and the friendly locals are sure to pick you up eventually.
The scenery here is out of this world, like the Scottish Highlands on acid, so make sure you drink it in for as long as possible if you're lucky enough to get there. Also worth remembering: Lake Wanaka and the nearby mountains often have polarised microclimates, so waking up to a grey morning can mean a banger day on the hill!
The Parks - 4/5
The opposite side of the valley used to play host to the now defunct Snow Park NZ, but since then Cardrona has made huge pushes into creating and maintaining some of the best parks in the Southern Hemisphere. There's everything from the Lil' Bucks baby park - this year accessible from the brand new combined chair and gondola lift - to Antler's Alley, Stag Lane and Big Bucks which feature a progressive range of kickers and jibs, all sitting under the Whitestar Express. The big boy jumps really are big these days, and you'll be sure to see some of the world's best hucking doubles and the like whilst you're on your way through.
Cardrona has not one but two halfpipes on offer - an old-school 12-14 footer and an Olympic-sized behemoth sitting at 22 feet high and 160m long. They sit alongside each other, and both are maintained by legendary pipe shaper John Melville, the guy that invented the pipe dragon and shapes the actual Olympic stunt ditches (just don't mention Sochi). Pretty good then.
"Both halfpipes are maintained by legendary shaper John Melville - the guy that invented the pipe dragon"
The Powder - 3/5
Given that there isn't such a vast array of terrain or that many powder days in a typical season, when it snows you have to get up and at it pretty pronto, and that includes getting your snowchains on! If you do luck ou though, there's heaps of fun to be had with a bit of fresh on the hill. For mellow turns you couldn't do worse than head over to the Captain's lift, on the looker's right there's pow fields a plenty with a decent scattering of rocks to tumble off. If you're feeling adventurous there's also the back way down to Queenstown, though you'll need a mate to park up before the snow runs out.
Got your gnarly boots strapped on? Arcadia Chutes has a bunch of small gulleys to shoot through or just gun it off the deep end, and the Kiwis do love to send it. Over the other side there's the not-so-Secret Chutes as well, with Tulip Café nestled at the bottom if you end up with wounds that need nursing. The ski patrol has a lot of pride in their work keeping everyone safe, though you should still always come equipped with the correct avi kit.
It's worth noting that if you buy a multi-day 'flexi' pass you're also entitled to use neighbouring Treble Cone. Situated on the other side of Wanaka, it's a freeride mecca of sorts on the South Island, with heaps of steep and deep stuff on a pow day. Again be warned, get there early to grab a few lines and be prepared to literally battle your way to the lift queues as hungry locals charge at new zones as they open up. Motatapu Chutes - that's all we'll say.
The Pistes - 3/5
Again, if you compare it to Northern hemisphere resorts Cardrona can feel quite limited, but the whole vibe here is about making the most of what's on offer - you'll both here and see locals blitzing around and hollerin'. Blue runs like Swaggerman and All Nations both offer some mellow cruising fun with a fair few side hits, whilst if you really want to open it up for a speed run then Valley View and Powder Keg are here for you.
The lower resort boundary is ring-fenced by the Comeback Trail that traverses you back round to the bottom of the Whitestar Express, but on the occasions where the snow line drops the Valley View four man opens up and extends the resort down to 1200m, as well as opening up a rad bunch of pistes like Gold Rush and the steeper Drift.
The Parties - 4/5
Whilst you'll struggle to make party up the mountain, no trip to Cardies is complete without sampling their Noodle Bar. You can sink a coffee or two at the cafe, but for beers head back down to Wanaka for anything from straight chillin' to all out party party - we'll leave the details of which to local legend Kris Clark:
"Wanaka has so many good food options it’s hard to know where to start. There are a few cool trucks doing takeaway food - pizzas from Francesca’s are always good and Burrito Craft do mean burritos and tacos. Otherwise, go for sushi from Yohei in the mall, Boaboa for fish ‘n’ chips (the Kiwi classic), Red Star for burgers and for the best curry definitely the Spice Room.
"For those who want a true Kiwi experience, check out the pie window. It’s only open weekend late-night but it’s the perfect end to a night out drinking"
"If you’re thinking going out for sit-down food, go to Amigos Mexican Grill for margaritas, sombreros and a fun night. For something special go to Relishes, the White House or Francesca’s Italian Kitchen. For those who want a true Kiwi experience, check out the pie window. It’s only open weekend late-night but it’s the perfect end to a night out drinking. Beware though, New Zealanders take their pies seriously so don’t push in! One thing to note if you’re saving your pennies and eating at home is that visitors always get confused why the prices at the supermarket here are pretty steep - just remember we are pretty far away from, well, pretty much everywhere, so eat seasonally and it will be cheap as. $6 tomatoes? Yeah, nah!
"After a day up the hill the best place to go is straight to the lake to have a few beers with your mates. Get your feet in the cold water and enjoy the sunset over Mt. Roy. Then head to Kai Whakapai (ask for a Kai card and every ten beers or coffee you get will earn you a free one), Amigos or Water Bar. A lot of the bars have different happy hours so do your research to make sure you’re getting the cheapest beer! After that Fitzpatrick's for a daily dose of live music and free pool, from there either LaLaLand for amazing cocktails (and be sure to try the cheap jamjar drinks), or down to Post Office Lane for two of the most stacked up outside fires in town. Although going out in town is fun, it can get expensive and so Wanaka is known for great house parties - keep your ears to the ground!"