Ski and sky in Mid-Canterbury
My virgin experience of mighty Mt. Hutt was as a delinquent teenager. I was a 14 year old on a school day-trip to the ski slopes. My mate and I decided it would be really clever to take the chairlift to the summit of the mountain and ski our way down, despite neither of us having any prior skiing experience. Needless to say, it was a disastrous decision, as two misguided adolescents spent much of the day galumphing their way down the slopes in a most ungainly fashion. Take it from me, if you’re a newbie to skiing, that’s not the recommended baptism!
If you are a first-timer to hitting the slopes, Mt. Hutt is the perfect destination. With the longest ski season in New Zealand, if not the Southern Hemisphere, it’s reliability as a ski field is priceless, running through to mid-October. It has scooped the title of New Zealand’s best ski resort for five years running, showcasing the very best of New Zealand’s high country. With five ski lifts that cater from beginners to advanced skiers, it’s an all-embracing ski resort, not matter your skill level.
Mt Hutt also boasts the longest vertical chairlift access of any mountain in the country. The road to the ski field is an appetising adventure in itself, 12km of steep, loose metal roads along many winding ridgelines. As one of the highest roads in the country, it was constructed by a hardy group of adventurers in 1970 with grit, dynamite and some handy heavy machinery. If you don’t want to drive yourself, you can easily catch a shuttle from Methven. The sheer size of the facilities is impressive and spacious, from the huge foyer, to the ski shop, café and bars.
The jovial staff at Mount Hutt are particularly outgoing, efficient and super helpful in ensuring you get yourself fully equipped with the right gear. I was last up on the mountain in August with some friends and their children who were savouring the slopes as newbies. The fantastic team of ski instructors make the beginners lessons super entertaining and encouraging. The idea is they won’t don’t let you graduate on to the chair lifts and higher runs until they’re confident you won’t injure yourself – let alone anyone else! The dedicated learning area includes the 140m-long Magic Carpet which kids just love.
The beginner slopes are pitch-perfect to get ski legs sorted, before heading further up the mountain, to rock down the likes of Highway 72 and Broadway, which I’ve always loved, before carving down the intermediate slopes or the upper trails like Morning Glory and Upper Fascination. Not only is the sensation of skiing or snowboarding absolutely exhilarating, but it’s fiendishly addictive. You’ll be staggered how fast the day sweeps by. When you’re not smashing the slopes, there’s a feast of temptations, whether it’s enjoying the hot chocolates; a hot soak in the New Zealand’s highest spa pool that crowns the top of the Summit Six Chairlift at 2086 metres above sea level; or even a la carte dining at Hubers Hut, in front of the roaring fire.
It’s a top spot for apres ski mulled wine, as the sun slumps behind the Southern Alps. The restaurant is named in honour of the father of the Mt Hutt ski area, Willie Huber, who has just passed away. Located in the base area, under 5 year olds can be looked after at Mt. Hutt’s Skiwland daycare centre, for half a day. Another family favourite is tobogganing in the snow play area. Bring your own or hire one on-site. Even if you don’t plan on skiing, head up Mt. Hutt for some supreme alpine sightseeing across the main divide, by enjoying a $30 chairlift ride. From first timers to seasoned pros, Mt Hutt has ski and snowboard lessons and packages to suit all abilities with lift pass, lessons and equipment rental included. www.nzski.com/mthutt/
A great base camp is the picture-postcard town of Methven. This busy little ski village, tucked beneath Mt. Hutt is loaded with hospitality temptations. Takeaways, cafes, and two convivial hotels, on either side of the main drag, aptly named the Blue Pub and the Brown Pub. My favourite is the Blue Pub, with a wealth of inviting spaces, great pub grub and fancier a la carte options, plus a sparkling apres ski scene.
If you’re up for some hiking, I love the plethora of walking trails at the base of Mt. Hutt in the Awa Awa Rata Reserve. There’s several short forest walks ranging from 10 to 45 minutes, ablaze with birdlife. There’s also a longer tramping option on the Pudding Hill Stream Route.
Itching for more loftiness? Go aloft with Ballooning Canterbury with seraphic views over the scenic Southern Alps, including Mt Cook to the west, while out East, the patchwork pastures of the Canterbury Plains give way to the big blue of the Pacific Ocean. It’s an elemental, gracious and heart-stirring way to salute your sense of place in Mid-Canterbury. www.ballooningcanterbury.com
Mt. Hutt is just 25 minutes from Methven, the ideal Mid-Canterbury base for a dreamy escape no matter what your taste or budget. Just one hour from Christchurch on Inland Scenic Route 72, for more trip inspiration and guidance, head to www.midcanterburynz.com