Visiting a favourite ski area in the summer is like seeing an old friend without any clothes or makeup on. It‘s somewhat disconcerting and even a little unsettling. There she was, her weathered body, warts, wrinkles, blemishes, scars and all, stark naked in the baking hot Central Otago summer sun. I hardly recognised her and at first I wanted to look away.
Cardrona is infinitely more alluring and beautiful when fully clothed in her winter gown of pure white with silvery trim, but once I started exploring her summer self, she revealed a whole new and multi-faceted personality to me. There‘s so much more to her than her winter face and I‘m delighted to say our friendship has been enriched by my discovery of her summer attributes.
Cardrona glows gold in a summer sunset. Photo / Supplied facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit
In the winter, people ride up the lifts and ski or snowboard down. It‘s as simple as that. I‘ve been skiing there since the mountain opened in 1980 so I thought I knew the old girl pretty well. But there‘s another dimension to the resort I was only vaguely aware of, a myriad of summer experiences to indulge in: walking, hiking, mountain biking, mountain carting, stargazing and of course, wining and dining. You can even stay on the mountain at one of 15 apartments that accommodate from two to 10 people.
The easiest option is to ride McDougall‘s Chondola (a combo of enclosed gondolas and chairlift seats) to the viewing platform at 1800m, take in the spectacular panorama of Lake Wakatipu and the Wakatipu Basin, Queenstown, the Remarkables and row upon row of the majestic Southern Alps, travel back down the same way and then enjoy lunch and a glass of divine local wine at the Lounge.
Moderately energetic visitors and families with young children can ride the Chondola and walk an easy 45 minutes down to base via the gentle Skyline/Afternoon Delight track, a ski run we know as Queenstown Return, a leisurely, scenic glide along a broad cat-track with breath-taking views . . . and a tantalising glimpse into the future. The track borders the magnificent Soho Basin which, in about five years‘ time, will join forces with Cardrona to form New Zealand‘s largest alpine resort.
A longer, more challenging hike is the two and a half hour Captain‘s Circuit alpine trail which takes you along the resort‘s northern boundary overlooking Wanaka and Lake Hawea, a favourite powder run of ours after a fresh snowfall.
Mountain carting at Cardrona is loads of fun. Photo / Supplied facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit
Careering down well-known ski trails on sturdy, German-made three-wheeled mountain carts is loads of fun. It‘s New Zealand‘s first gravity-fuelled mountain carting adventure and proving to be exceptionally popular. You hitch the cart to the chairlift for a cruisy ride back to the top of the track and then do it all again.
Mountain bikers are in nirvana at Cardrona which has some of the longest vertical descents in the country including the 10km Peak to Pub freeride backcountry experience ending at the iconic Cardrona Hotel, a mecca after a hard day‘s skiing . . . or biking.
The resort is opening an advanced Jump Trail in mid-February 2019 which will have hard-core mountain bikers frothing at the mouth.
A mountain biker gets airborne on one of the tracks at Cardrona. Photo / Supplied facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit
All levels of biking ability are catered for including lessons for beginners and intermediates at the Cardrona Mountain Bike School. I wonder if the instructors are as cool as their winter counterparts?
Cocooned in the heart of the Southern Alps, far away from the bright lights of any major city, the Cardrona valley is blessed with some of the best conditions on the planet for stargazing. The dark night sky in the area has minimal light pollution and is far enough south to see the astonishing Southern sky and even the Southern Lights.
An experienced astronomer-guide will take you on a tour of the night sky viewed first with the naked eye and then through a top-of-the-line portable telescope.
You hitch your mountain cart to the chairlift for a cruisy ride back to the top of the track. Photo / Supplied facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit
Cardrona‘s mountain restaurants have a different vibe in the summer without skiers clumping around in snow-covered boots and multiple layers of clothing but there‘s still plenty of helmets, gloves and goggles in evidence – coated with dirt though, not ice – and the cuisine at the Lounge and Mezz is just as tasty.
The summer terminology is different too – the ski patrol and snow report are replaced by the dirt patrol and dirt report and there‘s even a dirt responsibility code that covers all aspects of on-mountain etiquette and conduct.
Hiking, biking and carting on terrain which we‘ve only ever skied over is a fascinating experience. The anatomy of the mountain is laid bare – the undulations, humps, hollows, rocks and tussocks are all exposed, without the softening effect of the snow to fill the crevices and smooth the surfaces. You become very aware of the iceberg effect, discovering that the tip of a rock you avoid on skis in the winter is actually a huge boulder.
Refueling stop – a tasty burger and a cool beer at the Mezz Restaurant. Photo / Supplied facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit
Cardrona in the winter mode will always be my first love but at sunset, when the mountain shimmers and glows in the hazy, golden light of a Central Otago summer‘s eve, she is indeed beautiful . . . and surprisingly versatile and entertaining.
• Pick up an at Queenstown Airport:
• Stay at Bookabach‘s