We first came across snowboarder and backcountry splitboarder Mike Handford as he headed off to explore the possibilities inKyrgyzstanat the start of 2014. When it comes to summer in the Northern hemisphere however, hecan't resist the urge to escape back to New Zealand each year. He tells us why.
The ability to jump on a plane and go from the heights of spring straight back to the beginning of winter is what keeps me going back to New Zealand year after year. Ever since I started snowboarding I’ve never been particularly fond of summer, so chasing winters in New Zealand was a natural step.
“A simpler way of life” is how I would describe living on the shores of Lake Wanaka. Coming from the seemingly inescapable 9-5 grind of the UK the freedom of life and the incredible access to outdoor pursuits is what makes me return every year. Living in Wanaka for six months a year provides an incredible base camp for snowboarding, camping, hiking, SUPing, and mountain biking, among other amazing activities.
Apart from the myriad of fun sports to pursue, the community of Wanaka is part of what brings me back. For four months of the year, Wanaka is transformed into a close-knit community of snow lovers from all over the world who just can’t quite comprehend waiting for the Northern Hemisphere white stuff to return. With so many likeminded people in one small town it’s always a great place to be.
The landscape in the South Island of New Zealand is iconic. Rocky peaks, glaciers, blue rivers and rolling pastures dot the landscape. During the winter, the upper elevations get blanketed in white and the mountains become even more spectacular, providing a massive playground for skiers and snowboarders. Steep rocky faces with tight couloirs; perfectly shaped meadows; hidden lakes and defined gullies as far as the eye can see.
Treble Cone Ski Area sits a short and very scenic thirty-minute drive down the shores of Lake Wanaka. I am continually in awe of the view from the summit of Treble Cone- looking out towards Black Peak and the surrounding mountains never ceases to inspire and excite me. There are so many adventures out there!
As winter starts to fade and spring arrives, so does my favorite time of year. With the longer days, who couldn’t love the opportunity for multi-sport days? My favorite itinerary is to wake up early and go snowboarding at Treble Cone for a few hours before returning to break out the mountain bikes for a few laps in Sticky Forest. That leaves just enough time for a quick game of disc golf on the picturesque Lismore disc golf course above the lake, capped with beers on the lake front.
For those into backcountry and wilderness camping, the options are endless. Rather than go into too much detail here I will simply point you to the NZ Department of Conservation page, which has more information than you can shake a stick at. Their website also caters to cyclists; the Otago Central rail trail being the one I plan on riding in spring.
Describing my experience in Wanaka often sounds like an advertisement, and for good cause. If you have been toying with the idea of a trip to NZ, I implore you to do so. Whether for a week or a season, spending time in New Zealand is an incredible experience, maybe even life changing. It was for me.