Spending winter in the Canterbury Alps

By: Liz Light, Photography by: Liz Light


Canterbury mountains Travelling the alps in the Roller Team Ramble Canterbury mountains
Canterbury mountains 9 Clearwater—a cute bach village Canterbury mountains 9
Canterbury mountains 1 Ski your heart out at Mt Hutt Canterbury mountains 1

Winter doesn't need to be doom and gloom, especially in the Canterbury Alps where an array of adventures and sight-seeing can be had for your next winter holiday

The weather down south had been filthy when Sam and I headed down a year ago, but the result was a big dump of snow on the Southern Alps—a perfect base for skiing.

The day was still and blue, and at the top, the snow was everything promised: perfect, dry, groomed, and packed powder. However, the speed at which the weather can change in the mountains is astonishing.

Heading up the mount in the chairlift, Sam pointed out a dark cloud welling up from behind the ridge. The sun soon disappeared and the wind picked up. Twenty minutes later, the cloud tumbled over the ridge, metamorphosing into a blizzard.

We huddled in Huber’s Hut, the mountain cafe, and warmed up with steaming pumpkin soup, and watched the wind whip horizontal snow onto the windows. The blizzard had set in and it was soon announced that the mountain was closed.

Methven magic

Canterbury -mountains -(3)

Back down the mountain, a few kilometres and lots of altitude away, Methven enjoyed the winter sunshine, merely tickled by a gentle zephyr. I looked up to see the dark, scary weather still raging on the mountains.

Methven combines its tradition as a farming service centre with a new overlay as activity central. Mount Hutt, with skiing and boarding, dominate winter, but fly fishing, golfing, jet boating, parachuting, tramping, mountain biking, horse riding, paragliding, and hot air ballooning are all waiting for the taking.

With a chunk of afternoon left, we decided to treat ourselves to a jet boat ride. Between scaring the bejeezus out of us with 360-degree spins and hooking the speeding boat terrifyingly close to jutting rocks, the driver stopped at calm backwaters and explained the life cycle of salmon, showing us secret places to catch trout before taking us up the river to the Bayfield Bluffs.

In the land of LOTR

Canterbury -mountains -(24)

The storm closed Arthur’s Pass, so we headed along Highway 72 to all that remains of Edoras—the fort city of the Rohan clan in The Lord of the Rings.

Soon after, we passed through Clearwater—a bach community tucked between Lakes Camp and Clearwater.

After bare mountains, where houses are few and far, this intense little village—there are 100 or so baches squeezed close—was a strange, super-suburban apparition made weirder by being completely devoid of people. It’s definitely a summer place and no one winters over.

Edoras fits beautifully in this landscape; LOTR location hunters stumbled on perfection when they flew over this valley.

Dark, rocky Mt Sunday crouches in the middle of the silver braids of the Rangitata River, snow-covered mountains join above a distant glacier, and the sun makes Jacob’s ladders and magical atmospheric effects on cloud-capped.

Canterbury -mountains -(19)

The RV travelled in 

The RV Super Centre lent us a Roller Team Rambler. It’s a superior motorhome with clever Italian design. 

Some of our favourite features included:

  • An excellent crockery draw. Everything secure, nothing rattles.
  • A separate toilet and shower
  • The aft bed and the over-cab 
  • bed can be left made-up with none of the fuss of turning a table into a bed
  • Windows and hatches that have built-in fly screens and blinds
  • Superb lighting, in the right places
  • It drives like a dream (according to Sam)

Keep up to date with news by signing up to nzmcd.co.nz's free newsletter or by liking us on Facebook