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Sunday, Sept. 24, 2000

JAPAN LITE

Wild and woolly times skiing in New Zealand


I recently made a visit to New Zealand. I know what you're thinking -- SHEEP! Yes, there were lots of sheep. However, their numbers have dwindled recently due to the increase of synthetics instead of wool for clothing manufacturing. I'm not sure where synthetic fibers come from. My guess is lemmings.

Most animals take little interest in human activity. You can drive by a pasture of cows and they'll not even notice you. Not sheep. Drive past a pasture of sheep and all 2,055 of them will lift their heads and stare at you. When police search for clues to crimes, they should ask the sheep. Sheep see everything. They stare at you so intently, you almost feel as if you're intruding. If Emily Post had been to New Zealand, I bet she would have recommended: When driving past a pasture of sheep, the proper procedure is to roll down the window, wave and give a polite, "Excuse me, just passing through, mates."

But I didn't go to New Zealand to wave to sheep. I went to go skiing. New Zealand has some great skiing -- if you can get to it.

The ski areas typically sit up on the top of mountains, like the Emerald City in "The Wizard of Oz," with perilous, winding roads leading up to them. The first place I went with my mates was Mount Hutt. To get up the access road to Mount Hutt, you need a four-wheel drive, chains and a parachute in case your car falls off the road. On one side of the road is the mountain and on the other side is nothing. The only thing between you and nothing is more nothing because there aren't even any bloody guard rails. Thelma and Louise never would have made it to the top.

No wonder they close the Mount Hutt ski area and the access road in bad weather. I expected Warren Miller to appear at the next corner, camera rolling, doing a documentary on nutters, skiers like us, and what we'll go through to get to fresh powder.

The second ski area we went to was Craigieburn Valley. The Craigieburn access road is one lane, and would be more appropriately called a bridal path. Forget the chains, install crampons instead. Hey, is that Warren Miller over there in the bushes? No, just some avalanche debris. There's a sign next to it that says, "Keep your car moving at all times -- Avalanche danger." When we finally reached the top, we found a 30-car parking lot. Apparently, they don't expect many people to make it to the top.

The third ski area we went to was Mount Olympus. Halfway up the access road, there was a place where all the cars had pulled off. Aha! This must be where the Warren Miller interviews take place! Nope. This is where you have to radio up to the top to see if the road is safe enough to continue up. The Mount Olympus access road being even more perilous than Craigieburn's, I expected to find a 10-car parking lot at the top. Nope. No parking lot! The road just ends and you park your car on the side of the road (and hope it won't have fallen off by the time you get back from skiing).

We had excellent skiing every day and Mount Olympus was no exception. The drive up was certainly worth it. Driving down, however, proved to be harder than getting up. While we were skiing, two avalanches had fallen across the road and we had to wait two hours until they were cleared off the road. We were lucky though. In the past, others had been snowed in for up to seven days.

So if you ever go on a ski trip to New Zealand, here's a tip one of the locals told me. Add the following to your ski gear: a toothbrush and an extra pair of underwear. You might also want to take an extra sweater -- one made of lemmings, that is.

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com


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