Snow kiting New Zealand's South Island
It only takes a quick glance at the globe to see that the Southern hemisphere has far less land than the northern hemisphere and therefore far fewer places to snowkite. A look at our earth from the poles is even more revealing. The land masses of the Northern Hemisphere extend much further north while in the southern hemisphere there is the Antarctic in the polar region but the temperate zone is covered mostly by the oceans. Your choices are South America, Australia or New Zealand.
I guess it is human nature to believe that things must be better somewhere else. The grass is always greener or in this case the snow and wind is always better-on the other side of the fence. So I started the winter thinking Australia was the place, or even Chile or somewhere else in South America. Here in little
ol New Zealand the mountains are too steep and surely the first few waves of snowkiting pioneers had already discovered the only really good spot in the country-Snowfarm on the Waiorau range. A few months later and I realize I couldn't have been more wrong, after a season of missions that revealed New Zealand
is a snowkiting paradise. If you are after easily accessible park and ride conditions it is true that the choices are limited. But if you love a mission and the rewards of backcountry exploration, there could be few places on earth that could match the Southern Alps.
There's a reason the world champion chooses to return year after year. Chasta could be in Tahiti enjoying kitesurfing in his own backyard in conditions most of us would kill for. Instead, he chooses to spend a good deal of time in New Zealand because he loves it. Now I understand why.
Snowkiting New Zealand General Information
New Zealand consists of 2 main islands lying between 34-46 degrees south latitude. Mountains on the north island are volcanic cones rising to 9,176 feet (2797 m) while the southern alps is formed by the collision of the Pacific and Australian techtonic plates and forms a range which rises to 12,316 feet (3754 m).
New Zealand's weather is an interplay between some key influences. Understanding the weather will vastly improve your chances of scoring the best snowkiting conditions on the day and will prove invaluable in striking up a conversation with locals. The 2 hottest topics of conversation on any day are the weather and rugby.
1. Australia and the tropics. Australia is largely desert and is an intense source of heat for the air which will eventually make it's way to New Zealand. Northerly systems bring down warm, moist air from the tropics.
2. The Tasman Sea. Warm air from Australia picks up moisture as it passes across the Tasman sea.
3. The Antarctic. During the winter months a steady stream of lows is produced off the Antarctic. As they drift northward the first land they encounter is often the Southern Alps.
4. The Southern Alps- The main range of mountains in New Zealand presents an enormous wall these systems must rise over. The air cools as it rises, condenses and drops it's load of moisture.
New Zealand lies within the "Roaring forties". It's a windy place. Systems tend to move through with low pressure areas circulating in a clockwise direction. Typical pre frontal winds will be from the west as the low approaches New Zealand. If the low is more north the winds will tend northwest, if south, winds will be more westerly. Generally the freezing level will move down the mountain as the low passes with each front becoming progressively colder until the following high pressure area takes hold. As the low passes winds will tend more southerly.
Commercial ski resorts begin opening in June and generally close the first week of October. There is often good conditions in the higher mountain areas and glaciers through November and even later.
Skill level: New Zealand offers excellent conditions for learning through to freestyle and backcountry missions.
Local Info: www.kiteforum.co.nz has a group for Central Otago Snowkiters to share information, car pooling, etc. Forecasted conditions are often posted.
Facilities: Base yourself in Wanaka or Queenstown on the South Island. Both are full service resort towns.
Shops/Schools: Boarder Patrol offers lessons, rentals and equipment sales as well as camps and guided trips. See www.snowkitesurf.com
Travel Agent: 35th Parallel Travel arranges snowkiting holidays from Australia. See www.35thparalleltravel.com
Restrictions: At Ski areas check in with ski patrol. They probably won't allow you to ride on the skifield itself, at least not while they are open but will permit snowkiting in the out of bounds areas. On farms leave gates as you found them, i.e. if open, leave open, if closed, then close the gate behind you. This is VERY IMPORTANT to maintaining good relations with land owners. Respect the land and livestock.
Other: The New Zealand backcountry offers unlimited potential for exploration. However, snowkiting provides a means to get deep into the backcountry very quickly. If you are not trained in backcountry survival, attend a camp or course to gain some skills.
The following snowkiting spots are listed in order of easily accessible spots first and then more difficult or expensive options.
Snowfarm and the Pisa Range
For ease of access, consistency and variety Snow Farm is the top snowkiting spot in New Zealand. Located on the Wairua range at 4920 ft (1500 meters), the kite spot get's good snow cover and is kite-able in winds from just about any direction.
The Pisa range is adjacent to and accessible from Snow farm. The range runs north to south and rises to 6400 FT(1950m) offering a variety of snow and wind conditions. Early and late season when snowfarm's snow cover is patchy, a short walk up into the Pisa can often save the day. This is a Department of Conservation reserve. Kiting access is along the proving ground fence line north to the end of the testing area and then east across a shallow gully to access the ridge which will take you all the way to the summit. For hiking access check in at The Proving Ground office and take the more direct route to the snowline.
Terrain: flat ridges and shallow gullies provide great beginner and freestyle terrain while the Pisa offers acres of everything including some steeps and endless backcountry exploration.
Wind: Best Northeast thru to West but can be kiteable in any direction. As the winds come more to the south the wind strength needs to be quite strong. If it's lighter winds and south west go to Cardrona across the valley instead.
Skill level: Beginner to expert
Directions: Situated along the Cardrona Valley, 35 kms from Wanaka and 55kms from Queenstown. Easy road access. Carry chains. Pay $15 at Base Lodge for kite pass. Park at the top car park and cross the gully opposite the lodge building to the flat ridge approx 500 meters away.
Local Info: www.snow-forecast.com/resorts/Snow-Farm/6day/top
Facilities: Lodge at base car park with hotel rooms, restrooms, caf?, bar and restaurant.
Restrictions: Be careful to respect the boundaries with Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground which operates winter vehicle testing or you could get an unscheduled ride on the hood of Toyotas latest creation or a fine for $2500.
Notes: Please don't kite back to the car park unless you can land your kite safely.
Description: The back bowls of Cardrona magnify the Southwest wind and have epic conditions when its on. The top area near the ski field is great for freestyle and there is often a crowd watching the action. Further downhill it get's steeper and there's plenty of scope for backcountry exploration.
Terrain: The top is fairly flat providing a good area for freestyle and then it falls away to the southwest in a series of bowls for downhill/uphill riding with lots of wind lips, large rocks and other interesting features
Wind: light to moderate Southwest wind.
Skill level: Beginner to expert
Directions: Located across the Cardrona valley opposite Snow Farm. Drive up to Cardrona ski resort and park in the car park below the resort. The kiting area is towards Queenstown.
Local Info: www.snow-forecast.com/resorts/Cardrona/6day/bot
Facilities: The resort has a lodge, restaurant and ski and snowboard rental facilities.
Restrictions: Please do not snowkite within the ski field boundary.
Description: The Remarkables mountain range provides a spectacular backdrop for Queenstown.
Terrain: Steep and undulating, lots of big rolls. Gets steeper towards the ski field.
Wind: North east wind
Skill level: Advanced to Expert
Directions: From Queenstown follow highway 6 out of town to the Remarkables turnoff. Follow the unsealed access road. As you reach the snow line you have the ridgeline to your right. This area is called Outward Bound and connects to Homeward bound. For skiers and boarders these runs are accessed via the Shadow Basin on the ski field. For snowkiters find a place to park your car off the road and You're away.
Facilities: Full day resort facilities available on the ski field.
Restrictions: Snowkiting is not allowed within the ski field boundary.
Other: The drop off the other side would be fatal so stay well clear of the top of the ridge with your kite in the air.
There is also some great snowkite terrain for those with touring gear in the Wye Valley which is accessed from the top of the Alta Chair. This requires a South to Southwest wind and full backcountry gear.
Description: Treble cone is the most scenic commercial ski field in a country that boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. "TC" is also recommended as the spot to head on a windless powder day.
Terrain: A flat terrace located near the top of a steep ridge which provides some good intermediate terrain and opens access to unlimited backcountry possibilities.
Skill level: intermediate to expert
Directions: 19 kms from Wanaka along the Matukituki valley road. The kite spot is located at the top of the Saddle Chair lift. Hang a left off the chair and head for the flat spot on the other side of the ski area boundary called "Tim's Table". There's enough space here for maybe 3 or 4 people to kite on the flat, but follow the ridge out to the Southwest and there are miles of untracked terrain to explore.
Local Info: www.snow-forecast.com/resorts/Treble-Cone/6day/top
Facilities: full day resort facilities
Restrictions: snowkiting is not allowed within ski area boundaries. Be prepared for the backcountry if kiting into the steeper terrain or away from "Tim's table".
The Old Man Range
Description: "Who needs Norway when you have this!" Chasta
Terrain: Miles and miles and miles of perfect snowkite terrain. Mostly low angle but with plenty of small bowls and steeps to explore.
Wind: Southeast to southwest but can be good in any wind direction
Skill level: Beginner to Expert
Directions: Head for Roxburgh along highway 8. Turn right on Waikaia Bush Road. Can be very muddy and may require chains. 4WD recommended.
Facilities: None. Be prepared
Restrictions: Be prepared for backcountry travel.
The Old woman Range
Description: The old woman range is on the other side of the Old man range and is a continuation of similar terrain to higher elevations.
Terrain: Miles of wide open, low angle, perfect snowkite terrain with interesting rock features and bowls.
Wind: Best in Northwest through to southwest but can be good in any wind direction
Skill level: Beginner to expert
Directions: Head to Bannockburn near Cromwell and follow the Bannockburn road which turns into the Nevis Road. Follow it to the summit. If the snow line is low enough you may be able to kite from here. Otherwise, you will need a serious 4WD vehicle or be prepared to hike along the ridge which climbs to the south.
Restrictions: Be prepared for backcountry travel.
The Hector Mountains
Description: The Hector mountains rises from the southern end of Lake Wakatipu near Kingston. Access requires either snowmobile, snowcat or helicopter.
Terrain: Flatish ridgeline open to pretty much any wind direction with steeper bowls falling away to the east.
Wind: Ridgeline-Any, Bowls-Northeast to southeast
Skill level: beginner to expert
Directions: Contact Boarder Patrol or Southern Alps Sleds
Local Info: www.southernalpssleds.com
Facilities: Dilapidated ski club hut
Description: The Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier Neves are enormous lakes of ice and snow perched beneath New Zealand's highest peaks. Centennial and Pioneer Huts provide stunning views and are ideal bases for snowkite exploration.
Wind: North through west
Skill level: Snowkite skill- intermediate to expert. Alpine skills also required.
Directions: Helicopter to Pioneer Hut from Fox Township and to Centennial Hut from Franz Josesph.
Local Info: www.helicopter.co.nz, www.snowkitesurf.com
Facilities: Alpine huts
Restrictions: Must be prepared for high alpine conditions and travel on glaciated terrain. Mountain Guides are available for snowkiting expeditions.
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