Ahhh winter. Frosty mornings breaking into crystal clear days.
Subzero temperatures that hover on freezing.
Still waters of casting mirror images of majestic mountains.
Spectrums of color exploding in an early morning golden crust over the eastern ranges falling to shadows in the West.
It’s Lake Wanaka and it’s only place I know to call ‘home’.
The Maori (indigenous people of New Zealand) used to stop and rest along the shores of the lake as they made their way between their greenstone and moa hunting grounds of the West Coast and the fishing grounds of the East.
It’s a place that has a unique energy and stillness no matter what the weather or time of year you visit.
If you’ve ever spent time here, you’ll know what I mean.
It’s a place where time stands still albeit for the urban expansion that continues to take place within the village boundaries as people uncover this little slice of alpine paradise.
So what the hell am I doing here…in the middle of winter?
Akin to something resembling a winter homecoming, there’s just something about the lure of the winter season that is hard to pass up.
Simply, there’s no place quite like home.
Regardless of the frozen temps, the snow clad alps and stunning vistas, this really is a winter wonderland.
The days may be short and the mercury only just inching above freezing if you’re lucky. But if there’s a time of year to embrace the cold and harness the beauty of it this is the time to do so.
Déjà vu – the homecoming of the ski hill
From the moment you hit the steep winding road of gravel switch backs climbing high above the valley floor, it’s a challenge to keep the eyes on the road rather than the view.
Once upon a time we used to know exactly how many minutes it would take to make it from the driveway to the base, now we’re more inclined to take in the views around every bend a little more sedately.
From Charlie’s Corner, the Gravel Pit Dip, Heli Pad Corner, 7th Corner and finally Pub Corner the steep faces of the home basin and the three peaks which give the name ‘Treble Cone’ come into view. It’s one of my favorite roads to bike up in summer, and it’s a little different enjoying the view without your heart rate sitting on threshold for 60mins while dripping profusely with sweat.
By the time you’ve made it to the top, walked through the car park to the base lift, the odds are on that you’ve seen half the village and a dozen people you grew up with. It’s as social as the supermarket at 6pm on a Christmas Eve and it’s why good season or bad, everyone is drawn back for the camaraderie that is shared by the beauty of the natural steeps and gullies that cascade down to the valley floor and to the lake in the distance.
A stillness that can only be found in winter.
Winter is the time of year when the lake is at it’s most peaceful.
If you can imagine the magic feeling of carving turns in chalky dry snow, paddles cutting through mirrored glass on the lake, riding frozen single track and running through crisp dry winter air, you’ve got an idea why playing in winter brings it’s own special agenda.
Calm, still and casting mirror like reflections from the mountains in the distance. The water is clear, the colors every changing. But all it takes is a front to move in from the South or the West and the tranquility is dissolved into a ferocious beast blowing furiously across the lake.
Mist rising in the morning, village lights sparkling in the winter twilight.
While many dream of the endless summer, the beauty of winter brings it’s own unique ways to play. Sure it’s cold, but it just makes you appreciate summer that much more when it comes around.
Add in the fun of bumping into friends, catching up with family, the warmth of sitting in front of a roaring fire, gathering pine cones, layering up in winter clothes and hosting a crowd for a raucous few hours around the dining table it’s home.
A few days at home is all it takes to feel like you’ve plugged back into the national grid and restored full power to the house batteries. Yep, a good dose of home will do that to you.