Purpose built in the 1980’s Cardrona’s ski resort is located along the Crown Range Road 35km from Wanaka and 57km from Queenstown.
Although its vertical drop (390m) is unexceptional, Cardrona's base elevation of 1,670m is unusually high for New Zealand and normally receives good quality snow all the way down to the base area. Although it has a reputation for beginner/intermediate terrain, it has some challenges too, and attracts national ski teams from the northern hemisphere for pre-season training.
The excellent snow, dubbed 'hero' snow for its soft covering on a firm base, has helped Cardrona to attract beginners, families and intermediate skiers. And yet in contrast with its Doctor Jekyll slopes it has some unexpected Mr Hyde steeps too. Cardrona is unusual in that unlike all other New Zealand commercial ski areas it actually has some on-mountain accommodation.
The installation of the Whitestar Express and Captains Express quads significantly improved Cardrona's lift system, virtually erasing the queuing problems which were previously commonplace at the resort.
Having been made redundant by the construction of the Captains Express, the relocation of the old Captains quad back in 2010 to the Valley View area after a year in storage helped the resort to increase its lift capacity to 10,000 skiers an hour, while also expanding its ski area.
There are now a total of four quad chairs at Cardrona, meaning it has more chairlifts than any other South Island mountain. There are also three magic carpets, giving children and beginners plenty of gentle encouragement.
The MacDougall's quad serves some of the easier terrain, in particular the languid Skyline trail which allows new skiers to drift all the way down to the bottom of the lift again - quite an achievement for a beginner - enjoying, if they dare to look up - spectacular views towards Queenstown en route. Th resort claims that the vast majority of adults who have never skied before will manage this run. The three magic carpets (one dedicated to three-and four-year-olds) illustrate Cardrona's wish to position itself as a beginner friendly resort.
Although Cardrona has a reputation for wide open easy skiing for all the family, it some pretty hair-raising slopes that only really come into play during the annual Cardrona Games when the emphasis suddenly switches to extreme. For the rest of the winter it returns to a predominantly "relaxed and friendly" persona, favouring cruisers, families and freeriders.
The Heavy Metal trail runs the length of the Whitestar Express on a purpose-built terraced course - home to the larger rails and features. The Playzone trail runs alongside upper Heavy Metal utilising smaller features.
The pipe-park - said to be the biggest in the southern hemisphere - consists of four pipes (International, Rookie, the Monster and the Johnny). The last two are built to the enlarged Superpipe dimensions, while the Rookie and International are shallower.
Usually two pipes are in operation on any given day - one used exclusively by the High Performance Centre until mid-September, and the other open for public use. The 800m Gravity Cross sculptured track below the MacDougall's quad is made up of banked corners, jumps and rollers.
The Base Café downstairs in the main base building serves a wide range of fast food and beverages. Beside the Base Café is the Juice and Java Bar, and upstairs is the fully-licensed Mezz Café-cum-restaurant with impressive scenery. The Noodle Bar has wide decks overlooking the slopes: you can ski right in from Skyline Ridge to select fresh vegetables along with your choice of noodles and meats cooked on the spot. On the other side of the mountain is the Captain's Pizzeria.
Cardrona draws many of its visitors from the idyllic lakeside town of Wanaka (small town, big lake) where the atmosphere is in almost total contrast to the bustling tourist town of Queenstown. a 57km drive from Cardrona if you take the closest route along New Zealand's highest main road.
Shooters' is Wanaka's only Lakefront Bar with a karaoke night on Wednesdays and live entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays. There are Happy-hour prices from 5-6pm and 9-10pm, and a deck with mountain and lake views as you watch the sun go down after a day on the slopes.
There's live music at Paddy's. Red Rock has good bar-food and pool tables, but gets crowded. Muzza's Bar & Cafe offers family dining and an open fire. The Cardrona Hotel is a relic of the gold rush days. One of New Zealand's oldest hotels (built in 1863), it's well worth a visit even just for a drink at the bar. It's a 20 minutes drive from Wanaka. The stylish Barluga, with its extensive wine list and long bar, is the 'in' bar at Wanaka.
Barluga Tel: +64 3 443 8579
Shooters Tel: +64 3 443 4345
Cardrona Hotel Tel: +64 3 443 8153
Muzza's Bar Tel: +64 3 443 7296
Wanaka may be a quiet backwater compared with Queenstown but there is still plenty of action and numerous bars and restaurants, many claiming magnificent views.
Missy's Kitchen has a truly eclectic menu, tapas, and delectable desserts. The award-winning Capriccio is right on the lake-shore, and specialises in excellent fish dishes and fine wines. Kaiwhakapai (Maori for House of Great Food).
"The Kai" produces everything they sell on the premises, including Rye Bread and Banana Cream Pie. The Pa Runga (Maori for "upstairs") Bar is an intimate claims "best view in town". Carnivores will doubtless enjoy The Hub's signature dishes of the Table BBQ and Oak Steak.
Sargood's, at the Edgewater Resort, is named after Sir Percy Sargood who purchased Wanaka Station - then one of the area's largest sheep farms - in 1912. The lakefront setting was once part of the station. Don't miss one of the restaurant's signature desserts: Satan's Kiss (strawberry panna cotta, house-made cayenne ice cream and flourless chocolate cake).
Missy's Kitchen Tel: +64 3 443 5099
Cappricio Tel: +64 3 443 8579
Kaiwhakapai Tel: +64 3 443 9220
Oakridge Resort Grand Mercure Tel: +64 3 443 7707
Sargoods Tel: +64 3 443 8311
As it hardly ever snows in Wanaka, the nearest town, there's almost no limit to the all-year- round outdoor activities, including wine tasting, sky-diving, mountain biking museum visits and swimming, golf, trout fishing and rock climbing.