ski area New Zealand
blogging, Travel

Risking Life and Limb to Ski in New Zealand

Queenstown

Lindis pass New Zealand
On the way to Cromwell…

To reach our destination in Queenstown, we’d had to firstly cross the Canterbury plains and central Otago – Mckenzie country, take lunch at stunning Mt Cook, had a tea break at Omarama and Cromwell before traversing the very scenic Lindis Pass, before finally reaching Queenstown.

Along the winding road into Queenstown, there’s a small hydro plant and narrow gorge where the famous Queenstown Jetboat scoots along, at ultra high speed for tourists. Just another one of New Zealand’s many thrill-seeking activities.

The Jet boat ride is not for me. I don’t relish paying money to be thrown around at a high speed whilst getting splashed with cold water for a half-hour. Little did I know, that our bus ride from Queenstown would make the JetBoat ride look like a casual walk in the park.

The lake in Queenstown New Zealand with snow capped mountains in the background
Lake in Queenstown

Ski Transfer to the Remarkables Ski Fields

As you cannot stay “on-snow,” in New Zealand, one must book a bus transfer to the ski fields, 8 kilometres away, which the travel agent had kindly pre-booked for me.

When the bus finally arrived at our hotel, I boarded it with a fair degree of trepidation. Picture an aging school bus dating from the 1950s, apparently called, ‘Old Bertie,’ with seats thinly padded with threadbare green vinyl. The rusty push slider windows with white metal casings gives you the impression of what this creaky old bus was like.

I mulled over whether I should be daunted that I was double the age of anyone else on board, including the driver, who introduced himself as Bevan. Bevan appeared so young he might still be ‘wet behind the ears,’ I thought.

Our pick up time was so early in the morning, we’d only grabbed a piece of toast from the extensive hotel buffet, which seemed criminal. Especially when we spent the better part of the following hour, picking up numerous beanie-clad snowboarders from the hostels around Queenstown, some of whom kept us waiting for quite some time. Bevan, our driver, had no qualms about reprimanding them for being late! Finally, though, we were on the way to the ski fields called The Remarkables: Eight kilometres away, so the road sign had said – in large print.

Snow capped peaks of the Remarkable mountains in New Zealand
The Remarkables

Early on the driver had problems with shifting the gears in Old Bertie the Bus, as we started up the mountain road towards the ski fields. My monkey mind worried he had not long had a license to drive this old jalopy.

“No snow on the road up to the Remarkables,” the two-way radio croaked out through a crackling speaker to the driver. Apparently, it was a ‘no-go,’ if there was snow on the road and our transfer would be cancelled. That would be a shame, I thought.

The reason for the two-way radio message was soon to become apparent as it wasn’t long before a distinctive burning smell and a handbrake in need of some tightening, confirmed my worst fears. The travel agent had booked us on a low-budget bus transfer, where passenger safety appeared to be a secondary concern. Eek!

Panaromic view over Queenstown
The road to and from the Remarkables, looking down towards Queenstown

We drove and we drove, on and on, as the old bus creaked and groaned and slipped and slid wildly back and forth across the wet and slushy roads. My young daughter, who was huddled beside me, tentatively asked, “Mum, what’s that burning smell? Is it the bus?”

So she was noticing it too.

Great!

Not!

The remaining passengers seem completely unaware of any impending engine issue or disaster. Most were sleeping or dozing in their seats, heads listing awkwardly to alternate sides in perfect time with the lurching of ‘Old Bertie,’ around the corners. If it wasn’t so worrisome, it might have been laughable.

Quickly hushing my daughter’s question with reassurances, I noted we had came dangerously close to slipping off the soft edges of the mountain road. The lack of guard rails meant that if the bus happened to slide, we would go over the side of the mountain into the valley below.

Heart stopping stuff.

I told myself and my daughter, that the company must drive up here every day in winter, so it must be safe enough. With my heart palpitating at a level way above normal, I wondered if my daughter could hear the tremble in my voice!

It felt like an absolute eternity of nail-biting terror as we rounded each corner, then another and another. We had been driving for around 30 minutes. It was slow progress. Surely, I thought, we must be almost there. The sign had said 8 km to the ski fields themselves, hadn’t it?

In the distance, I saw another large sign and craned my neck to read the words emblazoned therein, which declared:

“The Remarkables –

You are now half-way there!”

I felt ill.

There was probably another half-hour of this torture to endure! I gripped the seat even tighter as the bus continued to lurch from side to side, (shock absorbers or suspension was clearly unknown at the date of its manufacture).

Snow capped peaks of the Remarkable mountains in New Zealand
The mountain side with the Remarkables in the distance

Does anyone remember those days of driving without synchromesh in the low gears of a manual car? If you do, you might have become nostalgic about this bus which took me for a ride down memory lane, or rather, nightmare lane.

Along with no shock absorbers, the driver had to ram the gear shift down into first gear after having to stop the bus completely first, at which point the tyres would skid and slip underneath us, and the bus would slide backwards on the road, as Bevan desperately tried to get the tyres to grip the gravel mush.

What if there had been a little snow on the road? It didn’t bear thinking about.

I had to close my eyes. But finally we made it to the ski site, safe but not sound!

Can you see the winding road coming up the mountain?

Before we stepped hurriedly off the bus, our driver had a stern warning that we must return to the bus at 4pm, or else!

“You must tell us if you come down any other way,” he said, “otherwise we will send the ski patrol out looking for you, as we don’t leave anyone on the mountain.”

I had already decided to descend from the ski fields a completely different way, as we were on a time limit to reach our dinner destination at Queenstown’s Gondola restaurant, so the frightening bus trip merely cemented my plans in concrete. Looking out the window, I had spotted two new all-weather terrain shuttle vehicles advertising transfers back to Queenstown, for NZ$25 at the mountain Bus Stop.

So eager was I to report to Bevan the Bus driver-come-potential-troubled-youth, that I was going to use the alternative shuttle bus to return to town, I almost spat out the words to him. The bus trip up the mountain was harrowing enough, I can only imagine the absolute terror of sliding down those mountain roads in “Old Bertie,” and its questionable braking ability.

The return journey was spent in a dazzling new vehicle. Even though the vehicle came very close to the edge of the moutain road, I did not feel in any danger. No burning rubber smell, either.

I wonder how Bevan and Bertie got on?

Something to ponder about.

71 thoughts on “Risking Life and Limb to Ski in New Zealand”

  1. Your ride reminds me of a taxi I took to get to the airport after a week in Ixtapa, México in September 1991. I had missed the bus transporting hotel guests, so they called a cab for me. Everything you’ve heard about Mexican cab drivers is true! They make New York City cab drivers look like limousine chauffeurs. Fortunately, I made it to the airport in one piece and didn’t miss my flight back to the U.S.

    You know the adage: it’s the vacation that you love; not the actual travel. I guess that includes boat and taxi rides to the individual sites.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Have you seen the 1979 movie “10”? Dudley Moore jets off to Acapulco to find Bo Derek and, on the way to the hotel from the airport, ends up taking a hair-raising ride in a cab. On my way to the airport in Ixtapa, the driver sped down a hilly, winding road along the Pacific coast. The view was spectacular, and I thought, if I die, the last thing I see before slamming into a rock or a palm tree will be that glorious ocean! I mean I think I gripped the seats so hard I left nail impressions. If I wasn’t belted in, I would have bounced around that back seat like a tennis ball in a bathtub.

        Fortunately, I made it in one piece and tipped the driver very well. After all, he got me there on time! The worst part, though, was being pulled aside by Customs when I got to the airport in Dallas. My father said, because I had a 5-day beard growth and mirror sunglasses, I looked mean and tough. I told him I can be, and he knew that. But I guess Customs thought I looked like a drug dealer. When the little man asked me if I was carrying any narcotics, I said, “Do I look stupid?” They even pulled me into a back room to frisk me. Meanwhile, I’m sure plenty of other Americans who really were carting drugs or other contraband managed to make it through without any problem.

        I wrote about my trip on my blog 8 years ago. As much as I enjoyed Ixtapa, though, I will not travel to México any time soon.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I did see ’10’ but the only thing I can recall was Bo emerging out of the water. That iconic sequence.
          I shall have to look it up on YouTube.
          Just looked it up.How bad was Dudley Moore’s acting? Gosh! It is a shame you couldn’t enjoy your taxi ride.
          I can just imagine you saying that to the Border Patrol! Funny now, but you probably weren’t laughing then. I don’t think I will ever be game enough to travel to Mexico. My good friend nearly died there of amoebic dysentery.

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  2. Yikes. I guess the skiing was pretty tame after that. Back in the day, I got a lift through Nicaragua (this was during their civil war) with a truck driver who had been in a fight the night before and had a badly swollen face and a lot of pain. He kept nodding off (I think he was snacking on some kind of pain pills) and I had to keep poking him as we serpentined down the highway. Golden days!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The crazy situations we get ourselves in when we are young, hey Graham! That sounds frightening, and it begs the question: why were you in Nicaragua in the middle of a civil war? I suppose in comparison to the civil war, serpentining down the highway or prodding the driver awake was pedestrian?

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  3. I hope you said a few terse words to your agent regarding the low-cost booking, Amanda ! The trip reminds me strongly of a scene from “Romancing the Stone” .. [grin]

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No I didn’t book with that travel agent again. They move on so quickly don’t they? Never the same person at the desk of Flight Centre.
      Romancing the Stone? I haven’t watched it. Perhaps I should? Is it worth finding it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I believe it was made in the ’80s ..? [grin] Fun to see Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner so young but, Just a romp. AND Danny DeVito features— oh, sorry, that’s from my own blog ..

        Liked by 1 person

    1. At least there was a story out of it – the long term damage to my nerves took quite a while to recooperate from – and perhaps triggered the asthma attack I was to have on the ski fields……

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              1. Well a two full day bus trip in the himalayas where roads are not really roads and buses not really safe, and also after reading your post, I should think you’d prefer taking an alternative means of transport if you were to visit Ladakh. Plane for example.

                Liked by 1 person

              2. Oh yes, I would be freaking out about the lack of guard rails on the mountain road and the state of the buses, but the views would have been amazing. But then planes can crash in the Himalayas too.

                Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. The photos are quite old, so the quality is not good, and one of the photos is a stock photo, and I cannot claim to be the photographer of that one. Where was your harrowing bus ride?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was here in Finland. It had been snowing the whole night with heavy wind. Snowplows tried to open roads. I was going to work, decided to take a bus, not my own car. Normally it is 45 minutes by bus, now it took four hours. The bus driver tried to his best, but it was very much like your drive, because the highway goes up and down over the hills.

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    1. I am glad this trip is just a distant memory and can provide some humourous (if not terrifying) memories. The reward for this journey was fun on the snowy slopes which I will post about soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh my gosh, that sounded scary. This is similar to our bus ride from
    Queenstown to Skipper’s Canyon. No barriers too and very very tight rough road. I’ve heard about the terrifying road to the Remarkables during winter but I didn’t know that you couldn’t stay there. I’m looking forward to your ski blog. My family’s a big fan of snow and snow boarding. — amor

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment, Amor. I wish I had been forewarned about the state of the road in winter, although in a properly equipped vehicle it wasnt so much of a drama. I love skiing too, although I have to work hard at it to stay upright. My balance is not the best and I don’t get to go very often, which doesn’t help.
      I will look up Skippers Canyon as I am not familiar with it.
      Do you ski or snowboard?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Amanda, I gave up on both a few years ago. I’m now just content waiting (with hot chocolate) for my kids and hubby return back from snowboarding. But I do love the snow so I go for hikes and snow shoeing.

        Remember you mentioned about the fast jetboat ride? It’s the same in Skipper’s Canyon. But my family decided to do white-water rafting there instead. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ah – thanks for clarifying the location of Skipper’s Canyon. Now to say it, I do remember thet being a rafting option. You and I would make good company one the slopes a my skiing days are surely numbered. But I do love walking/hiking about in the snow or sliding down a slope on a toboggan or rubber tube.
          Did the family enjoy the rafting? Were they tempted to try the Bungee?

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Amanda, We were in Queenstown February, 2019. Summer. A different vibe. Your photos are stunning! I held my breath until the end of this post. I was not too sure you would safely arrive. Yes, a nightmare ride. Although, you are writing this post. 🙂 Smart move on using different transportation when returning. I hope you had a great dinner at the Gondola restaurant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Gondola restaurant was amazing. I had the best red wine I have ever had, at that dinner and ate way too much but it was all so delicious. Queenstown in summer? It must be so green. Did you bungee jumo or drive the Remarkables road?

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  6. Interesting. Reminded me of a traditional bus ride from Bogotá to San Agustin, in Colombia, ages ago. Driving at breakneck speed in the narrow curves of the Andes… I wouldn’t have imagined that from the “Kiwis.” Well, that was adventure…

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    1. Your bus ride sounds very risky but I am glad you survived. You could write about it in a post! Risky road conditions and bus rides do fit more into the third world arena, but it seems that because the snow fields are all National Park, there isn’t any development up there and what structures they have are limited. And then you have to remember they are the land of adventure, more bungee jumps and adventure activities than other countries. One of their tourist selling points to the younger people. Did you live in India/Pakistan for many years?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not that long. 3 years. Then we left for Cambodia. Then Africa, west and and east with Holland in between. Apart from the summer holidays I really only went “back” to France when I was 16… (Shock!)

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        1. A true global kid! So many cultures and influences to grow up with. Some bloggers such as Snow lament all the moves as a child finding it destabilizing. It sounds like it wasn’t so for you?

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          1. I know “Snow” well. We share similar experiences. Moving often, every 3-5 years, means starting afresh regularly. Makes oyu more adaptable. Need to learn the “new ropes” everytime. Now, going “back home” to Finland, or France for good, when you’re 12 or 16 is a shock. The “locals” have no idea nor any interest of/in your life abroad. Total lack of curiosity. After a while you realize they either don’t care or don’t believe you. So you shut up, and learn their ways. 😉 In other words, going back to France (or Finland) was the most destabilizing.

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              1. Never really felt “vulnerable”. I guess I was so used to moving. It was just a matter of reading the signs and blending in. Once you can read the signs… you make friends… I’m a chameleon. I adapt fairly well in many cultures. Have a great week.

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              2. A chameleon – that is a good way to describe yourself, Brian. More than that, it sounds like you have developed a keen ability to adapt and read the environment around you wherever you are. Not everyone can or does do that, or even attempts to do that when moving residential locations. Some struggle because of endless negative comparisons to their former location. That is a positive skill that presumably results from your upbringing, something Snow alluded to in her recent post. I missed out on that, I think and developed it somewhat later. I love to go to new places and know what to do to adapt and fit in, but if I had to do it often, I may not cope as well as you or Snow has. I guess fitting in to new work teams and workplaces are similar, just the arenas are different.

                Liked by 1 person

              3. I guess I/we were lucky. It was indeed adapt or perish. And now that you mention it it has helped me adapt to new and very different jobs when I started working. (Then I set up my own company and that was another story)

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  7. I have great admiration for bus drivers– especially those who handle those narrow curvy roads… and those folks in Europe who somehow maneuver inside thin-lane areas of small towns, even it takes several backing up/forward attempts.
    Art

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know of the narrow lanes that you describe, Art. I took a bus through Italy and the driver was excellent, at times coming close to a building as we rounded the corner of those towns in the lake district. Skill, isn’t it?

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