Photos: Explore New Zealand

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  1. Kepler Track

    The 60 kilometer Kepler Track rewards serious hikers with full-strength high country scenery. The track leads to views of lakes Te Anau and Manapouri, the alpine grasslands of Jackson Peaks and spectacular U-shaped glacial valleys. Department of Conservation huts provide accommodation during the 4 day walk. ( Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Water sport paradise

    With more than 15,000 kilometers of coastline, New Zealand is a water sport paradise. Sailing, swimming, diving and fishing are just some of the options for marine recreation. Or you could test yourself with one of the more extreme sports, like kite surfing and wave jumping. ( Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Poor Knights

    The fish of the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve are famous for their friendly nature, and some of the subtropical species are found nowhere else in New Zealand. Spotted Black Groper, Mosaic Moray and Lord Howe Island Coralfish are a few of the local stars. Squadrons of stingrays can also be seen during the warmer months. ( Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Milford Sound

    A couple paddles their kayaks while flanked by a dolphin in New Zealand's Milford Sound in the country's stunning fiordland. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. That's our bird!

    Unique to New Zealand, there are five kinds of kiwi - three closely related Brown kiwis, the Little Spotted Kiwi and the Great Spotted Kiwi. Nocturnal and flightless, the kiwi’s long slender bill has nostrils at the lower end, so that it can detect worms, insects and grubs. Despite its awkward appearance, a kiwi can outrun a human. ( Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Mount Cook National Park

    Glaciers cover 40 percent of Mount Cook - or Aoraki National Park, as it is also known - and is New Zealand's top spot for spectacular alpine scenery, and is the country's highest mountain. All but one of its 29 peaks is over 3,000 meters, so the park has become New Zealand's mountain climbing mecca. Non-climbers can enjoy a selection of challenging alpine walks - from the one hour Red Tarns stair-climb to the relatively flat hike to Kea Point. ( Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Preserving culture

    The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, in Wellington, preserves and presents the taonga (treasures) of New Zealand's people. Spectacular long-term exhibitions are enhanced by diverse short-term exhibitions and a captivating events program - performances, talks, lectures, entertainment and more. ( Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Maori men

    Ethnic Maori men from Gisborne, New Zealand, take positions on the beach after the arrival by boat of elders from Cook Island, Wednesday, December 29, 1999, to join in Gisborne's millennium celebrations. History has been harsh to the indigenous Maori and Moriori of New Zealand, but their resurgent cultures were at center stage when the country became the first major nation to enter the new millennium. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pure Middle-earth

    The fast running rivers of the Mount Aspiring National Park can be negotiated by jet boat and kayak, allowing visitors to discover the locations for the 'Lord of the Rings' Isengard, Lothlorien and Amon Hen. With not a manmade structure in sight in this remote wilderness, it’s easy to imagine yourself in 'Middle-earth'. ( Back to slideshow navigation
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Ideas Born
After a good day riding we sometimes get together for dinner at my house. Travis Rice, Carsten Bahnson, Rich Goodwin, photographer Doctor Zapalac, and myself had been exploring snowmobile-access terrain deep in the Wyoming backcountry, so this was one of those nights...

As we ate we talked of our day, upcoming plans, and our whereabouts for the remainder of the season. The topic of summer riding came up and no one seemed to have a set plan yet since it was mid-February with winter in full swing. I began telling them about my past experiences of getting summer powder in the southern alps of New Zealand. My stories of cheap heli operations and exceptional terrain raised the interest of the's a land where glaciers descend into rainforests and people say "sweet as..."a lot. The natives call it Aotearoa - meaning "Land of the Long White Cloud."

Nearly five months later and after endless phone tag and e-mail correspondence, we were on our way. It was crazy - just two weeks before we left, everyone was off traveling and no one had plane tickets yet. Doc was in a small village in the Czech Republic and Travis was in some remote corner of Minnesota fishing - living in a box with no phone. Carsten and I were in Mexico. Everyone was off the map and how we all coordinated our tickets was a haphazard mess that somehow worked out eventually.

A very long day...
Our crew landed in Auckland, New Zealand, in pre-dawn darkness with only a light glow to the east and the grid-patterned streetlights shining and flickering below. It's a thirteen-plus hour flight. We could have been anywhere - there was nothing to give us the slightest idea of the incredibly diverse and strange land we had just entered.

New Zealand is made up of two major islands; the northern one which is flatter with a line of volcanoes running north to south. It's lush with vegetation and has a subtropical climate. The South Island is a few degrees cooler and made up of a long spine of mountains - the Southern Alps, separating the East and West Coasts. The steep mountains of the West Coast get hammered by powerful storms spawned off of Antarctica - the result is far more precipitation in the West than on the dryer, flatter East Coast. With it's maritime climate the weather can change very quickly here.

There's rideable terrain on both islands, but the South Island has better-quality snow. Our flight to the South Island was short and upon landing in Christchurch, we picked up our bags and rental car - an NZ version of the Toyota Land Cruiser 4x4. We loaded the inside of our rig with boardbags, travel bags, and backpacks in a Tetris style efficiency. Our hotel was in the town center - a busy part of the city with record stores, coffee shops, restaurants, and other specialty stores with anything you may need. This city was designed by the British as a cultural center for their offshore farming land and was planned before any Englishman had ever set foot in New Zealand. The architecture here gives one the feeling of being in Europe but the Marui influence and Polynesian ancestry throw in a unique feeling all their own.

Day One

Doctor Zapalac Photos  /

I woke up early the next morning as I usually do when traveling far into the Western time zones. Skies were dark gray and the warm westerly winds blew steady. I called the snow report to find out that most of the ski fields were closed due to gale-force winds and rain in the lower areas. This ended up ruining most of the snow below 1500 meters. We determined that heading to the south would be better but it was a long drive, therefore no day-mission. The crew decided to pass on riding and instead we skated a Y-shaped concrete skatepark just outside the city. As we dodged the masses of kids doing fly outs and attempting the latest variations of kickflip tricks we hit the hips and did our best not to roll an ankle and end our trip before it began.

Kev's Bar
Red, green and blue lights shined dimly from the ceiling onto the stained carpets in the nearly empty room. At the bar locals sat drinking Speight's or Canterbury draught beers, smoking cigarettes, and watching the All Blacks play South Africa in a heated rugby match. There's an ongoing rivalry between the teams so it was a game of importance. This was definitely a local's scene - an older crowd and we stood out in the mix.

Doctor Zapalac Photos  /
Travis Rice
Doc broke the ice by ordering a beer and asked the owner, Kevin, if it would okay to bring up the pizza we'd just ordered at a nearby takeout spot. Kev and Doc started joking around with each other as the bystanders laughed. As things progressed we were introduced to everyone in the bar. It eventually ended up getting pretty rowdy (in a good way) as the drinks went down. The All Blacks won and Kev was blasting Elvis and '80s rock as we crowded over roadmaps with a local bus driver. We talked about life and fishing with a fireman. A Maori guy taught Travis how to play the spoons as we took turns on the pool table for hours. It was a random situation but cool. It gave us a sense of the laidback, life-is-simple attitude of the people of New Zealand.

Carsten Arrives
We picked up Carsten the following day at the airport in Christchurch. With his arrival our Tetris-style fit in the rental failed, so we had to buy straps and put the boardbags on the roof. We told Carsten what was going on with the snow and we all decided to drive south to a place called Ohau to ride the following days. We figured we could use a couple days at a ski area to get used to riding again. We planned to then go to Wanaka and/or Queenstown, then maybe drive back up to finish things off with Methven Heli. Regardless, we were finally on the road and sort of had a plan...

The place was empty and I didn't think anything of it as we walked in. Our crew was greeted with, "People?" in a semi-startled tone or more like, "What are you doing here, don't you know were closed?" kind of effect. A woman named Louise and her husband own the lodge and they soon explained they were closed Mondays and Tuesdays due to the lack of customers. Something we'd never expect coming from the 9:00-4:00, seven days a week until spring ski resorts of North America.

So there we were - our first day in the mountains, with perfectly blue skies and no way of riding any of the mountains surrounding us. The crew handled it well as I inquired about the possibility of chartering a heli for the afternoon - which was a long shot and failed after Louise called the three or four local operations. It was just too late in the day. The couple assured us that the hill would be open the next day and that the snow was good.

Doctor Zapalac Photos  /

The next day we reached the saddle after the short hike from the T-bar that runs up a ski field at Ohau. The mountains over the backside of the resort seemed to extend forever, only separated by vast glacial valleys of infinite depth. The mountains are an iridescent pale blue; glaciers hang on to the high peaks below the huge rock cliffs with translucent green searches and fluted spines lining the steep jagged faces. We hiked up the short way along the ridge and were soon on top of the mountain, only a moment away from taking our first run. It looked far to the valley floor below and you could see where the snowline ended and the long dirt road began. "That's a 'no seatbelt' road," Travis said. Meaning that if you were to lose control driving on the road, your only hope of survival would be to jump out of the car. The roads to these ski fields are dirt with no guardrails and wind up the steep sustained pitches for thousands of feet through the valley leaving little or no room for error.

After our day of riding the ski field at Ohau, I got in touch with a heli operation in Twizel and set up a charter for the following day. I wrote out the details on a scrap of paper: prices per hour for Hobbs time (time off the ground in the heli), the price for a guide (mandatory), contact name, number, and the time we'd need to call in the morning to see if we were on or off. With the possibility of bad weather, this call would be crucial.

Heli Time

Doctor Zapalac Photos  /

That next morning the skies were clear but the forecast called for weather - we decided to go on with the plan. After a short drive and a brief safety meeting we lifted off and headed west into the mountains. It was a longer flight than I expected and clouds had already begun moving in above the front of the range, so we had to push deeper into the valley than the guide had planned. We were dropped on an LZ (landing zone) above a few wind lip features that looked like they had some jump potential. It was strange thinking about the conditions on the different aspects of the slopes.

The good snow was on South facing slopes, whereas in North America, it's usually on North faces. It's exactly opposite of everything I knew from home. We rode a few runs then the dark thick clouds crept toward us from down the valley and made it over the peaks we were on. We had to go in - this was the Land of the Long White Cloud, so we expected a few down days. A friendly local rider recommended we check out a new area called Sno Park - so we left the next morning for Queenstown.

Sno Park
It seems like around every corner you see a sign on the side of the road for some kind of extreme activity - bungy jumping, jet-boating, glacier plane tours, fly-by-cable, heli-skiing, heli-mountain biking, etc. On the drive to Sno Park Rich, Carsten, and Travis began playing a game where the loser got punched three - even ten times for the worst mistake. Now the ride was filled with laughter and screams as they beat on each other like brothers, making up new rules and calling each other out for cheating as the drive went on.

Doctor Zapalac Photos  /
Bryan Iguchi

When we arrived there were only a few people around finishing up the last of the grooming. The Sno Park quarterpipe turned out to be good with a perfectly round transition that went right to vert. It was a cool session - kind of strange and quiet as only the three of us were riding. It was a rare opportunity to ride a quarterpipe like this - just a couple of your good friends, no contest, no pressure, no waiting, just riding. We rode until our legs gave out and the sun went down and then drove back to Queenstown.

Our new friends we'd ridden with at Sno Park told us our best bet for good snow conditions would be back up north to the higher mountains. They gave us the name of a good guide and heli operation.

The drive north would take three hours so we woke up at five in the morning. We'd packed our bags the night before and were on the road early with little lagging. Soon after, we were flying among the highest peaks of New Zealand, and possibilities were endless...where do we start?

We landed on a mountain with a large LZ and before long, stood on top of a lengthy run full of wind lips, cliffs, and other interesting terrain. Compared to the cold, shaded valley we took from, it felt warm standing up there in the sun without a breath of wind. A series of wind lips and rollers opened up once we dropped in over the roll leading into the wide open run. We had finally found what we were looking for and over the next few days our trip really came together. We rode lines, jumped cliffs and hit kickers, what more could you want? Okay, bungy jumping and crane drops - so be it.

Check out these hot links to find out more about New Zealand resorts!

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