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Cardrona After Dark

August 1, 2018
Liz Carlson
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Liz Carlson

Nothing beats a bluebird powder day on your favourite mountain in New Zealand...

The familiar sound of our skis whipping through the fresh snow, the laughter & pure joy can only come from a perfect winter’s day on the hill. Followed up by aprés-ski by the fire with friends as the sun dips behind the mountains, it’s easily a feeling that gets under your skin & brings us back to places like Cardrona again & again.

As we head home, tired but filled with happiness, on the surface it might seem like the mountains are also calling it a day. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: when the sun goes down, the party is only just getting started & that’s when things really get interesting. The surrounding mountains turn gold then red before sinking into darkness as the last stragglers of the day wind their way down the dirt roads to the valley below. The bright stars & planets begin to shine, illuminating a whole new world few get to see.

Photo: Liz Carlson

But now’s your chance. Last year Cardrona lifted the curtain on one of New Zealand’s most iconic mountains, giving visitors a rare glimpse into the hive of activity that can only happen when the crowds have gone home to bed. If you think that only the groomers get to see the stunning show that is the Cardrona Valley night sky then you are sadly mistaken because you now can too. Zip up the winding road at sunset & have a comfortable dinner with friends as the stars begin to show their faces. After that, you can join in on one of the incredible new stargazing tours & learn everything you couldn’t even imagine about the heavens. You can even stay the night on the mountain in the apartments.

It was unusually warm in town below but I knew I had to bundle up for the last stargazing tour of the winter season at Cardrona last year. While it felt weird to swap back from jandals to boots & from a cap to a beanie & mittens, I was stoked to head back up my local hill for my first stargazing tour in New Zealand. While an avid photographer & amateur admirer of the night sky here, I knew little about what made these distant planets tick & what constellations went where. I can’t even be relied upon to find the most basic of stars or even the Southern Cross. Time to change that.

stargazing cardrona liz carlson young adventuress
Photo: Liz Carlson

In between cups of hot tea & biscuits, I finally was able to expand my knowledge of the stunning night skies here, peering through a world-class telescope & looking for nebulae or the moons of a planet. In total darkness with a million stars above you that are both an unimaginable distance away & an age you can’t begin to wrap your head around, it’s easy to feel small & insignificant & really feel the true power of the wild land here in New Zealand. I can promise you’ll climb into bed afterwards tired, probably a bit cold, filled with wonder & a cheesy grin on your face that’ll take days to disappear.

So much work goes into prepping the mountain for us day folks to enjoy. It’s easy to not notice as you whip down your favourite runs with friends, but a lot of sweat & effort after dark goes into to keeping Cardrona tidy & pleasant for us lot to relish in when the sun’s up. Even though the lifts stop at 4pm, that doesn’t mean that the mountain goes quiet. While everyone headed to bed after stargazing, I stuck around Cardrona with Ski Patrol, riding around with the groomers all night in the snow & learning what really makes Cardrona’s heart beat after dark.

While the trickiest bit might be climbing into the groomer without falling on your face, it’s really impressive how they manage to make all the tracks pristine after dark in time for us to enjoy the next day. Speaking as someone who got yelled at continuously as a kid for not mowing the lawn in nice neat rows, it seems an impossible task, especially in the dark. But with state of the art technology to help along with plenty of radio banter with the team, there’s a community spirit after dark at Cardrona that’s hard to even put into words. They’re folks who love their job, love the snow & love the mountain, which so many of us can relate to.

After all, what more could you want?

This piece was written by Liz Carlson - Young Adventuress for our 2018 Heart of Gold Magazine. Pick up your free copy of the magazine on the mountain!

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About the Author

Liz Carlson

Liz Carlson is the creator behind Young Adventuress, one of the biggest travel blogs in the world. Based in Wanaka & always on adventures around New Zealand, she is passionate about Instagram, strong coffee, & saving the kākāpō.

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