Here is a five star ski tour in the Garvie Mountains, SE of Queenstown. The Blue Lake Huts makes a wonderful base from which to explore from. The terrain has something for everyone; steeps, rolling ridges, bluffs, lakes, chute, ice climbing. Note – this is on private land and permission is required before proceeding.
The Garvie Mountains sit SE of Queenstown. It is a long way in to the Garvies and Blue Lake Huts from the road. We found the best way to access was to drive south from Queenstown to Garston. Near here we could take a quick flight via Nokomai Helicopters (03-248 8825). They have a 6 seat Squirrel or a Hughes 500 with 3 seats. Cost in June 2016 was 150$ per person per direction.
(We took a heli pick up from up the Nevis Road at the Garston Ski Hut so that we had transport available for our exit ski tour. This road is 4wd but in a reasonable condition. A general SUV should be ok given the snow is not deep).
The Blue Lake Huts are on Glenaray Station and permission must be sought from the manager. Call 03 202 7898 or email firstname.lastname@example.org I suggest a donation of 30$ per person per night to ensure the proper care and upkeep of the hut. The hut has a coal range which keeps the chill off. It is an older hut from around the 1920s, clean and dry, with plenty of character. It sleeps 10 on some pretty rough mattresses (bring a mat). The hut is well situated in the centre of the skiing terrain, next to a running stream. The one drawback is it is in a very windy spot.
The Garvies sit a long way east of the divide, and so best catches snow from the south and east. This means skiing is often ‘on’ in the early season when we get those storms rolling in from that quarter. Have a look at the photos to see just how lovely the snow can be. But don’t expect this after a good NW storm. Given the relative low elevation of the area, the NWer will melt it out in no time at all. The Garvie Mountains are in a very windy spot. If there is any wind at all forecast from any quarter you can expect to get hammered.
Wonderful lines can be found in the areas around the lakes. Lots of steeps, with easy access ridges and cols. There are a minimum of 2 good days exploring here. There are multiple slope aspects with many pockets lee to wind to find powder, or sunny slopes for some softer rides. On the map in red I show the 2 x day trips we did. We found easy access onto the backbone ridge of the Garvie Mountains via skeleton lakes and then an easy gully up past Misty Tarn to a col just north of pt 1823.
In the cirque above Blue Lake and Lake Scott we found the terrain steeper and exit onto the ridge required boot packing. There is an easy Col between Lakes Scott and Lake Laura. All the terrain above Lake Gow via Mervyn Island is lower angled and easier access to the tops can be made.
A wonderful ending to the trip is a long, relatively flat but very interesting ski traverse out to the Nevis road on the Hector Range (where we left a vehicle for transport). This crosses Nokomai Station and permission must be sought if not using Nokomai Heli. (03 248 8850) There was some gorgeous skiing on the west flank of the Garvies, as well as some magical skinning around the Lake Gow region as the sun came up. The exit tour is around 23km long, with 1100m of ascent, 1800m of descent and took us 7.45 hours in optimal condition. One could quite well end up taking 11 or 12 hours for this route. An alpine start is recommended. This is a wonderful, stunning adventure tour out to the road which covers some most scenic terrain. I recommend it.
Much of the touring can be done on relatively flat, non technical terrain if desired (steeps are avail of course) however it is important to note that this is a very remote area. The Garvies sit east of the main avalanche forecasting areas, and is a little more continental in snow pack. So the general forecasting for NZ areas may not be applicable. Also navigation in inclement condition will be difficult in this entire area as much of it is featureless (especially on the exit) and there is nowhere to descend to to escape. Much of the area is polar like, and I would compare it to the high plateaus of Norway.