Ruapehu Lodge – winter solstice

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Ruapehu Lodge—solstice weekend

If you were one of the forty-two people at Platform 9 on the evening of Friday 22 June figuring out your ride in one of the four vans heading to the lodge you may, or may not, have sorted out in your own mind what you intended to do once you got there. But actually no-one cared—for all you had to do was decide on Saturday morning between the trips offered:  trying beginners skiing or beginners boarding, walking to Tama Lakes, climbing to the crater, tramping to Waihohonu Hut for the weekend, or simply doing nothing at all and enjoying just hanging out at the lodge. And whatever you did decide there was the Saturday evening to look forward to with the most delicious meal preceded by the best hors d’oeuvres ever served at the lodge. Then even when the weather turned for the worst on Sunday no-one seemed to care.

So this is the tale of a wonderful weekend as told by those leading the various trips.

Skiing (Stuart)

Lodge solstice skiing
Lodge solstice skiing

A well organised crew of seven (or was it eight) of us managed to get out the door of the lodge at 8.30 am. There was a bit of a wait for tickets and rental gear, but we hit Happy Valley a little after 10 am. Four of the group booked in for lessons, which kept them busy the whole day! Byron preferred to be self-taught, and hurled himself down the Happy Valley slopes largely unsupervised. Two of us eventually made our way up the hill to the Rock Garden—the only other area open so early in the season. We eventually drifted back to the lodge, and all seven (or eight) of us were accounted for by dinner time.

Sadly the weather on Sunday was a bit of a write-off but the group was already talking about the next club ski trips on the schedule!

Boarding (Natasha)

Lodge solstice Boarding
Lodge solstice boarding

Tony had warned me that the club was low on skiers and snowboarders so when I was told only three people were joining my snowboard trip, I wasn’t surprised. Well, let’s be honest, snowboarding isn’t a cheap sport and learning can feel like you’ve been hit several times by a truck.

The group was comprised of two learners, Steve and Lisa, and two experienced boarders, Elly and me. We woke on Saturday morning to glorious sunny conditions. Lisa and Steve’s excitement about learning to board was contagious. They also got a two for the price of one deal to learn to ski/ hire of gear! Score! After helping them with their rental gear, Elly and I left them to the first of their two lessons at Happy Valley.

We found out just one trail was open, the Rockgarden. Yes, one trail to ride for everyone that wasn’t a learner. Let’s just say Rockgarden was rather busy.

But that didn’t matter as Elly and I were just happy to be back on the snow. We left our snowboards at the base of Rangatira Express to head up to Knoll Ridge Cafe for lunch, where we enjoyed a stellar view (and surprisingly there weren’t many people).

We met Steve and Lisa at the Happy Valley Bistro soon after to debrief after their first lesson. They were tired and hot from the sun but happy. There was barely any rest time for them before they started their second lesson.

You can only ride the same trail so many times before getting bored so Elly encouraged me to push myself by riding switch (snowboarding term for changing the way you stand/ ride on your board) and learning to do small jumps. It was a buzz to learn new skills (even if my butt hurt later from falling several times) and watch Elly get some air.

Around 3 pm we caught up with Steve and Lisa at the base of the mountain for a hot drink. They had enjoyed their lessons and were understandably tired. Luckily they didn’t feel sore so they got off lightly!

I was happy to see everyone have a great time and that Mt Ruapehu decided to play nice and turn on his best weather. Nothing beats the enthusiasm of people having fun out in the snow. I’d encourage more people to stay at the lodge and give snowboarding a go: you can’t beat the location, price OF STAYING AND EATING AT THE LODGE, or the support of people who regularly stay at the lodge.

 

Tama Lake-ing (Tony)

Lodge solstice Tama Lake-ing
Lodge solstice Tama Lake-ing

Thirteen people headed off along the easy track to the lakes under a grey sky and lots of ice on the ground. We made good time to the lower lake arriving just as the clouds parted enough for some welcome sunshine. There was no particular plan for the trip—it would be made up as we went depending on how everyone felt at the time. So the first group decision was to cross to the other side of the lake and climb a spur leading towards the upper lake.

We slithered down the icy scoria mindful of the need to reduce the amount of scarring of the landscape with so many footsteps. Here we had a short rest out of the wind, but it was too cold to stop for long so we stepped carefully over the frozen stream and wandered across to a spur that was easy climbing to the ridge overlooking Upper Tama Lake. We had another short stop just above the lake but again it was uncomfortably cold to stay long.

It was here that some decided to head back to the lodge while the remainder started on a circumnavigation of the lake. At the far end we came across piles of ice sheets stacked along the water’s edge—obviously the lake had been frozen overnight and then the ice had been broken in the wind and blown to one end. The stuff caused much amusement with some trying to skate on it while others seemed to take immense delight in just smashing the stuff to the sound of breaking glass—while a few sheets of course had to be shattered over someone’s head.Lodge solstice Tama Lake-ing

There was a short climb part way round the lake to get past a bluff so we carried on sidling higher above the water into the valley below Mt Ngauruhoe where there is a small lake shown on the topo maps. We had a stop here while Heather dashed off further up valley to connect to where she thought she had been once before from the other direction.

Then it was easy walking either along the beach or following the ground trail just above the lake before the short climb to meet the end of the Upper Lake track. Back along the track via Taranaki Falls, a short drive up the road, and we made the lodge just after dark where we opened the door to a lot of noise and merriment, and the wonderful aromas of cooking from the kitchen.

Summiting (Maarten)

Lodge solstice summiting
Lodge solstice summiting

On Saturday morning when I looked up at the top of Mt Ruapehu from the Wellington Tramping Club lodge I thought that the weather gods really had played their part. It was calm and clear—in these sorts of conditions almost anyone could get to the Crater Lake. I had been up Mt Ruapehu many times so was quite aware of how changeable the ice and snow could be and also how the weather could change rapidly so I prepared accordingly. Even in the summer there is often an icy patch near the top so, a tip for anyone going up, don’t be fooled if you can rock-hop and walk a few hours in the soft snow because you may be caught out 15 minutes from the top if you don’t have ice axe and crampons.

After 2 hours I was above the clouds that were not moving very fast and it made me think I probably had better weather up there than the crowds at the bottom of the mountain.

I got to the top in plenty of time to have lunch and just sit and take in the serenity—it was very quiet and peaceful.

The walk down was much quicker thanks to sitting on some plastic and sliding some of the way—this was fun and I felt like a kid again. Soon I was back at the lodge where we all chatted about our trips that day, relaxed and played many games.

Editor’s note: Maarten did this trip solo—there we no others keen enough so he simply led himself. And Maarten must have enjoyed Saturday night—he had lost his voice on Sunday morning!

 

Cooking (Viola)

Lodge solstice cooking
Lodge solstice cooking

When you spend enough time in Italy, whether you know it or not, you subconsciously develop a love for food. Hence, you can imagine the depth of my relationship with Italian cuisine growing up in a loud and quite typical family in Milan. For generations, two skills have been passed on traditionally: music and cooking. 90% of my direct family members either play one or more instruments or compose music, while with regards to the second aspect I am preceded by a female line of great cooks dating back to my great-grandma (nonna bis), who was the best cook of her village.

Since I completely failed on the music side, as a teenager I focused my efforts on the second set of genes embracing the passion for cooking.

Therefore, when Mike asked for a volunteer to organise Saturday’s dinner at the Solstice Weekend I accepted the challenge.

About three weeks before the trip I had to plan a full menu inclusive of entrées, main dish and dessert to feed about 40 people and accommodate both omnivores, vegetarians and vegans. Quite a task!

After scribbling a few options, I decided to play it safe for the main dish, opting for a recipe taken from the tramping cook book that I already tried a couple times: the vegetable (and chicken) korma rice. For the starters I choose my favourite party-saver puff-pastry mini rolls: simple, versatile, and with guaranteed aaawww effect.

The dessert was the real challenge, but after a few rounds surfing the web for a suitable recipe I came up with a vegan chocolate cake. I tweaked enough to make it resemble a vegan version of a sacher torte and even agreed to procure in first person the organic cacao powder.

Detailed groceries list? Checked; budget? Checked; instructions for each recipe? Ready; and the menu was set!

The day before the trip I bought the cacao powder, and cherished it like a baby, as key ingredient for the dessert. It was very disappointing to realise once at the lodge that it was not in my backpack 🙁 Oh no! But no panic: with the super pantry of the lodge and a pinch of flexibility, we had all we needed! For the record, the cacao powder was found later on Sunday in the front of the club van, where it had slipped out of my pack.

I was a bit nervous about cooking for so many people in a commercial kitchen I didn’t know. That’s why the little control maniac inside me made me prepare all the instructions ahead, and come back earlier from the Tama Lakes walk with the first group so that I could bake the cake ahead of dinner time.

All fear faded when I stepped in the kitchen and found the most enthusiastic and incredibly diverse sous-chefs tribe that volunteered to help. There were vegetable choppers, stirrers, spreaders, melters, time checkers, pantry scouts and more!

So many hands working at the same time in the kitchen producing an harmonic combination of sounds that, incidentally, reminded me of an orchestra.

What I pictured as a challenging and potentially frustrating task turned out to be terrific and enjoyable team work.

Thanks to the great work of everyone the dinner was delivered on time, warm, and it was delicious! I bet my nonna bis would have been impressed 😊. Everyone seemed to enjoy the cooking process as well as the food. Even the leftover cake and vegetable korma quickly disappeared the next morning in lunch boxes.

As all the recipes will end up in the lodge recipe book there is only one thing left to say: Thank you all for the fun, and Buon Appetito!

 

Lodge solstice

 

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