Otago: Quiet running

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright hits the South Island ski fields, on a sled pulled by huskies.

Quiet Running's sled rides, whizzing across snowy terrain behind teams of Siberian huskies, are a real 'Call of the Wild', Jack London experience. Photo / Supplied
Quiet Running's sled rides, whizzing across snowy terrain behind teams of Siberian huskies, are a real 'Call of the Wild', Jack London experience. Photo / Supplied

The moment the harnesses are put on the seven purebred Siberian huskies lined up for our dog sledding adventure, an almighty noise begins - wolfish howls, throaty barks and high-pitched yelps break the silence as the dogs leap in the air, straining at their leashes.

Five minutes later the noise is gone, but the urgency is not. There's now a rush of paws as the dogs pull us with quiet purpose through the snow. Chosen for their endurance, strength and speed, each dog is inspiring to watch, so much "in the zone".

Ray Holliday, co-owner of the dogs, says the business is "a hobby that outgrew a hobby. We manage high-country sheep stations and do this around our full-time jobs. It's our chance to give other people the opportunity to share the exhilaration of travelling with dogs".

Sled dogs were once a main form of transportation in the Arctic and were used to carry everything from mail to medicine. During the gold rush in Alaska, dog sled teams would race (or "mush") for money. The first of these races was in Nome, Alaska, called the All-Alaska Sweepstakes.

This year is also the 100th anniversary of the famous Anchorage to Nome Iditarod Trail sled dog race, a 1600km contest with considerable prize money. It's notable for the women, as well as men, who have won the long-distance event.

We're not going nearly as far, just around the tracks on a loop as the lead dogs, the beautiful Libby and Arluk, pull us past Roaring Meg stream while wild chamois mountain goats cross the water.

Ray's wife, Dianne, has given me a hat made of seal and red fox from Bethel, Alaska, and as my three-year-old daughter sits on my lap not knowing what to make of the morning's adventure, I'm unsure whether it's the dogs or my funny hat that's unsettling her.

After a few minutes, though, she has settled beneath the orange rug we're snuggled into on a traditional wooden dog sled going like the clappers around the perfectly groomed Snow Farm ski trails. She loves it, even though the boys, her brother and dad, are beating us in a more modern dog sled.

At the end of the run, the dogs are given water and it's then we notice their eyes. Some have one brown and one blue eye, others have one eye with equal parts brown and blue, all normal in the world of Siberian huskies.

Afterwards, we drive around the mountain to the freestyle Snow Park nearby, looking down at liquorice-strap roads winding around the steep slopes.

At Snow Park, where we stay for the night, we warm up at the restaurant and drink mulled wine while the kids toast marshmallows. To end the day, we soak in an outdoor hot tub and watch big trucks moving snow into different shapes for a snowboarding competition the next day.

My holiday reading is about being in the moment. It's hard not to be, sat in a hot tub trying to spot shooting stars in the clearest sky as soft snow begins to fall, a new moon low on the horizon.

If I forget to be in the moment again, it will only take memories of this night and the dogs, breathing heavily with faces full of concentration, to remind me.

CHECKLIST

Where to stay: Snow Park offers on-mountain accommodation and exciting snow activities.

What to do: Quiet Running dog sledding has a beginner's run at $225 an adult or an overnight experience for $695 a person. Ph 027 680 6558.

Snow Farm offers cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, dog sleds, tubing and back-country huts.

Danielle Wright was hosted by Lake Wanaka Tourism; with a hire car from Avis.

- Herald on Sunday

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