Settled in the car park between the stationary SUVs and four-wheel-drives, two elderly chaps sit on deckchairs drinking soup from thermos cups. Behind them, under a clear blue winter, sky snowy peaks and ridges rise and fall.

In front are the Mt Hutt ski slopes, and the two gentlemen watch skiers and boarders weave down the slopes like ants in a sugar bowl.

The older of the two, Geoff Harrow, is 86 years old. On his left is his cousin, 13 years younger. They've been skiing all morning and are taking a break.

Geoff says he was really hoping to meet his old mate on the slopes today — Willi Huber is 92 and skied here last year.


Huber, Harrow and a group of others are founders of the Mt Hutt ski slopes. In 1972 Huber, alone in a small hut for three and a half months, surveyed the area's suitability as a commercial skifield. The following year Mt Hutt opened for skiers.

Beside the main dining room is Huber Hut Restaurant, styled to give some of the "old hut" ambience — only Huber, restrained with only small rations, would never have eaten meals as good as they serve here.

Mt Hutt caters for family skiing, and we're happy that 17cm of fresh snow fell overnight. We leave our 6-year-old daughter at Kea Club under the tuition of Reba.

The gentle learners' slope is perfect for gaining confidence and its conveyor lift is fully covered, giving protection from the wind. I take a one-hour ski lesson with Emilia from Austria while my husband skis the black runs. Just over half the trails are blue intermediate runs and I follow skiing down them. The highest chairlift reaches Summit Six at 2086m, and has stunning, endless views of snowy peaks.

Later it's a thrill to see our daughter up on the wide green run called Highway 72. Reba has the measure of her and has her pretending to be a cat while skiing; her progress in one day is impressive.

Later, in Methven at the NZ Alpine & Agriculture Encounter we step into a replica of Huber's spartan hut. There's plenty of family fun like the digger simulator and Thelma, the gurgling life-size cow.

The centre captures the essence of Methven: horticulture, agriculture, mountains and its people.

We meet Viv Barrett, a QSM recipient for his community work. He helped create the Alpine & Agriculture Encounter and has lived most of his 83 years in Methven. He invites us back to his farm to help feed out. Our daughter loves hand-feeding the miniature ponies, calves, chickens, goats and donkeys called Pedro and Giuseppe.

Large and bold, in Methven's main road are the Blue and the Brown pub but good coffee can be found at Primo & Secunda owned by Marya Trengrove. Its Italian name means first and second, which is apt, as every inch of the cafe is filled by new and old bric-a-brac; every piece for sale. Nothing has a price tag. Trengrove says "I know what each item is worth and I'm happy to negotiate the price."

At night we eat a delish wholesome dinner by a roaring fire at Shackleton's Bar and Grill, at the Brinkley Resort, just a few minutes' walk from the centre of Methven. Its very comfortable self-contained apartments have views of the Southern Alps and the spa bath is a perfect end to the day.

Taking a break from the snow, we head to the Rakaia Gorge and meet Blair Grice of Discovery Jets. He expertly glides the jet boat across the river's icy blue water. Keen for adventure after weaving through a towering gorge he throws in some spins and turns.

Close up, the snow-covered Southern Alps are stunning.

Ten minutes' drive away at Terrace Downs we try archery among the tall pine trees thanks to tuition from Neil Gubby. It's addictive. The more tuition, the better we get, and the closer we are to striking the centre dot. It's good competitive family fun, especially when we realise we could be beaten by a 6-year-old.

There's ice-skating at nearby Staveley, but only on selected evenings.

After another day slowly improving our ski skills on Mt Hutt's slopes we leave Methven for Christchurch. We stay at the historic Heritage Hotel on Cathedral Square, in the grand old Government Departmental Buildings. It is in the Italian Renaissance Palazzo style, and its two-bedroom suite is charming. It's a treat to stay in this ornate, beautifully restored building - a perfect way to finish a fun winter trip, discovering some of Canterbury's hardy characters among its magical scenery.


Getting there:

Methven in mid-Canterbury is a one-hour drive from Christchurch Airport and from there it's another half-hour to the Mt Hutt skifield. There are excellent savings for children aged 10 and under - free lift access at Mt Hutt, travel, accommodation and meals at selected places in Methven when accompanied by a paying adult.

Further information:

Discovery Jet

offers personalised tours catering to all ages.

Archery at Terrace Downs is owned and operated by Neil of Newzengland Claybird and Archery.

NZ Alpine & Agriculture Encounter is online at For a farm experience ask at the counter for Viv Barrett.

Brinkley Resort is a three-minute stroll from Methven centre, family friendly, playground, spa pools, bar and restaurant, and has mountain views.

Heritage Hotel Christchurch has been beautifully restored inside a heritage building in Cathedral Square.