Danielle Wright snowshoes cross-country in Wanaka to preview a full-moon fondue ski trip at Snow Farm
It's disappointingly temperate as we arrive in Queenstown, clutching our snow coats. As we drive through the beautiful mountains capped in snow only at the highest points, we hear news that the full-moon fondue we're booked into has been cancelled.
Despite a lack of snow elsewhere, driving up the long and winding road to Snow Farm shows promising signs of winter as dozens of rabbits and snow hares hop across the icy trail.
At the top of the mountain where Snow Farm is, there's plenty of snow to satisfy a city family and we hurry inside, out of the cold, past little white shopping bags hanging outside the ski lodge windows, makeshift fridges.
Snow Farm trustee Mary Lee had a theory that the weather conditions are historically better for skiing one day before a full moon. So, a monthly winter session with a fondue at the end was arranged.
European ski resorts offer similar events, where skiers can avoid the crowds and remove their goggles, sunglasses and even headlamps to be able to ski under a bright moon.
Unfortunately, her prediction didn't come true for us because of a few days of warm weather, but the view from our simple ski lodge room is stunning over the snaking tracks. The kids open the curtains with excited noises as they realise they have their own balcony — filled with snow.
We run them a hot bath in a huge spa tub with a special function that keeps the water heated so after they've skated around on the deck they warm their toes in the bath, then head back out for a snow tramp under the moonlight — returning an hour later to a still-warm bath.
In the meantime, Andy Pohl, ski operations manager for Snow Farm, takes me on a snowshoe tramp to where we would have gone — with 30 other people — on the full-moon ski. It's easy to walk in the shoes, albeit with a cowboy's gait.
Wearing snowshoes mean we can go cross-country and not keep to the groomed tracks. Andy leads the way down a small slope as I wobble in patches of deep soft snow, steadying myself with the poles.
As we walk, Andy tells me about the mountain. Originally from Dunedin, he's been coming to the farm since he was 2 and remembers it as just a hut with skis for hire; now it's a lodge and there are more than 40km of groomed trails.
The snow is much whiter looking than at the other local skifields because Snow Farm doesn't make any snow. It looks like soft icing sugar and makes great snowballs that pack quite a punch, as I find out when my 8-year-old son surprises me with one on the walk back.
The landscape as we head out along the track is vast, dotted with giant schist rocks. Just like a wintry regional park, there are also park benches for a rest.
As we head back to the lodge, the wind gently whispers in our ears from the ravine where the Roaring Meg Stream waits below. We're less chatty on the way back, the UFO-shaped viewing room acting as a kind of beacon in the distance.
We rush inside to the comfort of the Snow Farm bar where we play games of Scrabble and Checkers, before tucking into the best food we experience on the trip, lovingly made by a chef in the kitchen downstairs.
Normally, there would be big pots of cheese and chocolate in soup urns for guests to dip a bamboo stick with breads, blanched vegetables, melon, grapes, marshmallows and chocolate fish into. There's also usually mulled wine, hot chocolate and Irish coffee with a good swig of whiskey.
Tonight, though, the delicious kumara soup, tender veal schnitzel, vegetable couscous salad and rhubarb crumble keep everyone in good spirits as a screen is lowered ready to watch a rugby match. The Snow Farm crew bond with guests over bottles of beer for a true ski lodge experience. There are no airs and graces here, and it's all the better for it.
Snow Farm is so adaptable that even when other mountains are closed, or overcrowded in the school holidays, there are things to do here: from dog sledding and kite snowboarding to cross-country skiing, as well as the on-mountain lodge and back-country huts for overnight visits (and bacon and eggs at dawn next to the Roaring Meg Stream).
At 5am the next day, we say a bleary-eyed goodbye to Snow Farm under an inky sky illuminated only by stars and a "super moon" to guide our path down the mountain. The snow sparkles as it reflects the moonlight and we get a feel of what a full-moon fondue night ski could have been like: magical.
Edgewater Resort is perfectly positioned for families with young children. After a night on the mountain, we base ourselves on the edge of the lake and skim schist stones on the perfectly flat water, making driftwood fishing poles as we walk around the lake's edge past many photographers making the most of the glassy alpine conditions. Borrow the hotel bikes and head around the lake to the iconic dinosaur playground and have your photo taken next to the giant hand.
Cardrona Hotel is a cosy spot for an apres-ski mulled wine. It's probably the most-photographed pub in the country and one famous publican - James "Jimmy" Patterson - used to control the amount of liquor his guests were allowed: one if heading over the Crown Range and two if heading to Wanaka. Every winter he'd shut the hotel and leave a note: "Beer under counter, help yourself".
Puzzling World is a good place for a cheap lunch for the kids, plus lots of puzzles on the tables keep them entertained. Afterwards, try out the Illusion Rooms and the Great Maze, as well as a photo opportunity holding up the Leaning Tower of Wanaka,
Snowshoeing is suitable for any level and is the world's fastest growing winter sport. For the full mountain ski lodge experience, stay overnight.
Dani was hosted by Lake Wanaka Tourism. For more information on the Lake Wanaka region visit lakewanaka.co.nz.