A swift winter fatbike overnighter high on the Pisa Range with easy access, a great little hut and amazing riding if the conditions are right.

Area: Queenstown Lakes / Central Otago
Time: 1 or 2 days
Distance: 18kms

If the cattle herding at the ski field lift line is getting you down (people still do that?!), then this quick escape to a high hut with some great fatbike terrain might just bring you back to life.

The route as described here makes use of the Snow Farm NZ nordic ski trail network. Snow Farm is very supportive of winter fatbiking (and summer use is free). It’s the only place in New Zealand where you can ride groomed snow trails. You’ll just need to buy a trail pass to use the tracks (or your Snow Farm season pass if you have one of those).

A quick jaunt up the SnowFarm access road from Cardrona (or a long but scenic ride up if you prefer), brings you to the Snow Farm base building. The open cast mining you see wreaking havoc on the landscape is in fact test tracks for new cars. DOC has marked the easement that gives access to the Pisa Conservation Area with the usual orange markers, leading away from the right of the main building, initially on one of the cross country ski trails.

With your trail pass you can hook onto the River Run trail past the large and warm Meadow Hut (you can stay here too – enquire at Snow Farm), to the turn off to Kirtle Burn hut. Here you leave the main trail network. This 4WD track gets groomed later in the season and becomes easily fatbikeable (again, ask at Snow Farm). Earlier in the season you may find deep snow, or you may get lucky with a good freeze and it can become rideable.

A word of caution: the Pisa Tops are notoriously prone to fast weather changes, and the terrain makes navigating in poor visibility potentially disastrous. A GPS can be a worthwhile insurance up here.

Kirtle Burn Hut is a basic DOC 6 bunker, no fire (there’s not a tree in sight up here), so bring your warm gear – the mercury may plummet overnight. It’s a great base for exploring the tops from, especially in late season when you can get immaculate freeze-thaw conditions which solidly lock up the smooth windblown snow surface into a giant crystalline adventure playground on a fatbike – you can just point your 4 inch tyre anywhere you like the look of and go for it. Swooping snow filled gullies are mind-bendingly fun, rendered into frozen half pipes!

The ride out can be back the same way, or continue on the Top Beat track, joining The Loop track which brings you back to the base building, where you can grab a feed and a beer – nice!

Highlights
  • Riding a giant crystalline frozen playground under a full moon on a windless winter night!
  • Quick access to the high ground, sunning yourself while Wanaka sulks in the inversion.
  • If you are daring then you can of course camp or snow cave  in the Pisa Conservation area. If you dig a cave – let us know!
Logistics
  • Access is via the Snow Farm Access Road off the Cardrona Valley Road,  23kms from Wanaka. You can leave your car at the Snow Farm base building – just let staff know you will be staying overnight.
  • There is a road toll of $20 payable at the honesty box at the top of the road, unless you are buying a pass to use the Snow Farm trails in which case it is included.
  • You will need a Snow Farm trail pass if you wish to access the hut using their cross country trail network in winter, $40/day. Summer trail access is free.
  • Check conditions before you go: call Snow Farm 03 443 7542.
Sleeping
  • Kirtle Burn Hut is a basic DOC six bunk hut. There is no heating (not a tree in sight up here!) so it can be pretty icy by morning – bring the big feather bag for this mission! No cooking facilities and you will be melting snow in winter so bring enough fuel for melting duties.
  • Meadow Hut and Bob Lee Hut are both owned and operated by Snow Farm NZ, and can serve for an extra night accommodation. They are both heated with wood stoves (fuel provided), so are great when the temperature plummets, or for a bigger social ride.
Extra info