Getting to Mt Olympus

Getting to Mt Olympus

Wagner Custome Skis

Where is Mount Olympus?

The Mount Olympus ski field is located at the south end of the Craigieburn Range on the South Island of New Zealand. Mt Olympus is a 45km drive from the tiny town of Windwhistle which is about 20 minutes from Methven. Drive times from Methven to Mt Olympus are approximately 90 minutes (72 km) depending upon road conditions (or 1:15 hours if you go with Black Diamond Safaris), and approximately 1.75-2 hours (128km) from Christchurch. Alternatively, if you’re staying in Springfield you can get to Olympus in under an hour. Mt Olympus is off the beaten track somewhat, which of course adds to its attractiveness as a powder hound destination.

Other NZ Ski Fields Nearby

Mt Olympus is in the general vicinity of other club fields such as Mount Cheeseman, Broken River, and Craigieburn Valley, but only as the crow flies and not by road because Mt Olympus sits on the Rakaia River side of the Craigieburn Range. It’s possible in the right conditions to undertake some backcountry touring between these four ski areas.

Getting To Mt Olympus

If self-driving, hire a 4WD because there’s a high likelihood that 2WDs won’t make it up the mountain. A sign on the way up says it all – “Chains and courage are required” to get up to the hill. Double check the snow report before venturing out to Mt Olympus, and ensure that both the road and the ski area are open.

From Methven to the Bottom Hut:
Head towards Rakaia Gorge and a few kilometres after the gorge bridge (when approximately 26km from Methven) turn left at the sign to Terrace Downs (Coleridge Rd). After about 19km turn right down Homestead Rd (there are signs to Mt Olympus) which shortly becomes unpaved. Turn left at Harper Rd which is also sign-posted to Mt Olympus. You may see a sign indicating that Mt Olympus is closed. This is the first of many filters that are in place to prevent the ski bunnies from visiting this “secret” ski destination. Of course sometimes Mt Olympus actually is closed, but this is part of the mysterious adventure! 

Just after the turn-off, the right hand fence is festively decorated with odd shoes, bras and panties. This is also a tradition in North America although they normally throw items of clothing in the pine trees. In NZ with an absence of trees they obviously had to resort to a fence!

Go past Glenthorne Station (even if there’s a sign saying no access), cross the Ryton River and continue to follow the subtle signs. There are various gates you have to close after you so the future Icebreakers don’t escape. These gates also act as filters to make sure you’re really really keen to visit Mt Olympus.

The access road progressively becomes narrower and mostly one-way. Chains are a must if it’s been snowing (and should be carried at all times).

From Christchurch to the Bottom Hut:
To travel on major roads, go through Darfield on Highway 72 to Windwhistle and turn right at the signs to Terrace Downs (then as above).

Getting From the Bottom Hut to Top Car Park:
The access road from the Bottom Hut up to the top car park is nasty and is in the top three for the gnarliest ski area road in New Zealand (with Lyford and Hanmer). It makes the Treble Cone access road look like a highway. It’s only a few kilometres long but it’s definitely one-way only, is above the tree-line, and the very edge of the road is false (ie it gives way).

There is a radio inside the bottom hut where you can contact the top hut to check for road conditions and to check no one is coming down the road. This is not a fun road on which to practise your reversing skills!

Access is commonly only for heavy duty 4WDs with chains. If your car doesn’t fit into this category, then you can probably hitch a ride up. Of course a ride is never guaranteed because on weekends many others may have the same idea, and on a weekday there might only be a few cars going up.

Getting from the Top Car Park to Top Hut Lodge:
From the small top car park it is a very short walk to the Access Tow. There is no goods lift, so you have to use the access tow to get up to the top hut and the main part of the ski field. Mountain staff will help with nutcracker rope-tow tuition if required. Needless to say, if staying overnight, pack lightly and don’t take a suitcase!

Getting Down
If your car is parked at the bottom hut car park, it’s sometimes possible to ski or board down to this area when snow conditions are appropriate. Given the sorts of rocks here, ‘appropriate’ means when you’re using someone elses skis! For experienced riders, it’s possible to head over the back of The Sphinx and follow the valley down to a “cat track” that leads to the road. From there it’s a 15 minute walk up to the bottom hut. 

[AdListings collection="New Zealand" category="Country Wide" subcategory="Car Rentals"] [AdListings collection="New Zealand" category="Country Wide" subcategory="Campervan Rentals"]

Transport Providers

Getting to Mt Olympus independently is a major adventure. The ski field can be a little tricky to find, you need a 4WD with chains, and there are many days when you need balls of steel to tackle the mountain road.

If you want to avoid all this hassle, go with the experts. Black Diamond Safaris can provide transport to Mount Olympus from Methven and Christchurch in a heavy duty 4WD vehicle. There’s also the option of using their nutcracker and avalanche equipment, and they also offer a range of great tours including fully guided adventures and backcountry touring.