Latest access information to Pisa Conservation Area

Pisa Conservation Area information for ski touring – submitted by WT. The Pisa Conservation Area is unique for New Zealand ski touring.  The area is massive with a network of connected valleys (or burns) making for easy, safe travel.   Non-threatening terrain and good access (very atypical for alpine NZ) make the area ideal for learners and advanced skiers alike.  Snow line is usually around 1300m, above 1600m the southern exposures hold snow long into the spring.  Powder snow can usually be found long after storms due to the convoluted terrain and with few objective hazards skiers can safely ski here when it too dangerous closer to the divide.  It may be the only place in the country where a beginner (and fit!) skier can step from their car onto the snow and ski to a DOC Hut.

Destinations :

            Huts:

There are three public  huts.  The only hut that is high enough that you can reliably ski tour all the way to is Kirtleburn Hut.  However in a typical snow year it is possible to link up a four day,  three hut tour where you may only need to walk below snowline for a few hours.   Kirtleburn Hut 1640m
Kirtleburn hut. https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/otago/places/pisa-conservation-area/things-to-do/kirtle-burn-hut/

                        Deep Creek Hut 1260m (snowline in a good year)
Deep Creek Hut. https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/otago/places/pisa-conservation-area/things-to-do/deep-creek-hut/
                        Meg Hut 960m
Meg Hut. https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/otago/places/pisa-conservation-area/things-to-do/meg-hut/

Ski Tours:

            Cromwell Faces                         Big steep runs.  Long day from the car park or one hour from Kirtle Burn Hut. http://skitouring.co.nz/pisa-range-cromwell-faces/
Cromwell Faces 1http://skitouring.co.nz/pisa-range-cromwell-faces/
            Pisa Summit 1963m                         The easiest way to get to Pisa Summit is to follow the Roaring Meg to where it meets the Prince Burn.  Ascend the ridge which eventually forms the north side of the Prince Burn and continue to the summit plateau and the Pisa Summit.  This is also the easiest way to get to Kirtle Burn hut
            Lake McKay                         Descend Sally’s Pinch from Pisa Summit, go up to point 1956 and follow the gentle valley to the lake.  Stupendous rock balcony on your left.  Take care in bad visibility, you are on the east side of the divide and getting lost will have a bad result.
            Prince Burn                         The Prince Burn is the largest valley that can be reached easily from Musterer’s Flat  It is the first option you can take that will lead you to the north towards Kirtle Burn Hut or Pisa Summit.   If there is less than average snow expect to walk a bit navigating the initial narrow section.
            Column Rocks                         Directly across from the Musterer’s Flat log bridge is the Leopold Burn.  Follow Leopold Burn until you pop out onto the summit plateau, the rock formation is 1km north.  These towers are typical and result in the Pisa name. Big runs in every direction, especially on hard snow in the spring.
For place names see maps at https://www.topomap.co.nz/NZTopoMap?v=2&ll=-44.87196,169.14937&z=14

Access :

Road Maintenance fee You will need to stop in at the Snow Farm office and pay $20 per vehicle for road maintenance.  The road is a major installation and maintenance and plowing are expensive, everyone should contribute to help keep this amazing access. Access options:
For ski touring there are two main routes to access the Conservation Area, the DOC Original Easement and the Alternate Route.  Another option (particularly for beginners) is paying $10 to use the snow Farm trail system to get to the Conservation Area (see Pisa Charitable Trust/Snow Farm below). .          option a) DOC Easement Route .8km – marked in blue on map . This is the official right of way and the quickest by a kilometer. Continue driving past the base building and follow the road through the rather imposing signage. In approximately 500m here will be a building on your right.  Look to your left for a DOC sign on a light post that designates the car park.   Ski down the obvious valley below the car park, look for the poled route, there is one gate to go through about half way.  The large flat you come to (Musterer’s Flat) has a large grey pump station beyond which you will find a flat log to cross the stream on.  Once you cross Roaring Meg Stream you are in the Conservation Area.  This route is all down hill on a gentle grade and holds good snow.  SHPG request that you check with them before proceeding and to obey the signs.  They lock the gate after hours making this access problematic.
Department of Conservation easement route in BLUE
DoC easement through here
          option b) Alternative route 1.8km – marked in red on map At the right end of the base building there is a confusing array of signs as well as an honesty box for the road toll.  The route is uphill through the children’s tubing area.  Go over the hill and turn left down the next gully staying off the groomed tracks.  Follow the gully, which is quite flat so you may have to use skins.  The gully does not hold snow well so you may encounter mud. This route has the unique feature of warning you about live gunfire and tells you to check first with staff for a briefing.
option a in blue, option b in red.
Alternative access through here

Kiting.

Snow kiting is permitted in the Conservation Area.  To get to the Conservation Area directly you can use either the DOC Easement or the Alternate Route.  These take you down to the Musterer’s Flat where you will be sheltered from the wind but you will soon be back in the wind once you ascend the other side.  Plan on 1 hour to get from the Easement Car park to get to where you will be kiting (can be less or more depending on wind strength).  Beware, winds on the summit plateau can be much stronger than even a few hundred meters lower.  The eastern side of the summit plateau drops off steeply so getting overpowered by the prevailing westerly can end badly. Beware of getting lost in whiteout which can happen quickly. 
The other kiting access to the Conservation Area, from which it is possible to kite from your car, is via Robrosa Station.  See Southern Lakes Snow Kiters.             Southern Lakes Snow Kiters If you wish to go Snow Kiting on Robrosa Station private land, you need to be a member of the Southern Snow Kiters Association. To become a member visit their website HERE.  The cost is $120 for the season plus a road toll.  Currently there is no one day option.

The Snow Farm cross country skiing – Pisa Charitable Trust.

The Snow Farm has world class tracks and is New Zealand’s best kept skiing secret. The Snow Farm offers a vast groomed trail system which is used for either classic or skate skiing.  In addition there are provisions for recreational tubing, skiing with dog, snowshoeing. A season pass for an adult is only $199 and $359 if you include equipment (2020 prices).  This allows you to use either skating or classic gear whenever you like.  There is even a season pass option for your dog, they don’t seem to enforce the need for this pass but it may be worth it just so you can have a dog that sports a season pass.  Buying a season pass means that you do not have to pay a road toll every trip. 
Unlike it’s downhill ski area neighbors, the Snow Farm is excellent skiing in just about any weather condition.  The trails offer easy places to ski well out of the wind as well as huts to stop and have a cup of tea.  Bad visibility or snowfall are not a problem.  For $10 per person (plus the $20 per vehicle road maintenance fee) you can use the Snow Farm trail system to access the Conservation area.  This may be a good option for beginner skiers who can take advantage of the groomed track down to Musterer’s Flat.  At any rate it is good to support the community owned Snow Farm. History – The Pisa Alpine Charitable Trust (PACT) is a charitable trust that was formed to secure the ownership of the Snow Farm.  On securing the 298 hectares of land on which the Snow Farm sits, the land title was transferred to the Queenstown Lakes District Council in 2012.  PACT took over the Snow Farm business and now manages the day to day operations of the Snow Farm under the subsidiary Snow Farm NZ Ltd.  This charitable company acts on a not for profit basis with any surplus generated being reinvested into assets essential for the Snow Farm e.g., a groomer, trail maintenance, hut maintenance, etc.

Snowmobiles.

Snowmobiles are not permitted on Conservation Land.  Snowmobiles are permitted, and pay a fee, to use Robrosa Station.  Unfortunately many snowmobilers use this permission to gain access to the Conservation Area.  Snowmobiles are not permitted around Kirtle Burn Hut, Pisa Summit and Lake McKay.

Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds.

SHPG provides commercial vehicle and tire testing during the winter months.  They have a large variety of test tracks to the west of the Roaring Meg Stream.  They own the base building and provide the road clearing and maintenance. Privacy and safety are very important to them and all of their tracks are well fenced and sign posted.  With the exception of accessing the Doc Easement, it is important to stay well away from any of their tracks or facilities.  They operate a large amount of heavy machinery and cars may be traveling at high speed on their roads, under no circumstance drive or ski onto any roads where you are not permitted.

Hazards.

          Avalanche There are some dangerous places like steep gullies and relatively small terrain traps where a small slide could have very bad consequences.  These spots should be avoided, particularly after heavy snowfall or extended warm weather.  If you are uncertain, avoid bad weather and poor visibility so it is easy to stay on ridges where you will not be on avalanche terrain.           White Out/Wind The Conservation Area is subject to sudden changes in weather.  Particularly on the upper plateau the featureless terrain can be very confusing making it easy to get disoriented if the clouds come in.  Often this is accompanied by high winds, which further decrease visibility and can make progress difficult.  People venturing far from the Meg Valley should have a means of navigation and snow goggles.  Due to the smooth contour of the terrain, winds are accelerated as they pass over the range; extreme winds are common along the summit ridge.  Be sure to have a look at the weather forecast before you go.  In bad weather it is very unlikely searchers would be able to find you if you needed help. https://www.metservice.com/mountains-and-parks/ski-fields/snowfarm

Dogs.

Dogs are allowed on the Conservation Area but must be kept on a leash until you are Conservation land.  This means around the car park, building and trails until you cross the Meg Stream dogs must be on a leash.

Foot note.

Access to the Conservation Area is difficult, unclear and uncertain. Until 20 years ago the entire area belonged to the Crown but was leased for farming.  Tenure review resulted in the higher pasture being retired from farming in exchange for the privatization of the land. This land includes west of the Roaring Meg Stream where the current SHPG facilities are.  To ensure access to the boundary of the protected land an easement was created that guaranteed access to a car park 0.8km from the boundary and foot access from there (Blue route, option A).  The Easement guarantees “The full free uninterrupted and unrestricted right liberty and privilege for the transferee and her servants tenant agents workmen licensees and any members of the public … from time to time and at all times by day and by night to park motor vehicles on the area….”.   However on the flip side there are also assurances that the owner of the private land can restrict access for commercial reasons.  How this goes along with “full free uninterrupted and unrestricted” is any ones guess, it is a very poorly worded document.  To be continued…