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Cardrona - Our Story

Our Heritage, our Maunga, our People. Naumai, haere mai, ki te Cardrona. This is our story – our Heart of Gold.

First Footprints

Around 1000 years ago, the first footprints were made on this land as Maori settlers journeyed through the Cardrona Valley looking for paradise shelducks, eels & karamea, a plant containing "liquid gold" – perfume oil.


1860’s

The Central Otago Gold Rushbrings a bustling population of prospectors to the Cardrona Valley. These early pioneers struggle through cold winters & tough living conditions, truly fostering the pioneering spirit that the Valley is renowned for today.

If you look at our trail map today you may find links to:

  • The "Gin & Raspberry" was the richest mine in the Cardrona Valley during the 1860s Otago Gold Rush. It got its name from the owner's custom of shouting gin & raspberry to all hands when a bucket of pay-dirt yielded an ounce of gold
  • The "Whitestar' was a dredge that operated in the valley at the turn of the century
  • Robert McDougall was the famous shopkeeper who established the general store in Cardrona township
  • "All Nations" was one of 4 hotels established in the bustling Cardrona community

1970

100 years later, the effects of the brief, hectic beginning & slow decline of Central Otago gold mining are plain to see; Cardrona Township is a small farming town with a tiny population – a shadow of the busy centre it once was.

John and Mary Lee are bold pioneers like the Cardrona prospectors who came 100 years before. They are passionate about Cardrona's future & are determined to breathe life back into the valley. The Lees purchase Mt Cardrona Station & the iconic Cardrona Hotel. John vows to make "his fathers nemesis his friend" & has a bold vision to farm snow – create a ski field on Cardrona Station.


1978

Throughout the mid-late 70s, John Lee designs & builds a road up to the ski field site – without permission from the council. He describes it as a "high quality farm road", but has designed it with a mellow gradient that is ideal for buses coming from Queenstown to get up the road.

The Lees install the first rope tow from Tow Hut Corner. Many wish them well but don't give them a hope. The first intrepid skiers brave ungroomed slopes in 'rope tow assisted heli skiing'.


1980

Cardronas first winter is its hardest. Although 1980 is a good snow year, the snow makes road access impossible – meaning there are just 16 days of skiing between days of clearing snow off the road with a bulldozer. A 1000m rope tow is bought from Mt Hutt & installed.


1981

Cardrona's second winter is 6 weeks long.

The Lees realise people needed groomed trails to ski on, so purchase Cardrona's first snow groomer in 1981!


1982

Marks the resort's first full winter, with operations surpassing all expectations – more than doubling in expected skier numbers.


1983

Cardrona's first double chair is installed in the Main Basin – the La Franchi Double, named after the proprietor of the Cardrona All Nations Hotel.


1985

McDougall's Quad is installed along with a base building (including a 200 seat café). The base building is unique among ski fields in that it sits in the middle of the field. It is built this way because John Lee isn't a skier, & wants to be in the thick of it all! Cardrona is a ski field built by a beginner, & is now renowned for its incredible beginner facilities.


1986

Cardrona expands into Captain's Basin with a new quad chair & café.

"Captain" was an old rodeo horse who was put up to pasture on Cardrona in the summer during the 1970s. Captain was a nightmare to wrangle – so much so that some of the men wanted to shoot him! But Cardrona founder John Lee liked Captain's tenacious spirit that matched his own, & named one of the ski field's basins after the cheeky horse.


1989

Snowboarding is banned by Cardrona in the late 1980s. Cardrona staff member Nigel Kerr wants the ban lifted, so asks Austrian snowboarder Michael Bosch to give Operations Manager Shaun Gilbertson a lesson. Shaun is hooked & the ban is lifted in 1989.

The Vealls of Melborne buy Cardrona Ski Resort. Duncan Veall (famous from his days in Mondo Rock) becomes the resort's General Manager. Duncan continues the Lees' legacy of innovation by advocating for freestyle features & continued development of the resort.

The country's first international halfpipe is built above the learners' area. The pipe attracts Cardrona snowboarding legends Ewan Straight & Graham Dunbar who later set up the New Zealand Snowboarding Association & nationwide training & certification of snowboard instructors.


1993–1995

Loved by families & kids, Cardrona is the first mountain in NZ to develop specialised kids' centres.

Development of base area includes the Mezz Café, Kids' Centres, staff room, on-mountain apartments, medical centre & the famous Cardrona Clock Tower.

In 1994 the increasing popularity of snowboarding leads to building of Cardrona's first terrain park.


1996

Cardrona's 1st Magic Carpet for beginners is purchased & installed. This is also the inaugural year of the Cardrona Instructor Training Centre – a training provider still getting ski & snowboard instructors certified today!


1999–2000

Cardrona decide to try their hand at summer operations, including mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing & accommodation. Climbing routes are bolted in Arcadia.


2008

A high speed quad chairlift replaces Captain's Basin Quad, & is renamed Captain's Express.


2010

The old Captain's Basin Quad is installed above Speed Straight & the Valley View Quad & Basin are born!


2011

New Zealand's longest ski conveyor is installed in Cardrona's Beginners' Area.


2012

RFID ticket gates are installed on every lift.


2013

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New Zealand company Real Journeys purchases Cardrona Alpine Resort.


2014

The intermediate jump line opens – "Antlers Alley", bringing Cardrona's impressive freestyle offering to 4 terrain parks, 2 halfpipes & a big air jump.


2015

Cardrona Bike Park opens in January for a 2 week trial period. Cardrona purchases 4 new groomers & the SnowSat GPS snow management system.


2016

On December 27, 2015, Cardrona opens for its first full summer of operations including mountain biking, walking/hiking, Alpine by Night stargazing & the Southern Hemisphere's first mountain carts. The 2016 summer season is the beginning of Cardrona's quest to become a year-round resort.

Cardrona athlete Jossi Wells wins New Zealand's first Winter X Games Gold medal!


2017

A new "combined" lift of 8-person gondola cabins & 6-seater chairs replaces McDougall's Quad – the McDougall's Express Chondola.


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