Written by MagdaDH_AlexH on 17 Dec, 2010
After a night in Gore, we drive back to the coast through the rather flat and only very mildly inspiring farmland. There is not many people, or cars; there are many sheep: but we are used to it by now. The day is beautiful, the…Read More
After a night in Gore, we drive back to the coast through the rather flat and only very mildly inspiring farmland. There is not many people, or cars; there are many sheep: but we are used to it by now. The day is beautiful, the sun blazing and for a moment, on a roundabout in Gore where signs point to Milford Sound we feel an urge to abandon the round-about route plan and go straight there. We will regret not having done that later when we embark on the Saga of Not Getting to Milford Sound, but as for now we continue our Southern Scenic Route drive, missing Invercargill (which we don't really mind) and Stewart Island (which is just a few dollars to far) and heading for Riverton and then the Fiordland.Riverton is a small town or a large village, a resort at the Jacobs River Estuary, with a picturesque harbour and windswept beach with views of what must surely be Stewart Island from a huge pile of large rocks amassed in one place. The highlight is, however, a walk in the More's Reserve, atop the steep (and mostly gravel) Richard Street. We park in a small car park and set off on a path (mixed earth and boardwalk) through the forest. Ten minutes later we emerge to a sweeping view of the coast (and the Foveaux Strait). There is also a rough path leading promisingly down towards the sea, so we take it and after another ten or so minutes we are rewarded with another, wilder and emptier view of the coast. Between us and the beach is a steep pasture and I start dreading the clamber back (and not only the clamber but having to encourage if not push the Younger Child up). And thus only Himself gets to walk on the empty beach and see the boulders balancing as by magic. All this exploration always takes more time that one thinks it would and thus as we set off from Riverton the light is starting to fade. We pass Colac Bay, renowned for its breaks among the surfers, and as most of the time the road passes near the coast and we have to restrain ourselves from stopping at many a picturesque lookout or beach. We do stop, however, at Monkey Island, where a small rocky islet just off the beach can be walked to at low tide (it's not low tide, but it still looks good from the distance), and then at McCarken's Rest, for the last look we are going to have of this side of New Zealand, where a small platform gives more sweeping views of this beautiful, rugged coast, now even more attractive in the dying light. We spend a night at a couch-surf near Tuatapere, in a small wooden house in desolate middle of nowhere; our host making (and drinking) his own hooch and regaling us with stories from his life of travels everywhere from Europe to the Antarctic. Next morning it's snowing, or sleeting, and very misty: and we are setting off for the wild west. It's only about 130km to Te Anau, less than two hours' drive, but we are going to take it slowly as it's our first look at the Holy Grail of South Island travels, the Fiordland. Close
Written by MagdaDH_AlexH on 01 Oct, 2010
The scenic alpine route from Christchurch to the West Coast that leads through the Porters' and Arthur's Passes is spectacularly scenic, and crosses some excellent hill-walking land too. There are many short and day hikes in the vicinity of Arthur's Pass village, but perhaps the…Read More
The scenic alpine route from Christchurch to the West Coast that leads through the Porters' and Arthur's Passes is spectacularly scenic, and crosses some excellent hill-walking land too. There are many short and day hikes in the vicinity of Arthur's Pass village, but perhaps the most unique and also very accessible site is twenty kilometres or so west from Springfield, just past the Porters' Pass towards the Arthur's Pass. It's called the Castle Hill, and it's an extensive area of limestone outcrops forming a veritable labyrinth on a hillside. We drive there from Springfield on a sunny and pleasantly warm day and spend at three hours there: but you can go for as little as half an hour and it will still be fun. We walk around, attempt bouldering, pose on and hide beneath the rocks which vary in size from small stones to larger than a house. The variety of shapes is fascinating: smooth, Henry-Mooresque, organic, the young sharp edges of just-cracked rock worn to flowing curves by the years of wind and water.To the side of the main three groups of outcrops is a raising hillside, with more boulders and a high ridge behind which one of the Narnia films was partially made. We set off to climb it rather fool-hardily. The path up is relatively short but extremely steep: at times I feel I am going to actually fall off backwards and luckily it is dry and we eventually make it: it is much higher than it appears, or at least it feels much higher. We scramble down (partially shuffling down on our bottoms, which is fun on the tussocks of grass and less fun when one hits a stone). After three hours in the sun on the hillside and all this hillwalking we are tired and sun-dazed, but the views were fabulous, the boulders fascinating and the whole experience a fitting last day to our whole New Zealand trip. Very much recommended if you are in the area and easily worth a day trip from Christchurch too. Close
Arthur's Pass is an every-day name for the State Highway 73, a road that was originally traced in 1865–66 to connect Christchurch to the West Coast goldfields. The road includes actually two two passes, the more famous and higher Arthur's Pass at over 900m and…Read More
Arthur's Pass is an every-day name for the State Highway 73, a road that was originally traced in 1865–66 to connect Christchurch to the West Coast goldfields. The road includes actually two two passes, the more famous and higher Arthur's Pass at over 900m and perhaps more beautiful but lower Porters' Pass at over 700m. The whole route is spectacularly scenic even in a country that does scenic on an everyday basis, and what makes it more attractive is the great variety of landscapes in what is a barley 200km stretch of a road that can be driven, if not stopping, in about three hours flat. But it's much better to devote a whole day to the Arthur's Pass, to allow time for photo and picnic stops, even if you don't include any proper hiking (or tramping as Kiwis would have it). Even better, spend some days exploring the Alpine glories of the high country on foot, or if you are a skier, take advantage of several ski fields in the eastern section of the route. The SH73 (also called the Great Alpine Highway) leads from Christchurch (Canterbury district) on the east coast to Greymouth/Hokitika on the west. We drove it west to east in late September, in a lovely, sunny and dry weather. The Arthur's Pass route branches off the main west coast highway between Hokitika and Greymouth, at a place called Kumara Junction and near a village called Kumara (one wonders what living in a place named "sweet potato" does to the inhabitants). It starts climbing, at first gently, and then much more steeply, through the Otira Gorge. The road itself is bendy but not particularly difficult, at least in our sunny conditions. But I have seen wind and snow warnings for this route and the road, as any alpine road, can be closed or limited in its opening, as well as requiring chains because of snow and ice. At first, it's a different landscape that I expected, with mountains still green and water-logged, and deep valleys: we are clearly still in the west, with its high rainfall and steep mountainsides covered in vegetation. The pass itself, with a formidable viaduct in a steeply-sided gorge, and a waterfall streaming over a specially constructed tunnel-bridge inside which cars travel, feels wild and desolate: at over 900m above the sea level it's a true high country, and the falling darkness makes it even more atmospheric. After the pass things change very noticeably: the eastern side of the mountains is strikingly drier, with the lush woods replaced by tussock grass. The night falls as we drive across the Waimakariri River, with the dusk pink and saphire and the Evening Star shining incredibly brightly above us. The land between Arthur's Pass and Porters Pass is a real alpine paradise with ski fields and fantastic walking country as well as some good caves. The road itself is wildly scenic in the manner that the South Island makes one quite complacent about: wild-looking mountains covered in reddish-yellow, tufty tussocks of grass, regular sequence of triangles like from a child's drawing, with snowy tops shining in the blazing sun. Twenty kilometers or so, before the high country thrills finish past the supendous curve of the Porters' Pass, there is Castle Hill Basin, a lovely area surrounded by mountain ranges, and with a an extensive area of limestone outcrops in its centre. The rocks form a veritable labirynth on a hillside, and a magnificent place for a walk, be it a ten minute stroll, a spot of bouldering or a more energetic and longer but less skilled climb to the top of the ridge where the boulders finish.After that, Porters' Pass and then a quick drive to Springfield and then on to Christchurch through flat farmland. Close
We arrive in Christchurch two days after the big Sep-2010 earthquake. We stay in a suburb that has hardly been affected, but the city as a whole is still in a state of (excuse the pun) shock. Not only psychologically, but also literally: smaller and…Read More
We arrive in Christchurch two days after the big Sep-2010 earthquake. We stay in a suburb that has hardly been affected, but the city as a whole is still in a state of (excuse the pun) shock. Not only psychologically, but also literally: smaller and bigger aftershocks are still felt, like a rumble in the foundations, some like a large lorry passing by or somebody slamming a heavy door, and one or two get rather scary: a real, sharp jolt or two, the power going out for a few minutes, and then the wait – will there be another, bigger one? I can't imagine what it must be for people who lived through the disastrous one on Saturday. The city is a little bit eerie, empty, obviously shaken (excuse the pun), the CBD still cordoned off and the public buses are not running, as buildings are being checked. But the Kiwi spirit seems to be holding up pretty well, the lack of casualties shows how important both luck (the quake hit at 4.30am) and good planning and regulations (NZ has strict building standards) are: the NZ quake was actually stronger than the one that ravaged Haiti and yet not a single life was lost.The earthquake and its aftermath make one realise how new New Zealand is. New, quite obviously, because the European colonisation is a fairly recent phenomenon (150 years roughly), just as - and yet quite differently – it was in Australia. But it's also new in relative terms - the Maoris only arrived here about 800 years ago from Polynesia, as opposed to the Aboriginal people in Australia, who have been living there for 40,000 years plus. But New Zealand is also new geologically, very much a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire (cf the earthquake): not an old, parched and eroded continent ground down to red dust by the millennia, but a sharp and jagged rocky island still frequently shaken up by the volcanic and seismic activity.Altogether, it seems incredibly different from Australia. The colours are different too: lost of green, blues of all kinds, silvery greys and greyinsh blues. There was no mammals in New Zealand before the Pakeha arrived. There is no venomous creatures. And as you look out from the East Coast, the next land is Antarctic. Close
The practicalities of the West Coast are fairly simple: most people drive the whole route themselves either in a car or a camper van, although I have seen many tour buses disgorging young backpackers at several stops on the route. You can also use a…Read More
The practicalities of the West Coast are fairly simple: most people drive the whole route themselves either in a car or a camper van, although I have seen many tour buses disgorging young backpackers at several stops on the route. You can also use a public transport (train or bus from Christchurch to Greymouth, then bus) to travel along the west coast road, although the service beyond Fox Glacier towards Haast and Central Otago seems more erratic. Surprisingly, we have not seen any hitch-hikers, at least going our way, but there is a fair amount of traffic and hitch-hiking should be easy, especially going north-south. There is a train from Christchurch to Greymouth which crosses the Southern Alps on a route sightly different from the road. The distances involved are not particularly long (which is a nice thing about New Zealand: everywhere is not only scenic but quite near to everywhere else). It's about 600km from the Wanaka area to Christchurch via the Arthur's Pass, but Greymouth to Haast is only 314km (add 100km if you want to detour north to see the famous Pancake Rocks): easily driven in half a day, even factoring in a couple of short stops/walks, although to give the area any kind of justice you need at least a couple of days. In fact, considering the weather, I would allocate more than that to the West Coast, to give it a chance for at least half day of not raining. The optimal schedule would depend on the rest of your time in New Zealand as well as on your interests and manner of travel. If self-driving, I would suggest doing the route from the south to the north, which is what we did. We saw much more traffic the opposite way to the one we took, although obviously it could have been a coincidence. But even if it's not true, I think there are advantages here: you are likely to be less tired on the most interesting part of the route, and you are more likely to have some flexibility around the glaciers (and this is where you want it, for weather reasons if nothing else). If you are not camping, Haast and Franz Josef are expensive accommodation wise, but their central location is such and advantage that you are bound to need a place in or near one of the accommodation: do your research and maybe even book before departure to get a chance of a better value place. Fox and Franz Josef are also centres of all the "tourist activities", from normal walks to helicopter rides. There are many walks ranging from short half-hour loops to whole or even several-day hikes, all covered in local maps and leaflets available from tourist information centres. The only way to walk ON the actual glacier is with a guided group (think close to 100 NZD per 3 hour walk minimum), but you can walk to within 100m of the face for free. Past Franz Josef there is more development, plenty of small resort or semi-resort type villages, but also less interest. I would suggest stopping somewhere between Hokitika and Greymouth and using a whole day (or more) for crossing the Southern Alps. Arthur's Pass has some fantastic walking options, and the Castle Hill area of limestone outcrops near Porter's Pass further on towards Christchurch on the same road is pretty amazing too. Lewis' Pass has Hamner Springs, which are great too. Close
Stretching in a relatively narrow strip along most of the western coast of the South Island, between the Southern Alps (one often despairs the colonists' lack of imagination when naming geographical features) and the Tasman Sea, the district of the West Coast is one of…Read More
Stretching in a relatively narrow strip along most of the western coast of the South Island, between the Southern Alps (one often despairs the colonists' lack of imagination when naming geographical features) and the Tasman Sea, the district of the West Coast is one of the wilder and less developed parts of the country. The standard route goes from Greymouth or Hokitika (the settlements on the West Coast that mark the crossing of the Southern Alps from Christchurch by Lewis' or Arthur's Passes) to Haast (to cross the mountains by Haast Pass) and then on to Wanaka. The road along the coast was only completed in 1965, and the final bit of tarmac did not appear on the Haast Pass until 1995. ***At first, we drive by Dunstan lake north and then the road starts following the shore of Lake Hawea, which, surrounded by even more dramatically picturesque mountains that Lake Wakatipu, looks utterly stunning in the sunshine. The wind is trying to blow our heads off as we eat our sandwiches on a very blustery gravel beach. The water s covered in little choppy waves, the clouds are racing, the dark massifs of craggy mountains streaked and topped with blazingly white snow face us, while the hills behind are more rounded and lower. A thinks it's a bit like the West Coast of Scotland. There is nobody here, and hardly a car passes on the road. Even the sheep are, blissfully (albeit temporarily) gone. We cross the Southern Alps via the lowest of the passes, the Haast pass. The change in landscape and vegetation is couldn't be more striking, and is underlined by the weather today. As we leave Otago and enter the West Coast (as well as Mount Aspiring National Park), the blustery sunshine is replaced by an apparently normal West Coast state of overcast and rain varying from pouring to drizzle. The sheep disappear again, the road is now running in a - nomen omen - rainforest, a temperate one uncannily similar to the one we travelled through on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The rock face to the left of the car is often enveloped in sheets of flowing water, and the hill sides covered in curly vegetation, peering from behind the mist, form a background for numerous waterfalls cascading down the mountain side. Some of these waterfalls are lower down, and accessible from the road, and we stop by a couple for a look and a photo. The Haast pass itself is at slightly above 500m, and has some snow on the roadside, but the black ice warnings are groundless and we uneventfully descend on the western side of the mountains, by the wide gravel bed of the river Haast. Haast itself (or rather the three separate settlements that bear that name with different suffixes) is hardly a village, more like scattering of a farm and tourist-service buildings. We get fish and chips in a strange hotel-cum-bar-cum take away decorated with giant moose and deer heads (I do a double take, but no, we are not back in Canada) and, disappointed in quantity but fairly satisfied with quality, drive on across the long, low bridge across the river Haast and onto what is officially the Glacier Highway.We are about eighty miles from the glaciers though and we are driving through a wild land indeed. That is, wild, if you forget the metalled road with cats' eyes and side posts, frequent camping and picnic spots with warnings about rubbish, fires and even occasionally a loo as well as an ever-present danger of livestock appearing in a field round the corner. But fields don't appear for a while and the woolly rainforest surrounds the road in its rich, yellowy, almost reddish greens. We cross many streams in deep, vegetation-covered gorges and can still see the coast every so often, and we stop at Knight's Point to admire rocky outcrops and black cliff falling into the Tasman Sea and at Bruce Bay to look at an amazing driftwood-strewn beach. The sea, is, strangely, blueish green despite the grey cloud and white mist descending lower and lower. The road veers inland after Bruce Bay and the livestock reappears as land along the road flattens out a bit. We drive into the settlement and the tourist centre of Fox Glacier in the dark, but as we pass the turn-off for the glacier itself, we can see it - just- a faint eerie pale glow on the mountain side in the gully raising above the road side. We stop at in a cabin at the Fox Glacier Holiday Park (very overpriced but adequate for a resort: try somewhere else if you can afford it or better yet, don't stop in Fox) and hope for less rain tomorrow: we want to see the grand Cloud Piercer of Aoraki (Mt Cook).We wake up in Fox Glacier to a morning that is cloudy, misty and overcast. Mt Cook is somewhere up there, but we can't see it. Still, a quick drive to and walk around the famous Matheson Lake is due, although chances for a postcard-pretty reflection snap are very slim: instead we get moody clouds. Nice lake, nevertheless.We backtrack a bit towards the Fox Glacier itself and instead of walking up to the face of it, get a view from a distance. It's raining - sort of, but with a hope of clearing, maybe, later. We traipse up a hillside for about half an hour of a path to a higher lookout, but a wide and rumbling stream to deep to ford and too wide to jump blocks our way. The rain grows, so we turn back without too much regret. Twenty-odd kilometres on is Franz Josef, the second of the tourist-trap villages as well as the other of the West Coast glaciers: a noticeably bigger and more impressive one than Fox. In fact, both of them are quite impressive, particularly the fact that they come down so low into the temperate zone instead of staying at the usual Alpine glacier heights. Franz Josef is sunny for us which makes a nice change as well as instantly beautifying the waterfalls coming down the wooded hillsides with a sparkle. We climb up steep but very well maintained path to the lookout at the Sentinel Rock and marvel at the great tongue of dirty ice worming its way down the steep, narrow valley. Higher up, the rocks and sand on top disappear and all we see is a wrinkled sheet of blazing blue ice. I wonder about fascination that glaciers hold: A doesn't like them, but I think them wonderful and would, in other circumstances, even pay to walk on one (another of the countless "adventure pursuits" the very efficient NZ tourist industry offers). I think it's the knowledge that those things actually create the landscape, or a large part of it, that surrounds us; plus the sheer size of them. Sleeping ice dragons. From Franz Josef (a tourist service town full of overpriced cafes and tour operators) we get a last look at the huge tent of Mt Cook, now almost completely visible up above us. The weather stays sunny and the road meanders up and down through a country increasingly more developed than the area between Haast and Fox. The mountains are still there, slightly lower at least by the road side, lushly forested, brimming with green life. We decide to go the whole hog and drive through Arthur's Pass today: we pass the seaside town of Hokitika and turn inland and towards Arthur's Pass at Kumara Junction. Close
Written by rufusni on 22 Apr, 2010
Kaikoura launched itself at visitors for its wildlife –whales, seals and dolphins, then throw in the paua shell and it shake it together to get a touristy flavour. To its advantage there are lots of cafes and restaurants – some of which seemed pretty good.…Read More
Kaikoura launched itself at visitors for its wildlife –whales, seals and dolphins, then throw in the paua shell and it shake it together to get a touristy flavour. To its advantage there are lots of cafes and restaurants – some of which seemed pretty good. Started the morning in the Kaikoura Food Company, which is out of the town centre on Beach Road – it was a lovely cafe and the menu was interesting with plenty of options, and the food was delicious but the other selling point to this place was that it makes fudge – and they have lots of varieties and flavours- it was difficult to tear myself away. I ordered breakfast but the sweet cakes and things were too tempting and so I had to round everything off with one and a coffee. While the location is less than ideal, inside is pleasant but the food trumps.Then came a wander around the town – there are plenty of souvenir shops, including a few that specialise in paua shell, and have every possible use for the shells for sale. The Paua shells are a by-product of harvesting by diving for the ‘meat’ within. However the shells themselves may look grey and encrusted on the exterior but their interior is the key with its striking blue, green, and purple iridescence. The bright colours are lovely and make a perfect material to make tourist souvenirs of! Having wandered around the shops, I decided not to buy but more about that later.I had a walk on the beach at Kaikoura, which is really stony, but has beautiful scenery to enjoy, with mountains and hills providing the backdrop. Having enjoyed my morning I went hunting for a late lunch – and saw a great offer for lunch in a Thai restaurant in the middle of the town, and since I rarely get to enjoy Thai food at home I’d give it ago. But it was slightly disappointing – the food was average and nothing to write home about – but for a cheap lunch it was cheerful enough – but I think you can probably do better having just experienced a lovely brunch earlier on in Kaikoura Food Company.Then it was back on the road to head south back to Christchurch...but the first stretch of the road from Kaikoura threw up some surprises as it winds beside the sea with steep cliffs on the other side. First came seals, right beside a convenient stopping point – which made up for my decision not to go hunting elsewhere – because I got really close to them, and there was only another couple stopped – and I was able to watch them in peace. Further along I stopped at a beach, and found a few paua shells – which was even better than buying one in a souvenir shop – so okay it wasn’t as shiny and polished, but it felt more authentic. The road left the beautiful sea views as it wound its way inland and southward, and the scenery changed to hills with the mountains in the distance.My next stop was a small town, Cheviot – and an unplanned stop - as I was driving into this town there were a few ladies sitting at the roadside with stalls, the signs mentioned a local crafts market – and as I needed a present or two I thought I would pull in and have a look. The three ladies were very friendly and chatty but not overbearingly so, and were busy knitting and other crafty things as they kept watch over their stalls. Of course there were some paua shells, but not the tourist production style of souvenirs, but also lots of other items including knitted items and other wool items ( the area around Cheviot has many sheep farms). I bought my mum a very cute little sheep made out of wool. Apparently the market occurs on Sundays but that it is also supplemented with some Fridays as well, which I luckily hit.I carried on, with the plan I’d find somewhere in Amberley to stop for afternoon tea – and right on the main road in the town was the Nor’wester cafe which looked really lovely from the outside, with parking and an patio area, but I ended up less than impressed with the place. It was the only place on my travels of NZ that I felt negative vibes towards me was eating on my own, which was unfortunate as I due to leave the next day – but as I had met so many other warm and welcoming business people, I knew it was a blip. The Service was below par, nor was the coffee great and wasn’t all that hot when it arrived, and it felt that they didn’t really want a customer who wasn’t ordering a full meal. But there are other places to eat in town.Having time I decided to take a detour off the main road and head down to the coast, and my detour was well worth it as the sun came out, as I came across a desert beach. After stretching my legs, I relaxed in the car reading a book sitting overlooking the beach (it was a little too chill to sit out). Unfortunately I had to head onto Christchurch, and so I had to leave my lovely secluded beach and head into the city. While I enjoyed Christchurch during the three weeks I spent there with work, it did seem a shame to be back again. I had truly loved the freedom driving around the South Island, and seeing so many wonderful places, and I was dismayed that my month in New Zealand was drawing to a close, and Christchurch that had marked the beginning also marked the end of this adventure and I knew all that lay ahead was a tiring and cramped flight back to normal life lay the following day. To be honest the trip from Kaikoura to Christchurch was more tame than the wild west coast – no wild twisty and narrow road instead a main highway, a greater population, and while lovely scenery, it was diminished by the other coast and crossing the mountains. The one thing I wished I had done a boat trip to see the whales in Kaikoura, but it was so cold I wimped out of even considering it. However, it was a nice relaxed final day in New Zealand. Close
Written by rufusni on 01 Mar, 2010
There was a certain amount of disappointment in driving through the mountains due to less than ideal weather – cloud, mist, drizzle and occasionally full on rain – but on heading over the Haast Pass, I saw light at the end of the tunnel –…Read More
There was a certain amount of disappointment in driving through the mountains due to less than ideal weather – cloud, mist, drizzle and occasionally full on rain – but on heading over the Haast Pass, I saw light at the end of the tunnel – sunshine. The drive down was amazing with snow topped peaks, the raging river swishing past at the top, slowing down to a meandering river at the bottom and many waterfalls – I only stopped at the Thunder Creek Falls, which is just off the road, but there are others close to the road to stop at as well, and all well signposted. It was a lovely drive, but its was about to be outdone by the drive up the West Coast.I briefly stopped in Haast, just to break the drive and get a coffee –but decided I wanted to head on – and good decision rather than hang around the rather uninspiring Haast, there was so much to see ahead. First stop was Ship Creek Cove which is just off the road with a large car park – but it was rather empty – and the beach was deserted, a reminder of the remote nature of this part of New Zealand – waves crashed on the beach, which was strewn with driftwood. The cove has an interesting history – its name came because fragments of a ship were found here. In fact over time several fragments of the same ship were found – a fine sailing ship – its identity was eventually discovered – a ship wrecked off the Australian coast in 1855, and the fragments made the trip to this beach. Quirky facts aside this was a lovely spot to get out of the car and walk along a deserted, quiet beach, simply enjoying the peace and quiet.But onwards – there are plenty of amazing views and places to stop – such as Knight’s Point which was named after a dog of the construction crew who built the road. But having enjoyed sunshine, my luck ran out again – as clouds and rain rolled in as I headed towards Fox Glacier, and there was little to see in all the cloud – so I thought why not chance it onto Franz Josef glacier - which worked out better – now the sun didn’t come out but it at least had stopped raining, so even if the views weren’t great, I could get out of the car and see the glacier a little. Now the road up is gravel and a little rough but it is worth it in the end. Now my next question was whether to stop there and see if the next day was any better, or to head further up the coast. I decided as I had been up close to glaciers in the past and due to the limited time frame of the trip, to head onward and see what happened next. The weather fluxed between grey, sunshine and rain as I drove on further – which gave an even more dramatic backdrop to the drive. The twists and turns of this road will take the drivers attention, and at times road signs will indicate recommended speeds of 25kph, which are well deserved. The scenery ranges from snow capped mountains, beaches, waves crashing on rocks, lakes, forests, farmland to small villages. That night I ended up in Hokitika, and stayed in a chalet overlooking the beach – I wandered down to the beach and found one of the many pieces of driftwood to sit on and enjoy the sunset, with fire colours reflecting on the sand and sea – it was beautiful! I also picked up a few green tinged stones to added to my collection. I was tired after all the driving and had a quick dinner, and headed for an early night. The next morning was up early, and a walk around the town centre, looking at the shops – including pounamu (jade) carvings. And then back on the road and heading towards Greymouth having filled up the tank. I took a detour to Shantytown, an attempt to recreate the gold rush era of the region – its kind of interesting but better if you had kids – its was kind of cool to pan for gold even if it was a little artificial, with a guarantee to find gold, which you get in a souvenir container. And back on the road through Greymouth to Punakaiki and then Westport. This section of the road is truly amazing for scenery with white capped breakers and sometimes rugged rocks or then again sweeping beaches with bush-clad mountains as a backdrop. Then come the Pancake Rocks –a short trail of 20 minutes takes you out from the road and village to see the rocks, which do kind of look like stacks of pancakes – they are kind of strange! There are a few places to eat here, and I took the opportunity for a break with coffee and a muffin. Then back on the road to be amazed with all the scenery on the way to Westport, before heading inland again through Buller Gorge.While this road is twisty, the drive is so worth it, my only disappointment was that I didn’t have more time to properly drive it – only one night stop at Hokitika is too little – but that was the way the cookie crumbled with time constraints – and there is so much to see and enjoy along the West Coast – it seems to have an unspoilt quality due to its sparse population. And its lovely to drive on empty roads – good thing they are with the single lane bridges – but loved the peace and tranquillity, the scenery, the beauty – oh to go back! Close
Written by Jack Ventura on 03 Feb, 2004
The south island of New Zealand is
tailor-made for road-touring. Most of it is very well maintained, two-lane, open country road, clean except for the
occasional accidental opossum. All the sheep are safely penned. Other vehicular competition is surprisingly few
and far between. Mid-summer…Read More
The south island of New Zealand is
tailor-made for road-touring. Most of it is very well maintained, two-lane, open country road, clean except for the
occasional accidental opossum. All the sheep are safely penned. Other vehicular competition is surprisingly few
and far between. Mid-summer days are long, weather is bright, and roadside wildflowers continue their exuberant
bloom.The two Toyota "mini-buses" (one with a car top cargo container) we rented were both about
30-year-old diesel models. Gears were located on the steering column; the clutches had a little bit of slip. The one
I drove was severely underpowered, chugging up in second even the mildest incline. Every gear shift was accentuated
by a big black belch from its exhaust pipe. It’s a small complaint, considering that we logged many kilometers,
and they performed flawlessly.Credit goes to Pegasus Rental
Cars. Owners Roger and Sarah Wyeth were a joy to work with. Each vehicle cost NZ$125 per day, very
economical for 10 people in each. Each van was also charged a NZ$110 relocation fee. This is because we wanted
them for a one-way trip, picking up at Queenstown and returning to Christchurch. For an independent franchise
like Pegasus, this is not easily accommodated. Fortunately, Roger and Sarah decided to spend their New Year’s
Eve at Queenstown. They each drove our two vans from Christchurch to Queenstown, and greeted us at the airport
when we arrived.When renting a car in New Zealand, be sure to conduct a thorough inspection of the
vehicle and document all pre-existing damage. It’s an important precautionary advice. Rental car companies in
New Zealand, even the likes of Hertz, simply cannot support a business plan that relies on churning their inventory
with a constant supply of brand new vehicles. Rental cars are therefore inevitably older, and often quite beat up.
Regulated insurance policies for the rental car industry in New Zealand does not particularly side with the
customer. Every rental car comes with an "insurance excess policy" of NZ$1,250 (plus tax). For an additional
NZ$10 per day, the vehicle’s policy can be decreased to NZ$750. If you are careless, an unscrupulous rental
company may try to take this enormous sum of money from you (or your insurer). Because the vehicle probably
has at least that much damage to its exterior carriage to begin with, and you will be out of luck trying to contest a
he-said-she-said accusation of liability.Having said that however, I found most Kiwis, as New Zealanders
call themselves, friendly, forthright, and genuinely welcoming of foreign visitors. Manners on the road seem to
reflect this easy civility.Once my brother and I adjusted to driving from the wrong side of the vehicle, on
the wrong side of the road, the rolling roadways of New Zealand were both relaxing and invigorating. From
Queenstown, where we leisurely spent New Year’s Eve, our primary destinations were Milford Sound and Mount
Cook, before concluding the road trip at Christchurch.The drive between Queenstown and Milford Sound
must surely qualify among the best in the world. The stretch along the base of the Remarkables Range, following
the coastline contours of Lake Wakatipu, is a roadster’s dream. Beyond the lake and the homesteads perched on
gentle hills, we stopped at the Kingston Flyer depot. Had
we known about this vintage steam train attraction, we might have tried to time it so that those of us who wished
could take the 30-minute ride to Fairlight. As it was, the rest stop was entertaining. The restrooms attached to the
depot were actual train carriage latrines.Any talk of New Zealand’s countryside requires mention of . . . sheep. Goodness gracious, there are millions of them! The turn onto State 94 toward Te Anau is sandwiched
between two sheep ranches and easily missed; and opportunities to U-turn along the two-lane highway are
scarce.I don’t have enough accolades for the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound, particularly the half
through Fiordland National Park. We stopped often to admire and photograph the vistas we encountered, of Lake
Te Anau, the Eglinton River, and lush meadows in starbursts of colors. One good stop, also easily missed because
there are no parking lots for it, is Mirror Lake. There are nice views all along its boardwalk.It’s
at Homer Tunnel however that you realize New Zealand is an entirely different world. I mean, like
Middle Earth or somewhere. At one end, it’s a small hole in a mountainside surrounded by snow-draped sentinels.
It doesn’t look like a single bus can fit through it. The tunnel itself is utterly scary! 1200m of pitch
blackness, to the extent that even your own vehicle’s headlights illuminate nothing and every oncoming headlight
appears to be a head-on collision. The tunnel is tilted at a pretty good grade, and without visual cues, your sense of
gravity becomes off-kilter, akin to a sort of vertigo. When you’re finally relieved at the other end, the road is a
steep switch-backing descent into a seemingly Amazon, rainforest jungle basin. It’s a dramatically dislocating
experience.I personally felt extra-relieved to stop at The Chasm, about halfway down our final
approach to Milford Sound. It’s a short walk to the raging rapids of the Cleddau River’s narrow chute. But, the
final reward of this long drive is Milford Sound.The drive from Queenstown to Mount Cook is also good.
Not far from Queenstown and the airport at Frankton, we couldn’t resist stopping at the old bridge spanning the
Kawarau River. It was too early for the crowds to have yet gathered; the jump had not yet opened for the
day’s business. I am, of course, referring to the world’s first commercial bungy-jumping attraction. With no one
but us there, we were able to walk right up to the platform, look down to the river below, and for most of us, safely
imagine the ordeal and feel re-assured that we rightly chose not to do it.Past the bridge, the Kawarau
River meanders through a narrow, bucolic valley that is one of New Zealand’s better known wine countries. A
gradual ascent and descent over the verdant Pisa Range brought us to the town of Cromwell, where we topped off
our gas tanks. We’d reached State Highway 8. With a good stretch of mostly level road, we would make up some
good time.Near the foot of Lake Pukaki, we stopped for lunch at the town of Twizel. Nice stop,
even if the town seemed to me sedate and suburban. With my parents, at a little bistro of patrons reading
newspapers, I ordered a breakfast plate of eggs and ham steak. The Korner Kafe serves a generous portion.
I’m also amused that both New Zealand and Australia seem to consider a grilled slice or two of tomato to be a
necessary side to any breakfast dish.The subsequent drive on State 80, alongside Lake Pukaki, is terrific.
The first really good look at Mount Cook towering behind Lake Pukaki is at Peter’s Lookout. The head of
the lake changes into a shallow, alluvial ribbon of waterways typical of lakes with a slow-melting source, and the
road bends sharply to descend toward Glentanner. We drove right past this small collection of buildings, but it’s
worth noting that most of Mount Cook’s tour operators, including helicopter rides, are based
here.Summer at Mount Cook National Park is idyllic, but I’d like to someday take an extended winter
stay there.There are some interesting waypoints from Mount Cook to Christchurch, too. Lake Tekapo
Village is considered by most to be a requisite one. It was also a good stop for gas. At the end of this small town,
at the terminal shoreline of its namesake lake, is the Church of the Good Shepherd. It is a tiny stone
structure, but the large, glass-less window view of the lake and mountains behind a small pulpit inside had an
expansive effect on my spirit. I was also inspired by its resident priest, greeting all visitors with such
good-naturedness.Next to the church is the also affecting Collie Dog Monument, an homage to
the animals that made one of New Zealand’s chief husbandry crops possible. There’s a great nobility to the
sculpture -- another shrine to the divine in nature.We stopped for lunch at the charming town of
Geraldine along the shortcut, State Highway 79. Several of us sat in a spacious music/art/food joint called
Easy Way Cafe. It took them a long time to prepare our table’s mostly pasta and salad orders, but the meal
was superb, as was its big bowl of cappuccino. From there, the stream of small towns separated by agricultural
fields along Highway 1 passed by us in a blur before we realized that we were in Christchurch.There is
still much remaining of New Zealand’s South Island that we didn’t get to see on our two-car caravan tour. Next
time, however, I will institute a rule: No karaoke battles over the walkie-talkie. Close
Written by sarah date on 10 Jul, 2001
Driving up the West Coast from Greymouth, my next destination was Nelson, the jumping off point for the famous Abel Tasman National Park and Track. I took Highway 6 in order to stop off in Punakaiki to see the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, noting the…Read More
Driving up the West Coast from Greymouth, my next destination was Nelson, the jumping off point for the famous Abel Tasman National Park and Track. I took Highway 6 in order to stop off in Punakaiki to see the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, noting the "Mind the Penguins" signs and keeping an eye out for one of the endearing little waddlers but never seeing any.
Pancake Rocks are pillars of stacked limestone rock, aptly named, interspersed with blowholes which are best demonstrated when the tides are high. A short and pleasant walkway in among thick vegetation loops around the sights, providing lookout points at the right spots. The Rocks are a small part of the Paparoa National Park which includes a larger wilderness area inland with many walking tracks – information is available at the Visitor Centre on the main highway.
My next stop was Cape Foulwind, not only because I’m always drawn to places with curious names but also because I had read that a fur seal colony thrives there. And since it was summer, the colony was full of ridiculously cute, month old babies tumbling over each other and practicing their swimming techniques in a safe nursery pool. The noise and smell wafting up on the strong breeze were considerable to say the least.
With difficulty I tore myself away from the seals and headed inland through the mountainous Buller Gorge on my way to Nelson. Clear morning light shone through the trees and illuminated occasional stacks of pastel coloured bee boxes in the corners of grassy fields. Further on I passed through the Motueka Valley, a lush agricultural region growing hops, green tea, flowers and fruit such as apples and kiwi. The scenery lifted my spirits but I made the mistake of buying an enormous bottle of caramel flavoured milk on the way, and between that and the twisty road, felt quite queasy for most of the drive.
In Nelson I checked into the Sussex House which is a beautifully restored home with 4 rooms and a very sociable orange cat named Riley. I had spent the day walking a tiny part of the Abel Tasman Track which follows the coastline in the National Park of the same name. The sun was shining and I enjoyed myself immensely listening to birds and stopping off at a few of the bays to sit on the beach. I found a large purple squid pulsating at the water’s edge in Coquille Bay and tried to resuscitate it (without success) by returning it to the sea.
It is possible to do the entire trek over 3 or 4 days and stay in the huts provided or camp along the way for a small fee – book first as this is very popular during the summer. Another way to see the park is to hire a sea kayak in the township of Marahau where the track begins.
Nelson itself is pleasant town with pretty beaches and an artistic, food-loving community. In early February, a festival of local food and drink is held and many other events occur throughout the calendar.
Continuing north, I took the Queen Charlotte Drive which curves around the edge of the Marlborough Sounds between Havelock and Picton, giving views of white boats moored on the turquoise waters. Picton is where the ferry from the North Island docks. A wildfire was still smouldering on the hillsides just outside the town as I drove through, a result of the hot weather and dry conditions.
My destination that day was Blenheim, centre of the island’s best known winemaking region and when I arrived, an art and food market was in full swing. I bought some bone and greenstone carvings for presents from one vendor, who told me the stories behind the pieces I chose – a whale’s tail, a hook of New Zealand and an adze.
Afterward I set off to sample some of the wines, working from a list given to me by a local friend who had worked in the business. Daniel LeBrun for sparkling, Huia for beautiful whites (pinot gris, chardonnay), Cloudy Bay for its world reknowned sauvignon blanc, Vavasour because that was where my friend had been employed. In the hot sun, the vineyards laid out on the flat valley floor surrounded by golden rolling hills vividly reminded me of Napa County in California.
All of what I experienced in the north end of the island was thoroughly enjoyable and I absolutely intend to visit the region again. In the meantime, I occasionally drink a glass of fine white wine from there and relive a pleasant memory.