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The Thomases’ Grand Antipodean Adventure (4) – Arthur’s Pass (NZ)

Another Instalment

It’s been a while since I last posted on this topic, and since there is still a lot of the trip to go, I’d better add another day. The last chapter had us getting to Sydney airport for our morning flight to Christchurch NZ. Following our long-haul experience getting to Sydney, a 3.5hr “hop” over the Tasman Sea seemed pretty short. Again we flew with Qantas, this time on a Boeing 737. The flight into Christ Church on the South Island of New Zealand involves flying over the Southern Alps – the snow-topped mountain range which covers a large proportion of the western side of the South Island. More on them in later instalments.


(zoom out to see the full route).

The Hire Car

Our trusty  steed
Our trusty steed

After arrival in Christchurch, it was time to get the hire car. Rather than forking out with Avis or Hertz or anyone like that, I’d decided to go for a more “local” company, Kiwi Direct. The service and contact during the booking process was excellent. However, for those of us who are European and like a bit of formality and “in Ordnung” paperwork, that part did leave something to be desired. To pick up the car, we had to call a mobile number, and we were then picked up and driven to a layby where the handover happened – ie we signed the pink bit of the form, and the driver wrote down my credit card number. The hand-back instructions were given to us, he told us where the relevant buttons and switches were, got out, and left us to it! Having said that, they car worked fine, helped us cover the best part of 3,000km in 12 days, and coped admirably with the numerous excursions down gravel roads. All very excellent.

The Drive to Arthur’s Pass

Our destination for the night was the hamlet of Arthur’s Pass, a township of 54 people,

Heading to Arthur's Pass
Heading to Arthur’s Pass

located about 750 feet above sea level in the mountains, and near the summit of the mountain pass of the same name. This was a 140km (90 mile) drive from the airport, the first half of which (in distance, but less in time) is across the Canterbury plain, characterised by long straight roads, and increasing views of the mountains. A lot of the route also follows the tracks of the TranzAlpine railway route from Christchurch to Greymouth. In the second half of the journey, the road winds its way through the mountains, passing soaring peaks, broad river valleys and forested hills. The road was also very quiet, making for excellent driving, although the three gears plus overdrive on our automatic transmission hire-car took some of the thrill out of the hillier sections. In many ways, it was very similar to driving through the European Alps, although the roads here are dramatically quieter.

Arthur’s Pass – the town and surroundings

View from Arthur's Pass
View from Arthur’s Pass

The township itself consists primarily of a large number of historical buildings (mainly single storey, and made from corrugated metal), a lovely hostel / motel (Arthur’s Chalet) where we were staying (the last two storey building for many miles), and the usual tourist info centre. There is also a railway station on the TranzAlpine, and a lot of walking tracks. We decided to use the advantage of the long evenings of daylight and have dinner before going for an evening stroll. We were advised by the Chalet that their main chef didn’t work that day of the week, and therefore to try the “Wobbly Kea”, which is the local hostelry. This was a great success – proper Alpine grub, washed down with lovely New Zealand wine (a sauv blanc for Mrs T, and a Riesling for me).

Dinner in the Wobbly Kea
Dinner in the Wobbly Kea

A kea is a parrot, endemic to New Zealand, which is the world’s only alpine parrot. We didn’t spot any near Arthur’s Pass, but we did see them close up and in the wild later in the trip. After dinner we took a short walk up to the devil’s punchbowl, which is a rather dramatic waterfall. It was interesting for us to walk through the forest and see such different trees and plants from those we are used to back at home – the beech trees for example have such small leaves.

Devil's punchbowl

Next time

The next day involves stunning sunshine, a beautiful blue river, and a tiny settlement at the end of a road to nowhere.

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