From Christchurch there is only one road over the Southern Alps. “For any confident driver the road is a glorious drive…with a few steep, gnarly sections. One section, the Otira Viaduct is built “on a steep unstable foundation in an area prone to flash floods and earthquakes.” Let’s go!
This blog covers stops 2 though 6, mapped below:
The Long White Cloud – Aotearoa
The Southern Alps extend 400 miles along the western side of South Island and are often obscured by clouds, thus the Maori name for New Zealand – “Aotearoa, the long white cloud“. The biggest elevations stretch south through Milton Sound. They are wild and rugged with jagged peaks – unbelievable beauty!
The TranzAlpine train offers an alternative over the pass, but with a car you can stop at every twist and turn – and we did. Dizzying drops, and a field of rock formations that suddenly appeared at Castle Hill Conservation Area.
Castle Hill – Giant Formations
Arthur’s Pass is an alpine village with two restaurants a tiny post office and a book exchange on its single street. A terrific stop for two nights and a couple of walks.
We walked up to the Devil’s Punchbowl, a 426 ft. high waterfall that drops into a punchbowl. Next day, a hike through misty clouds near the pass seemed like a good idea, until I toppled into a little stream. So pretty, though.
Onward from Arthur’s Pass we passed through Moana – a beautiful train stop.
We turned onto the Great Coast Road, “one of the most spectacular coastal drives in the world”, and drove north to Punakaki (Pancake Rocks), a maze of limestone formations (130 million years old) stacked like pancakes from the sea. A “geological wonder.”
Making a u-turn on the Great Coast Road after Punakaki, we stopped at Hokitika – a center for artists. Along Sunset Beach were remnants of driftwood creations from a recent festival.
And then… a day of rain (it is sometimes called “the wet coast”). The Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers were fogged in, but the rain magically stopped as we took a walk around Lake Matheson, hoping to catch the mirrored reflection of snow capped Mt Cook. No such luck on this foggy day…but a pretty walk.
The mountain road that connects Haast to Wanaka is a stunning scenic drive with cascading waterfalls and thick forest. We stopped at Thunder Falls, and The Blue Pools, both hikes showing off with ferns, funky trees, mushrooms, and the like. Wow, wow, and wow!
Thunder Falls and The Blue Pools
Next Blogs – you won’t believe your eyes – Wanaka, Queenstown, The Remarkables, and an “Oh My God Road” to Glenorchy.