Part 2 of New Zealand’s South Island road trip kicks off at Hope River in Canterbury, zig-zagging toward Christchuch before cutting back through the alps at Arthurs Pass to Hokitika on the West Coast. The route passes glaciers, threads between twin lakes before arriving at picture-perfect Wanaka, with a finale of the highest main road in New Zealand.
On the way to Hanmer Springs the road tags the shallow icy blue Hope River as it rushes over pale grey rocks.
Brooding bare mountains. Massive flat valley. Pencil poplars and Yellow gorse. A dramatic setting so different to the rich green quaintness of the Motueka Valley, not that far to the north.
South Island Magic at work here.
Sheep Farming Canterbury
It is possible to head directly to the west coast from Maruia hot springs, but we continued south-east toward Christchurch before turning west to Oxford and an overnight stop at Ashley Gorge Holiday Park. New Zealand has the highest density of sheep per unit area in the world, with ten animals per person in 2008. As we go snow white sheep dot brilliant green pastures in a typical New Zealand pastoral scene.
On the way to Ashley Gorge.
The Alps and Arthurs Pass.
Arthurs Pass is the highest pass in the Southern Alps. White explorers discovered it in 1864 but Maori hunting parties used it as a route between the coasts long before that. Like most people we drove through the pass on an exciting road featuring viaducts, bridges, rock shelters and incredibly – waterfalls redirected via chutes above the road.
Train enthusiasts take the TranzAlpine scenic train trip that roughly follows the same route through the Alps to Greymouth on the West Coast. It is possible to leave your vehicle either end and do a return train trip!
Tip. If staying at Ashley Gorge the TranzAlpine can be joined at nearby Springfield. You won’t miss much of interest between Christchurch and Springfield and on the return trip you can pick your car up again at Springfield. Your welcome!
The Alps iced with snow.
Woolly weather and sheep, Arthurs Pass.
Sitting in a Cafe at Arthurs Pass, waiting for the rain to stop (it didn’t) we watched a Kea, (a Kiwi alp and forest bird) try to rip the skylight off our van and pick the rubber out of the rear vision mirrors.
Don’t underestimate this pretty vandal.
This small port town on the west coast is renowned for Pounamu also known as Greenstone or NZ Jade. The Maoris valued it’s beauty, strength and durability and the stone grew into a status symbol. The artisans at work in studios and galleries in Hokitika, will happily show their portfolio.
Tip. If you are superstitious, get someone to buy your piece for you as it is believed to be unlucky to purchase Greenstone for yourself.
In 1864 Hokitika was the centre of the West Coast Gold Rush, when up to 40 ships at a time lined the wharfs three or four deep, loading gold. It is difficult to imagine when looking at the quiet scene today.
The South Island has seven glaciers with an area of 10 hectares (25 acres) or more, two of which, the Franz Joseph and the Fox are just south of Hokitika. We climbed the Fox from the bottom in 2008 but this activity ceased in 2014 as a result of glacial melt. It is still possible to fly to the top and experience a glacier walk.
Franz Joseph ceased climbs from the bottom in 2012.
Fox Glacier was able to be climbed from the bottom until 2014.
I was quite exhausted after the Fox glacier climb and slept as we made our way south.
Knights Point Lookout, Haast Highway, travelling south from Fox Glacier.
From Haast, the road cuts through Mt. Aspiring National Park before running the gauntlet between the twin lakes of Hawea and Wanaka. The lakes lie in separate glacial valleys, left-overs from the last ice-age and at their closest points are only 1km apart.
Wanaka and Hawea.
The dreamy landscape of Lake Hawea.
Looking to Lake Wanaka from the township end of the lake. No reflections on a windy day, but with this backdrop who cares!
Crown Range and Arrowtown.
From Wanaka take the winding high altitude Crown Range Road to Arrowtown and on to the adventure sports capital of Queenstown.
Ominous clouds added to the suspense of the highest main road in New Zealand.
For a small country New Zealand delivers big time, with beautiful scenery and adventure. The road trip continues next week. Link up your travel post below.