After enjoying exploring Canterbury and Christchurch, for my final weekend road trip around the South Island I finally got the chance to visit somewhere very high up on my NZ bucket list. Arthur’s Pass is a tiny village nestled in the depths of the Southern Alps and is one of very few townships to stop at during the long drive between the east and west coast.
Driving to Arthur’s Pass from Christchurch
The drive to reach Arthur’s Pass is itself incredible, and worth the journey alone with so many view points and mountainous sights it’s a wonder we ever made it there since we stopped so much! A personal favourite for me was at the small town of Springfield, just on the edge of the Southern Alps. As the town shares its name with a famous but fictional place, the giant donut is a great tribute to one of the world’s most popular shows!
One scenic stop on our journey was Castle Hill, which boasts dramatic limestone rock formations known for its Maori historical value. Of course no NZ scene is complete without a mountainous backdrop, and Castle Hill is no exception, making it a great spot for a break to stretch one’s legs. As we had quite a long journey, we didn’t stop for too long this time, but just long enough to get a glimpse of the views on offer!
Our final dramatic stop was absolutely one to remember. Finally, we took a short break at Bealey, an area on the outskirts of Arthur’s Pass National Park and providing a breathtaking start to the continuing scenery that follows. We reached the corner of one mountain with a perfectly placed viewpoint overlooking Waimakariri River and the Southern Alps just as the sun began to set, giving us with an unforgettable vision of natural beauty that would be hard to beat. New Zealand never fails to impress!
Once arrived at Arthur’s Pass, we pull up to our motel to check in. Being such a small place (and I thought Franz Josef was tiny!) we didn’t have too much choice, however The Mountain House YHA was perfectly sufficient for our night’s rest, and at a reasonable price. Like many other forested areas of the South Island, Arthur’s Pass is known for it’s local wildlife, and in particular the incredibly cheeky but equally beautiful alpine parrot, the Kea. These noisy birds are clever enough to steal food from you when they get the chance, so keeping a close eye on the lookout is vital. We didn’t see any this time around, but could certainly hear them nearby!
After dinner at the Wobbly Kea restaurant, we decided to walk off our pile of nachos by checking out the the short walks around the village. We decided to start the Athur’s Pass Walking Track, and soon realised we wouldn’t make it all the way along the track before the dark and imminent rain began to take over the evening. Nonetheless, we enjoyed a peaceful wander through the forest, the epitome of quality time alone together and had a taste of what we wanted to achieve the following morning after feeling even more excitement about the beautiful environment surrounding us.
Up bright and early, and we were lucky enough to be greeted to a rare glimpse of sunshine in the valley! We headed back to the walking track, taking the winding stairs through the forest to reach Devil’s Punchbowl Falls. It was so stunning to see the cascading water in all its glory, and best of all it was even worth the early start as we had the whole viewing platform to ourselves! A sunny walk back to the village and we felt we were already making the most of our weekend break.
The views approaching and of Devil’s Punchbowl Falls
Next we decided to continue on through the mountains to reach the West Coast, but before we set off from Arthur’s Pass we decided to pick up a pair of hitchhikers from the town! Hitchhiking is pretty common in NZ, and a popular method of transport for young backpackers looking to save a bit of cash. We had seen several on our road trips so far, and this time thought we would do the good deed of helping fellow travellers out. The two girls were so grateful and made for entertaining conversation on the drive with their recounting of stories since they started their travels. We didn’t have any exact plans on a destination on the West Coast, so their need to reach Hokitika meant we were heading there too!
With a couple more stops to appreciate the views, we had an idea to make a detour to Hokitika Gorge, a 25km drive inland from the coastal town. This popular tourist destination is renowned for its crystal blue waters caused by the particular minerals in the rocks and waters making it an Instagram-snapping hotspot (guilty).
The walk from the car park is short and easy, but at this point in the summer it was a haven for insects and sand flies eager to bite so layer up! With longer walks surrounding the area, if one has more time it would be a great way to spend the day, however with limited time we were pleased with just the views of the gorge. The girls were thrilled to have fitted in the extra bit of sightseeing, and it meant Kazimir and I had a nice picture together!
Once we said our goodbyes to our hitchhiking friends, we chose to take a walk along the beach in Hokitika, eat our lunch and allow Kazimir a chance to take a break from all the driving! West Coast beaches are often unsafe for swimming due to the windy weather and choppy waters, however at Hokitika there were some swimmers braving the waters alongside the keen surfers enjoying the waves.
With so much beautiful coastline to see, the best activities for the West Coast in my opinion involve soaking up the views and beachcombing for rocks and shells. Luckily, Hokitika has a great assortment of driftwood and rocks deposited along the beach, with this particular beach being popular for creative people to form artistic constructions (along with the usual rock cairns!).
From there we continued our whirlwind West Coast visit by driving north to Shanty Town, a recreation of a typical New Zealand gold-rush town. We spent a sweltering few hours pretending to be 19th century folk panning for gold and riding the vintage train. The quaint mock town is complete with shops, a school, a church, and even its own Chinatown! Learning a little more about the history of this era was a fun way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon, and is a great way to entertain the whole family.
After feeling satisfied we’d filled our time with all sorts of activities, and following a brief stop off in Greymouth to grab a snack we were off on our way home. The drive back was just as beautiful as before, and once we were back we realised just how much we’d packed into our final weekend away! Last time I left NZ I said there was still things I wanted to do, and nothing’s changed this time either, I’m always adding to my list of things to do in this beautiful country. Can’t wait to tick to see more next time!
Share a story of your favourite road trips, what did you enjoy about it? I’d love to hear!