Two ‘must see’ highlights of the South Island of New Zealand to go and time seems to fly. So we decided to leave Franz Josef Glacier for another time and head to Arthur’s Pass.
We had stayed the night in Greymouth at a small motel, the owner had swapped the big corporate world for a simpler and more enjoyable life on the West Coast and explored many of the West Coast areas. He suggested to skip Franz Joseph Glacier as the additional experience, after seeing Fox Glacier would not merit the five hour drive.
We concluded that he was probably right, and decided to take advantage of the sunny weather and head back to the East Coast. We took a little detour to Lake Brunner which lies to the southeast of Greymouth and is off the beaten tourist tracks. The area is popular with the locals due to its fishing and boating possibilities. The landscape and roads are interesting but nothing exceptional.
In Jacksons we joined Highway 73, which passes over Arthur’s Pass and through the Arthur’s National Park. The Highway 73 is the highest of only three roads crossing the Southern Alps. The other two crossings are the Haast Pass and the Lewis Pass. We were looking forward to see how Arthur’s Pass compared to the other two other passes we had crossed earlier on our tour.
The Arthur’s Pass is saddled between the valleys of the Otira River, in the west and the Bealey River in the east, with an elevation of 920 meters. We followed the road alongside the deeply gorged river through rainforest and enjoyed the views and for the West Cost uncommonly dry and sunny weather. As we approached the pass the temperature fell and clouds appeared, the weather on the east coast was supposed to be even better, not on this day.
The temperature had dropped to 3° Celsius as we moved eastwards and it started to rain. We hoped that once we reached lower elevations things would improve so we gave Arthurs Pass alpine village, who’s main attractions is the Kea watching, a miss and kept moving.
The road got narrower and windy, rain, heavy traffic with trucks, trailers and campervans made the ride less fun. The landscape was still impressive, particularly the vast beech forests along the road and the wide shingle-filled riverbed of Waimakariri River. Our first stop was at Lake Pearson, we needed to put on additional layers of cloths to brave the elements, and take our first pictures for the day.
The first stretch of road viable for a stop, with Arthur’s Pass hidden somewhere in the background
Lake Pearson with Broken Hill covered by low hanging clouds
Mount Sainte Bernhard also covered by low hanging clouds
We continued the ride slightly more comfortable, our next stop was at the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve. The reserve’s main feature is as expected the cave itself, but the area is also the site of some spectacular limestone cliffs, gorges and outcrops of limestone boulders. The site is considered as outstanding natural feature in the Canterbury region.
We did a short walk down to the river exploring some of the features created by tectonic shifts and then continues our journey east. Both weather and roads got better. At Sheffield we left Highway 73 and took the direct and less scenic road to Rangiora, where we crossed Ashley River and continued on the Coastal Highway 1 to Kaikoura, our destination for the day.
Ashley River with its many shades of blue
The last stretch of the 412 kilometre tour was fun with some nice views of the Kaikoura Ranges.
As for the conclusion on the Southern Alps passes, my favourite by far was Lewis Pass, then Haast Pass followed by a wide margin Arthur’s Pass. The conclusion might have been different if we had travelled on a warmer and clearer day.