Travelling over the Alpine Passes

With a week of our road trip still remaining before we were due to arrive in Christchurch, we decided to cross back to the West Coast, taking Arthur’s Pass through the Southern Alps.

Before beginning our journey, we stocked up on petrol and more importantly food. This included a visit to the Famous Sheffield Pie Shop for some lunch supplies. 

The alpine pass is named after Arthur Dobson, the pioneer who identified the route in 1864 with the help of local Maori. Our first stop along the route was at Castle Hill, where huge limestone rock formations tower over the surrounding farmland.

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The area is popular with climbers but as we wandered around the huge boulders, we agreed that it would be even better suited to a game of Hide-and-seek.

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After a further hour of driving we arrived at Arthur’s Pass village. At an altitude of 900m the village is the highest settlement in New Zealand and is home to a visitor centre and several small shops and cafes.

It is also the starting point for many of the walks in the surrounding National Park. After quickly devouring the pies we had purchased earlier, we decided to check out the Devil’s Punchbowl track. A short but steep climb took us to a viewing platform with great views of the stunning 131m Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall.

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Just outside of the town we came to a lookout over the Otira Viaduct, an impressive feat of engineering which passes though the steep gorge.

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The winding highway continued, with the surrounding landscape gradually beginning to flatten out as we descended. We were soon back on the coast, and after continuing north we arrived into the town of Greymouth.

We stopped for some liquid refreshment at the Monteiths brewery, before finding a campsite in nearby Ahaura. 

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Our second visit to the West Coast was short lived and the following morning we began our journey back across the Southern Alps, this time over the Lewis Pass. 

The northernmost of the alpine passes, the Lewis Pass is at the lowest altitude and in our opinion is the least impressive of the three. This is of course all relative, and there was still plenty of impressive scenery to admire, while the lower altitude meant it was considerably easier going on the van.

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With limited places to stop along the way, we arrived into the resort town of Hamner Springs in early afternoon and enjoyed a relaxing few hours wandering around the picturesque town.

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The town is a great base for walking and mountain biking, with one of the most popular short walks being the steep climb to the summit of Conical Hill.

We began the trail at the northern end of the town, before following a zig-zag gravel track to the 550m summit. This took us to a viewing platform, with great panoramic views across the town and surrounding valley.

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Hamner Springs is the most popular thermal resort in the South Island, with the Thermal Pools and Spa being the town’s most well known attraction.

We spent several hours in the Spa complex, relaxing in a range of different temperature pools, before waking ourselves up with a few rides on the very fun SuperBowl waterslide.

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The holiday activities continued with a visit to the Alpine Crazy Putt mini golf course. Despite a spirited comeback on the back nine, I was unable to recover from a bad start with Rachael eventually winning by two strokes.

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After a short but enjoyable visit to Hamner Springs, we continued on our journey to the East Coast town of Kaikoura. 

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