Leaving the NZMCA camp in Hokitika it was going to be pass number two of four as we crossed over from East to West and West to East with the Haast Pass checked off the list it was up to Kumara Beach for the road inland to Christchurch.
Of course yet again we have chosen a day when the bad weather gods are laughing down on us. With cloudy rain it was going to be a wet crossing. It’s impossible to capture the brooding look of the hills shrouded in cloud with a couple of photos but there was almost an ominous feel in the air.
It’s a nice flat road as you drive alongside the river towards the base of the mountains with plenty of places where we could pull over to let the traffic behind get past. Although there wasn’t much traffic it all seemed to come at once. One of my pet hates is people in motorhomes who don’t pull over when traffic is behind them. Fine obviously when it’s not safe to do so but if people are getting impatient behind you please consider others and pull over.
Obviously not everyone gets to drive across the pass so we where surprised when we spotted the Tranz Scenic Railway heading towards the West Coast. When we came across the gorge later on we realised that the train must take a slightly different route to the road or there must be a tunnel somewhere.
Reaching the small settlement of Otira we came across the amazing old hotel with it’s collection of assorted stuff. It reminded me of when we reached Burkes Pass except none of the stuff here was for sale. The collection here is also far more diverse with Gollum sitting on the roof through to the big pig on the back steps with everything else in between.
The Hotel itself appears to do a roaring trade inside with it’s tea rooms these were packed with people partaking of the scones and cakes. They also make a great cup of coffee. Well worth taking a break before the dreaded gorge.
Right from the start of the Arthurs Pass Road you read signs stating that “This road is not recommended for towing vehicles” Sarah and I said to each other so it’s a little narrow in places but doesn’t appear that bad. Then we reached a sign showing steep road ahead I have seen this sign many times before with 8, 10 or even 12 degrees showing this one is 16. That doesn’t sound like a big number until you try to drive up it. With 9 metres of Motorhome we slapped the reigns on every one of our 180 horses under the bonnet but it was still a tough slog up the hill.
It’s almost impossible to believe as you drive under this artificial waterfall that earlier this year a tramper was rescued from here after he had fallen 50 metres down the cliffside and landed on the concrete ramp but to the side of the water flow. When you see the drop on the side you know that there is no way he would have survived falling any further. Just Incredible!
Just when you are thinking this cannot get any worse you reach the Viaduct. Probably the most impressive piece of engineering I have come across in New Zealand. Built over land that seems to be slipping away all around it and crossing a river this viaduct is 440 metres long standing 35 metres above the ground with a strong wind blowing on the day we drove over it was scary.
The corner at the top end of the viaduct is called Deaths Head a rather apt name given how I was feeling at the time. it’s a steep climb here up the roadway to a lookout that looks back over the road.
Opened by Jenny Shipley in 1999 it is as I said an amazing piece of road that we were both glad to have crossed safely.
With the weather having closed in we decided not to explore the village that is Arthurs Pass just making a stop outside the train station to grab a bite to eat before moving on. I am sure it’s a very quaint place to stop but with the heavens having decided to open it was just to wet to get out of the van for an extended stroll.
Just east of Arthurs Pass on the road to Christchurch we stopped at an area near the head of the Waimakariri River to take what would have been some rather impressive pictures had it not been for the overcast skys and low cloud obstructing the views.
The views out of the Motorhome window started to get a lot better the further East we went as the clouds started to lift bringing shafts of sunlight onto the trees and the surrounding mountains with Sarah trying to snap shots as we continued driving we never seemed to be able to capture that magic moment but still got some great shots on the move.
We almost didn’t stop at Cave Creek as we weren’t sure what it was. But once we had stopped we found out that it is, as the name suggests, a creek that runs through a cave system. If you are brave enough and have suitable equipment then you can walk through the cave system unaided but we aren’t that brave and did not have the right equipment although judging by the number of cars in the carpark some people must be exploring below.
Like a lot of areas we have visited recently the signboards around the area provide a wealth of knowledge especially about the Maori in the area constructing backpacks made of flax and how they buried very important people within the cave.
I thought the instructions about walking through the cave also very informative especially the part about being prepared to get wet. I would have thought that was obvious. But you never know in todays world I guess.
I got claustrophobia just looking at the cave entrances. the larger photo is the entrance to the cave system and is quite a walk down the valley to get to. The exit however is just a short walk from the carpark and as you can see from the photo is not that large. We didn’t see anyone one coming out but there were a number of people at the entrance so some of them may have been attempting the walk.
Consulting our much used Travel Directory we found the freedom camp at Lake Lyndon (#7697) which as you can see from the photos is a very pretty spot right on the lakeside. I guess that with the weather also turning colder a lot of the tourist campers are starting to leave NZ as we where joined by only 3 other sets of campers that night.
I hadn’t realised when we chose this spot that it was so close to Lake Coleridge a spot we almost stayed back in February not long after we had set out but ended up returning to the main road after we rescued a couple of trampers that had got into difficulty. Having had major issues with the road into Lake Coleridge we weren’t keen to try this road deciding that it could wait till another day.
We woke the following morning to discover ourselves fogged in and with the weather forecast to bring snow later that day we decided that we would move onto Christchurch to visit UCC Motorhomes to have our house batteries checked by the professionals as we have been having a few issues.
It’s hard to believe that I have lived in New Zealand for 46 years and have never driven over Arthurs Pass. Both Sarah and I really enjoyed the drive but will ensure next time we do it the weather is better so we can take longer and see more.