This beautifully scenic route will carry you through charming historic towns & dramatic changing landscapes from one side of the South Island to the other.
From Christchurch, this 255-kilometre route follows State Highway 73 west across river plains before rising to traverse the Southern Alps through Porters Pass and Arthur’s Pass National Park. Highlights include the impressive Waimakariri and Otira River gorges, driving along the Otira Viaduct and exploring natural wonders like the Castle Hill Rocks and Cave Stream Reserve. You’ll also discover alpine lakes, fairytale waterfalls and some fascinating high-altitude cloud formations.
When gold was discovered on the West Coast in the 1860s, Christchurch wanted in on the economic action. The city commissioned a road between the two regions through an alpine pass once used by pre-European Maori traders. Built in just a year, the road was a perilous route and only one small shipment of gold ever took the journey. Today the highway provides easy access to large areas of fertile productive land and some remarkable alpine landscapes.
In recent times, vineyards, lifestyle blocks, farm tours, alpaca farms and walnut orchards have helped to create a relaxed café, arts and crafts lifestyle for the towns around Darfield on the Canterbury Plains.
Early trials of the world’s first jet boat took place on the Waimakariri River near the historic town of Springfield. Today you can take an adrenalin-filled jet boat ride deep into the foothills of the Southern Alps.
Six winter ski-fields along the route provide thrills and spills for skiers and boarders of all ages and abilities. During summer, hiking and biking trails, ranging from a few hours to several days, will lead you through some of the most beautiful alpine landscapes in New Zealand. A stop at the Craigieburn Forest Park or Arthur’s Pass National Park is a must, even if you only venture a short way down a trail. If you prefer to explore while seated, try a horse trek through high country farm and tussock land.
Don’t miss the ancient monolithic limestone rock formations at Castle Hill. They’re loved by rockclimbers, but most people simply enjoy a little bouldering, some great views and unique photo opportunities.
If casting a line in the silence of alpine landscapes appeals, you’ll want to put salmon fishing on the top of your list. There are several local guides who can kit you out and show you where the trophy-size fish can be found.
You can drive the route without stopping in 3.5 hours. However with so much to enjoy along the way, it’s a good idea to plan an overnight stop or two if you have the time. Accommodation options range from economical backpacker lodges, comfortable motels and friendly B&Bs to historic hotels and luxury retreats beside alpine lakes or secluded on a high country sheep station.
The end of your journey will reveal the raw beauty of the rugged West Coast. Expect long isolated beaches strewn with natural driftwood and mountains covered in native beech forest. You camera will be kept very busy.