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Christchurch to Arthur's Pass
Setting out from Christchurch, you will first traverse the expansive Canterbury Plains, stretching from north to south as far as the eye can see. For some rural hospitality (and last minute snacks) stop off at the Original Sheffield Pie Shop or the Darfield Bakery.
The road slowly begins to wind its way up into the foothills of the Southern Alps. The scenery changes constantly as you drive around a hill, over a mountain pass, across a river, past lakes, ski fields and unique geological features.
Reaching Arthur’s Pass Village is your halfway point to the West Coast. This little village nestled in alpine grandeur is National Park HQ and a departure point for many walking trails through the Southern Alps. Whether you want to stop for a leisurely ten minute stroll, a three day trek or something in between there are walks to suit all ages and abilities.
Hidden gem: The cheeky kea!
Listen for kea - this cheeky bird is the world’s only alpine parrot and is native to the area. Try to spot one or two before continuing west – and remember to hold onto your lunch when you stop for a break or a kea might get to it first!
Just 5km up the road you will come to the Otira lookout. The panorama sweeps across the Otira Viaduct - an extraordinary engineering feat spanning a long stretch of unstable terrain, a remarkable landscape that you might recognise from several TV commercials.
As you drive west and down from the mountains, you will witness an abrupt change of vegetation. Suddenly it’s greener and lush rainforests replace the barren eastern side of the divide. You’re now on the West Coast – a region that has some of New Zealand’s best remaining stands of native forest and a wealth of rare wildlife. Here the locals – Coasters – have a laid-back attitude to life and a strong sense of community.
Gold attracted settlers to the wild coast in the late 1860’s and you can still pan for your own gold in places like Shantytown Heritage Park. The other precious mineral of the region is pounamu or greenstone. Traditional Maori jewellery made from pounamu is a beautiful keepsake; ask your loved one to buy it for you – it's good luck to receive it as a gift.
Hidden Gem: Pancake Rocks
Consider taking an extra day or two to explore the rugged unspoiled coastline leading north to Punakaiki – and its fascinating limestone formations called Pancake Rocks. Follow the walkway that leads you from the road to the most impressive of these natural wonders.
Our tip: Take the train!
If you prefer to let someone else do the driving, get onboard the TranzAlpine. This train runs between Christchurch and Greymouth daily. Rated as one of the world’s great scenic railway journeys, it traverses the same breathtaking scenery while you sit back, relax and admire.
Where to next?
Once you've reached the West Coast, you'll need to decide whether you're going north or south. Either way you're in for a treat. To the north lie the sunny beaches and boutique breweries of Nelson; to the south, the adventure capital Queenstown and dramatic coastal scenery of Fiordland.