Driving across New Zealand on Arthur’s Pass

New Zealand TravelWe asked guest contributor Sarah Lavender Smith (aka FarFlungGal, who wrote a great piece on RV travel in kiwi-land) to share a post about New Zealand in honor of a worldwide travel bloggers’ initiative called #Blog4NZ. From March 21 to 23, travel bloggers are dedicating their posts to tourism in New Zealand, in the wake of the the February earthquake that occurred in Christchurch. Together, we hope to encourage travelers to visit the country, which is very much up and running and accepting tourists!

“It feels like we drove from Big Sur to the Rockies in less than two hours,” I told my husband as we cut across New Zealand’s South Island on the Great Alpine Highway.

new zealand pancake rocks travel

Natural formations known as Pancake Rocks near the west coast of New Zealand.

We started our day on the wet and wild West Coast, marveling at blowholes and layered rock formations known as Pancake Rocks. By lunchtime, we found ourselves in the midst of Arthur’s Pass National Park, staring upward at the Southern Alps’ glacial peaks and slopes of scree. The dramatic change in landscape also dazzled our two school-age kids, who kept pointing and exclaiming, “Look!”

Crossing the South Island from the West Coast to Christchurch along Highway 73 takes just half a day, but I recommend taking at least three to explore the stretch between Westport and Greymouth and to hike or bike around Arthur’s Pass.

Starting in Westport, experience the gorgeous Buller Gorge river valley on horseback with Buller Adventure Tours. Then dine next to waves crashing against the coast at The Bay House in nearby Cape Foulwind (which smells fine in spite of its name), hands-down the best restaurant we found in the region.

The next day, head down to Punakaiki and take a short walk around Pancake Rocks, where wind and waves sculpt the layered limestone stacks into incredible formations that spout water like a whale. From there, drive south and then turn east to reach the woodsy Arthur’s Pass Village—but when you get out of your car, get ready for pretty but pesky alpine parrots called Keas to swarm in search of food.

Travel to New Zealand's Narnia Track

The author's kids on a famous trail!

Lots of family-friendly short hikes branch out from the village. We embarked on one that passed by a waterfall and clear pool that reflected light and color like gemstones.

Before heading to Christchurch, consider spending a night or two at Flock Hill Lodge, about 15 minutes east of the village (and about two hours from Christchurch). Settled on a working sheep station, Flock Hill Lodge is a collection of comfortable rooms and self-contained cottages that surround a lovely garden, pond and first-rate restaurant.

The area is so magical and visually arresting that it was chosen as a location to film The Chronicles of Narnia’s climactic battle scene. Many challenging tracks (what Kiwis call trails) lead trampers and mountain bikers to remote parts of Arthur’s Pass National Park and nearby Flock Hill, but to my kids the choice of a day hike seemed obvious: The Narnia Track!

New Zealand Arthurs Pass waterfall

A river pool by a trail next to Arthur's Pass Village.

New Zealand Flock Hill

Hills and horses surround Flock Hill Lodge off Arthur's Pass.

horseback riding in Buller Gorge, New Zealand

The author and her son ride near Buller Gorge.

FarFlung Gal Sarah Lavender Smith and her family spent two months living around New Zealand during a ten-month round-the-world journey, which she chronicled at Away Together. She now blogs about destinations and training advice for runners at The Runner’s Trip: Run Long, Travel Far, Discover More. Photos by Morgan C. Smith.

4 Comments on "Driving across New Zealand on Arthur’s Pass"

  1. My photos of Arthur’s pass are rather more gray, since I didn’t have a sunny day, but nevertheless it was a gorgeous drive. Thanks for the memories.

  2. Looks beautiful I’m so sorry I missed it!

  3. Jennie Rosalie Uy | April 10, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Reply

    Oh my gosh. These photos are wonderful. I’m heading to New Zealand, Auckland to be exact, in a week or so. Any vacation advice like where to go, and what to wear? I hear it’s pretty cold down there at the moment. I wouldn’t know what to wear really for autumn since I live in tropical Philippines. Any advice would be great. Thanks.

    • Hi Jeanie – I say stick to the rule of thumb for travel clothing, which is: dress in layers. Instead of a heavy thick coat (hard to pack), bring thinner easier-to-pack fleece sweaters and a rain shell.
      Auckland has a lot to offer shoppers so you can always buy something there if you find you didn’t pack the right thing!
      One of our favorite spots in Auckland was the War Memorial Museum, which has a great section on Maori history and culture. The Maritime Museum on the waterfront also is worthwhile. I hope you can explore other parts of the North Island such as Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty. enjoy!

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