If you live near the ocean, it’s not common that you think about taking a day trip to a mountain pass. However, if you’re in Christchurch, New Zealand – it is just a day trip up to Arthur’s Pass, one of the very few places to cross the Southern Alps. For those unaware, the Southern Alps take up most of the South Island of New Zealand, and push up out of the ocean to over 12,000 ft (3,700 m). I recently took my family on this day trip, and everyone enjoyed themselves (although we all liked different parts of the trip).
While it is just a couple of hours drive from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass, it’s worth taking extra time to stop and experience the sights and places along the way. There are many paddocks of sheep along the way, and when it’s spring – you can watch the lambs frollick and play with snow capped mountains in the background.
However, a real gem to visit along the way is Castle Hill. It is widely considered to be the epitome of New Zealand’s South Island climbing scene, where on any given day one can find rock climbers bouldering the unique limestone outcroppings. Nearby Flock Hill station was used for the filming of the climactic battle scenes of the 2005 movie, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – you can imagine the scenes quite clearly while standing amongst the huge rocks. Also of interest, back in 2002 Castle Hill was named a “Spiritual Center of the Universe” by the Dalai Lama – and it certainly does feel quite peaceful.
One of the many walks in and around Arthur’s Pass village, leads to the Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall. The steep climb results in a refreshing view of the waterfall, complete with a bridal veil effect from the wind and gravity which war against each other.
Taking a day trip is a great idea, but pack a picnic lunch and look for places to spend extra time soaking in the beauty and peaceful setting of any wonderful place you find along the way, like Castle Hill.
Just 188 km (117 mi) from Christchurch, New Zealand is the lovely little farming town of Fairlie. It’s also on the Inland Scenic Route which connects the Central Lakes / MacKenzie District with the East coast of the mainland – and this relaxing place is just 25 minutes from the picturesque Lake Tekapo (which I may write up another time). At under 3 Hr drive from the Garden City of Christchurch, Fairlie makes for a great place to get away – as our family did this past weekend.
On spur of the minute notice, we were able to find a three bedroom cottage on a farm for a very reasonable rate – much less than in the more popular spots. It was so nice to wake up in the morning to the music of the native birds in the nearby woods – and without the noise of traffic roaring down the road. Plus, the view of the mountains was quite spectacular once the morning mist lifted. A fully furnished kitchen allowed us to make a full breakfast in the morning, but it was really nice to visit the Fairlie Bakery for some lunchtime treats (the Raspberry Chocolate muffins are incredible). Even the grocery store had local fare, including some scrumptious muesli by Morelea Farm.
Frankly, it was a pleasure to drive the quiet roads en-route – and since it’s winter here in July, the snowcapped mountain vista’s were an ever changing backdrop of postcard worthy views. On our drive home, we saw four different rainbows – a perfect way to conclude a nice weekend in the country.
Spur of the moment weekend trips can be a great way to see the wonderful and scenic places that are a little off the beaten path, and usually cost less than the more popular spots. It didn’t take long to pack for just a couple of nights, and didn’t take lots of planning.
A visit to Wanaka isn’t usually the top of anybody’s so-called bucket list. After all, New Zealand is a long way away from everybody in the world (except for a small number of hardy locals). However, this vibrant community has been branded The World’s First Protected Lifestyle Reserve for good reason, and it’s worth making the journey from wherever you call home.
Our family visited for a week, and each of us wanted to stay longer. You too will feel the intoxicating atmosphere and helplessly succomb to thoughts of immigration. It’s not just the allure of a picturesque lake surrounded by textured mountains raising their jagged teeth into the crisp and clean southern hemisphere sky, it’s the people who make a place memorable. Wanaka is a melting pot of people on a small and intimate scale, and seems to include mostly those who are friendly and outgoing in nature … whether the few who are blessed to be a permanent resident, or the international travelers who ebb and flow through this gateway to paradise.
While Wanaka feels surrounded by mountains, it doesn’t feel claustraphobic at all; rather it’s invigorating and somehow private, like finding a hidden nugget of gold like the early pioneers so eagerly sought. The town indeed started from gold rush in the 1860’s, although I believe the greatest rewards are the views above, and not what lies buried beneath.
Queenstown is known by many as the Adventure Mecca of the World, yet Wanaka is just a short drive over the Crown Range, and in many respects is the more comfortable and relaxing of the two. The winter thrill seeker is equally close to the treeless ski slopes which overlook spectacular vistas of lake and mountain, while the more adventurous have heliski options that stretch the imagination. Four seasons provide a wide variety for the pursuit of outdoor activity and summer activities abound, although our visit was just in time for the first day of the ski season. I find myself compelled to plan another trip back, for there is so much to do and so many things to see … one week just isn’t enough, nor just one season. What are the immigration rules again?
Rent a warm house with a nice fire during the winter months, preferably walking distance from the lake (not a difficult task). Visit the Puzzling World and make your way through the 3-D maze before enjoying your favourite coffee over the mind-bending puzzles (don’t forget to look for the many optical illusions).