As the visitor information says: The seaside settlement of Kaikoura, situated midway between Christchurch and Picton on the rugged east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, is overlooked by majestic mountains, which are snow-capped for many months of the year. Few places in the world can boast of such natural wonders as those offered by land and sea in Kaikoura. This unique combination of ocean and mountains offers stunning coastal alpine scenery and a host of eco-tourism oriented activities, including whale watching, dolphin swimming, walks, and much more!
We took a day-trip from Christchurch, although a long weekend would have been a much better idea! The road from Christchurch gets progressively more curvy as you get closer to this seaside town, and passes through a number of short tunnels along the rugged coastline (which the kids just loved). The mountains drop straight into the Pacific Ocean, into an area called the Kaikoura Canyon. The canyon extends northeast to join the Hikurangi Trough, which in turn connects with the Kermadec Trench, one of the deepest spots on earth (10,047 m at it’s deepest point, or 32,963 ft).
Simply put, Kaikoura is an ideal place for a wildlife nursery – hence the abundance of baby whales, dolphins and seals.
Sometimes a day trip just isn’t enough time … so make sure the preparation and total driving time still allows for a suitably long visit at your destination. If you want to see the whales, AND the dolphins, AND the seals, AND do some walks, AND check out the shops in Kaikoura township, plan on spending a weekend!
My son Luke was recently a good neighbour to the man living next door to the holiday house we had rented in Lake Tekapo (he had offered to help dig a hole that the man was digging in his garden). The man was so taken by this offer, that he offered Luke a free flight around the Southern Alps the next day. So the next day, we went for a flight …! Before we got to the mountains, we passed over one of the spectacular braided rivers that are found in New Zealand. From what I understand, many people have not seen a braided river, so I thought I would simply attach a few photos to give you a glimpse of one from the air.
I also thought it would be a good idead to attach a close up view, so you can better see the detail of this braided river. The colour of the river is natural, and is typical of glacier melt … I believe it’s how the silica particles in the water reflect the light.
Given the circumstances, I thought I should also add a photo of Luke standing in front of the plane that we went up in. It was a perfect day for a flight, without any clouds to speak of.
Teach your kids to be a good neighbour … and don’t turn down free flights when they’re on offer.
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.
If you ever visit Christchurch, New Zealand, you will no doubt notice the Southern Alps which make up the majority of the South Island. However, the closest hills to town are the Port Hills … a portion of an ancient volcanic rim which separates Christchurch from the port town of Lyttleton.
While many people don’t take the time to visit the scenic areas close to where they live (I was staggered to hear that most people who live in Cairo have never actually visited the Pyramids), in Christchurch it seems like everyone visits the Port Hills on their days off. While it’s clear that the entire city doesn’t actually do this, it is certainly note-worthy how many people are walking, driving, or riding their way up and down the steep hills. The walking trails along the summit are full of people out for a walk, run, or bike ride, and with spectacular scenery everywhere – it’s easy to see why.
Ironically, while the hills usually look the same from town (unless there’s a light dusting of snow during the winter), the view from on top the Port Hills seems to be ever changing, with vista’s in many directions – and always a little different with the changing season, or simply the changing light throughout the day.
There are some nice cafe’s on both sides of the hills, and they make for lovely spots to rest for a little and watch the world pass by.
Dad’s Recommendation: Learn from the people of Christchurch – whether living or visiting town, take the time to get out and about, and where better than the Port Hills overlooking the city.