After leaving Golden Bay, our next destination was Christchurch. However, we gave ourselves several days to get there, not just because it’s a long distance between the two, but also because the drive is one of the most spectacular drives in the world.
There are actually three routes from Golden Bay to Christchurch, but two (the ones through Kaikoura and Hanmer Springs) were closed due to the Kaikoura earthquake. Lucky for us, the third route was the most spectacular one, so our travel plans were barely effected, maybe not even at all.
Golden Bay has only one entrance, which meant we had to exit the same route we entered. Once we exited we turned around and cut through the mountains again, this time through Buller Gorge on our way to New Zealand’s west coast.
Our first stop New Zealand’s south island’s west coast was Paparoa, a small national park notable for its inland caves and cliffside rock formations.
Paparoa’s most notable coastal feature, the Pancake Rocks, consist of mud/clay/limestone rocks whose shape resembles a stack of pancakes. They were very strange, but also beautiful.
Some other interesting formations at Paparoa included: natural bridges, sea caves, and coastal chasms that shot sea water/mist into the sky.
From Paparoa we continued south, to Hokitika. Once there we turned east, away from the coast and towards the Southern Alps. Waiting for us here was the most beautiful destination on our entire New Zealand roadtrip.
The destination I am referring to is the Hokitika Gorge, located where the Hokitika River leaves the Southern Alps. The water here, vivid turquoise due to glacier-ground “rock flour”, was the most colorful and beautiful water I’d ever seen, even more than Crater Lake, which I didn’t think was possible.
We hiked from our first viewpoint all the way to the water’s edge. Here is the view from a suspension bridge we crossed on our journey.
And here we are at the water’s edge (I’m standing on a boulder beside the water). This place was so beautiful it was unreal, it was one of the most serene and peaceful places I’ve ever visited.
One more shot, off that boulder and literally at the edge of the river.
Unfortunately, despite being gorgeous/serene/every other superlative you can think of, this gorge was also filled with bugs. Therefore, while we enjoyed this place immensely, we didn’t stay long.
On our drive from the coast to the gorge, we drove by an alpaca farm, something we were surprised to find throughout New Zealand’s southern island. This farm however, had an alpaca was watching cars go by right beside the road, and so Inna and I resolved to say hi if he was still there when we returned. Well he was and we did, he was so cute and this is one of our favorite pictures from our entire roadtrip!
After leaving Hokitika it was time to head to Christchurch. Connecting these destinations is Arthur’s Pass, an east-west valley that cuts through the Southern Alps and is traversed by the Great Alpine Highway, one of the most fun and spectacular drives we’ve ever done.
The terrain through Arthur’s Pass is unique in that it is completely different east and west of the Alps. West of the Alps, Arthur’s Pass consists of dense wet rainforests, whereas east of the Alps, the terrain is more open and consists mostly of beech forests.
Because of the different terrains, both the road and the scenery on each side of the Alps were different. On the rainforest side, the drive was dense and windy, the terrain very green with lots of cliffs and canyon valleys. The birch forest side, however, was much more open, with wide riverbeds and longer straightaways, more colors and viewpoints but also less plants and wildlife.
Despite the differences on each side of Arthur’s Pass, the entire drive was gorgeous. Not only that, but the top of the pass, where the terrain transitioned from wet and dense to dry and open, contained some of the most beautiful scenery we’d ever seen.
As an example, here is the spectacular Otira Viaduct. Completed in 1999, this viaduct connects the city of Otira to the Arthur’s Pass summit, crossing the Otira river over almost 1500 feet of what previously was an unstable and unpassable valley.
The Otira Viaduct rerouted the Great Alpine Highway away from a windy, dangerous, and prone to rockslides/avalanches section of road. Near that section was this pass, where instead of re-routing they came up with a more creative solution: elevating the river and mountain so that water and rock slides flow over and across the highway, not onto of it.
Ever drive under a raised waterfall before? Pretty cool…
As I mentioned earlier, Arthur’s Pass’s unique terrain (particularly the rainforest side) provides a home for lots of wildlife. Like Keas, the world’s only alpine parrot. Native to New Zealand, Keas love hanging out at Arthur’s Pass, particularly the viewpoints. Sometimes, they even perched themselves on top of parked cars, they were very beautiful and lots of fun.
After exiting Arthur’s Pass, we found ourselves in flat farmland, rather ho-hum compared to the spectacular mountain pass we just traversed. But we’re close to Christchurch now, the destination we’ve been heading to this entire post!
From here we’ve pretty much completed our drive from Golden Bay to Christchurch. The entire drive was amazing (Arthur’s Pass in particular) and now we were excited to visit a city we hoped would be awesome as well.