Crossing the country from east to west showcases some of New Zealand’s famed countryside. Highway 73, known as the Great Alpine Highway, rises towards Arthur’s Pass and then drops down the west coast through some stunning national parks and scenic reserves. Driving straight through takes 3.5 hours but there are plenty of planned stops on route to make this a whole day adventure.
Our first stop for the day was the simply incredible Castle Hill/Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area. First, I’ll just let some of the pictures take your breath away.
Perhaps this place is famous within New Zealand and perhaps readers may recognise it as a setting in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe movie but nobody in our party had ever heard of it, which is quite incredible considering the scale of the spectacular and unique scenery. It rivals any national park I’ve ever been to – and I’ve visited a few!
We took our morning tea along for a picnic and then spent about another half hour exploring the rocks. There are natural nooks, crannies, bridges and underpasses everywhere.
I think the most charming part of this experience was the lack of rules for exploring the area. Although there are some well worn paths, you are free to wander and boulder amongst the formations. It’s unusual and refreshing to be left to use your common sense.
Unfortunately, we were on a reasonably tight schedule for the day, otherwise we could have spent much longer here. Honestly, this is the best place that I’d never heard of!
Soon, it was time to move on. There were still plenty of places to explore en-route. Our next three stops were in close succession, all a part of Arthur’s Pass National Park. The first was the famed Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall. Steps climb 150 vertical metres to a viewing platform at the base of this wonderful waterfall. Stephen and his father decided to wait at the bottom with Connie while my mother-in-law and I took the boys for the climb. There were some big steps for little legs, and it was challenging in parts, but in the end, everyone made it up and back safely. And it really was worth the climb.
A little further along the route, is the Bealey Valley walk. The entire walk is 25 minutes one way (make that an hour with kids) so we only did the first five minutes to Bealey Chasm. This took us through alpine and subalpine plants to a deep chasm where roaring waters race over worn boulders.
The final stop in this area was the Otira Viaduct lookout. The viaduct was opened in 1999, replacing the original zigzagging road which was prone to hazardous rock falls. The new road is no less a feat of engineering. It’s worth looking at some images of the original road from the air before you look down on the new road to fully comprehend the problems that the engineers and builders faced with design and construction.
As an added bonus, the carpark seemed a meeting place for a number of cheeky keas, the world’s only alpine parrot. Warnings advise that the parrots may take a liking to any rubber exposed on your car, but these guys were happy just watching us watching them.
Finally, it is worth noting the fish and chip shop recommended to us for dinner. Our accommodation said Cobden Takeaways (just outside of Greymouth) had the best fish and chips in New Zealand. Stephen and his English parents were suitably impressed with the hand-cut chips and battered fish wrapped in old-fashioned newspaper.