Some of you love driving, some of you hate it. I’m sort of in the middle I suppose. It’s usually just a means to an end for me, just a way of getting somewhere easily so I just get on with it. Don’t particularly enjoy the experience but can do it for a while although I do tend to drop off to sleep after a couple of hours so not too reliable. We’ve already done some incredible driving trips on our time away with the Highland Lakes Road in Tasmania being utterly incredible and the Great Ocean Road in Victoria being slightly disappointing. Both of these however pale into insignificance compared to what we planned next. In fact, they were like popping round the corner to pick up a small amount of shopping and a paper on a Sunday morning in comparison.
The Trans Alpine Haerenga
An epic four week tour of the South Island of New Zealand is what we’d planned. We’d done our research as always and decided that the only way to get around and see everything was to drive and spend a few days in each location. Setting off from Christchurch in the East, crossing to the west coast, travelling down the Southern Alps, through the central mountains, back up to Christchurch, and finally north up to Nelson at the top of the South Island. An epic trip hopefully.
BTW …. Haerenga is the Maori word for trip, which I like.
So no big four wheel drive monster for us, oh no. We rented a little Nissan Note with 140,000 on the clock from the lovely people at Apex in Christchurch. A little car with a load of scratches and a load more character that knew it’s way around the south island. No GPS or Satnav for us either, we’ll be fine with good old fashioned maps. With all of the accomodation booked and Jo the star navigator on board with a thousand maps we started our quest. I mean we drove off.
It’s not always Airbnb
As you all know we’ve really enjoyed the experience of staying with local people using Airbnb but it’s not always possible to find something either in the right area or in the right budget. Particularly on this big driving extravaganza where we had a route mapped and needed accommodation in specific towns. So our first four nights of the Haerenga were in motels spread across the island from Christchurch to the lovely little town of Hokitika. Often cheaper than Airbnb but obviously fairly basic as their name suggests but it’s all part of the adventure.
Stage 1 – Christchurch to Hanmer Springs
As the gun sounded and the crowd roared we trundled out of Christchurch and headed north in our little Notey towards the action and adventure town of Hanmer Springs. No issues with driving as they drive on the correct side of the road in NZ, the left, and we left Christchurch passing by towns such as Belfast and Amberley on our way to the Hanmer Forest park. The scenery started to really change as we turned west at Culverden and we soon found ourselves driving through beautiful valleys along winding cliff edge roads. We’d booked a backpackers lodge in Hanmer which turned out to be really good, who knew? The Jack in the Green Backpackers just on the edge of town had everything we needed and was within walking distance of the main street where Robbie’s Bar and Bistro and Monteiths Brewery Bar kept us entertained for the rest of the day.
Stage 2 – Hanmer to Westport
Great night in the lodge, al fresco breakfast, and then off towards Westport on the wild west coast. Quick stop at the bridge over the Waiau River just because it looked incredible and to check out all of the adrenaline activities at the Adventure Centre that we weren’t going to do!
Then an absolutely fabulous drive up the Lewis Pass to Reefton. I said that I didn’t really enjoy driving didn’t I (remember?) but this was just amazing. Twisty turny mountain roads climbing high then falling fast, alongside rivers and mountains and incredible lakes. It was fantastic. We didn’t want it to end. It’s definitely entered our JWalking Drives Top Five this week, straight in at Number One for sure.
Lunch in the wild west looking town of Reefton, where unfortunately as we sat munching on pies and slurping coffee the storm arrived. From nowhere the sky turned black and the heavens opened. Torrential. It didn’t stop Notey though but the apparent picturesque drive to Westport didn’t reveal itself to us. Shame.
Stage 3 – Westport to Hokitika
Rain stopped and blue skies so early start for us and a detour up to Tauranga Bay. We’ve been so lucky on our trip that we’ve managed to see a lot of animals in their natural environments and at Tauranga we managed to see a colony of seals just lazing around in the sunshine. It took us both by surprise as they were only 50 feet below us but there were 40 or 50 seals just doing their own thing. We could have stood watching them all day but needed to get going. The Anthill Mob and Penelope Pitstop were well ahead of us!!
I really really really wanted to visit Cape Foulwind for a multitude of reasons that I’ll keep to myself for the moment, but Jo thought it would be safer for all concerned if we kept well clear! Gutted.
So we started yet another ‘Great’ road, as Jo said previously they can’t all be great surely? The ‘Great Coast Road’ between Westport and Greymouth wasn’t just great, it was incredible. My Top Five Drives have at least eight ‘Great’ roadtrips now!
Driving along the edge of the Tasman Sea beneath towering peaks and up and down incredible mountain passes the drive to Greymouth surpassed even the previous days adventure. Mid route we stopped at a place called Punakaiki, also known as Pancake Rocks.
The Pancake Rocks are a huge formation of pancake-like layered limestone rocks. Row upon row of them all grouped together around some incredible vertical blowholes. There are walkways and staircases allowing visitors to get up close and personal and to actually experience the impressive explosions rocketing out of the blowholes every few minutes.
Once again we had to tear ourselves away to continue on to Greymouth but the rest of the ‘Great Coast Road’ didn’t let us down. Quick lunch in a very strange bar called Steamers that appeared to be full of vicars, angry tourists, and guys auditioning for the role of Augustus Gloop in Willy Wonka. Interesting.
The final leg to Hokitika wasn’t as spectacular except for when we stopped at the strangest beach I have ever seen. Ever. The 13 Mile Creek Beach looked like a martian landscape. Grey featureless stone leading down to a wild grey sea stretching for miles. It was breathtaking. We felt like we were on a different planet. Never seen anything like it ever.
Finally to Hokitika then and a couple of nights in the Bella Vista motel. A lovely little town that was once the centre of another gold rush in the 1860s and had thousands of inhabitants and a massive harbour, but is now just a quiet laid back little place that sells a lot of Jade. Our days in Hokitika were just so restful and we spent our time walking and exploring and finding out the history of the place.
Obviously the museum, glass blowing factory and Jade shops were visited but the most memorable times for us were the sunsets. We ventured out onto the long sandbanks that had once been home to steamers and cargo ships, and walked in the sunset through the driftwood and black sand. Although pretty windy and a touch cold they were two utterly magical evenings.
Hokitika was a real surprise for us as we knew next to nothing about it. We had a terrific stay there and won’t forget it in a hurry. Next stage though is our drive down into the really wild Southern Alps and the alpine town of Franz Joseph.
11.12 – 14.12.2015