Christchurch, Arthurs Pass, Franz Josef, & Fox Glaciers, New Zealand

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New Zealand

Arthur’s Pass


Arthur’s Pass in the South Island

Arthur’s Pass in the South Island of New Zealand is a small township, surrounded by dark green beech tree forest, 2,427 feet (740 meters) up in the Southern Alps. It is a popular base for exploring the Arthur’s Pass National Park and the road that runs through the town is one of the few ways to cross the South Island.

Pick up a rental car in Christchurch and make the drive to Arthurs Pass you will enjoy the craggy beauty of this huge mountain range. The only word that even comes close to describing the scenery you will see is majestic. New Zealand itself and its Alps more obviously are the result of uplifted ancient seafloor. The range is made of sandstone and mudstone both of which are rather soft rock. Because of this the mountains are crumbling at about the same rate they are being pushed upwards by tectonic action. This makes for a very unique landscape. Vast scree fields are strewn about completely covers the sides of the massifs.

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Vast scree fields

The additional forces of glacial sculpting formed massive scree filled river valleys. Some of the mountains have such steep sides and loose surfaces that no flora of any kind can take hold on them. This gives the appearance of an enormous manmade quarry.

Once at Arthurs Pass you can hike Arthur’s Pass National Park. The Avalanche Mountain walk is a trailhead just behind the information center in the small town. This is a 6 to 8 hour loop that climbs almost straight up the side of the mountain then goes on to the peak. It then returns by Scotts trail. You do not have to do the complete hike you can walk as much or as little as you like. If you take the challenge you will hike through native forests filled with Kia and Parakeets and encounter magnificent waterfalls along the way.

The first hour will have you at times rock climbing, 2,000 feet above the valley floor. However, keep an eye on the weather and be prepared to turn around and head back down at a moment’s notice. As you walk and climb you will hear the loud cracking sound made by distant rock slides from the surrounding mountains. This is the processes of mountain crumbling at work.

Kaikoura in the South Island New Zealand

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The drive from Picton to Kaikoura

The drive from Picton to Kaikoura will make you ooh! and ahh! This is because every time you turn a corner in the road you are presented with another beautiful vista. As you drive through the Marlborough wine region you will leave behind the thick forest-covered snowcapped Alp-like Mountains of Picton, and encounter rolling brown grassy hills covered with vineyards reminiscent of the Napa Valley in Northern California. Soon you will encounter the easternmost coastline where you will be presented with the aqua blue Pacific Ocean and a rugged kelp covered shoreline.

Your first stop will be Kaikoura, which is a quaint fishing village on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand, 112 miles (180 kilometers) north of Christchurch. A rocky peninsula, covered in vibrant life, extends into the sea south from the town. It is a place where the mountains meet the sea.

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Aqua blue Pacific Ocean

Take the walk from the campground through the little beach town of Kaikoura along its esplanade, to the tip of its isthmus. You will be surprised at what you will see. You will walk out on to a rocky point of the peninsula and as you look back you will experience views of the ocean town with its snowcapped mountain backdrop.

Upwelling currents bring an abundance of marine life from the depths of the ocean to Kaikoura’s local waters. This profusion of life and nutrients attracts many sea creatures. Among them are whales, which where once viciously hunted, but nowadays you can view these magnificent beings up close and alive. Southern fur seals and dolphins also take advantage of the plentiful food supplies. Kaikoura’s craggy seafront and tide pools are a great place to see rare and wonderful seabirds such as albatrosses, petrels, and Hutton’s shearwaters. The native Maori people have known about the fertile waters for hundreds of years at Kaikoura. On hills overlooking the ocean, you can find remains of their ancient hillside fortifications.

While traveling south in the South Island of New Zealand, you must stop and appreciate all that Kaikoura can offer.