From east to west, and back again

After nearly two years
in New Zealand, there are still a few places we have yet to visit.  One place we were keen to explore was
Arthur’s Pass National Park, on the South Island.  This involves flying to Christchurch, so we
had to book ahead and hope for decent weather. 
(A quick word of explanation for readers not familiar with New Zealand
geography: the South Island has lots of mountains, so the roads from east to
west cross mountain passes.   The main
road from Christchurch to the west coast goes through Arthur’s Pass.)

We booked to fly to
Christchurch very early on Saturday morning, 13 February, and to pick up a hire
car from the airport.  So last week we
anxiously watched the weather forecasts, which were not encouraging!  On Saturday the expectation was for thundery
rain, gale-force winds and very poor visibility (we’ve since heard from a
number of reliable sources that this was pretty accurate).  Hardly ideal for driving through the
mountains, but what else were we to do?

The forecast for Sunday
in Arthur’s Pass was rather better, which gave us an idea.  We decided that we would cross via the Lewis
Pass (not so high, and less apocalyptic weather forecast) on Saturday, stay
overnight on the west coast, and return via Arthur’s Pass on Sunday, enjoying
the highlights in better weather.  So
that’s what we did, and it worked out very well.

 On our way west we did a small detour to
Hanmer Springs, which we visited with Anne and Maggi back in December
2008.  This time we walked up the Conical
Hill Track to a splendid viewpoint.  Back
on the main road, we stopped three times to go for walks, as well as several
times just to take photos.  We did a
short nature walk just below the summit of Lewis Pass, and a longer loop track
at the top.  On the other side we did a
walk to the waterfall.  We had some
showers, but also brief periods of sun, which made walking quite pleasant,
especially when we were sheltered from the wind!

Our other stop was at
the Maruia Springs Thermal Resort, where we indulged in a 45-minute session in
a private hot mineral spa pool, with views of the mountains.  The water was 44 degrees – pretty hot even
for us! It was also full of black algae, which we were assured was good for us,
even though it stuck to the skin and made us look like spotted dick.

We reached the west
coast at the town of Greymouth, where we stayed overnight.  On Sunday morning we headed back east over
Arthur’s Pass.  The weather was
fortunately much better than it had been there on Saturday – no rain, and winds
not too bad, though we had only the very occasional glimmer of sun.  Once again, we stopped several times for
walking.  At the Arthur’s Pass summit we
did the short Dobson Nature Walk.  Then
we parked at the approach to the Arthur’s Pass Village, and from there we spent
about three hours walking.  The Chasm was
impressive, and the Devil’s Punchbowl Falls were spectacular. 

On our way down to
Christchurch we stopped at the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve, where a loop track
enabled us to see the karst rock formations, as 
well as the cave mouth where those sufficiently brave (or crazy, depending
on your point of view)  embark on a walk
which involves negotiating small waterfalls and crawling along ledges.  We stopped again at the Kura Tawhiti
Conservation Area, which has no caves but even more impressive rock formations
up on a grassy hillside.

We reached Christchurch
Airport just before 7, after a round trip of 587 Ks (or 367 miles if you
prefer).  We had time for a Valentine’s
Day dinner before boarding our flight back to Wellington.  The weekend had worked very well, and
demonstrated once again that New Zealand has great scenery, and that travelling
here is very weather-dependent!      

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