Saturday 20 October 2007

Coast to coast

Today I drove from the east side of the South Island to the west. The West Coast.
Trying doing that in a day in Aussie.

One of the true great drives in New Zealand is going coast to coast across the South Island. In fact, one of the world's best multi sport events tracks the same course annually.

It's a good 4 hour drive at 267 km across the mighty Southern Alps. You feel smaller than a Hobbit, towered by the Dark Lord of Mordor. In fact, we are in LOTR filming territory.

The journey westward starts across the Canterbury Plains. It was a near perfect day and we headed towards the towering white backdrop that is the Alps. They are new Zealand's largest natural structural feature, running along most of the length of the South Island, nearly 550 kms long, from Mt Aspiring to Nelson lakes in the north.

The Alps are diamond-cut crags and peaks, encompassing the longest and highest mountains in New Zealand. They stand sentinel for the volcanic lakes, ancient forests, greenstone rivers, blue-ice glaciers and wide alluvial mountain valleys that make up an area of such outstanding natural beauty, encompassing four national parks.

The prevailing northwesterly wind pattern and the location of the Southern Alps, provided a unique and predicable weather pattern.

The Alps include all New Zealand summits of over 3,000 metres. They are a very young range, still actively being uplifted. This, combined with extremely high rainfall on the western side and high erosion, results in very dynamic landscapes. High rainfall also causes the range to carry more glaciers at lower altitude than mountains of comparable altitude in other temperate regions of the world.

The rate of uplift movement is dramatic, exceeding 10 mm a year close to the alpine fault.

The drive through Arthur's Pass takes you right through a unique pioneer road that is spectacular in the extreme. Maori discovered access through this region to find the famous greenstone/jade, or Pounamu.

The West Coast goldrush took place between 1864 and 1867 and created numerous towns such as Okarito which became the one time largest town on the West Coast but then quickly almost vanished as miners moved on. Following pounamu and gold, the next mineral to make the West Coast valuable was coal.

There are only three access routes over the Alps, Haast in the south, Arthur's in the middle and Lewis further north. The Alps are largely made up of largely sedimentary rocks.

We arrive at the mountain village of Arthur's Pass around 2pm, and pull over for a hot chocolate and a rest. This place is Iceland for any visitor from Cairns. The backdrop is something that looks like a painted movie set.

Mum and I pose for a quick pic, and although she looks asleep, maybe it was just the high altitude at 920 mt.

I was still doing a brave impression of a tropical visitor, but this was short lived I can assure you.

We soon headed off across the last 160 kms through the Pass, and I see the completion of the spectacular new Otira viaduct, that was started 10 years ago.

This new access by-passes the true adventure road which had to be the most hair-raising road in New Zealand, affectionately known as Deadman's Valley, and it claimed the title without much effort over the last century.

I recall many a trip over that route as a kid, clinging on for life as we moved at snail's pace down the 8 hairpin bends. Oh, they took all the fun out of it.

At the lookout, we come across a family of Kea. The native Kea, is a huge mountain bird and very friendly and rather cheeky. You're instructed not to feed them, for obvious reason when one inspects the size of their beak.

Keas are also very clued up on the workings on rubber seals around car windows. I suspect they would be adequately well-stocked to run their own chain of glazier repair outlets.

I got in a couple of meters to this fella, or fellaess, it's difficult to tell. I was watching the sign, and he was watching me.

Another hour and we arrive into the old gold rush town Hokitika, the birth town of my father.
His childhood home still stands in perfect condition at No 53 Park Street, where he was born in 1915, right next to the now redundant main trunk train line.

At it's height of the rush, 124 pubs graced Revell Street. The in Weather in Hokitika has earned it's reputation as one of the wettest in the country, and it's is a barmy 7 degrees as we arrive this evening.

Just before evening sets, and the old Hoki town clock chimes 7pm, we visit the local fish and chip shop for a classic feed of West Coast whitebait.

This delicacy, at $8 a patty, is what we've been waiting for all day.

Our day was complete.

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