Our flight from Sydney was late arriving in at Christchurch and, due to understaffing, it took us an hour to organise the car hire. We did manage to hire a Vodafone SIM card for the mobile phone from the desk at the airport. It was quite late by the time we exited the airport. We wandered around the centre of Christchurch during the evening, dining in a Korean cafe that seemed to be frequented by local students. Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island and seemed quite attractive.
The first night was spent in the Ashleigh Court Motel, located in a quiet side street but fairly close to the city. For whatever reason, I couldn’t sleep, so I amused myself by watching the Australia versus England one day cricket final on the Pay TV station. The delayed telecast was just like being back at home!
[image:379,right]We had planned to do our tour of the South Island in an anti-clockwise direction, crossing first to the West Coast. Rather than take the usual route of Arthur’s Pass across the Alps, we decided to take the longer Lewis Pass route to the North and sample Hanmer Springs’ hot baths.
Driving North, you can see the distant, snowcapped Alps to the left. We then turned towards them, driving up through the foothills past narrow gullies and clumps of eucalypts and willows. It was a lot like the Victorian countryside. This impression soon disappeared as the majestic Alps loomed nearer and the grey-blue waters and the broad grey pebbled banks of the Waiau River appeared to our right.
[image:380,right]Hanmer Springs is a small holiday village nestled into pine plantations that give the impression of Europe or the US. We paid the entry fee to the host springs complex, the town’s main attraction. It seemed too early, and the air too cool for a swim, but neither of us had bathed in natural hot springs before. They were hot, up to 39 degree Centigrade! We could only stay in the hottest pools for a brief time, partly due to the strong stench of Hydrogen Sulphide. However, it was very relaxing, and the effects of a near sleepless night were washed away in the steaming waters.
[image:388,right]From Hanmer Springs we drove further up into and across the Southern Alps. As we got higher the forests changed, but they were surely all forests a Tolkein elf would love. The winding road followed streams that would become powerful rivers further down. It was simply breathtaking.
[image:390,right]Finally, we crossed the summit of the route and began our downwards journey. The most obvious aspect of this was the change from clear skies to grey overcast that, along with rain, are the most common features of the Western Coast’s weather. Another aspect of the West Coast that surprised us was the single lane bridges along the main road. Although we had encountered our share of single lane bridges before in Australia, never had we shared them with trains as well as cars!
We stopped at the sleepy cities of Greymouth and Hokitika to look at stone and jade factories, the West Coast of New Zealand being famous for it’s Maori carvings in jade. These were quiet lands, though you could feel the power of the mountains on the left and the Tasman Sea to the right. [image:394,right] Joining the two were astonishingly blue rivers, the colour derived from the fine glacial sediments suspended in the water.
The evening was closing in by the time we reached our stop at the Motel Franz Josef, located in a rural setting just north of the township of the same name. The township was primarily a haven for backpackers and tour operators to the glaciers. We decided to make use of the motel’s cooking facilities, but weren’t overly impressed with our first trip to a Kiwi supermarket. It was tinned spaghetti and packet noodles for dinner that night.