January 27, 2020
Our guide picked us up in the morning in Christchurch to begin a two week guided hiking tour of the South Island of New Zealand. The agenda for the first day was to cross the Southern Alps at Arthur’s Pass, and to arrive in Punakaiki on the West Coast by the end of the day.
The South Island is about 500 miles long, and 150ish miles wide, with steep mountains along the west coast. The mountains create a rain shadow for the eastern part of the island. We were on our way to experience the rain forests and wetter climate of the west coast.
Our first hiking stop was Castle Hill. We walked up the hill and through the maze of giant, weirdly eroded limestone boulders and knobs that standout in the landscape.
We learned early on that most of the wildflowers we would see are non-native, and considered weeds. (“If it’s pretty it’s a pest!”) The national effort to remove alien wildlife, both plants and animals, was an ongoing theme during our trip.
Wandering among the limestone boulders.
View back to the car park.
Hike #2 of 2020, 2.2 miles, 150 feet.
Arthur’s Pass National Park
We could see we were headed for clouds and rain as we continued west toward the mountains.
We stopped to look at the Waimakariri River, one of the largest of many broad, braided glacial outwash rivers that cross the eastern plains of the South Island.
We made a quick stop to view Devil’s Punchbowl Falls, 131 meters high.
Rain began as we drove through Arthur’s Pass.
One of many road preservation structures and roadworks we would see in this geologically active country.
Rata tree blooms – these are native!
Quintessential New Zealand green pastures with sheep and cows.
We reached the west coast near Kumara, then headed north to Punakaiki, admiring the beautiful beaches and lush green, misty slopes along the way. It had been a lovely first day of our tour.
Driving north along the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand.
West coast sun, clouds and beaches!
Trip note: Our tour was with the New Zealand company Active Adventures. I have only good things to say about our experience with them. Amazingly, because of some last minute changes, we were the only two people on the first five days of our tour. We had been expecting up to twelve people, and instead we had a private tour, with an entire small bus and guide to ourselves. This is the first time we have taken this type of tour, and we were not sure what to expect, but we soon became good friends with our guide. We appreciated being able to simply enjoy the adventure without worrying about the logistics of meals and lodging, or the left-sided driving. As the trip went on, there were challenges from the weather, and we were very glad that our local, experienced guides could nimbly create alternative itineraries – more about that later.
Tomorrow we would explore the landscape around Punakaiki.