I love the train journey on the Trans Alpine Express – truly one of the great railway trips of the World – I can not recommend it highly enough (see the video at the bottom of this post)
This week we are taking the car across for an extended exploration of the South Island of New Zealand’s West Coast. We will cross the Canterbury plains, drive into the foothills of the Southern Alps, up through Arthurs Pass and Otira and down into the west coast.
Spingfield is our coffee stop
The home of Rewi Alley and the gateway to Arthurs Pass and the west coast. A warm welcome, good coffee and some great food options at the attractive Yello Shack Cafe. I am taken by their poem on the wall which captures the spirit of this town snuggled under the mountains of the Southern Alps. Fri-sat-sun they have wood fired pizza which is very popular for locals and those heading up to the mountains for the weekend.
Remember to check your fuel gauge – it is the last petrol of 80kms!
Into the Southern Alps
We are soon heading into the mountains – an old landscape carved by rivers laying down extensive fields of stone. The mountains are gouged with rivers of stone and scree which flow down the mountains, into the rivers, to eventually form the plains on either side of the Southern Alps. The landscape alternates between untamed tussock lands, and farms, with rivers finding their way across the landscape, ending in occasional picturesque lakes. Signs point off to roads luring us up to other mountains and ski fields of Porters, Broken River, Craigeburn and Mt Cheeseman.
We pass the towering rocks of Castle Hill where there are lots of walkways to tempt us to stay a while, but not today.
Aross the wide braided Waimakariri River just before the start of Arthurs Pass National Park, and soon we are into beech country. Old shelters by the road built of stone – of course, there is so much of it!
This road used to be a challenge with its notorious hair pin bends, but now a huge viaduct sweeps us down the valley, under a shelter designed to take the rock falls from above, and as spout from which a waterfall falls over the road way to fall into the river below.
The train goes through the Otira tunnel built in a previous age. great engineering to manage this challenging landscape.
We stop to see the viaduct from above – this a must, do pull over and see the view, and meet the Keas who usually gather here – though there are no Keas today.
In praise of short walks
We have with us a wonderful resource for walking on the west coast: West Coast Walking: A Naturalist’s Guide by Kerry-Jayne Wilson
We stop at the Otira Valley Carpark and walk into the Otira Valley – p 216 and 211 Kerry Jane’s book.
We take the short walk over to Lake Misery through a beautiful sub alpine environment. You can keep walking up the Otira Valley for 3 hours, but I love that you can get a taste with just a 30 minute walk.
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