N.Z. Road Trip. Part 1: Christchurch to Greymouth.


It took me nearly 28 years from the time I left New Zealand to return to Canada until I was able to make it back.  So much happened in those 28 years.  I have had seven different jobs plus a college diploma, ten different cars (nothing late model, each car was between 6 and 15 years old when purchased) and of course four children who are now flourishing young adults.

So important to “pilot ” myself to New Zealand to spend time with my daughter. Image Source

With my oldest daughter now living in New Zealand it was an invitation if I could come for her graduation from teacher’s college at the University of Canterbury that got the wheels rolling in my mind.  And it the additional offer of “We could do a road trip together”, even offering to do all the driving was something that was pretty hard to refuse.

My daughter with several of her new friends in New Zealand.  So much looking forward to seeing my daughter graduate. 🙂

We rented a car from Jucy Car Rental. As we were trying to keep this trip low budget the rentals at Juicy were a fair bit cheaper than the well known rental companies.  Unlike the well known rentals which are late model and low mileage, these cars were a few years old, and the car we picked up had well over 200,000 kilometers on it.  But it was maintained, had roadside assistance, and that is all that really matters.

Our economical rental for the road trip.

We had 10 days slotted for this trip, leaving time to be back for my daughters teaching college graduation.  Naomi left it to me to decide what destinations I wanted to see.  What I came up with was a circle trip from Christchurch to Greymouth on the West Coast of New Zealand.  Then follow the coast down to Haast, then back east to Wanaka.  From Wanaka a side trip into Mt. Cook National Park, and then back home to Christchurch.  For me this would all be new territory other than Arthur’s Pass National Park.

Our driving route. Highway 73 West, 6 South and then East, 8 north and 1 north. Image Source

I imagine you are already aware that you drive on the opposite side of the road than Canada and the United States.  Even as a passenger this takes a while getting used to, when a car is coming toward you on what you think is “the wrong side of the road”.  And if you always wanted to be a rally car driver, New Zealand is the perfect destination.  Many times the speed limit is irrelevant.  The roads are so windy and hilly in places you just can’t go the posted speed limit.

Driving on the “opposite side of the road”.  Notice the arrow sticker on the far right of the picture which reads “keep left” as a reminder of what side of the road to stay on.

Despite driving on the opposite sides of the road, Canada and New Zealand does have a lot of similarities.  We both have an east and west coast, and we both have flat plains (called prairies in Canada).  Both our countries have rugged mountains, and we both have rainforests on the west coast.

An avalanche shed below Arthur’s Pass.

The only difference is, what might take up to a week to drive across Canada, Naomi and I went from one coast to the other in less than four hours (taking in the plains, mountains, rainforests and ocean in that span of time), and covered it all on Day 1 of our road trip.

The highway is straight and flat across the Canterbury Plains. Mountains can be seen in the far distance.

It is sometimes called The Great Alpine Highway, New Zealand State Highway 73 is the highest and said to be the most spectacular highway through the Southern Alps.  A route that is 255 kilometers from coast to coast, the road at the beginning is straight as an arrow across the river plains west of Christchurch.

Spectacular scenery. Photo just taken out of the passenger window while in motion driving!

The road then climbs steeply through two passes.  Porters Pass is 945 metres (3,100 feet) and Arthur’s Pass which is 924 metres (3,30 feet).  In Arthur’s Pass the highway travels through Arthur’s Pass National Park, one of 13 National Parks administered by the Department of Conservation.

Such great memories from the archives. This was taken of my wife 28 years ago at Devils Punch Bowl Falls during our honeymoon.

In order to make it to our hostel on time, we drove through the park without stopping.  But there is a great deal of hiking, climbing and camping opportunities to be had here.  During my honeymoon 28 years ago Arthur’s Pass was one of our stops.  My wife and I did a couple of hikes in the rain, one of them to a spectacular waterfall called Devils Punchbowl Falls.  That night it rained and rained and rained, and there was many very close cracks of lightning.  Our campground (and tent) was very close to a high voltage hydro tower, which naturally attracts lightning.  My wife innocently asked what would happen if our tent were struck with lightning.  Perhaps I might have been a bit too honest as my wife hardly slept a wink that night.

Steep, windy descent

After Arthurs Pass the road descends steeply on the western side of the southern alps and then flattens out as it winds alongside the Taramakeu River until it feeds into the ocean.

Downtown Greymouth still has that quiet, laid back appeal to me. The sign “Albert Street” is also the street I live on in Canada. 🙂

We arrived at our destination for Day 1 of our road trip at the Duke Hostel in Greymouth.  The hostel is a converted historic hotel.  Both the interior and exterior are painted in bright vibrant colors and it still retains a lot of the character and charm from it’s glory days as a railway hotel.

Front of Duke Hostel

The most beds in a dorm style room was 2 bunks (4 beds) and each room had a sink, which was a nice touch.  There was a huge kitchen, dining area and common sitting room.  And in a establishment that probably would accommodate possibly 70 or more guests, there might have been 10 guests the night we were there.  It felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Torban, our friendly hostel host.

Our host Torban really went out of the way to make us feel welcome.  A large pot of vegetable soup was simmering on the stove for guests to “help ourselves”. And the next morning there was a meat pie brought in from a local business, as well as coffee, toast and jam. We hung and out and chatted for the longest time, both in the evening and the following morning.  It was if I had made a new friend!

A portion of the large dining and sitting area. As you can see we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

I learned a lot of history about Greymouth from Torban, and discovered that the local people in this quiet, laid back town are really struggling.  Greymouth has an urban population of 9, 750 and the population of the whole Grey district is 13,550.  This accounts for 42% of the population of the sparsely populated west coast of the south island of New Zealand.

Fire that came later after the explosion at Pike River mine. Image source

Greymouth’s major industry had been coal mining.  On November 19, 2010 a series of gas explosions occurred at the Pike River mine north of Greymouth killing 29 people.   The mine was shut down and the bodies were never recovered.  Here in Canada I vaguely remember the tragedy on the news when it happened, but like so many news stories we become numb.  Other people in other places.  But being in Greymouth that short time I realized the impact this tragedy has had on the town.  These were real people who lost their lives, and very much loved and missed.

A photomontage of the 29 men killed in the Pike River mine. They ranged in age from 17 to 62. The 17 year old was on his 1st shift underground. Image source.

Unlike Christchurch, which is taking great strides in their rebuilding program after the devastating 2011 earthquake, Greymouth still seems to be struggling with it’s tragedy.  Losing it’s major industry has been an economic blow, and with the dead miners bodies never being recovered, even though it is 6 years later  there has never been a closure.  It was on the news during my stay in Greymouth that families of the deceased men were gathered together on the mine access road, having a human blockade to prevent concrete trucks from sealing the mine.

Family members of the men killed blockading the mine entrance. Image Source

 

The New Zealand government has been proactive to help this grieving town move on.  To try and bring vital tourism dollars into Greymouth, the government spent millions of dollars on a bicycle trail called the West Coast Wilderness Trail, a 137 km. trail from Greymouth to Ross.  And when Pike River coal went bankrupt and was liquidated, following that the government purchased 3950 hectares of land around the mine.  In late 2015 it was announced that the land will be added to Paparoa National Park (where the famous “Pancake rocks” are).  Included in that announcement there is to be a walkway called the Pike 29 Memorial Track, a 45 kilometer track from Blackball to Punakaikai which will be constructed as a memorial to the 29 miners lost in the Pike River mine tragedy.  The online brochure is already up from the Department of Conservation and will become #10 of their world renowned “Great Walks“, with plans to open the track in 2018.  When I return this is a must hike for me.

In what seemed “too soon” our bags were packed from our overnight stopover at Duke Hostel in Greymouth, and I was saying my goodbyes to Torban.  Our next stop the following night would be  a hostel that was pre-booked at Fox Glacier, further south along the rugged west coast drive.  It has been such a long time since I travelled.  If the rest of this road trip was going to be like Day 1, it would be an amazing trip.   “Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey” Fitzhugh Mullan~

Have you ever driven on the opposite side of the road from what you were accustomed?  How was it?

Do you have any advice on meeting interesting people while travelling?

Thanks for reading!  🙂

 

 

 

 

Categories: PhotographyTags: , , , , , ,

17 comments

  1. Hey Carl, your post really made me smile as I could feel the excitement and wonder that only traveling to really cool places brings! Gosh, I’ve really got to get myself to NZ, your photos and descriptions make it seem even more stunning than I imagined.

    I’m glad you posted about the mining tragedy too. Like yo,u I vaguely remember hearing about it but those men should never be forgotten. So sad for that town.

    I’ve never driven on the opposite side of the road, in fact I’m heading to England this summer and refuse to rent a car because I use don’t trust myself to be able to handle it! As far as meeting new people, I just throw out basic questions (where ya from, what do you do…) wherever I’m at or make a joke. Sometimes people look at me funny but they always like to talk about themselves once they open up.

    Cheers Carl, I hope all is well. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tricia, thank you for taking the time to read and share such a generous comment. New Zealand really is such a wonderful place, and it did my heart a lot of good to see how happy and content she is there.

      That is really cool you will be heading to England this summer. I am very excited for you. As a passenger you might end up in the drivers seat by accident a few times, forgetting the driver is on the other side. It happened to me a few times. 😉

      The “where ya from” is the perfect opener in New Zealand, particularly when you are staying in hostels as the visitors come from all over the world. That was half the fun meeting the new people! 🙂

      Have a great week! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! Photos are really good, it itself tell the story. Awesome!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I miss those winding roads Carl – your post has brought back so many memories! There was literally a new vista at every turn… mesmerising 😍

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely travelogue. Looking forward to the next instalment

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fascinating! Oh, I don’t think I could handle riding in the passenger seat there. Put me in the back. I can’t wait to read about the rest of your adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much April, you are very kind. Yeah, the roads have so many curves in New Zealand. As a passenger I am instinctively putting my foot on the brake around those corners. But there is no brake pedals on the passenger side…lol!

      Thanks for stopping by to read and share! 🙂

      Like

  6. You had some incredible views during your drive and I can only imagine what other days might have fetched. It was so good of you to talk about the local scene and events that touch their lives – Travel should always take you beyond the regular sightseeing and really introduce you to the spirit of the place and people.
    We did some driving in France which was on the opposite side – took us about an hour to properly settle into it. It was a breeze the rest of the time 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your wonderful comment Prajakta. It has been a long time since I have travelled, but a priority in New Zealand was to get a feel for the local scene, and walk a bit in the people’s shoes. Even if was only a day or so.

      I am glad you picked up the driving on the opposite side very quickly in France. It would have been a wonderful time away! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: