Arthur's Pass: Taking the Scenic Route
The only way to see the depth of the South Island is through a road trip. We were planning on renting a campervan; however, it dawned on us how underprepared we were for real camping. So, instead we rented a compact car from GO Rentals. For us, it was the right decision. Also, it was our (read: Will's) first foray into driving on the left side of the road. I remained the trusty copilot.
We left Christchurch with a car and no plans. Our end goal was to head south, but we took a detour northwest to drive through Arthur's Pass. It's the highest route through the Southern Alps, connecting the Canterbury plains in the east to the mountainous West Coast. It's comprised of waterfalls, viaducts, and bridges across massive beech forests. We chose to make the extra trip to simply drive through the eastern side. And it was totally worth it.
With no real agenda, on the way, we stopped at Yellow Shack Cafe in Springfield. Although ubiquitous, we had yet to indulge in the popularity of New Zealand's savory pie. Specifically, the iconic hand sized meat pies. These takeaway snacks are in nearly every bakery, as they date back to the British settlement in New Zealand in the late 1800s. By the 1970s, cheese was added and they became more common to see in grocery stores, bakeries, and even restaurants.
We went for the traditional mince and cheese pie, freshly made that morning.
We didn't expect to like the pie as much as we did. Now coffee converts, we had it with flat whites, which came with a lemon square bite..
Completely satisfied, we carried on. The drive up entailed several stops for construction. And understandably so. The narrow road also had rock shelters along the way for protection from avalanches.
Notably, there were sheep everywhere. Agriculture is New Zealand’s largest industry, particularly, pastoral farming of sheep and cattle. In fact, the country is the world’s largest exporter of lambs. However, it has become a major issue, given that the South Island’s arid climate is not ideal for mass farming. We later learned that many locals feel that the cattle faming industry is damaging the countryside, due to excessive water usage and farm run-off. One guy we talked to said it's largely because of the government's ambivalence towards more regulation. Admittedly, I previously knew little on this subject.
As I tried to take photos in the moving car, we pulled off occasionally to really capture the immensity. We often try to liken places we are to places we've been. Île de Ré reminds us of Cape Cod, or Lisbon resembles aspects of San Fransisco. However, driving through Arthur's Pass was like nothing we had experienced.
We had no comparison.
It was one of those moments where we really felt like we were getting out there. We were doing what we talked about, dreamt about.
Arthur's Pass is a marvel. It's also lauded as the most dramatic crossover to the Southern Alps and the highest road to take in Canterbury when traveling west. Despite it's vastness, to us it felt remote.
Our ears popped continuously, as each turn was more impressive then the last.
The fog rolled in swiftly. We've noticed how fast the clouds moved in the sky, but seeing this fog appear without warning was perplexing. I've heard how the weather is unpredictable, but experiencing the sun, the rain, the heat, the cold within the span of a few hours was remarkable.
We're looking forward to further exploring the South Island's extreme weather, vast mountains, and all of the awe-inspiring surprises ahead.