The final full day with the RV dawned and the weather closed in over the mountains, echoing our mood.
Grey, yet with a promise of the sunshine out there somewhere. We had to move on and leave this wonderful country for others to benefit from, and hopefully, leave something of their culture behind.
The RV kicked us out of the Hokitika Motorhome camp and we stopped off briefly at one of the Jade shops to have a look. Found out about New Zealand jade versus the cheaper Indonesian variety, so that was not so bad. Picked up a few trinkets for family members and got back in the RV to start our next leg over the mountain ranges and down to Christchurch where an aeroplane waited for us tomorrow.
We headed north for a bit until we hit SH73 and the sign for Arthur’s Pass, the highest pass in New Zealand.
The route started, following the Taramakau River and slowly working deeper into the foothills of Arthur’s Pass National Park. As the road got steeper, we decided to play a game by guessing what the speed limit indicator would be at the next hairpin bend, and so on. The fun you can have in an RV when you are trying not to look down at the 1000 foot drops to the side!
After a while, we reached the Otira Highway Scenic Lookout, which had an impressive view of one of the tunnels carved out of the rock. It also allowed us to look at a most strange man-made watercourse which ran over the head of the Highway and then let the water spew off the edge into the river below. It was a very strange piece of engineering. Not sure it would have won any design competitions though.
Unless of course, the “scenic lookout” was a ploy by the Keas to get you to stop so they could continue to eat your vehicle! They were back again and eating the saddles of our bikes. Nice!
Onward and outward, we continued up the Highway coming eventually to a flattened plateau in the middle of absolute nowhere to see 2 travellers walking along the road. No idea where they came from or where they were going to, but there were no abandoned cars, coaches or car parks for miles in either direction. (Must have been the aliens we encountered back at Chateau Tongariro, trying to thumb a lift back to their mother ship!)
We arrived at Arthur’s Pass village itself around lunch time, so stopped for our obligatory coffee. It was here that we saw the smallest Post office in the world (arguably), which was very quirky. Hee hee.
Lunch was OK. We could well imagine that this place must be heaving in tourist season as thousands gathered here for walking, skiing and generally hanging out with Mother Nature. It was funny being so high up and having a rail track running right next to us. Must be a wonderful experience coming up to the village by train.
The road then started to drop down and it wasn’t long before we started to traverse along the Bealey River, a fairly wide but dry river bed, at least 500m wide. Again, this must be impressive when the snow melt comes plunging through. Today however, it was fairly quiet. We continued down until Bealey River joined the even wider Waimakiriri River and suddenly 500m became over 1km wide and wider still. I suppose it was an awesome sign of the might of the snow and ice, that it needed such a wide tributary to get rid of all the water from the snow run-off.
On now down West Coast Road, which was quite nice. The mountains had now given way to foothills but they all looked as if acid had been dropped on them as not much was growing and lots of erosion was visible. Austere foothills on the east of Arthur’s Pass National Park, and very different to the foothills to the west, which were lush and vibrant with tree life.
Half way down this interesting route, we came across some really strange monolith rocks at the Castle Hill Kura Tawhiti Park. These edifices were all standing as if some giant had had a tantrum and thrown his toys out with the bathwater. A bit like Stonehenge, other than these were placed by nature.
Now the road started to link in with the web that was spread out by Christchurch and things flattened out and the roads began to be VERY STRAIGHT!!!
Oh dear… so so straight and so so long….
At one stage, after about 5 days (!) of travelling along this straight road and with no one in sight, I decided to hot things up and drove on the other side of the road, just for the fun of it…… NOT that I am recommending this to anyone, you understand?
Funnily enough, nothing happened!
We did not want to stay overnight in Christchurch itself, so we had a quick look and saw a nice looking inlet to the south of Christchurch, which did not look too far away, so we headed there.
The road twisted and turned now along the contours of the southern peninsula of Christchurch and SH75 took over, leading us on to Akaroa. On plan, it didn’t look too far away! However, at 1:500,000 scale, a very windy road looks to be fairly straight!
The final 20kms or so were “hairpin bend city”! Steep, dangerous, endless, but actually, very exhilarating. Climbing higher and higher, new parts of the peninsula were revealing themselves to us at every turn. And then we reached the top and could look down to our right and see the wonderful, beautiful inlet onto which Akaroa was blended.
Such a lovely scene, again. This time however, we could look out for miles and see 2, 3, 4 massive cruise liners all coming slowly up the inlet. I am not sure, but they all seemed to be berthing on the opposite side, where there was no port??? Just berthing up and, I suppose, boating the passengers down to Tikao Bay opposite Akaroa for a bit of a leg stretch. The inlet was beautiful and just what we needed.
Camping up at the Akaroa Top 10 motorhome camp, we then came down to the village to see one French name after another on the shops, the road signs and the cafes.
Now, before we get to why that might be, did you know that were it not for a Captain of a British ship berthing here and helping the locals, the British may not have actually settled here and Russell may not have been the original capital that it was? No. I bet you didn’t.
John Stewart, the Captain of the ship “Elizabeth”, helped one of the North Island chiefs to capture the local chief, his wife and their young daughter here, and the settlement that they lived in, was sacked. As a result of this, and other “lawlessness issues” he was associated with, the appointment of an official British Resident, James Busby, was endorsed, which was the first step in the British involvement that then led to the Treaty of Waitangi, in Russell, which became the capital.
There you are. A bit of history for you.
Now, let’s talk about those French people.
6 years after the above event, a French Captain came here and bought some land for £6! Typical!
He then went back to France and told everyone who wanted to listen, that this part of New Zealand was “easy pickings”. 63 emigrants left France with eager anticipation and arrived back at the Bay of Islands on the North Island… to find it had been colonised by those pesky brits, so instead, went off in a huff and came all the way back down to the South Island and decided to align themselves with the local people here, who themselves had been almost wiped out by the British a few years previous to this!
Boy, will the French/English battle for dominance never stop?
They then settled in Akaroa, which is why it has such a strong French feel to it.
Another piece of history for you.
That evening, we wandered down the “Champs-Élysées…… lol, and had a lovely meal at one of the restaurants overlooking the bay.
A long day, but one that ended in a lovely place. Thank you Akaroa.
Mind you, you do sound like a Japanese film!!!
Say it out loud… You might get where I am going with this…
In the morning, we had one final trip up to Christchurch itself and a sad farewell to the RV experience and a flight back up to Auckland and on home.
That means we have only one posting left tomorrow! Only one more day to say thank you to the people of New Zealand and the culture, the landscape and of course, the Hobbits and the seals. But that is tomorrow.