The fun of a West Coast holiday begins with a journey through the Southern Alps.
A 600 km long, incredibly straight wall of mountains locks the Coast into an exclusive climate zone and eco-system. Ancient Maori greenstone (jade) trails were the only land links with the rest of New Zealand 150 years ago. Today road access is a breeze with scenic trans-alpine highways and little local traffic to hinder your progress as you explore every corner of the West Coast. There are four main access roads:- Buller Gorge from Nelson, Lewis Pass from Hanmer Springs, Arthur’s Pass from Christchurch and Haast Pass from Wanaka.
The Buller Gorge road offers many fascinating diversions along the way. The fabulous Nelson Lakes present picture-book settings, alpine grandeur and perfect tranquillity. Further south the road passes sleepy towns that once rang with the discordant sounds of gold mining, pubs and dancehalls. Approaching Westport you follow the mighty Buller River and the gorge road narrows to pass under dramatic hand-hewn rock overhangs.
Lewis Pass is a scenic traverse of the Alps and travels through beech forest dripping with sub-alpine moss-covered vegetation. Stop at the summit and enjoy the Tarn Nature Walk, which is near the start of the delightful St James Walkway. Hanmer Springs is a bubbly thermal resort east of the main divide where you can pump adrenalin in Thrillseeker’s Canyon by day and relax in hot mineral pools at night.
Arthur’s Pass is a scenic two hour drive from Christchurch. This quaint alpine village nestles under the main divide at an altitude of 930 metres, which means a short tramp takes you up to stunning views, and golden alpine pastures alive with wild flowers and herb fields. Tracks lead to the dramatic Devil’s Punchbowl Falls, and old Coach Road Track.
Haast Pass highway offers a glorious parade of forest, mountains, rivers, waterfalls and the dramatic ‘Gates of Haast’ bridge. It also has a trio of aptly named waterfalls:- Roaring Billy, Thunder Creek and Fantail Falls.
Once you have arrived on the wild and wonderful West Coast, that’s when your adventure begins.