Central South Island – The Alpine Area
East to West, Then South

Central South Island – The Alpine Area
East to West, Then South

In this part of the South Island, planning where you cross between east and west is key. If your travel time is limited, we include flights that even remove a whole day of driving from you itinerary.

Christchurch & Area

Christchurch has been a “must see” city in an NZ itinerary. A few years ago, a serious earthquake did major damage to this lovely city, called New Zealand’s “most English” city.

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Some of the lovely English gardens were ruined, as well as the famous Christchurch Cathedral. The Botanical Garden is still one of the gems of the country with its collection of huge trees from all over the old British Empire. It is a terminal of the Trans-Alpine train to the west coast.

Nearby, clients visit the old fishing village of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula. South of Christchurch is a small village known around the world for its looms and wool for weavers.

Mt. Cook is southwest of Christchurch – about halfway to Queenstown. If you are driving, we plan a stopover so you can see the area. Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand, is where Sir Edmund Hillary mastered mountain climbing. There are great walks here for folks who are not in training for the Himalayas! Scenic flights to the 11-mile-long Tasman Glacier atop Mt. Cook are thrilling.

If you are short on time, we book the short flight from Christchurch to Queenstown or Dunedin instead of the long drive.

West to the Coast

Crossing from Christchurch to Greymouth by train or by driving allows you to enjoy a few days in, what we think, is the best alpine lodge in New Zealand! You can take easy or challenging hikes during the day, then enjoy the luxury of a gourmet dinner followed by a comfy bed with a fabulous view of the alpine area.

The lodge offers a menu of activities each day – some to do on your own, some guided. It is a working sheep station, producing some of the finest merino wool you’d ever find – the perfect non-touristy way to see what sheep farming is all about. Horseback riding, jet boating, trout fishing, just some of the things you can do. Or… just soak up the views!

Driving the West Coast

This drive is so rewarding, we never tire of doing it – whether going south from Westport or north from Queenstown. Every few hours you are enter a totally different environment, as though Mother Nature decided to compact the whole country into one island!

Going South:

Greymouth is one of very few ports on the South Island’s rugged coast. Trains carried coal here from the alpine mines, to be shipped elsewhere. Continue south along the wind-swept coast to Hokitika – the jade carving center of New Zealand. The jade is NZ’s native greenstone. In winter storms it is washed down from the alpine peaks into wide rivers. Shops here offer everything from jade trinkets to stunning works of art and fine jewelry.

A few hours south you are suddenly in glacier country. Take a helicopter or fixed wing scenic flight over Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers – or add on Mt. Cook. Some flights include a landing on the Tasman Glacier on Mt. Cook. Hikers love the glacier heli-hiking.

But there is more to glacier country that glaciers! Along the highway, you’ll see signs marking places to park for a stroll or hike. The signs tell you how long and difficult the walk is – and what you see at the end. Perhaps a mirror-smooth lake, or stunning alpine view, or one of the hundreds of waterfalls that dot the landscape. There are peaceful lagoons for birding, lodges for relaxing, trout fishing and more. In short, glacier country is a good stopover.

Exit glacier country and enter temperate rainforest. Hum… what kind of trees are these? That unusual vegetation? No need to be glued to your guide book: we rent all our driving clients a gizmo that narrates the immediate scene as you drive through, even telling you the history and perhaps a Maori legend about the area. It uses GPS technology to know where you are and operates through the car radio.

And here is another wonderful wilderness lodge – right on the Tasman Sea. As you slowly walk through the rainforest, a naturalist tells you about what you are seeing. The lodge has canoeing, kayaking, and for lucky travelers in November – the rare privilege of spotting a nesting colony of rare Fiordland Crested Penguins. You cannot do this without a guide licensed by the NZ government. Another bonus: the lodge owner, one of NZ’s leading environmentalists, is a good friend of ours who gives a special welcome to our clients.

Then comes Haast Pass. We “Yanks” think of mountain passes as going over high mountains. But in NZ, mountain passes tend to follow stream beds winding among alpine peaks. Take a picnic so you can have lunch by one of the myriad of waterfalls here.

Suddenly you emerge from Haast Pass and – yet another change of environment – you are in semi-arid lands with lovely turquoise lakes. This is Central Otago, where gold was discovered about the same time it was discovered in the American west. Now it is one of the best wine regions in NZ. First stop is Wanaka. Stop to see antique cars and old airplanes. Stay longer for hiking, photography, biking on the old gold mining rail trail. Do a self-drive wine tour. Wanaka, like Queenstown, is a year-around destination because when snow falls, skiers flock here. Central Otago is a terrific area for stone fruit. The plums, peaches, and apricots are about the best you will ever taste.

Central South Island - The Alpine Area

You can see it all in the Alpine Region of New Zealand.
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