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Glorious scenery in the South Island
Glorious scenery in the South Island
Towns along the way
A spot of fishing

New Zealand Drive PT III

Thursday, September 25, 2003
Ben rustles up some locals on his final leg of his NZ top to bottom adventure.

This is the final leg of our trip from top to bottom of New Zealand.

Arthur's Pass is a small settlement in the pass across the Southern Alps. The 924km pass was on the route used by the Maori to reach the west. European Arthur Dobson discovered it in 1864 when the Westland goldrush created great pressure to find a crossing over the Alps from Christchurch. Within a year a coach road was built and later, when the coal and timber trades demanded a railway, one was opened in 1923.

The town is an excellent base for walks, climbs, views and snow skiing.

Arthur's Pass National Park day walks give 360 degree views of snowcapped peaks. Mt Murchison is the highest at 2400m. The park has huts on the tracks and several camping sites.

On the way south, the drive takes you through farmlands and small towns such as Darfield. The high country from which Mt Cook Park rises is known as Mackenzie country, named after Jock McKenzie (both spellings are correct!) It's said that he ran his stolen flocks in this uninhabited region around 1843. When he was caught, other settlers realised the potential of the land and followed in his footsteps.

The tiny settlement of Lake Tekapo has views across the turquoise lake, with hills and snowcapped mountains as a backdrop. The colour is created by rock flour, finely ground particles of rock held in suspension in the glacial melt water.

The beautiful little Church of the Good Shepherd on the lake's edge was built of stone and oak in 1935. It was built to commemorate sacrifices made by early runholders of the land. A statue of a collie dog is a touching tribute to the sheepdogs which helped develop Mackenzie country.

A detour to Mount Cook is recommended. Its national park is 700 square kilometres in area and one of the most spectacular in the country. Encompassed by the main divide, the Two Thumb, Liebig and Ben Ohau Ranges, more than one third of the park is in permanent snow and glacial ice.

Without the Mount Cook detour, Lake Pukaki is just 45km south of Lake Tekapo and on a clear day everything is picture perfect.

Next stop is Wanaka, a summer resort and New Year revelries centre. In winter it is a popular ski town. It's the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park and the Treble Cone, Cardrona, Harris Mountains and Pisa Range ski areas.

Every second Easter (in even numbered years), Wanaka hosts the immensely-popular Warbirds. Held over Lake Wanaka, this international air show really swells the town's usual population of 3500.

Invercargill's port is Bluff. It is the departure point for the Stewart Island catamaran and home of the very popular Bluff oyster.

Stewart Island, called Rakiura by the Maori, is New Zealand's third-largest island and is an increasingly-popular destination.

Stewart Island Flights operates two Britten Normal Islanders and has access to a Cessna 185 and Piper PA32 each day from Invercargill to Stewart Island. Passengers are treated to views of Puapuke and Dog islands, the Titi island group and Bluff Harbour as you cross Foveaux Strait.

Rakiura means "glowing skies" in Maori, which refers to the aurora Australia often seen in the southern sky, giving spectacular blood-red sunrises and sunsets.

It's a little triangle of land, with many parts uninhabitable. There are hardly any roads and many beaches are empty.

Only 420 people live on Stewart Island, mostly living in Oban on Halfmoon Bay. It's just half an hour's walk from a sanctuary of forest, beaches and hills. Abalone, or paua, diving is a lucrative business, with the flesh fetching $100 a kilogram!

Weather here is incredibly changeable — brilliant sunshine one minute, pouring rain the next. So if you plan to visit, pack your wellies!


The south island of New Zealand


Stewart Island Flights cost $129 a person for return flights between Invercargill and Stewart Island.
Qantas flies daily to Auckland, starting at $451 from the east coast, $739 from Perth, $833 from Adelaide and $1145 from Darwin, per person. Prices include charges/taxes and are current at time of writing, but may vary at time of booking. Seasonal surcharges and conditions apply.

More information

Stewart Island Flights
PO Box 860
Invercargill, New Zealand
Ph: 64 3 218 9129
Fax: 64 3 214 4681

Qantas: 13 13 13

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