Greymouth to Christchurch via Arthurs Pass and Castle Hill … and then home to Melbourne

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Published: December 21st 2022

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Otira Falls lookoutOtira Falls lookoutOtira Falls lookout

NOTE: We arrived home late on Friday the 9th of December, but only just finishing the last of the blog entries on the 21st.

Unfortunately our run of lovely weather came to an end today. It rained most of the night and was still grey and drizzly this morning. Over breakfast we decided that we wouldn’t attempt any other sightseeing around Greymouth in the rain. The couple of things that we had thought about visiting, before setting out for Christchurch, were outdoors so we decided that they would be too unpleasant in the wet. We also had to consider that we would be on the go all day with no access to a motel room to get clean and dry before our flight home to Melbourne tonight at 9.00pm!

After Bernie packed the car up in the rain we set out to drive back over the Southern Alps, this time via Arthur’s Pass on State Highway 73. Our first stop was at the Otira Falls Lookout. Hmmn, even on a beautiful day this lookout is probably less than attractive? To protect the highway from erosion, there is a tunnel/viaduct that the road passes through and Reid Falls

Otira Viaduct lookoutOtira Viaduct lookoutOtira Viaduct lookout

are now carried over the road in a concrete chute so, more a feat of human engineering than a waterfall?? About all that could be said is that it provided us with an opportunity to stretch our legs … as a light drizzle fell around us!

With the rain getting worse we crossed the Otira Viaduct and drove up to the Otira Viaduct Lookout which is located on the inauspiciously named Death’s Corner! Again, this was another engineering marvel to be admired. The Otira Viaduct is to the south of Otira, between Otira and the Arthur’s Pass summit. The 440 metre, four-span viaduct, completed in 1999, carries State Highway 73 over a stretch of unstable land, replacing a narrow, winding, dangerous section of road that was prone to avalanches, slips and closures. And … on a clear day it probably looks amazing. Today, with rain falling and a heavy fog sitting in the valley we could barely see the bridge!

We continued our drive alongside the Bealey River to Arthur’s Pass Village where we stopped for a much-needed comfort break. Our arrival coincided with the arrival of a coach and a couple of mini-buses loaded with tourists so

View along the Arthurs Pass roadView along the Arthurs Pass roadView along the Arthurs Pass road

there was a bit of competition for the loos! Back in the car we drove down the other side of the pass to the confluence of the Bealey and Waimakariri Rivers where we crossed the one-lane Waimakariri River Bridge. One lane bridges were quite a feature of this route and we had to be alert with the direction given right of way changing all the time. Some of the bridges are really long and it is actually quite difficult to see if there is traffic coming the other way before you commit to crossing!! Fortunately we didn’t encounter a situation where we had to back up to give vehicles travelling west precedence.

Finally … the weather was starting to clear a bit. When we reached Cave Stream Scenic Reserve there were lupins flowering by the roadside with a backdrop of dramatic mountains behind them. Too good a photo opportunity to pass up so, as soon as Bernie could execute a U-turn, we returned to the parking area to photograph the pretty weeds! Lupins are not native to New Zealand, but the flowers in shades of pink and purple looked spectacular in front of the rocky outcrops opposite. It was

Lupins at the Cave Stream Scenic ReserveLupins at the Cave Stream Scenic ReserveLupins at the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve

also a good opportunity to stretch our legs again and this time we didn’t get rained on.

As the name suggests there is a stream that flows through a cave here and it is a very popular hiking area. There was a group of excited teenagers on a school excursion preparing to do a little bit of spelunking. As cave exploration goes this is probably a very safe and accessible site to be taking a school group to. On such a gloomy day I suspect that it was going to be a fairly wet and miserable sort of an excursion though? I was just as happy to clamber back into the car and continue on our way without getting my feet, or anything else, wet! The kid’s outfits ranged from shorts and polypropylene leggings through to full wet suits. Obviously we were not at all prepared to explore the cave as we didn’t have our thermals… or our wetsuits!!

Our next stop was at Castle Hill named for the impressive group of limestone boulders that somewhat resemble … a castle! The sun was peeking through the clouds so we decided that we would walk at least part way

Castle HillCastle HillCastle Hill

out to the boulders to take a photo. With the weather rapidly improving we walked out to the base of the boulders and then decided to walk up into the boulders to see what was on the other side. Once we were amongst the boulders we discovered that we might as well complete the loop around and through the boulders rather than return the way we had come! Our quick leg stretch turned into quite a useful bit of exercise.

Our route continued over the Porter River and alongside the Kowai River before we arrived in Springfield where we stopped for a quick lunch break. After Springfield we found ourselves alongside the Waimakariri River again. The rivers here seem to meander about allover the place … or maybe it’s the road that meanders??! Nearing the east coast our SatNav decided to take us on the scenic route via the Old West Coast Road and into Christchurch.

We arrived back in Christchurch mid-afternoon planning to visit some of the historic buildings that were pointed out to us on the tram tour that we took on our first day. Bernie claimed to have a parking spot sussed out based on

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a recommendation that was made by the tram driver. Hmmn, Bernie’s sense of direction was very mixed up and we ended up not at all near where we wanted to be. On quite the opposite side of the city centre in fact.

We eventually found our way to a parking spot adjacent to the tram route. With the sun warm, but the breeze cool it was hard to know whether to persevere with the puffer vest or to finally leave it behind in the car! We then set out on foot heading north. Now I had been looking at Google Maps on my phone and I thought this a bit strange because I thought the plan was to go in the opposite direction towards the old university. However, I am well known for being directionally challenged so I thought Bernie must know where he was taking us??!

We walked for a bit, then Bernie opened maps on his phone and I asked just where were we heading for and we eventually established that, by some miracle, I knew where we were and where we wanted to be and … Bernie’s sense of direction was still challenged! Usually it

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is navigating in the northern hemisphere that throws his navigational abilities a bit haywire, but today he blamed it on the river! Admittedly the Avon River does meander around the city, in just about every direction, making it a bit difficult to use it as a point of reference when you are a visitor.

Finally we made it to the old University of Canterbury buildings on Worcester Boulevard. Founded in 1873 most of the university’s original buildings were constructed in the neo-gothic style. Since 1975 the university operates its main campus in the Christchurch suburb of Ilam and the original buildings have been re-purposed as the Christchurch Arts Centre. With minutes to spare we were able to descend to Rutherford’s Den in the basement of the Clocktower. The ‘den’ is the actual rooms where Ernest Rutherford, considered to be the father of nuclear physics, studied and conducted his early experiments. The University of Canterbury is also notable for having admitted female students from its foundation. The old university buildings were extensively damaged by the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. Most buildings are in use again, but one building remains shrouded in shade cloth as work continues to restore it.

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From the old university we made our way across Rolleston Avenue and into Christchurch Botanic Gardens. After admiring the Peacock Fountain (which doesn’t feature a single peacock – it was purchased with money bequeathed by John Thomas Peacock!) we walked down past the Peace Bell to the Rose Garden and the conservatories. It had turned into a glorious day to be strolling around the gardens.

With the afternoon getting away we ventured into the Canterbury Museum for a quick visit. The museum is about to undergo an extensive redevelopment so the whole of the upstairs is being packed up and is closed to visitors. That was probably a good thing because we barely had time to explore the downstairs rooms!

We walked back to the car and drove out to the airport to drop off the Outlander before our 5.30pm deadline. By the time we had dropped the keys off at the desk inside the terminal and made our way to the JetStar check-in counters we found ourselves near the head of the queue with only a very short wait before check-in opened at 6.00pm.

With our bags on their way the next challenge was to

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find something to eat at Christchurch International Airport on a Friday evening. Hmmn, there was not much to choose from AT ALL and no Qantas Club because there were no more Qantas flights until Saturday morning! JetStar passengers can access Qantas Club, but it is only open when there are Qantas flights scheduled. There was Hungry Jack’s, sorry, Burger King here in New Zealand BUT, we had hoped for something a bit better than chain store burgers!

Eventually we found the only other food outlet open on a Friday night. When we ordered we were warned that it would be a 35-minute wait for our food as they were so busy! Since the gate to International Departures was not opening until 7.30pm we had time to wait half an hour for our food. Bernie ordered a club sandwich for me and a burger for himself while I secured a table that had just become vacant. Not long after Bernie joined me at the table one of the staff approached with the bad news that they were all out of burgers, so Bernie changed his order to a chicken burger.

My club sandwich arrived and I scoffed said sandwich

Magistrate's Court ChristchurchMagistrate's Court ChristchurchMagistrate’s Court Christchurch

while Bernie continued to wait for his food. Since I just about needed a bath after eating my HUGE sandwich I headed off to the bathrooms to wash my hands. When I returned to the table Bernie was eating a substitute meal. Yup, he asked after his chicken burger only to have the manager come out to admit they had stuffed up his order, but they could get a mini-pizza sort of thing on ciabatta bread to him quickly. Eating options at Christchurch International Airport late in the day/early in the evening are not great. Of course we should have done the same as the couple on the table next to us and shared the club sandwich!

With dinner done we headed towards the International Departures zone which ended up opening a few minutes early for us to head through screening and immigration. We sat around in the gate lounge until boarding was called … right on time. We had been able to see a JetStar aeroplane through the windows so we had been pretty confident that our flight would be on time. Had to laugh again as we walked through the aero bridge to the sounds of sheep

Old University of Canterbury, ChristchurchOld University of Canterbury, ChristchurchOld University of Canterbury, Christchurch

bleating and the farmer whistling his dogs. What a cliché!

So, we were in our seats and ready for an on-time departure at 9.05pm when the captain announced on the PA that we had to wait for the runway to be cleaned. Apparently a domestic flight took off earlier and then its hydraulic warning light came on so it returned to Christchurch where it landed safely, but spilling hydraulic fluid allover the long runway. Ahem, that’s a new one, we haven’t been delayed before due to the runway needing a clean!

We were assured that the fire crews were out on the runway furiously scrubbing the gunk off. The captain apologized that we couldn’t use the shorter runway because we were too heavy for that to be a safe option. Yes please, let’s wait to use the runway that will give us plenty of speed to lift us into the air safely. Full marks to the fireys who had that runway back in working order by about 9.20pm so that we could be on our way to Melbourne.

After that bit of excitement we enjoyed an entirely uneventful flight to Melbourne. Just a bit of concern about

Old University of Canterbury, ChristchurchOld University of Canterbury, ChristchurchOld University of Canterbury, Christchurch

the guy sitting beside me who was coughing and sneezing most of the way. The return flight to Oz is always scheduled to be quicker than the flight over to NZ and tonight was no exception. In fact, the pilot must’ve really gunned it because we touched down at Tullamarine early … even though we took-off late. Bonus!

We de-planed and made our way into the terminal. No sound effects in the aero bridge at Tulla! I wonder, what should Melbourne’s soundtrack be? Perhaps the sound of a tram ding, ding, DINGING its bell? The roar of the crowd at the MCG during the AFL Grand Final? Or, maybe, a rendition of our unofficial national anthem ‘Waltzing Mathilda’???

Having learnt from our return from Singapore we bi-passed the queues at the first set of smart gates knowing that there are more further on. Fabulous, when we arrived at the second set of smart gates were were able to walk straight in so we were virtually ‘stamped’ back into the country in super quick time. After a small duty free purchase it was off to the baggage carousel. Thankfully also much quicker than the wait for our bags off

Peacock Fountain, Christchurch Botanic GardensPeacock Fountain, Christchurch Botanic GardensPeacock Fountain, Christchurch Botanic Gardens

the flight from Singapore.

Bags in tow we made our way right to the very end of a ridiculously long customs queue that snaked back around the baggage carousels. Whaaat?! It seems that every single arrival these days has to pass by a customs officer, even if you are then able to exit via the ‘Nothing to Declare’ channel. I guess it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to Australia’s bio-security. Fortunately, an officer arrived at the end of the queue and told us to follow her to another much, much shorter queue that had been opened up. Yay, that probably cut at least half an hour off our wait.

We had to just about fight our way through the arrivals hall. We have never seen so many people waiting to greet friends and loved ones despite the fact that it was 11.30pm. The arrivals hall was just about packed solid with people milling about waiting and hugging their newly arrived relatives in giant clusters oblivious to people just trying to get out of the airport!

Clear of the mass of humanity we headed across to the pick up zone opposite the Park

Rose Garden at Christchurch Botanic GardensRose Garden at Christchurch Botanic GardensRose Garden at Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Royal Hotel to wait for Kerry to make her way from the waiting area. As per usual way too many drivers waiting in the pick up zone including one driver who parked in front of us and then left his car to go looking for his pick-up. Come on, that is not how it is supposed to work! Kerry duly arrived, somehow managing to pull into the curb, we threw our bags in the car and we were gone in about 30 seconds flat. If everyone did that the system would work beautifully.

After a very, very long day we were glad of a smooth, late night run along the Tullamarine Freeway and Bell Street that had us arriving home just before the day turned into tomorrow!

After two holidays in quick succession we now have nothing else actually booked to look forward to. We do, however, have lots of ideas about where we would like to travel to next so I’m sure we’ll be off again in 2023.

Steps for the day: 17,372 (11.59km)



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