New Zealand Roadtrip: Day 1

On Monday morning I called around to some car rental places in Christchurch to see what was available. I ended up settling on a bargain Toyota sedan from a company downtown and it turned out to be great that I called since it was the last bargain car they had on the lot!


There she is

John got out the camping gear for me before he left for work and then Raewyn helped me pack it up. She even packed me a lunch for the day! Before I left I got to meet their John and Raewyn’s daughter and her son who is very cute. He loved seeing pictures of the penguin and the planes in Antarctica and knew a lot about them already. I gave him a sticker from Antarctica and after some consideration he put it on his lunchbox. Adorable.

Raewyn gave me a ride to the rental place with all my stuff, which was harder than it sounds since a lot of the roads downtown are closed. It took us some time to find a way to get there, but finally we did and that’s when I found out I’d reserved the last car just in time. I loaded up my stuff and then began my journey.

Driving on the left was definitely new for me and I hadn’t been in traffic for a while, but all was going well. At least for the first 20 minutes. Around that time though, I was heading through a narrow lane in a construction zone when I got too close to the edge of the road and completely took off the left side mirror. Oops.


Left-side driving learning curve complete. Gotta get these things out of the way early.

I pulled over and called up the rental company guy to tell him I’d already gotten into an accident, but he seemed okay with it since I’d gotten the complete insurance coverage (phew!). Since it was the last car and who needs side mirrors anyway, I decided to just keep going. So off I went (and, spoiler alert, I didn’t hit anything else along the way!).

My first official stop was about an hour outside of Christchurch in the town of Sheffield. The Barrs had told me much about the pie there, so I stopped to get a mince & cheese and an apple pie. They were great for dinner!


After loading up on pie I continued on into the countryside.


According to Raewyn there are 16 million sheep in New Zealand. I’m thinking I saw somewhere around a million of them.

It was a rainy and cloudy day, but it reminded me of Ireland in that way, except less green. The mountains on the West Coast block the moisture from getting to the east, so much of the east side of the mountains was turning brown by this time in the summer.


fun winding roads


My first mountain lake spotting. There would be many more to come.

I stopped at a LOT of scenic outlooks along the drive and so it was slow going, but sometime in the afternoon I reached Castle Hill. The Barrs weren’t mistaken when they described it as a must-see.


Castle Hill

It’s not totally clear to me why it’s called Castle Hill besides being stony, but it’s a limestone rock formation up on a hill that looks very dramatic against the rolling hills beyond it. Limestone erodes easily so the shapes of the rocks were really interesting.


This one, for example, had a hole through it


An outhouse beside the trail


A lot of the rocks were easy to climb onto which kept me entertained for quite a while


I can’t put my sunglasses on; I’m trying to get rid of my Antarctic tan.

Continuing on from there, my next stop was Cave Stream. It was also a suggested stop from the Barrs and consisted of a stream that had somehow (I didn’t quite understand this part) eroded down into the ground, forming a cave.





After a walk around that area and some lessons in Maori (native New Zealanders) culture from the signs, I hopped back in the car and headed for Arthur’s Pass and the West Coast.


Of course I continued to stop every 5 seconds for a while to admire the scenery.


A side hike that I thought was cool with the mist

This next one is called Death’s Corner or something equally ominous sounding. The fog and mist added to the effect.


Death’s Corner


This waterfall was a bit more cheery.

As I passed through the mountains, evidence of glaciers started to appear, like this braided river that brought back memories from Denali.


glacier-fed braided river

And mountains were spectacular, even given the weather. As I crossed over to the west side of the mountains, the lushness of the landscape changed noticeably.


Jurassic Park!

In the evening, I finally reached the west coast. Coming down through the hills and seeing the ocean sprawling out before me felt awesome. I ended up in a town called Hokitika for the night.


Driftwood on the beach announcing I’d arrived in Hokitika

Apparently it’s an epicenter of kayaking. I presume because of its (relatively) big size and proximity to the mountains. Some of the extreme paddlers get airlifted to isolated mountain rivers and then raft back down to sea level. Intense.

That evening it had stopped raining but was windy and cold, so I ended up just sleeping in the back seat of the car. That was the back up plan in case of bad tent-setup weather anyway, so it was no big deal. I made sure to watch the sunset before heading to bed, though.


The sun setting…way above the horizon?


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