Hiking in the Southern Alps – New Zealand Journal Pt. 1

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We have wanted to go to New Zealand for a long time but knew we’d need at least 2 weeks to really do it correctly. Last summer was ridiculously busy, being the first time we participated in farmers markets with the sausage business, so we promised ourselves a lengthy vacation this year before things started to get busy. Everything fell into place and we headed to New Zealand at the end of January for a fortnight of adventures. 

We did a lot, saw a lot, ate and drank a lot, and I’m still sorting through photos so the trip recap is going to have multiple posts. We started out in Auckland, then went to Marlborough, Sheffield/Arthur’s Pass, and finished in Wellington. Today’s post is going to cover the hike we took in the Southern Alps, Arthur’s Pass National Park.

Our Airbnb was a nice little cottage on a working farm in Sheffield, about an hour from Arthur’s Pass and right on SH73 which is also known as the Great Alpine Highway. It did not disappoint and I have to admit, it is probably one of the most picturesque routes I have ever driven on all of our trips.

Initially the road leads you to the mountains where you go up and over and then down into flat wide valleys, surrounded but tall peaks. These photos don’t do the drive justice, but give you a good idea of what we were seeing all around us for pretty much the entire ride.

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This is not a reverse image, NZ is a drive on the left country. Was not as difficult an adjustment as I thought it would be. And yes, this is a ‘highway.’
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…which, like everywhere else in the world during summer, are having work done to them. Just can’t escape it!

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Note the clear, blue, cloudless, sky. We had a fantastic day for this.

In about an hour, we arrived at Arthur’s Pass National Park. There are a lot of trails and hikes for pretty much all levels. The NZ Dept. of Conservation website is a great source for picking out trails and hikes, or as they call it walking and tramping. There’s an interactive map with pretty much every trail marked with icons you can click on for info such as length, time of hike, and degree of difficulty. We chose to do a half day walk on Temple Basin track.

It is basically an up and back hike which, according to the sign, takes about 3 hours round trip. It’s not long, but the track rises quickly and is not well groomed. Lots of switchbacks going up up up. About 45 minutes into it we hit a crest on the trail which follows a ridge up to the ski club which is located in the basin. That’s the end of the marked trail. Good spot for lunch.

It was definitely the most strenuous hike/walk we had (did 3 others ‘prepping’ for this one). We’re both in pretty good shape so made it up under the 90 minute estimate given. And yes, the views from the basin are pretty amazing.

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Mt Rolleston across the road. Not too tall but tall enough. 2,271m (7,451ft)
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Looking up into the basin from the ski club buildings. The top of Mount Temple is 1,913m (6,276ft) we were at around 1,600m (5,249ft). Parking lot was around 900m (2,952ft) of elevation.

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Mt Rolleston and Mt Philistine
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Awfully crowded up there. Ha!
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Beautiful day for a hike.

Ah but that’s not all. On the way back we stopped off at Castle Hill, a group of limestone formations which resemble the ruins of a castle. There’s an area near here called Flock Hill which was a location used in the movie The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Unrelated, but that’s in pretty much every description. I must say, New Zealand really embraces its moviemaking industry. As you will see in upcoming posts!

Castle Hill is right on the highway, the road bends around on it on the way to and from Arthur’s Pass. Nothing strenuous, just a little hill, but really cool rocks you can scramble over.

Oh yeah, and amazing views of the Southern Alps surrounding the valley.

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We were staying in Sheffield, which is the next village on the highway after Springfield. Arthur’s Pass and Temple Basin are pretty deep in the mountains.

Looking at the map when we returned to our cottage I discovered were actually really close to the west coast, like an hour away. If I had known that when we finished I might have tried to persuade Cheryl to continue the drive through the mountain passes. Oh well, we ended up stopping in the Arthur’s Pass village for some ice cream and coffee (which the Kiwis are really good at, great coffee culture there, again, more on that later).

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View from the back porch of our Airbnb cottage in Sheffield. Mountains in the back there! Don’t think I need to tell you the stargazing was incredible here.

The thing about this little drive and hike is, apparently this isn’t even the most scenic area! Everyone we spoke with afterwards pretty much said, ‘oh you need to go further south, that’s where the postcard pictures come from.’

Like I need another reason to want to go back! Stay tuned…

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. chef mimi says:

    So glad you made it to NZ! We finally made it to AU and NZ last fall, and spent 3 incredible weeks all over. We didn’t drive, tho – you’re brave! Great post – can’t wait for the rest.

    1. Thanks! I could have easily spent another week there. Driving wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. For me, sine the steering wheel was on the right, as the driver you’re still looking at the road from pretty much the same perspective, the middle. Does’t mess with your brain too much. Way more of a change in the passenger seat though!

  2. Thomas J Samorian says:

    How cool! I haven’t had the urge to travel here, but after reading this, I’m intrigued. Can’t wait to read more!

    1. Oh I could easily pack up and move there tomorrow. And I haven’t even posted about the wine parts yet!

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