Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Road Remarks (Part One) - Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

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I would highly recommend this drive as a great way to get accustomed to New Zealand driving conditions. At around 230 km it will take at least three and a half hours with rest breaks and I'd actually recommend that you plan for a little more time for scenic stops as well.

Christchurch is a gem of a city located at the Eastern edge of the Canterbury plain. Leaving Christchuch you get your first glimpse of the magnificent Southern Alps and these will be your constant companion on the trip South.

The first large braided river that you cross, the Rakaia River, amazed the Junior Grendels and warned us that bridges in New Zealand are narrow, and often long. Most highway roads were single carriageways, well surfaced and with good warning signs. A little hint for the tourist - pay attention to the speed advisories. I found them to be an accurate guide for anyone unfamiliar with the road, although you do need to adjust for conditions.

The road from Christchurch to Tekapo is a good place to learn this as the road is mostly straight with gentle curves but a few sharp slow turns to educate you.

The views are stunning as you shift from open plains to rolling green hills, 'aussie mountains' (foothills) and finally the grand peaks of the Southern Alps. There are some good places to stop for breaks including Ashburton where I can recommend 'Lunch' on 160 Burnett Street. It was here that we first discovered the joyful fact that many New Zealand cafes have toilets, which was something we are not used to in Australia and very handy when you have children.

From Ashburton the road continues to the South West until you reach Geraldine where you turn West to thread the valleys through to Fairlie. By this point you are well within the foothills of the Southern Alps and every turn brings a new amazing vista. The best view of all however comes once you have passed through Fairlie and around the Southern end of the Richmond Range. Here, at an altitude of 700 metres above sea level is Lake Tekapo.

Tekapo marked the end of our first day's drive and really is also a transition point in the style of country you can expect. From this point there is very little open plains driving - once you have travelled beyond Omarama you head deeper and deeper into the mountains, and while it is a beautiful drive, caution is required.

Road Remarks (Part Two) will cover Tekapo to Queenstown

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