Christchurch to Hokitika
Christchurch to Hokitika via Hwy 73 – 245 km.
Driver alert: The winding alpine route over Arthur’s Pass requires concentration and technical driving skill. It is strongly advised to seek current road information before travelling as there can be snow and ice during the winter and heavy rain can cause rockfalls on the narrow two-way road. Please ensure you use laybys and be aware of other traffic if you want to stop.
Christchurch to Hokitika
The drive from Christchurch to Hokitika on the West Coast is a journey of dramatic natural contrasts. The trip takes you from coast to coast in a few hours through landscapes changing from the relatively featureless intensively farmed plains of Canterbury through the alpine region of Arthurs Pass before descending into the glaciated bush-clad river valleys of Westland en-route to the Tasman Sea.
The West Coast communities are a contrast too, with a more DIY, self-reliant relationship to their natural surroundings compared to the relatively genteel, suburban environment of Christchurch. The Old West Coast road and Highway 73 over Arthurs Pass to the West Coast and Hokitika is well signposted and easily accessed directly south from the Christchurch Airport roundabout.
The Good South gems:
The first hour on the Canterbury Plains heading west toward Arthur’s Pass is flat and uneventful, however the Southern Alps loom large through the windscreen from the start of your journey.
The small settlement of Springfield is the last township before the pass and another 10km on the landscape starts to fold into the foothills of the alps themselves as you reach further up the braided Waimakariri River. One of the first notable stopping points are the Castle Hill rock formations at the Kura Tāwhiti Conservation Area just past the turnoff to Porter Heights ski area.
The massive limestone and sandstone rocks sculpted smooth by water are the remnants of an inland seabed and a popular climbing area. The formations are considered tapu by Ngai Tahu and visitors are requested to follow the guidelines posted at the entrance to the conservation area.
The township of Arthur’s Pass itself is a further 50km and may be the first place visitors will view kea, the native alpine parrot, but watch your valuables as they have the intelligence and mischief of a troop of monkeys.
West Coast – New Zealand
A further five kilometres will bring you to the main divide and the start of the Otira viaduct, a massive piece of road engineering following the steep-sided gorge down to the braided riverflats where the Otira meets the Taramakau River. The dramatic change to lush vegetation and dense West Coast bush gives you some idea of the heavy precipitation out west.
Near the coast, 2,000–3,000 millimetres of rain falls annually and nearer the mountains up to 10,000mm in some areas creating dramatic waterfalls and intense downpours causing flash floods. Campers are advised to seek advice before setting up in riverbeds or low-lying areas. Kumara Junction is the next town you come to which is also the starting point for the iconic Coast to Coast multisport event and a further 22km south is the funky beachside town of Hokitika.
In its gold rush heyday during the 1860’s Hokitika would have been a down-under version of the wild west with opera houses, over 100 hotels and aswarm with gold hunters from all over the globe. Now the town has become a centre for artists, pounamu or greenstone carvers, glass blowers and excellent coffee. An annual driftwood and sand sculpture festival is part of an event calendar which includes the Hokitika Wildfoods festival. Stella cafe and cheesery is a good first port of call in the township for a cleansing ale, coffee and a meal before exploring further.