Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Driving Through Arthur's Pass

After leaving Akaroa, our goal was to drive to Nelson. Nelson is on the northwestern part of the South Island, while Akaroa is in the central part of the island on the east coast. Our chosen route between the two was to cut across from east to west and then drive up the western side of the island. Our route from east to west would take us through Arthur's Pass via the Great Alpine Highway. The drive was intense and intensely beautiful!

We had to quickly learn how to use the low gears of the car to climb steep sections and to slow us down without burning the brakes out. The momentum got us going too fast to handle the severe turns on the narrow roads, so braking was essential to survival. Speaking of narrow roads, we became quite accustomed to one lane bridges on this drive. There were many, many bridges that were only a lane wide. Prior to each one lane bridge the pavement was painted with ONE LANE BRIDGE and a sign was posted to let you know which side has the right away and which side is expected to yield, or "give way" in NZ-speak. In the photo above we were waiting for the other car to finish crossing before we took our turn.

We thought we would be able to make it all the way to Nelson but after driving through the mountain pass we realized that wasn't the best option. The distance between Akaroa and Nelson didn't seem too long to manage in an afternoon, but when you throw the Southern Alps in the way, it slows you down a little. We ended up stopping in Greymouth for the night.
We both enjoyed the views, but I think Paul was especially smitten with the day's drive. In his words,
The drive from Christchurch to Nelson was one of the most intense and beautiful things I've ever experienced. Our little rental car deserves a metal for her heroics. I'll never forget this.
I think I was so preoccupied with worry on the drive that the beauty didn't have a chance to set in as deeply for me. I made sure to keep my eyes wide open for the rest of the trip and I let go of the worry, since I was pretty sure we had already made it through the most challenging drive of the trip (during our second time behind the wheel, nonetheless!). My preoccupation with the driving part of the drive also explains the lack of photos. Even if I had taken a lot of pictures, I am pretty sure they would not have adequately captured the scale and depth of the pass. Gorgeous stuff, it was.

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