Christchurch to Queenstown, winter road trip!
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
As the snow starts to melt in the Northern Hemisphere, us here in the Southern start to gear up for our winter season. Holiday packages are in high demand for those who love all those winter snow activities. If snow sports are not your forte, a good way to experience the impact this season has on the landscape , weather permitting, is to drive between Christchurch and Queenstown in the South Island, New Zealand, a 6 hour drive and some 483 km via State Highway 8.
We took a late flight from Sydney, a couple of hours later landed and spent the night in Christchurch. The following morning, we picked up our hire car from Avis, located at the airport and we spent the whole day visiting the tourist areas of Christchurch including historical places ruined by the devastating earthquake of 2010 and subsequent earthquakes after that. The city is on the mend and slowly emerging back, the re-building and the transformation are amazing, and a credit to the people of Christchurch.
We left Christchurch around 3 in the afternoon via SH 1 highway hoping that we could reach Lake Tekapo by tea time, with 3 hours of estimated driving including a few stops. When we reached the town of Ashburton, where we stopped for a quick scoff, the snow had well and truly started to fall, it was wonderful to see and feel, but it was sticking and starting to quickly build up. It was also getting dark and the initial excitement about snow was turning into a growing concern. After a quick selfie with the flurrying flakes, we got back on the road, heading towards the picturesque town of Geraldine and our planned nights stop at Lake TeKapo. As we drove through Geraldine, the snow had well and truly made it presence, on the outskirts of town, we were stopped by a Traffic Enforcer and that the road was closed until further notice due to the severe weather. Having not planned for such an even, worry set in, where will we be able stay tonight? After some searching, we managed to secure a room at the very comfortable Asure Scenic Route Motor Lodge, the friendly owners understood the position we were in, getting the car up into the car park proved a challenge as ice had also formed in places, once settled in we gingerly walked around Geraldine, topping up supplies then having a beer and a bite at the Village Inn.
The following morning, we opened the curtains to surreal scene, cars were just white lumps, dotted around like marshmallows, the accompanying news was not good, so we decided to spend another night in the hope that road would be cleared by the next day. It was a good move as when we drove out of town, the road closure was still in forced so we decided to drive towards the coast to the port city of Timaru. Leaving Geraldine was no easy task, the snow lying thick everywhere, thinning out as we got to the main road.
Timaru is set on rolling hills, here you’ll find the popular Caroline Bay and Botanic Gardens, a landscaped Piazza, lots of cafes, shops, restaurants, Victorian and Edwardian buildings. The walking path is a leisurely way of checking out this stunning city from the city to the Botanical garden and while doing so, grab a fish and chips and enjoy this Kiwi all time favourite.
After our second night in Geraldine, the road had finally been gritted and cleared so we were able to reach Lake Tekapo via Fairlie. Although the road was open, there were still areas that were a bit treacherous, this is where snowchains come into there own, thankfully we didn’t need them, but it is best to carry them. Lake Tekapo is picture book perfect in winter, with the prominent and beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd, the stunning Southern Alps beyond the lake forming the backdrop, absolutely stunning to see. Not to be missed is a visit to the Tekapo Spring Hot Pools that overlook the lake, so relaxing and magical to experience with snow surrounding the hot pools with temperature ranges fro 28 − 39 degrees Celsius.
Our trip continued with a coffee break in Twizel, only to be told by the locals that we should crossed Lindis Pass before dark. Taking the advice, we hit the road again and at times, the temp had dropped to −5 from the car’s dash indicator, the windscreen froze over at one point! We reached the summit around sunset and stopped to enjoy the spectacular landscape and vivid colours.
Driving at night in winter along the winding road from the town of Tarras to Queenstown is challenging especially for the first timer visitor, always give your yourself plenty of time, and slow down if necessary. We arrived at our final destination of Queenstown around 8 at night and it was still snowing.
If you’re planning of driving this route in winter, it’s very important to check the weather forecast, we lost 2 nights of our accommodation due to road closures and both were non-refundable. A reliable car is a must, carry snow chains, supplies, a torch, and make sure your mobile phones are fully charged up, have a Plan-B, in case you can’t continue.
To be continued, weekend in Queenstown…..