“You now enter Westland”

After our short and rainy night in Christchurch, we headed west through Arthur’s Pass, the highest pass over the Southern Alps in New Zealand. The pass is named after Arthur Dudley Dobson who was the first European to find it. Of course, the Maori had used the track for centuries in their jade trade, and Dobson consulted the local Maori chief Tarapuhi for advice in his scouting expedition. In the 1860s, shortly after Dobson turned in a report in Christchurch detailing the pass, gold was discovered on the West Coast of New Zealand. The New Zealand government built a road through the pass to meet the demand.

Part of the Castle Hill area, which was the filming location for Lord of the Rings
Castle Hill
Castle Hill

Before we got to Arthur’s Pass, however, we got to drive through the Castle Hill area. It’s private property and a great source of limestone. But it’s probably more well-known as a filming location for Lord of the Rings and later, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. We also got to stop and photograph a valley full of blooming Russell lupins, which are world-famous for their purple or pink blooms but you can only see them bloom a couple months out of the year.


Castle Hill area with Russell lupins in bloom
Castle Hill

Driving through Arthur’s Pass is a beautiful drive around curves among mountains and waterfalls. When we stopped for lunch in the town of Arthur’s Pass, we also got to see a kea, the only alpine parrot in the world. This little bird is quite a magpie and loves shiny things. They’ve been known to destroy cars to get the silver fittings, sometimes while other tourists look on, gleefully snapping photos.

Arthur’s Pass – the town
A kea bird in Arthur’s Pass

We stopped in Hokitika to visit Mountain Jade, a jade factory and shop. It was interesting to see the many different forms the famous green stone can take. Nephrite jade is native to New Zealand, among other places, and had special meaning for the Maori who called it pounamu or “greenstone.”

Totoweka Jade from South Westland, New Zealand
Kahurangi or Flower Jade from Marsden, New Zealand
View through Arthur’s Pass

The drive through Arthur’s Pass was the perfect preparation for our stay in Franz Josef and the spectacular views of the Southern Alps and glaciers. For more on Franz Josef, check back tomorrow.

Title quote: Arthur’s Pass sign

View through Arthur’s Pass
View through Arthur’s Pass
View through Arthur’s Pass
View through Arthur’s Pass
View through Arthur’s Pass

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