May 17, 2014

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New Zealand Cycle Touring Route - Arthurs Pass - Greymouth to Christchurch

Arthur's Pass is the central one of the three road crossings of the Southern Alps. The others are Lewis Pass, some 100 km to the north and Haast Pass, 230km to the south.

Arthur's Pass is also the name of a town on the crossing which is 95km from Greymouth and 140km from Christchurch. Arthur's Pass is also the National Park by the same name which is very popular for tramping/hiking, skiing and mountaineering. The road and its environs are spectacular and make the crossing on a bike a memorable but arduous journey.

 Although the most direct access to Arthur's Pass from the West Coast is via SH73 up the Taramakau River Valley, there is an alternative route via Lake Brunner and this is an attractive option for cyclists.

The Lake Brunner option involves an overnight stop at the small rather cute township of Moana on the shore of Lake Brunner. This is a good days ride from Greymouth, along a lightly trafficked road that follows much the same route as the trans alpine railway.  The countryside is river valley with some dairy farms, scrub country and pine forest. Facilities at Moana include a camping ground, two pubs and a very small convenience store.

From Moana the route to Arthur's Pass joins SH73 at Jacksons on the Taramakau River where there is a camping ground, a pub and very little else. SH73 continues up the main river valley for a while before leaving this and branching off up the Otira River to the tiny settlement of Otira. This is where road leaves the valley and the serious climb to the pass begins. Steep grades on a winding road that includes an overhead avalanche chute across the road, and then the impressive 500 metre long Otira Viaduct. 

This takes you high above unstable scree slopes below and up into kea country. The kea is a mischievous New Zealand native parrot that lives in the high country and delights in stripping rubber window seals from parked cars and pecking day packs, bike seats and panniers given the opportunity. 

Keas at work

The pass is eventually reached (at 920 metres above sea level) and then its downhill to your overnight stop at Arthur's Pass Village or the Bealey Hotel, a few km further on.

The next day’s ride passes through open rolling alpine country for the first 65 km. This is a tussock landscape with accompanying rivers and lakes, and has some spectacular limestone outcrops and formations. Some of this land is still being farmed as high country sheep stations. There is a cafĂ© at Flock Hill which is worth stopping at because beyond this is a section that has the steepest climb of the day.
When Porters Pass (at 950 metres) is reached, the descent to the Canterbury Plains begins. It’s downhill all the way 19km to Springfield for the nights rest at the Springfield Hotel.
The next day the road descends gradually to the Canterbury Plains and across these on long straight stretches of road all the way to Christchurch.


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