The Christchurch conference tour was an exciting visit to some of New Zealand's most exciting and picturesque sites!
We traveled from Christchurch across the wide expanses of the Canterbury Plains deep into New Zealand's mighty Southern Alps, to the alpine village of Arthur's Pass, which is about 2 hours’ drive from Christchurch. It was a day of excellent photo opportunities. On the way a stop was made to view the unique limestone rock formations at Castle Hill and a walk can be made to the top of the rocks for magnificent views. Climbing to more than 900 metres through Arthur's Pass National Park, Arthur’s Pass is the highest and most spectacular pass across the Southern Alps. Take a short walk to the Devil’s Punchbowl Falls, wander through lush beech forest to one of New Zealand’s most stunning waterfall’s. Watch out for the cheeky and mischievous Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot. The return journey includes a visit to The International Antarctic Centre. This features a recreation of the atmosphere of Antarctica with a snow and ice experience, the blue penguin encounter and an exhilarating Hagglund ride.
When: Tuesday 12 March 2019, 8.30am – 6.30pm
Pick up: Town Hall
IMPORTANT NOTES FOR THE CONFERENCE TOUR
This should be an outstanding day that gives you an opportunity to see a small part of the Southern Alps at close range. The Southern Alps are a range of mountains that extend the entire length of the South, pushed up by the collision of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates.
WEATHER AND CLOTHING
Weather in the mountains can sometimes be unpredictable and variable, so it is suggested you listen carefully to the forecastgiven prior to the trip. If the forecast is at all uncertain, youare advised to prepare for any eventuality, from sun screenand sun hat if it is fine (even at this time of the year, skin can burn quickly at this latitude in New Zealand), to wet weather gear should it be cold or wet. You will be going into a mountain area, well above sea-level. The weather can change quickly.
QUESTIONS ON THE TRIP
Each bus will have a local guide, likely to be one of the organising committee. If you have any problems or questions, this is the person to ask in the first instance. They will know what to do.
LUNCH AND DRINK
You will receive a box lunch as you get on the bus. There will be a drink in your box lunch and additional bottled water will be available on board.
KNOW WHICH BUS IS YOURS
Please make a note of which bus you are in, and throughout the day, always return to that bus.
Do not change buses; otherwise it is impossible for us to make sure we have accounted for everyone.
Buses leave from the Christchurch Town Hall at about 5-minute intervals from 0830 hrs. Do not be late. The last bus will have left by 0900 hrs.
SCHEDULE FOR DAY
It takes just under one hour by bus to reach Springfield where the buses will stop for a comfort stop for about 15 minutes. Springfield is a typical small country town. Just across the road from where the buses will be parked, there is a large pink donut that you can climb through if you feel so inclined. It is not edible, so leave it intact for the next person. Springfieldalso has 3 cafes within 100m from where the buses will stop. One café, the Yello Shack café is across the road from the bus park (adjacent to the pink donut), and coffees from there can be pre-ordered for those who are caffeine addicted. Time probably does not allow for coffees to be ordered and poured by the barista on the spot, so if you want one, please let your guide know well before you arrive. The Yello Shack cafe also sells huge banana chocolate chip muffins for $4.50. Again, these can be pre-ordered.
From Springfield the bus goes to Castle Hill. This takes 30 minutes and involves climbing up through Porter’s Pass, then past Lake Lyndon. It then passes through some beautiful country, the foothills of the Southern Alps and the beginning of the mountainous area.
Castle Hill is a bizarre rock formation. The bus will stop at the park which is 600m from the main rocks. There are 2 toilets at the bus park, (and one amongst the rocks!). It takes about 5-10 minutes along a well-formed path to the rocks, and then after that it is up to you to explore them however you like!
There are many facets to these formations and it is certainly worth the walk to the top ridge and beyond: the tracks that veer to the left are better than the one that crosses the front to the right. You have one hour to explore them and be back at the bus. Remember when you get back to the path, you are still 5-10 minutes from the buses.
From Castle Hill the bus drives further into the mountain range, slowly ascending as it goes. After about 15 minutes you will pass the picturesque Lake Pearson on your right (worth a photo),
then across a plain to meet the Waimakariri River. There are some expansive views (again to the right of the bus) of the Waimakariri braided river and plains, with the higher snow-capped peaks in the distance.
The broad plain of the Waimakariri
The bus drives you up this valley, across the river at Bealey, and then into a steeper valley to Arthur’s Pass. The township of Arthur’s Pass is close to the main divide and on the main road which crosses over to the West Coast. In winter this area is under snow, but at this time of year (unless there is a freak storm) it is unlikely that there will be snow to be seen from the township itself. Nevertheless, the temperature could be hot or cold, dry or wet. Come prepared.
The bus will first stop at the Arthur’s Pass Railway Station where there are also excellent public bathroom facilities. 600m further up the road from here, at the other end of the township, is where the Devil’s Punchbowl Falls track starts. You can either walk to it (beside the river on a rocky track), walk up the main (and only) street of the town, or stay on the bus to take you up the road to a smaller carpark where it willdrop you off at the beginning of the track itself.
Devil’s Punchbowl Falls
Arthur’s Pass from the Bridal Falls lookout near Jack’s Hut
The Devil’s Punchbowl Falls are 1100 m from the track’s car park. You will cross 2 foot-bridges, and then climb about 200 steps up through some beautiful native forest (called “bush” in New Zealand), before descending again (not as far) to the base of the falls. The view is worth the effort. Stay on the main track. There is another track that goes higher (AickenTrack) which is signposted, but this is steep and can be slippery in wet weather and it is not advised on this trip. There is also a more level track that starts on the left just after the first footbridge. It goes to a lookout to the smaller Bridal Falls near Jack’s Hut, which is about 1km each way. This is an option for the younger more athletic delegates who may wish to run it if they have time. If you do this, please do not go beyond the lookout.
With a slow walk it can take up to an hour to get to the Devil’s Punchbowl Falls, admire the views and return to the beginning of the track. It also requires a moderate degree of fitness because of the steps, although the path is in good condition and well formed. If you feel you are not up to it (discretion is the better part of valour), you may instead wish to visit the Wobbly Kea café (which is also a gallery for Ann Wilson’s works – she is a celebrated NZ artist), visit the Visitor Information centre across the road which has a fine and nicely presented museum within it (Natural History, and local history), or have a drink at the Arthur’s Pass store and cafe.
You will need to meet your bus back at the Railway Bus Park. Remember it will take you about 10 minutes’ walk down the main street from the Punchbowl Falls carpark to get back to where the buses are. It is slightly downhill, so it is an easystroll. If you miss the bus there is a train that comes through the following day!
NZ has the world’s only mountain parrot, the kea. They hang around by the store mostly, looking for opportunities. They seem to be tame (they are) but should not be fed. If you leave something unattended, they will probably take it: they particularly like keys and jewellery. They ruin your car. But they are cute. They are a protected species.
From Arthur’s Pass, the buses return to Christchurch. Coming the other way, the views are quite different and no less spectacular.
Christchurch is the Gateway to the Antarctic. It has the closest major airport and over summer there are many flights from Christchurch to Scott Base. The famous International Antarctic Centre, near the airport, is worth a visit, which is why it has been included. You will arrive there at about 1630 hours and get an opportunity to experience what the world’s coldest and driest continent is like (without going there). It will show you everything you want to know about the icy continent and you can experience first-hand indoor ice storms (you are provided with protective clothing) to a rough and ready Hagglund ride across treacherous terrain, and see the penguins fed close up. Feeding time at the NZ Penguin encounter is hugely popular, as is the Penguin Backstage Pass tour for an up-close view of these cute creatures.
At the end of your time at the International Antarctic Centre your bus will return you to your hotel or the Town Hall.
The evening is yours.