Getting from Akoroa on the East coast of the South Island to the West coast involves crossing the Southern Alps at some point. In the north of the island the Maori had 4 major crossings, one being at what is now known as Arthur's Pass. It is not named after King Arthur of Round Table fame, though I can just imagine him tramping up through the winding narrow pass with Guinevere sat primly on a palfrey wondering where the next loo stop was whilst Lancelot gritted his teeth and did all the heavy manual work, slashing a path through the forest. Rather prosaically it is named after Sir Arthur Dudley Dobson who led the first party of Europeans across in 1864.
During the west coast gold rush, which occured about this time, a road was cut by a team of navvies and it was then kept open by roadmen who lived with their families in cottages alongside the section they were responsible for. There is a surviving example of such a hut on the road to the pass and it must have been a bleak and difficult existence in the middle of the winter.
In addition to route 73 which now winds up to the hut from the Canterbury Plains a train line runs out of Christchurch to Greymouth on the west coast and it is supposed to be a spectacular journey. Our own journey by car was equally as interesting, the road snaking past huge rock outcrops at Castle Rock. This is a prime ski area which in the winter must be crowded but in the summer months is relatively quiet.
We decided to stay in Arthur's Pass village itself rather than drive on over the pass all in one day. It isn't the prettiest of spots despite being high amongst the mountains but we were happy to take a break, explore a few trails and watch the local Kea. These parrots are highly inquisitive and intelligent. Called the Clowns of the Mountains, they are also very mischievous and will rip the rubber trim out of car windows when they are parked by the roadside and carry off any item left unguarded. They are both engaging and slightly intimidating as they are big birds with a viscious hooked beak. Unfortunately, over the years humans have habituated them to eat food scraps and this has probably lead to a decline in numbers as the young Kea do not learn to forage for their natural food. As the world's only species of Alpine Parrot this is a worry and there are now signs everywhere asking visitors not to feed the parrots.
The following day we drove down the impressive Otira Viaduct to Jacksons before veering off to Moana which is situated on the shores of Lake Brunner. The lake is the largest in the northwestern South Island and the panoramic views around it are beautiful. It's a very quiet, contemplative place and with a few sailing boats out on the water was quite lovely to look at.
We've stayed in all sorts of accommodation in New Zealand but never on a golf course. In fact, we've never stayed on a golf course anywhere in the world but at Moana they have some lovely, modern motel style units run by the delightful and super helpful Craig and Stacey. As part of the cost of a room you can play a round of golf for free. I did challenge Jane to a game because I thought I might just have a chance of winning against her handicap of a fractured wrist but she was having none of it! I'm sure, though, that King Arthur would have drawn his niblick and had a go!
Our evenings were enlivened by some really wonderful Chinese travellers. On the first night, we met a family travelling with their teenage daughter who was recovering from cancer treatment. Apparently, she was first diagnosed, presumably with leukaemia, at the age of three. After a ten year battle she was pronounced fit and well but the cancer then returned. After more intensive therapy the girl is well again so the family are celebrating with a trip around New Zealand having saved enough money for what they thought would be expensive bone marrow treatment.
The following night a larger than life Mr Peng (pronounced Pong) hove into view with a small retinue. It seems that Mr Peng is one of China's new billionnaire entrepreneurs. Amongst other things he owns a restaurant in Bejing which can seat 1,000 diners and has a staff of 350. Mr Peng insisted on treating us all to a glass of expensive New Zealand red wine and we had an evening of telling stories, swapping jokes and singing songs. Mr Peng taught us what was obviously a Communist party song about how wonderful Tienanmen Square is. After that he invited us all to Bejing and said he would put us up at a first class hotel and treat us to dinner at his restaurant. It certainly made our last night in Moana a lot of fun.