The journey from Christchurch to Wanaka is 5 hours on the road on a good day, so we set off early, heading south-west. We drove out of the city, heading for the mountains which were marked starkly white against a bluebird sky.
Within no time at all, we reached Rakaia - a small town easily recognisable by the massive salmon sculpture at its centre. In fact, Rakaia is known for its fresh water salmon, and you can visit the salmon park or try your hand at fishing down at the river yourself! The Rakaia river is one of New Zealand’s largest braided rivers, with a flow of over 200 cubic meters per second. We took a detour down the river’s gorge, and were awed by the stunning turquoise hue of the water. We watched visitors get their thrill by riding high-paced jet boats, and locals get their fill by fishing along the river’s edge. The Rakaia Gorge Walkway is celebrated for its geological and historic features, and the riverbed itself is great for some 4WD.
The next large town out of Rakaia is Ashburton, but we continued along the road until we got to Geraldine. Geraldine is home to the world’s largest knitted jersey, and is interesting for its arts, crafts, jams and preserves. Many small galleries and studios are open to the public, and it wasn’t hard to find a place to grab a coffee.
Peel Forest is just a short drive from Geraldine, and is abundant with birdlife. The road to the forest, which follows the Rangitata river, exhibits some of the most spectacular alpine and high country scenery in New Zealand. It’s easy to see why The Lord of the Rings director, Peter Jackson, chose this valley for some of the scenes in his films.
The road turns inland for some time, before reaching Tekapo. Picturesque and quaint, Tekapo marks the first of the large lakes at this end of the country. The glacial lake Tekapo is truly something to look at; and you will have to stop and take in the view and the photo opportunity! Tekapo is equally stunning at night, with some of the clearest views of the celestial sky in the world. If you stay the night here, a visit to the Mt John Observatory is a must - but even viewing the stars with the naked eye is a treat here! Other top attractions at Tekapo include visiting the Church of the Good Shepherd, which hosts spectacular views over the lake; as well as hot springs and skiing at Roundhill Ski Area. You could really make a whole weekend or week stay here, with plenty of golfing, biking and walking activities to choose from Alas, we had committed to reaching Wanaka in a day, so we once again hit the road.
The rest of the road trip spoilt us with phenomenal scenery of lakes and mountains, canals and rivers, rural pastures and small towns. The Lindis Pass, barren and extreme, slowed our pace as we wove around tight corners and down steep slopes. Finally, we crossed the mighty Clutha river, and reached Wanaka. Exhausted after a long day on the road, we were pleased to reach the Lakeside Holiday Park that we had booked ourselves into. We watched the lake grow dark as the sun slide over the mountains, and turned in for the day.
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