The Penultimate Leg of the Grand Tour - Lake Tekapo to Christchurch

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May 11th 2021
Published: May 21st 2021
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The weather forecast today for Lake Tekapo is ominous with snow predicted down to 600 metres and Tekapo township sits at around 700 metres. So the thought that there could be driving difficulties through Burkes Pass, also at 700 metres, was at the front of our mind as we started to pack up and get ready to hit the road.

We filled the Corolla at the local Challenge petrol station which had us still trying to work out how petrol in a number of the places we have passed through, is cheaper than what we pay in Tauranga despite the fact that the commodity has to be trucked from whatever South Island port it arrives into before it can be pumped into our car.

The weather overhead for now was partly cloudy and the temperature still hovering around the 10C mark.

Burkes Pass was first crossed in 1855 and at that time was secondary to the Mackenzie Pass we drove to yesterday. Today however it forms the main route out of the Mackenzie Country to the Canterbury plains. From Tekapo you hardly climb at all as both Tekapo and the pass itself are at roughly the same altitude.

The small township on the eastern side of the pass has a number of historic places, some of which didn’t look open today so we didn’t stop, not even to look for the very rare Canterbury knobbled weevil which is on the most endangered species list and found in just a 3 hectare block of land in the township!

Some other research on Burkes Pass Township revealed that it was to be the terminus for a railway project back in the 1880’s.The railway presumably would have bought tourists to the town and then be transported on by coach to Mt Cook.

However the project was never finished and the railway terminated in Fairlie the next town on our route.

At Fairlie the temperature was showing at 19C and had risen 6C in the short 25km from Burkes Pass township. We suspect this will be the trend of the day as the norwester ahead of the southerly front does what it is renowned for in this part of the country and bring warm conditions before the temperature plummets with the arrival of the front.

At Fairlie Highway 8 heads further east to Timaru on the coast. However we turned left onto Highway 79 and started a run through several pleasant valleys given over to farming before we reached the largest town in this part of inland Canterbury, Geraldine.

The town was bustling with people and traffic which perhaps was a sign of what was ahead when we reached our destination of Christchurch later in the day. Apart from Queenstown on the last day of the school holidays we really hadn’t been in and amongst traffic as busy for the last 3 weeks.

It was a bit too early in today’s journey to stop for coffee in Geraldine and in any case there was still the wonderful Darfield Bakery ahead of us and only an hour or so away.

The 79 became the 72 in Geraldine and our course was more northerly as we left the township with the next major geographical feature being the Rangitata River which we crossed just after Arundel.

Now we were really driving on the flat Canterbury Plains and for the next 20km the road was straight.

Heading a little closer to the Southern Alps after Mayfield the road virtually followed the contours of the way the hills to our left were formed and we were now as close to the Alps as we had been since we had left Burkes Pass this morning.

Another major geographical feature came into view with a road sign indicating a steep 8% grade as the road descended to the Rakaia River bridge.

We took a few minutes to stop and take in the grandeur of the Rakaia River gorge from a car park about a third of the way down to the bridge. Just after the bridge where the river is contained within the fairly narrow gorge, it then fans out to become the braided river that travellers crossing it close to the coast would recognise it as.

We were ready for coffee and something to eat from the wide array on offer at the Darfield Bakery.

Since the earthquake just over 10 years ago in Christchurch there had been significant changes to the roads leading south of the city and as our accommodation was on the southern side of the city we anticipated that taking the approach from the south would be quicker than carrying on from Darfield on Highway 73 and making our approach more from the west than south.

We dithered over which turn to take after we had left Darfield until a slow petrol tanker ahead made our minds up for us and we headed towards Rolleston passing first through West Melton where the outside temperature was showing at 25C.We are nearly at mid May and we are experiencing temperatures closer to what summer would present in Tauranga!

A new highway system was ahead of us and one we hadn’t driven before and we had to take in each directional sign carefully so that we ended up on Highway 1 and also driving north.

It could be said that having a couple of major earthquakes ensures that Government money arrives to rebuild damaged infrastructure although we didn’t think that we wanted that scenario to be repeated in Tauranga so that we could get a well overdue 4 lane highway built taking traffic north of the city more easily than the huge congestion that now occurs on the 2 lane road we have.

Finding the motel accommodation we have for the night in Addington was simple as it was on the corner of the road that had basically bought us from the highway. Just how quiet this motel will be tonight remains in question as we looked at the traffic traversing the intersection.

Having been in the car for most of the day with little exercise we thought a walk through the Botanical Gardens at Hagley Park would do the trick for us.

So with the temperature now at 26C in the city we drove to a car park adjacent to the Gardens and joined a good number of locals making the most of this warm afternoon.

The rose garden still had a large number of plants still in bud and in flower and we had a pleasant wander through the well set out plot before taking in a couple of the greenhouses as well.

We had sorted out a couple of options for dinner and decided on an Irish bar that had a good variety of pub food on its menu. What was a bit unusual was the fact that we were the only people dining and after a small group of young people left after playing pool we were then the only customers in the establishment. The bar person did note that the place had been full on Saturday night when the Crusaders hosted the Chiefs in the Aoteoroa Rugby final and when they had occasions like that the patrons tend to give socialising a bit of a rest for a day or two.

By the time we had finished our dinner and left to walk the short distance back to the motel the cold southerly with rain had arrived and the high of 26C had turned into about 10C and it would probably be even colder when we woke in the morning.

We have a couple of indoor activities planned for tomorrow but they are not going to take all our time until we take the rental car back and catch our flight back to Tauranga so we may have plan something else to keep us occupied and out of the cold wind and rain.

Additional photos below
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21st May 2021

Lovely reading about your trip to the south island we did something similar when Fiona was about ten. We left Aaron behind as he would not have enjoyed it.
22nd May 2021

Grand Tour
Pleased you have enjoyed my ramblings Betty and came along for the ride with us.One more blog to complete to get us home and hopefully finish it tomorrow.Cheers

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