New Zealand: Scenic Drive along the Southern Alps

27 03 2011

The drive from Christchurch to Queenstown is arguably one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand.  It certainly is the best looking drive on a major roadway, in my opinion.  On this approximately six hour drive, the landscape transforms from green hilly pastures and meadows dotted with wildflowers to vast plains and glacial lakes and finally to mountainous wilderness, all nestled against the backdrop of the magnificent Southern Alps.

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We began in the Canterbury grasslands outside of Christchurch, where pastures full of cows and sheep abounded.  This area still had the feel of cultivated countryside to it.

As we turned the car towards the Southern Alps, we were rewarded with a view of the large mountain range.  From this distance, it’s hard to gauge the size of these mountains because they are still very far away.  The vastness of the sky and the flat lands leading up to the mountains form an optimal illusion.

Once you reach Lake Tekapo, the scenery changes dramatically. From here on, the road hugs the Southern Alps, the ground becomes more hilly, and impossibly blue glacial lakes loom invitingly.

We thought the view of Lake Tekapo from the road was beautiful until we saw Lake Pukaki. There was no question we were stopping the car to take a look, and our curiosity was rewarded. This is some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen in my life.  My photos simply cannot do the scenery justice.

From Lake Pukaki, you can catch a glimpse of Mt. Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand at 12,316 feet. We were literally bowled over by the natural beauty.

A view of Mt Cook from Lake Pukaki.

A short distance later, we came upon Twizel, an area that served as the backdrop for Minas Tirith, the capital city of Gondor in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Lord of the Rings.  It certainly was not hard to imagine Gandalf riding towards Minas Tirith when faced with this scenery.  I was a dork and kept telling my husband that we were in Gondor.

There were mountains surrounding us everywhere we looked now.

As we neared Arrowtown and Queenstown, we joined up with the Kawarau River, which served as the River Anduin in the LOTR movies.  We didn’t think it was possible, but the scenery became even more dramatic and picturesque.

Next: Arrowtown, Queenstown, and more gorgeous scenery.

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