For someone who’d never experienced New Zealand’s South Island, taking it in from coast to coast was the perfect place to start.
I was invited to join a press group trying out the Holden Equinox SUV — but the added bonus was discovering an incredible mini-road trip, practically on our doorstep.
Starting just outside of Christchurch (just three hours from most of Australia’s east coast ports), in two days we whizzed past forests, thermal springs, snowy mountain passes, mysterious “pancake” rock formations — and even an alpine village.
It felt like Europe, without the jet lag (or price tag).
It’s still dark and freezing when we set off from the sleepy coastal town of Sumner and head up the hill to watch the sunrise over Christchurch.
The view is worth the extra chill though, and after winding slowly back downhill in the orange glow, the hearty breakfast and coffee at Joe’s Garage on the beach is a very welcome post-sunrise treat.
From there, it’s a pretty cruisy drive from Sumner to picturesque Culverden — the perfect location for a coffee pit stop at the local bakery. (If you’re feeling peckish, be sure to grab one of their famous pies).
The next leg of the journey is only a little more than an hour, but boasts a staggering array of different landscapes, from green fields dotted with sheep to picturesque streams to rugged mountain ranges — and finally, to the snow-dusted Maruia Hot Springs resort.
It’s all breathtaking, but it seems as though the best was kept for last on day one — the popular tourist destination of Punakaiki, aka the Pancake Rocks.
Any questions you may have about the name are answered as soon as the coastal highway curves around and offers you a glimpse of the mysterious formations: they literally look like a stack of pancakes.
Heavy ocean swells thunder into the caverns beneath the rocks, causing huge water spouts to shoot through the blowholes — putting on an incredible show for the more than half a million people who visit each year.
The best news? The Pancake Rocks Café is just across the road, serving generous stacks of — what else? — delicious pancakes for breakfast.
I’ve never been a huge subscriber to the idea that “it’s the journey that counts” when it comes to holidays, but I’m very happy to be proven wrong on the road between Punakaiki and Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass.
The highway clings to the coast for the first leg of the journey, providing commanding views of the wild and windswept beaches along the way.
But less than two hours later, it’s like a scene from the Lord of the Rings — all snow-capped mountains, endless greenery, and rugged landscape — as we snake up toward the Otira Viaduct Lookout, before heading for the picturesque alpine village of Arthur’s Pass.
With flights to catch that afternoon, everyone’s travelling on a deadline — but we still manage to squeeze in a few stops. The entire journey from Punakaiki to Arthur’s Pass is scheduled to take just over three and a half hours — but if you can, leave plenty of extra time to stop and take it all in … And, of course, grab a photo or two.
WHERE TO STAY:
Sumner Bay Motel, Sumner
Punakaiki Resort, Punakaiki
WHERE TO EAT:
Joe’s Garage, Sumner
Beach Restaurant, Sumner
Maruia Springs Resort
Pancake Rock Cafe
Wobbly Kea cafe, Arthur’s Pass
HOW TO GET AROUND
With an easy navigation system, heated steering wheel and seats, huge boot and a host of modern safety features, the Holden Equinox LTZ-V was the ideal vehicle for the wide range of terrain we covered.
The writer was a guest of Holden.