Drive the width of New Zealand’s South Island along the Great Alpine Highway for a bloody exquisite road trip full of hiking, caving, bouldering and staring in awe at those mountain peaks.
Compared to Australia, New Zealand’s a skinny island. By taking the Great Alpine Highway, you can drive from the East to the West Coast of the South Island in little more than three hours.
But since this is New Zealand, those 230 kilometres will lead you past mountains, waterfalls, caves, boulders, rivers, lakes, as well as rainforest. So there’s a tonne of hiking, biking, caving and climbing you can do along the way, and with a bit of extra time, you can turn this three-hour drive into a three-day road trip!
Bouldering in Castle Hill
This is New Zealand’s bouldering mecca, where you’ll find hundreds of limestone boulders in all shapes and sizes scattered across the rolling green hills. There are several guidebooks and websites detailing all the grades, but linking up the drawn maps with the actual boulders can be a bit tricky.
It’s best to go for a walk and play around on any boulder that takes your fancy. You don’t have to be a climber to enjoy Castle Hill as just scrambling around the easy boulders is fun too!
Caving in Cave Stream
Just up the road from Castle Hill, you’ll find Cave Stream which is… yep, a stream in a cave. The two entrances are almost 600m apart and you can follow the stream from one end to the other while wading, swimming and climbing waterfalls on the way.
You’ll definitely need a good headtorch and a wetsuit is highly recommended, otherwise stick with polyprop leggings and top. Obviously, when stream levels are high or if the water’s discoloured or foaming, entering the cave is a bad idea.
Mountain Biking in Craigieburn
If you’re the kind of person that doesn’t leave for a road trip without a mountain bike, then this is the destination for you! Suitable for intermediate and advanced riders, the mountain bike trails in Craigieburn stretch from the ski field at 1300m elevation all the way down to the village and offer plenty of variety to keep you busy for a whole day of shredding the trails.
Hiking in Arthur’s Pass
There’s an amazing number of hikes to do in Arthur’s Pass, but since this is a brief stop on your road trip, you’ll want something quick and easy to stretch those legs.
From the village, follow the Arthur’s Pass walking track until you cross the road, then head up the Otira Valley track. Once you’ve reached the river where the track seems to stop, pick your way upstream for another 200 metres where you’ll get an amazing view of Mt Rolleston while you take a quick dip, before heading back the way you came.
Adventures Galore at Lake Brunner
Lake Brunner is actually just off the route but trust me, it’s worth a detour as this stop has a lot to offer! First up, the lake itself is beautiful and perfect to explore by kayak or paddleboard.
The large number of hiking trails around the lake offers a great way to gain some altitude and get a bird’s eye view of the lake. Why not make that hike a trail run? The lake offers the perfect opportunity to freshen up afterwards.
Cycling from Kumara
Since you’re passing through Kumara, you might as well cycle part of the West Coast Wilderness Trail. This 130km long cycle trail runs from Greymouth to Ross, but the stretch between Kumara and Kaniere is the best bit.
The easiest way is to go out-and-back from Kumara for as long or short as you like. Don’t like backtracking? There’s plenty of places where you can arrange a shuttle, or if you’re into Type 2 Fun you can create a looong loop by cycling back via SH6.
Camping and Eating!
Make sure you stock up on food and drinks before hitting the road, as there are no supermarkets along the way. Arthur’s Pass Village has a couple of cafes and a (tiny) general store. If you’re keen to stay the night, DOC offers a few basic campsites in the vicinity of both Castle Hill and Arthur’s Pass.
When you arrive at Lake Brunner, you can camp in Moana, or stay at the DOC campsites closer to Kumara. Moana also has a cafe and in Kumara you will find a small shop and pub.
- Bouldering gear
- Wetsuit + torch for caving
- Mountain bike
- Hiking gear
- Gravel/cyclocross bike
Start and End Points
Starting from Christchurch, head toward the S73, which runs all the way to Kumara Junction on the Wast Coast. This route can be driven in both directions.
Distance Covered / Time Taken
It’s 230km from Christchurch to Kumara Junction. This will likely take you 3-4 hours of driving, depending on how well you know the road and the conditions.