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New Zealand South Island Road Trip from Hokitika to Wanaka. Top 5 Places Where You Need to Stop.

I wished we had stayed a few more days in Hokitika. We got on the road near lunchtime. The distance from Hokitika to Wanaka is 418 km. The trip, including decent breaks, is possible in 7 1/2 hrs. We didn’t make the trip at this time as we did stop a lot. There is just too much to see. We decided to stop overnight in Fairlie and continue the rest of the trip the following morning. I will tell you a bit about the places we stopped and why you should too! If you have more time to explore, add other places on the way, but I definitely think you should not miss these. My biggest mistake was forgetting to charge my power bank. The battery goes so fast when taking pictures. I thank Kevin Wells for sharing his picture!

Arthur’s Pass

You will find Arthurs Pass Township within the Arthur’s Pass National Park. There are a few cafes and motels. Not a very attractive town in itself but the scenery makes up for everything. It is the town at the highest altitude in New Zealand. You can also get there taking the TransAlpine train for a relaxing scenic journey, leaving from Christchurch to Greymouth. For more information about hikes and other things to do in the region, you might want to visit the DOC visitor centre. Remember to be aware of the weather and challenging terrain before going out, never underestimate the unpredictable mountain.

Be prepared, have the right gear, plenty of food and water, a compass, a map, binoculars an emergency blanket and let people know where you are going and when you are expected to be back. Don’t go alone if you can. This place has gained its reputation of being one of the most dangerous national parks in New Zealand. It is surprising the number of people who just go in a T-shirt and unsuitable footwear to go on a hike. If you value your life, please, don’t.

Arthur’s Pass ( picture by Kevin Wells)

Otira Stagecoach Hotel

Otira is a small town fifteen kilometres north of Arthur’s Pass in the central  South Island of New Zealand. Otira means ‘The Place of The Travellers’. In the beautiful Arthurs Pass National Park, the quirky Otira Stagecoach Hotel is a charming 100-year-old building. It was not in the initial plan and passed a few places as we were needing coffee. Please, if you are not making regular coffee breaks, DO NOT stop at Arthur’s Pass for coffee. Go the extra mile and get it here at the Otira Stagecoach Hotel. Or, have another one. Definitely stop at Arthur’s Pass, but if get snacks and coffee there, you might not feel like having another one later. Had we known about this place, we would have certainly booked a room for the night. 

The outdoor is an interesting mixed display of old cars and machinery with Lord of the Rings characters like Gollum and Gandalf. There is a great play area for children and outdoor seating. The staff were so friendly, I was appaled by a couple of the rude customer’s manners towards them. The muffins are freshly made and the coffee was just right. While we just stopped for a coffee break, they certainly have an interesting menu with vegetarian and vegan options.

The interior is worthwhile exploring. It is like a Museum-Hotel, with a collection of antique artefacts that will leave anyone entertained for a while. It was like going to a free museum while waiting for coffee. The experience could be described as a historical and literary trip through time. There was even a piano waiting to be played. Perfect for the piano player on the road. DD certainly practised a few pieces.

There were so many details, like the positive quotes signs in hidden corners, even the toilets. If you are planning to go to Arthurs Pass and do different activities in the area, it would be a great option to stay a few nights. While this might not appeal to visitors who prefer luxury and modern design, it is certainly a perfect hidden gem for lovers of art, history, quirkiness and local hospitality. It is easy to get carried away in a chat.

A piano waiting to be played!
I wished I could take this home. I have a slight obsession with old phones
Too many seating choices
The hotel has many signs with positive quotes scattered all over the place
Pondering on the live stories of the once pocket watches owners
We didn’t plan to stop here, I guess it was meant to be
I love the ending of this

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is located in the centre of the Mackenzie Region. It is famous for its clear blue waters, its buzzing tourist town, breathtaking mountain views, lupin flower season and friendly locals. There are plenty of places to stay or take a break after all the exploring. Lake Tekapo offers an array of world cuisine. Situated near the lake is the Church of Good Shepherd, built in 1935 as a memorial church to celebrate the early Anglican settlers of the church. Nearby is a sheepdog memorial statue was erected in memory of all NZ sheepdog life who have been on their farmer’s side. The statue overlooks the lake in a quiet location, where you can sit back and enjoy the view.

Sheep Dog Memorial Statue
Calm views of Lake Tekapo

Lupins: Beauty or Horror?

New Zealand’s South Island is famous for its Lupin flowering season. You can find them in the Mackenzie region, on the side of the road on Highway 8 near Lake Tekapo, all the way to Wanaka. This perennial plant blooms from September to early February. According to some locals, however, the recommendation is to see them in December. You might have seen the pictures in magazines or online. If you have an Instagram account, check the nature tags, such as #lupinsnz or #laketekapo.

Some go to enjoy the view, others use the background for epic marriage proposals. People love taking pictures of this colourful landscape. And why not? It is absolutely astonishing to see so many flowers. The explosion of colour is just a feast to the eye. But is this natural? Is it OK to enjoy lupins in New Zealand? Or are they just another invasive non-native species that needs to be controlled?

Lupins bring colour to a rainy day

Where did they come from?

The hybrid Lupins were created by George Russell, a horticulturist living in York, England. These Lupins were initially introduced to New Zealand for ornamental purposes in the 1930s, and soil stabilisation and cultivation in the 1950s.

Farmers started planting Lupins because they realised that the soil nitrogen levels were low, thus nothing would grow successfully. It was thought that Lupins would help with erosion and might be a good pasture for their merino sheep. Needing very little fertilizer, adapting to acidic soils and being nutritious to sheep; there is no reason to stop growing this plant, according to researcher David Scott.

And while it has been a very positive experience for farmers, producing high-quality merino wool that the sheep provide thanks to this alternative pasture, ecologists and conservationists think not enough is done to prevent this invasive non-native to take over other habitats.

How can Lupin affect the environment?

Over time, lupins have found their way to rivers and water basins and spread beyond the farms in Mackenzie region. The effects on New Zealand’s environment is disastrous.

As an example of the devastation lupins can cause, let’s use golden sand sedge (Ficinia). It is a plant present in sand dunes that is native to New Zealand. It is a vital species in dune ecosystems in NZ. The plant’s colour changes as it matures. The young plant can be bright green, turning yellowish until a bright orange when they mature. The presence of these plants is an indicator of environmental health and biodiversity. Truth is, golden sand sedge is in decline due to many pressures, including lupins, that shade this plant and threatens to outcompete them. If they are gone, so will nesting habitat and protection for several bird species disappear that rely on these habitats, as well as protection from predators.

Lupins are able to withstand frost and very high temperatures, meaning they are really strong in withstanding weather fluctuations and climate change.

Ongoing Debate

Environment Canterbury Regional Council has declared wild Russell lupins a pest and included in the Canterbury’s Regional Pest Management Plan 2018-2038. Land occupiers in rural areas have certain restrictions and obligations. They may not plant Russell lupin within a range of 10-200m proximity of rivers, watercourses and adjoint properties and must eliminate all wild Russell lupin within the determined areas mentioned. How well this control is to be implemented, remains to be seen. Conservationists are spending thousands of dollars a year in trying to eradicate these plants and trying to stop them gain new territory.

Should we admire these beautiful flowers in NZ?
Lupins are non native plants in NZ that has become invasive
Russell Lupins

There is no doubt these flowers are beautiful. I had mixed feelings about it. From a conservation point of view, I totally understand why they shouldn’t be there. It is easy to be carried away by the beauty of them. But taking into perspective the devastation that this species can cause does make you wonder why we are so ignorant. There was no information on non-natives and invasive species when we started to colonize other places and brought our precious animals and plants with us.

We have learned so much of the environmental and economic impact invasive species can have in different countries. I am not saying that we should stop taking pictures of Lupins. It is up to governments to understand the science of these threats and create strong laws that protect the environment and up to the people to also know about these issues and contribute by being responsible. It is important to realise that these plants are not native and are not supposed to be here. Sadly, it is estimated that invasive species are the second most common driver to species extinctions.

Lake Wānaka

Onaka, was the original Māori name, meaning ‘Place of Anaka’. It is one of the largest glacial lake basins, covering 192 km2 near Mt Aspiring National Park. The Lake Wanaka Preservation Act of 1973 is a legislation aimed to protect the natural state of the lake, and the appointment of the Guardians of Lake Wanaka to advise the Minister of Conservation.

Wanaka is a place for everyone. If you enjoy the serenity of the lake and want to be inspired by its beauty, you can just go for walks. It is also wheelchair friendly, with tracks around the lake and in town. If you are a film location hunter Lake Wānaka has been the setting of some international films such as The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. If you are a dog owner, there is good news, as there are many dog-friendly tracks in the area.

For the most intrepid visitor, you can choose to climb the highest waterfall via Ferrata in the world, paraglide or do a deep canyon descent. For hiking or cycling options, there are many walks to choose from. From beginner to more challenging walks, you can also download the Wanaka app for Android and Apple to get more details.

Lake Wānaka

That Wanaka Tree

#ThatWanakaTree is New Zealand’s most famous tree. The willow tree is over 100 years old. When it was planted in the early 1900s, it was planted next to a fence post and wasn’t underwater. Featured now in many Instagram feeds, it actually started initially as a joke around 2011. In 2014 Wanaka tourism decided to put the tree on the photo trail. Since then, more tourists visit the tree. Unfortunately, the lower branches of the tree were cut by vandals more recently in 2020. The tree was a bit more underwater than usual, but luckily for us, the bad weather deterred most people (at least for a little while) and we were able to enjoy a nice walk around the lake and visit the tree. It is crazy to imagine how busy it can get during the Summer.

Wanaka Lake and Tree
Views to Mount Aspiring
Dynamic Duo at the very underwater Wānaka Tree.

There are so many options for accommodation for all budgets. There are a few hostels, motels, hotels, yurts, camping facilities and B&B’s. We had booked the Ramada Resort, which is not necessarily a budget hotel, but happened to get a very good deal that would be silly to refuse. What I love about all accommodation in New Zealand is that they provide microwave, coffee facilities, a fridge and here even a blender! This is just amazing, because being vegetarian and gluten-free, it can be challenging to find something for me sometimes. NZ supermarkets do offer many vegetarian/vegan/GF options. The UK could take note.

Wonderful surprise. Smoothy time!
Perfect going for a swim after a long day


    • Penelope D.

      Thank you Jodie for your lovely comment. I am glad you enjoyed it. Hopefully, soon we will be able to roam freely again. For now, we can explore our local gems too!❤️😊

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