Behind The Wheel In New Zealand Part 1 - South Island

Written by Dave Wong. Edited by Bjorn Wong.
24 Jul 2011

Up, Up and Away

Day 0, Thursday
Changi International Airport – Auckland International – Auckland Domestic – Christchuch Domestic

Day 1, Friday
Christchurch – Methven 

Upon disembarkation, collect your baggage from the International Airport terminal and take a short 15-minute walk (guided a blue and white line marked on the ground) to the Domestic terminal for the transfer onto the connecting flight to Christchurch. Alternatively, take the free shuttle bus that departs every 15 minutes from the International terminal.

In wake of the recent earthquake, access to the Christchurch City Center’s popular sights is denied. For this reason, after the quick and hassle-free process of collecting your car from the AVIS rental counter (  at the International terminal, you may wish to pop into The International Antarctic Centre instead. It boasts a handful of attractions including the Antarctic Storm, the Snow & Ice Experience, the outdoor Hagglund Ride and the NZ Penguin Encounter that would thrill the kids.

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Thereafter, take an easy hour drive to the town of Methven. Simply follow SH73 (the Great Alpine Highway) for 45 minutes, and exit on the left onto SH77 leading to Methven. Hotels in Methven can be fully booked during winter as it is plays base to skiers at Mount Hutt, so it would be wise to reserve in advance.

Day 2, Saturday
Methven – Geraldine – Lake Tekapo – Mt. Cook – Timaru

Hot-air balloon trips in Methven start from as early as 5am, as participants are encouraged to help with preparations and the clearer, calmer and crisper morning air will help the balloons stay on course. It offers an unbeatable 300km, 360º view of the rich tapestry of colours that that make up the Canterbury Plains, against the backdrop of the Southern Alps.

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Back on SH77 in the direction of Ashburton, make a right turn onto SH1 at Ashburton. Drive for about half an hour until you arrive in Rangitata, then turn right onto SH79, which is part of the Southern Heritage Route. Along the way is the attractive town of Geraldine that holds many historic buildings such as the still-functional country-style cinema and the 1908 Post Office. Upon reaching the little town of Fairlie, turn right onto SH8 and drive for 30 minutes to Lake Tekapo. The stone-constructed Church of the Good Shepherd by the water’s edge is a scenic photo opportunity that has graced millions of cameras. Instead of the usual stained glass, the church windows here offer a splendid view of the turquoise Lake Tekapo its mountainous backdrop.

The majestic Mt. Cook
The majestic Mt Cook.

Continuing on the SH8 for another 40 minutes, exit on the right (SH80) for Mount Cook. Along the way, the unmistakable sight of Mt. Cook in the distance is mesmerizing. After 20 minutes on SH80, look out for Glentanner Park on the right, the flightseeing activity centre where The Helicopter Line (  is based.

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The experienced pilot gives a running commentary throughout the smooth ascent, as ear mufflers did nothing to mask the mounting excitement as the altitude increased. Be constantly reminded of how high one actually is by the unending sea of mountains beneath. The delicious isolation that hits you upon stepping out of the helicopter after landing on a snowfield in the middle of mountains is literally a “top of the world” feeling. Albeit for a brief moment, the serenity and silence do their magic, before everyone starts to snap away at Mount Cook and the children begin impromptu snowball fights. The Helicopter Line offers flightseeing rides of varying durations, most with snow landings, including one traversing theSouthern Alpsto view the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. Reservation is advised.

Our helicopter atop Mt Cook.

After a quick stop at the Hermitage Hotel in Mount Cook village (15 minutes from Glentanner Park), head for Timaru via SH80 and SH8 past Fairlie and Pleasant Point (approximately two and a half hour’s drive). The Aspen Hotel on King Street in Timaru has dinner discount vouchers for its reasonably competent in-house restaurant, obtainable from the reception during check-in.

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