Arthur’s Pass village is 4km from the pass of the same name and is NZ’s highest-altitude settlement. The 924m pass was used by Maori to reach Westland, but its European discovery was made by Arthur Dobson in 1864, when the Westland gold rush created the need for a crossing over the Southern Alps from Christchurch.
Southeast of Christchurch are the prominent Port Hills, which slope down to the city’s port on Lyttelton Harbour. Christchurch’s first European settlers landed here in 1850 to embark on their historic trek over the hills. Nowadays a 2km road tunnel makes the journey considerably quicker.
Craigieburn Forest Park
Named after NZ's first Anglican bishop, this largely rural district has swallowed an English map book and regurgitated place names such as Lincoln, Darfield and Sheffield to punctuate this green and pleasant land. Yet any illusions of Albion are quickly dispelled by the looming presence of the snow-capped Southern Alps, providing a rugged retort to 'England's mountains green'.
Conveniently stretched along SH1 near the Hanmer Springs turn-off, this resolutely rural area makes for a tasty pitstop en route to Christchurch. The valley's warm dry summers followed by cool autumn nights have proved a winning formula for growing grapes, olives, hazelnuts and lavender.
Continuing on SH8 from Lake Tekapo, after 39km the even larger Lake Pukaki comes into view. There's a reason why every tourist bus in the known universe pulls up at the lookout, about 8km further along. On a clear day it offers a picture-perfect view over the weirdly blue lake to Aoraki/Mt Cook and its surrounding peaks.
Lewis Pass Hwy
The northernmost of the three main mountain passes connecting the West Coast to the east, 907m-high Lewis Pass is not as steep as the others (Arthur's and Haast) and the forest isn't as dense either. Mainly it's comprised of beech (red and silver) and kowhai trees growing along river terraces.
The small settlement of Mt Somers sits on the edge of the Southern Alps, beneath the mountain of the same name. The biggest drawcard to the area is the Mt Somers track (30km), a one- to two-day hike circling the mountain, linking the popular picnic spots of Sharplin Falls and Woolshed Creek.