June 18, 2008

From east to west

The east and west coasts of South Island is linked by the Great Apline Highway via Arthur’s Pass. Arthur’s Pass is not only the juncture where an historic highway and railway connect Canterbury and West Coast, it is a beautiful mountainous national park with many peaks over 2000m. Maori once traveled the route for trade and in search of pounamu. Early Europeans first crossed the pass in 1864, led by Sir Arthur Dudley Dobson, after whom the pass was named. This was timely as traffic across the Alps significantly increased soon after when the West Coast was hit by a gold rush in the 1860s which brought more Europeans, many of whom stayed on to start farming, forestry and fishing, and tourism businesses.

Lake Lyndon

The impressive Arthur's Pass

The West Coast of the South Island stretches 600km from north to south and is only 70km at the widest point. It is a land of contrasts from nikau palms and semi tropical fruit trees in the north to ice, snow and temperate rainforests in the south. In between are wild coastlines, deserted beaches, dense native forests of giant trees and numerous varieties of ferns and mosses, big rivers and little creeks, lakes to boat on and to walk around, glaciers and the lofty snow covered mountains that form the Southern Alps.

Lake Mahinapuna

Lake Ianthe - like most lakes on this part of the Coast, was hollowed out during the dying stages of the last great ice age 14,000 years ago

On the way to Fox Village, we made a detour to Shantytown, a faithfully recreated West Coast town with over 30 historic buildings, typical of the great gold rush that took place here in the 1860s. It is a living monument to the hardy pioneers who battled through harsh conditions, rugged landscape and extreme climate in their search of gold. The Infants Creek Bush Tramway, a lovingly restored steam locomotives is a feature of the Shantytown landscape. From late 1866 Chinese were amongst the crowds seeking their fortunes on the West Coast and by the mid 1870s made up the largest minority group on the West Coast goldfields. Chinatown, a well researched and accurate display reflecting the way of life of these pioneering folk, is built in recognition of the significant contribution they made to the West Coast’s gold rush.

The Infants Creek Bush Tramway and trying a hand at gold panning


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