Kea in Arthur's Pass

Arthur’s Pass

In which Miles heads west without checking the weather and finds rain – but also some of New Zealand’s best mountains and rocks and sea.

You can view the full gallery of 15 pictures below.  To view  on imgur, click here.

The road from Christchurch to Greymouth goes through Arthur’s Pass, over the Southern Alps.  My destination was Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki, north of Greymouth.  The Tasman Sea brings the west coast of New Zealand most of its weather.  I’m not sure why I didn’t think to check the weather on the west coast before I set out.  The Tasman showed me what it was planning soon enough.

Arthur’s Pass starts to get really beautiful as soon as it starts going noticeably up.  The panorama below looks west, just after entering the foothills.

Arthur's Pass
Arthur’s Pass

Below is one more pic of the east side of the Southern Alps.

Arthur's Pass
Arthur’s Pass

Castle Hill is a great stop on the way.  I have over 40 pictures I want to share with you, so I’ll give Castle Hill its own post in a couple of days.  Here’s a quick taste:

Castle Hill, Arthur's Pass
Castle Hill, Arthur’s Pass

I spent hours at Castle Hill, then continued west, soon entering Arthur’s Pass National Park.  I stopped where the road crosses the Waimakariri River to take in the spectacular views in all directions.

Looking east along the Waimakariri River
Looking east along the Waimakariri River

The weather I was approaching was visible between the peaks to the west – dark clouds, fog, and rain.

Looking west along the Waimakariri River into Arthur's Pass National Park
Looking west along the Waimakariri River into Arthur’s Pass National Park
Looking north into Arthur's Pass National Park
Looking north into Arthur’s Pass National Park

By the time I reached the frequently photographed man-made features of The Otira Gorge Road shown below I was well into the fog, and a slowly increasing drizzle had begun.

The Otira Gorge Road – State Highway 73
The Otira Gorge Road – State Highway 73 – looking west

The fog stayed dense as it rained harder.  The mountain turns were tight in places, and I was stopped briefly for an accident on the two lane road – a car had rear-ended a pickup truck, after apparently coming around a corner too fast to stop.  I didn’t wait long, but those ahead of me may have been waiting for some time.

The Otira Gorge Road – State Highway 73
The Otira Gorge Road – State Highway 73 – looking east

Later, on the other side of the mountains, on my way north to Greymouth, I waited for nearly an hour for authorities to clear a one-lane bridge after a local slid and struck the railings.  We were told that he was taken to the hospital with a broken arm.

The Otira Gorge Road – State Highway 73
The Otira Gorge Road – State Highway 73

I arrived quite late to Greymouth, and had to park outside the gated campground.  I was awake and about before being told to move in the morning.

At the stops for viewing the vistas shown in the three photographs above, I missed the presence of kea, the world’s only alpine parrot.  They aren’t brightly feathered, but they’re fearless and full of personality.  I guessed that the weather was too cold and wet for them, but I didn’t quite believe that theory.

I made a stop in the mountains for dinner and spoke with a local who told me that about 20 kea had eaten 1080 poison put out by DOC and died.  That was probably the entire population in Arthur’s Pass – he hasn’t seen any kea since.  The pics below are from 2006.  I guess these birds are no longer with us.  Rest in peace feathered friends.

Kea in Arthur's Pass
Kea in Arthur’s Pass

Wikipedia says of the Arthur’s Pass kea “Around 10% of the local kea population were expected to be over 20 years of age. The oldest known captive kea was 50 years old in 2008.”

Kea in Arthur's Pass
Kea in Arthur’s Pass

Use of 1080 poison is quite controversial in New Zealand, with many kiwis calling for a ban.  “Worldwide, New Zealand is the largest user of sodium fluoroacetate. This high usage is attributable to the fact that, apart from two species of bat, New Zealand has no native land mammals, and those that have been introduced have had devastating effects on vegetation and native species. 1080 is used to control possums, rats, stoats, and rabbits. The largest users, despite vehement opposition, are OSPRI New Zealand and the Department of Conservation.” – Wikipedia

Kea in Arthur's Pass
Kea in Arthur’s Pass

I was told that the DOC has promised to reintroduce kea to Arthur’s Pass in the near future.  I hope to see some on the road to Milford Sound, or maybe near Mount Cook.

Kea in Arthur's Pass
Kea in Arthur’s Pass

The kiwi in Arthur’s Pass told me about having taken his motorcycle for a ride on a summer day and left it outside for a short time only to find that the local kea had torn apart his seat.  He is a happy guy, and couldn’t blame the kea.  But they are famously destructive, known to peel all the rubber from a car, including the wiper blades and around the windows.  I’ve also heard of them pulling nails from corrugated metal roofs, and sledding down snow-covered slopes on their backs for fun.  Below is a video I found on YouTube of two kea working on a police car.

You can view the full gallery of 15 pictures below.  To view  on imgur, click here.