The drive from Franz Josef to Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass is a long drive (376km, 5 hrs) but there are plenty of interesting places to stop along the way. The first notable stop is Okarito, a small picturesque town on the west coast about 15-25 min from Franz Josef. Okarito abuts the Tasman sea and has a rocky beach where it’s possible to fish and surf. On a clear day, it’s got a stunning view of the Southern Alps. There’s also a large kiwi population just off the entry road but since kiwis are nocturnal you’re unlikely to see one.
The next stop I made was in the former gold mining town of Ross. It used to be a boomtown in the gold mining heyday but these days it’s a shadow of its former self. There’s a small tasty restaurant / bar on the main road and a small tourist centre here. Oh and a 1 hour return walk showcasing some sights and equipment used in the mining days. But there’s honestly little else here. The next and last stop I made was at Hokitika, a town made famous by its greenstone (jade / pounamu) artisans. The town is mad about greenstone and features many jewelry shops where you can see the craftspeople at work. Greenstone is found in several waterways in the South Island. The stone is sacred to the Maori people (and also extremely popular with Chinese people. There were quite a few Chinese tourists here.). The petrol prices in Hokitika are much less than in Franz Josef so it’s worth it to fill up here.
The drive over the pass was not an easy one. Heading east, the road suddenly goes from flat to a steep ascent up to the town of Arthur’s Pass. I had to drive in 2nd gear all the way up the ascent. I stopped off at a small viewpoint and there were several Kea birds hanging out in the car park. It was really cool to see them as they are a threatened species. Unfortunately it was very cloudy for most of the drive so I didn’t see the stunning views that I heard are there but on the east side of the pass I did see some incredible views. The road going down on the other side is also really steep and very windy so it’s important to keep a foot on the brake and an eye on the road at all times. On a clear day I’m sure this is a spectacular drive. On a cloudy day, it’s just another day on the road.