Arthur's Pass, South Island, New Zealand: The silence of the lands

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Arthur's Pass, South Island, New Zealand: The silence of the lands

It was the strangest thing. We went inside for 20 minutes and when we came out everyone had disappeared.

There was also no traffic either way down the long road.

Arthur's Pass Village on Highway 73 through the centre of the South Island sits a bit more west than the halfway point between Christchurch and the West Coast, right there in the Southern Alps.

It was a warm Friday lunchtime in February when we pulled over to the side of the highway alongside tourist buses, camper vans and private vehicles.

lodge1The village – little more than a few houses, some cafes and so on – has a permanent population of around 50 which meant on this day locals were out-numbered by visitors by about four-to-one.

Tourists grabbed food and drinks from the cafes, used the facilities and took photographs of the many kea which hopped around tables and rubbish bins.

I'd never been that close to a kea in the wild and, given the size and power of their beaks, will be glad never to be again.

lodge2They are usually described as “cheeky” but I have another word for them, which I wouldn't use in their hearing in case . . .

We did what everyone was doing and then -- negotiating our way between healthy looking backpackers, wire-thin seniors with ruddy cheeks and tour groups with expansive cameras – went to the local information centre to orientate ourselves before heading to the nearby Wilderness Lodge where we were staying.

But when we came back out into the village there was no one. The buses and camper vans had gone – some to the west, others to Christchurch – and the place was almost eerily quiet.

It was unnerving in a way. But also welcome, because as Aucklanders who live in the inner suburbs – where the police helicopter circles and trains screech by -- quiet was what we were after.

lodge3Hence the booking at the beautiful, private Wilderness Lodge where the view out the lounge window was of a massive Mt Rolleston on the other side of the Waimakariri River just beyond the top of our wine glasses.

Some people here embark on serious hiking through the Alps and a couple of hi-tech guys from San Diego pointed to the top of range behind the lodge and told me that's where they'd been for the day.

It looked like a vertical climb but they were young, healthy, used to it and went to bed much earlier than us.

We walked slowly for a couple of hours on a gentle hike through beech forest where piwakawaka (fantails) followed us and on a high point where we could take in the braiding of a tributary below.

It was beautiful. And silent.

lodge4Being more of an accomplished television watcher than a hiker, my idea of a relaxing weekend away – fortunately shared by my caring wife – is of short walks, a fair bit of reading, good food and wine and, most of all, conversations with interesting people.

You always get those conversations in places like the Wilderness Lodge because people come from all over and when they aren't out on the trail are relaxing and chatting in the lounge.

We met a lovely couple from Utah, another from Melbourne's Mornington Peninsula (where by chance Megan had recently been), the tech guys who were originally from Canada, a Swiss woman who was a voracious reader and bibliophile . . .

lodge5These weren't folk we would usually come across in our daily lives so an escape like this fed not just the spirit and refreshed the lungs, but opened the mind in funny and informative conversations.

And there were sheep.

Many New Zealanders have some connection to the land, or at least like to think they have. Frankly I have none.

My family have always been urban dwellers – for me the bigger the city the better – and no one we knew had a farm. I went on one in the Waitakere Ranges for two days when I was about 10.

Screenshot_2024_04_26_at_1.51.10_PMSo being up close to woolly animals at the Wilderness Lodge, which is a working sheep farm, was a special experience. We watched the dogs rounding up the herd – just like on A Dog's Show on television, but more smelly – and then heard about various sheep breeds, learned the difference between fine merino export-quality wool and other types, and watched a remarkably docile sheep being shorn the traditional manner with a blade.

I fed a sheep. Actually, sheep. Plural.

We had a wonderful escape into the quiet of the Southern Alps and learned a lot . . . although I still don't know who Arthur was.

I suppose I could try to find out, but . . . pass.


We paid for all our flights, meals, car hire and accomodation.


You can find out more about Wilderness Lodge Arthur's Pass at their website here.

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