Day Trip: Arthur’s Pass
Another week, another rad day trip. This time, we headed northwest into the mountains.
The mountains here are the Southern Alps. Their snowy peaks have been visible and calling us the whole visit.
We toyed with trekking down to Queenstown, which many friends and locals said is beautiful and awesome. It’s also pretty far. So we are skipping it. We’ve talked about how five or six weeks somewhere is a long time but still never enough time to see or do it all, especially while maintaining a regular work schedule for the majority of that time. Reconciling that we won’t be able to tackle every inch of a country has given us permission to enjoy the hell out of what we can do, especially if pie is involved.
An unofficial family rule is to stop at things labeled world famous whenever possible, especially outside the US where we think everything we do is exceptional. So an hour or so into our drive on the Grand Alpine Highway we stopped at a pie shop in Sheffield. (Another sign on the store said world famous, rules were in effect, promise)
Most of the pies were smaller, about 4 inches or so, rather than the big old fruit pies I’m used to. We picked a mini apple pie to take home and a Moroccan lamb pie to snack on at 10 am because that’s a reasonable thing to do on a day trip. You guys. Can we talk about savory pies? Like, let’s blow up the whole chicken pot pie thing and really embrace the world of meat pies. I had a steak and thyme one at a cafe and then this tasty delight make me want to start a-dabbling when we get home.
Our initial plan was to pass two of things we wanted to do and stop on our way home. Then we passed the first one, Castle Hill, threw our plan out the window and turned off the highway.
Castle Hill is so named because the rock formations look like the ruins of a castle. And they do! While visiting in 2002 the Dalai Lama named it a spiritual center of the universe and dude was right, it’s pretty spectacular. The stone was also used in the construction of the Christchurch Cathedral, now its own heart-rending ruins.
It’s a popular place for bouldering and climbing but accessible and fun with a 4-year-old in toe too. The whole place is on private property so you hike in from a highway-side parking lot past a sheep paddock.
When we were in Iceland we marveled at parents who seemingly let their young roam and run. Here, the playgrounds have challenging equipment I know would be banned in the US for fear of lawsuits. We’ve tried hard, as our kid has proven herself a good listened and a good adventurer, to let her roam and run too.
One joy has been hearing her say, softly and loudly and sometimes singing, “Trust your feet!” It’s a phrase I started using on an Outward Bound Course back in 1998. We said it to her frequently when she’s trying something new or seems nervous about something physical. Now my little mantra is hers and she reminds us to trust our feet while we’re hiking.
Knowing she’s thoughtful, or as thoughtful as a kid can be, about her safety and her feet, we’ve been able to enjoy the wider radius she keeps around us. She’s still cautious, probably more cautious than a lot of kids, but she’s got a core built for adventure. And a pink coat that makes her easy to spot.
After spending a lovely hour or so in the castle’s ruins, we headed back to the car, back on the road and back to the plan.
Next stop was lunch at the Wobbly Kea, a bar and restaurant in the town of Arthur’s Pass. A kea is the only mountain parrot and only found in the South Island. I don’t know how often they wobble. We powered up on soup and curry and pizza (yes, I had another ordering issue) and headed to sip from the Devil’s Punchbowl, a hike up to a waterfall the guidebooks told us is even better in winter.
I am admittedly not in the best shape of my life and, dang, I got winded. Luckily I stopped ever two steps to try to better capture the pretty that was all around. I don’t know if I’ve ever give beech trees much thought. But I’m now desiring an entire backyard full of them.
I mean, that dappled light? C’mon.
One of the things we’ve tried to do as we haul the kid all over the place to to encourage her to stick it out the way there (wherever there is) and then she can hop a ride on dad’s back the way home. This hike? She started off strong.
But we bent the rules a bit after we realized just what all that up looked like. Brett? He’s half billy goat and all will of steel. He carried that kid up icy steps with nary a complaint. Dude’s made of magic.
The hike was just hard enough to feel like we were earning a good dinner, and even better, the immediate payoff was fantastic. I’m talking about the view, of course.
Lo was slightly impressed with the falls and more impressed with a chance to throw ice chunks off the lookout. She was also impressed with herself.
Like has been the case on many of our adventures, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. We passed one lady on the way there and one on the way back. Otherwise it was our Adventure Girl, her billy goat Dad and me and my panting.
Beech trees and my best guy—a new love and a long love.
We trekked back the car and headed out to an overlook where we spotted …wait for it…a kea! They’re a tad too curious (or a tad too dumb) so there are all kinds of signs about not feeding them or accidentally running ‘em over.
Of course two giant RVs full of touring folks showed up after we did and began tossing all manner of snack foods at the kea. It was a moment we later discussed with Loie in the car afterwards, who couldn’t understand why we didn’t tell the people to stop. She was all ready to tell them to stop. Truth be told, I’m not sure why we didn’t. It would be the right thing to do and I want to model for her that kind of bravery in small and large moments. But I’m also sometimes keenly aware of my bossy, loud American status. The giant sign proclaiming the no-feed thing was directly next to me as I debated saying something. If these folks chose to ignore that it might not be the hill, or gorge, I’m going to die on though I feel super shitty the kea ate something bad for it. Really, people, don’t feed keas please.
From the overlook, it was a quick drive down and over the Otira Gorge bridge. It’s just a fun, steep thing that only took about 10 minutes round trip, including the kea encounter. Further down is a rockslide shelter but we opted to make a run for the last site on our list.
With calves still a-twitching a bit and the sunlight fading we headed to Broken River Cave on our way home. B scampered right down while I yelled helpful things like: “Oh my god.” and “Be careful!” and “You’re a father now. Seriously. Be careful!” much to his enjoyment.
Happy we did the full four to-dos, we started the drive home. But not before that little speck by the fence, who doesn’t get jello legs as easily as me, bebopped along the ravine path a little further. From there it was back up over the mountains and home. And that apple pie? It was freaking good.