Having left Australia behind, we thought we’d waved goodbye to the long car journeys. But no – we’ve discovered that New Zealand is bigger than it looks on a map (its amazing isn’t it, I studied Geography at school, I even got an O-level, but I still seem totally incapable of looking at the scale of a map!). Anyway, today we learnt that Arthurs Pass is a long way from Mount Cook – or at least, it is when you travel by road. By air it wouldn’t be more than a couple of hundred kilometers, but by car it took us hours, and those hours were spent driving along roads which were often steep and windy. The scenery that comes with the landscape is quite something – wide river valleys strewn with rocks and boulders, and steep sided mountains, capped with snow and scree.
New Zealand has about 64 million inhabitants, but 60.2 million of these are sheep and cattle – which leaves 3.8m to live in a country about the size of the UK. The result is a landscape that is pretty barren of human habitation – lots of grassland and forest – and few villages or towns. On the map it looks like there are more, but I’ve been caught out twice now thinking that a ‘town’ on the map will have a petrol station or shop, when it turns out to be a single house (and in the case of Kaikopo Junction, the house looked like it hadn’t been lived in for a century or two).
Arthurs Pass town, which is a big dot on the map, turned out to have a shop and a petrol station (well, a shop with a petrol pump), so it was quite big. All of the houses were tiny, but built for an alpine environment. This cottage was typical – wooden walls, corrugated iron roof and little else. The Kiwis build almost everything with corrugated iron – even when building a brick house, they normally use corrugated iron on the roof. Our hostel, which is a YHA one, is a bit bigger than this cottage, but still very rustic, and – importantly because we’re 800m up in the mountains – warm.