East Coast to Alps: Kaikōura, Twizel, Ohau

Feature Photo Credit – Steve Maikin, a friend from the UK

Canterbury District – Upper East to Mackenzie Plains Region

This post follows east to west – from Kaikoura on the east coast, west to Twizel, near Mt. Cook. 1) Kaikoura; 2) Gore Bay Cathedral Cliff; 3) Rakaia Gorge; 4) Peel State Forest; 5) Twizel; 6) Lake Ohau.

1) Welcome to Kaikōura

Kaikōura’s Earthquake

In November, 2016 a complex 7.8 earthquake isolated the town of Kaikōura. Thousands of slips (landslides) buried sections of State Highway 1 and kilometers of train tracks of the main rail line were dragged out to sea or buried along a 160km (99 mile) stretch.

Amazingly the railway was restored in 10 months. Thirteen months later, a beautiful re-sculpted highway reopened. Train passenger service resumed December 2018. I cannot relate the scale of this. Watch a few minutes of this videohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqjob7hjpfs

Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway

The earthquake raised the seabed 2 to 7 feet and as high as 18 feet lifting rocks, seaweed, and creatures above the water line, forever changing the coast.

Upper Trail

Jaw dropping view on the rim trail above of the uplifted seabed.

Lower Trail – Sea Bed

You can walk on coral and rocks that were formed and used to lie under the sea.

On the Sea in Kaikōura

Whale watches and Albatross tours (a little blue penguin was a bonus), Kaikoura is one of the only places on earth where you can take a tour to see sperm whales. A giant whale followed our boat, but she was not photogenic.

For tourist travel – see Great Journeys of NZ – “Tick Kaikoura off your must do list”


2) Cathedral Cliffs at Gore Bay, “Badlands”

An easy detour halfway between Christchurch and Kaikoura is a fun drive and excellent view over these sandstone cliffs. The road continues down to Gore Bay with a 1-hour walking track.

Directions: SH 1 to Cheviot. Turn down signposted Gore Bay Road. Distance from Christchurch 100km.

3) Rakaia Gorge – Stunning Scenery

The Rakaia Gorge, in the shadow of Mt. Hutt, runs through wide shingle beds and a narrow canyon with that uncanny shade of milky aquamarine having come straight from glaciers in the mountains. The Rakaia Walkway is listed in “NZ Walks for Wimps”.

4) Big Tree Walk – Peel Forest Park

An impulsive turn and simple sign and a 30 minute walk beside trees straight out of Lord of the Rings. Giants amongst giants. Trail signs read something to the effect of “You thought that last tree was big?…Keep walking!”

The giant native Totara trees, one almost three metres across, are thought to be about 1,000 years old.

Directions: Big Tree Walk begins at the Te Wanahu picnic shelter and leads into Mills Bush

5) Twizel

Twizel is a good stopping point and easy to find lodging for day trips to Mt Cook. Nearby is a lavender farm (summer).

6) Lake Oahu

Between Omarama and Twizel is an amazing drive into Ohau, rugged and colorful even on a rainy day – so cloudy we barely had a glimpse of the Ben Ohau mountain range. To inspire a visit (and remind me to return) are our misty photos and one from NewZealand.com.

Remnants of 2020 Fire

What We Missed

  • Lake Ohau – on a sunny (or snowy) day
  • Peel Forest Park has thirteen trails (from 30 minutes to 6 hours return) through 500 hectares of virgin native forest that survived early logging days. (e.g. Fern Walk, Acland Falls Walk)
  • The Rakaia Walkway – 5.2km to an overlook of the gorge. Best in November – dry, sunny weather.
  • Rakaia Jetboat – (drop off at walkway)

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7 thoughts on “East Coast to Alps: Kaikōura, Twizel, Ohau

  1. Not a bad place for lockdown in New Zealand. This is an interesting read on a corner of the country I know very little about. Somehow I have not yet been to Kaikoura, yet we used to drive from Auckland to Wanaka annually. Sorry that you missed the whales, but glad you had camera in hand for all the spots you did get to.

  2. I love this post, especially the big tree photos and in-depth information about the earthquake. And also the sunset photos. And everything else. Awesome!

  3. Glennie Bowland June 21, 2020 — 1:36 am

    “Not a bad place to be hung up….” Indeed! Sounds like you are making the post of your derailment. The pics are truly stunning….thanks again for sharing your amazing adventures!

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