Driving Roads of Snow and Ice – Christchurch to Queenstown

“On a Mish” #285 Driving Roads of Snow & Ice. Christchurch to Queenstown. 25.6.2010. Many, many times over the years I have driven from Christchurch south. Usually in the old days I was aiming for Queenstown, a drive of around 5 hours or so (470km). The drive through the center of the South Island is a stunning display of this country’s variety of landscapes. Starting on the coast at Christchurch and ending deep in the mountains, the scenery on the drive brings comfort to the weary traveler. Being a major tourist route means I have seen some outstanding driving. From 30km in a 100km zone around Lake Pukaki to multiple-car passing on very blind corners…

Some people question why mountaineers put their lives at risk in such dangerous locations? Most mountaineers take calculated risks, and yes sometimes things go wrong. But I feel a hell of a lot safer in the mountains then I do on the open roads! A constant flow of metal missiles flying around the countryside, but you only have control of your own metal missile and you have to hope the others do too. 99% of the time everything goes smoothly, and near misses stay just that, near misses. However on one drive south things nearly went very bad. I had driven north after the hiking season, and was about to return south during the winter for the first time. A perfectly timed storm had smashed the mountains of the South Island, and with the storm still doing its thing I wondered if I would be able to get to Queenstown via the inland route. I said goodbye to the whanau in Christchurch then began the wintry adventure. An impressive amount of snow had fallen to low levels, and as I began the drive out of Fairlie I was in the snow. Dark clouds hung over Burkes Pass, and my wipers were pushing icy slush off my windscreen. Tekapo looked amazing draped in white. Unfortunately due to the clouds I couldn’t see to the top of the lake, but still it looked like a small village deep in the Canadian Rockies. There were snow patches around Lake Pukaki, but by the time I got down to Omarama it was just raining. The next part of the drive was the most difficult, as I was about to climb over Lindis Pass, and I hoped the road was open. I crossed the flats near the mesmerizing Clay Cliffs and began the climb towards Lindis Pass. The snow slowly built up as I got higher, and I needed to be cautious on the icy roads. With snow stacked on either side of the road I summited the pass, and began the descent on the other side. It was here that things nearly went very bad.

I could see a guy passing the cars behind me, and just as I started thinking about how dangerous that was I found myself all of a sudden completely sideways. I was in my van which takes a lot of effort to get sideways, and now I had to regain control somehow. Correcting the side just put me in the same situation in the opposite direction. After snaking my way down the road for what felt like forever, I finally regained control. I didn’t even have time to think about what had just happened before I was passed by the madman behind me who had somehow missed what just happened directly in front of him! I really did think I would come across a crash involving that car, but luckily everyone got through the snow unscathed. I’m sure these days the road would not be open in those conditions, and the scare changed the way I drive forever. Nowadays I am far more cautious, and if there is any threat of snow I just take the coastal route. To this day I still think about the dude that passed me after I nearly did pirouettes in my van directly in front of him. Be careful on winter roads in New Zealand. Taking your time means you get to see more of our stunning scenery!

Driving on Roads of Snow and Ice

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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