Arthurs/Lewis Pass Round Trip

A Three Day Weekend in the South Island High Country

By Steve Carr

This last long weekend [March 10-12, 2000] was spent on a very pleasant trip from Christchurch, where I live, over Arthurs Pass through the Southern Alps to the township of Greymouth in Westland.  12 bikes left Christchurch and we picked up some more riders along the way.  The crew is loosely called the Emergency Services Social Bikers Group and is mainly Police, Fire, Ambulance and hospital emergency people, with some invited hangers on.  Sue and I are in the latter category.

This section of road from Christchurch west toward the Southern Alps is relatively highly policed up to the township of Springfield, just as the road becomes 'interesting' to Laverdisti in particular and motorcyclists in general.  The road climbs steeply from there up to the top of Porters Pass, then winds along an upper alpine valley towards the township of Arthurs Pass.  We stopped there for gas, before heading on over the pass proper.  This is spectacular country, with unstable shingle scree slopes, tall waterfalls and steep mountain slopes and the twisties are great fun too.  There are some road works at present which caused a significant delay, leaving us sitting in full leathers in the sun for ten or more minutes, so we were understandably eager to take on the rest of the road after that!

After the Pass, we travelled on at various rates of speed to the Jacksons pub, situated just before the Jacksons bridge.  This was a convenient place to stop and have a chin wag, before heading down the fast sweeping road that links Jacksons on the main Arthurs Pass to Greymouth road and the sawmilling town of Stillwater on the Reefton-Greymouth road. 

This road is definitely a blast, with almost no traffic on a Friday (or most any other day for that matter).  It goes past the spectacular Lake Moana, a great destination for fishermen and water skiers alike and we stopped briefly on the lake shore to admire the view. 

From Stillwater to Greymouth is a nice ride along the banks of the Grey River, past the historic ruins of the Brunner Mine, scene of an horrific mining disaster in the late 1800's.  This is now a well kept and sign posted reminder of the dangers of working underground, as well as a hint of the busy past of what is now very much an underpopulated and undeveloped part of New Zealand. 

Greymouth, one of the largest towns on the West Coast, boats a population of maybe 4,000.  We stayed at the largest and perhaps one of the oldest hotels, the Revington.  The rooms had been modernised at some stage in the relatively recent past, 1970's decor! Modern fort he 'Coast, is not by the standards of the rest of the country.  We parked the bikes under cover, in a disused bar that is due for renovation in the near future.  30 bikes rolled in up an impromptu ramp, up the main hotel steps and through reception, to stand quietly on the faded carpet until the morning.  Some wag wet newspaper with oil and placed it under a Hinkley Triumph triple, much to everyone but the owners amusement when he found himself the butt of jokes in the morning!

After a hearty cooked breakfast we all wheeled or rode our bikes out of the bar and onto the main street, to the bemused looks of passing locals.  Most spectacular of all was the aging Suzuki GT750 water bus, which issued forth great clouds of blue smoke as it was ridden outside.  The owner insists that the smoke acts as a two stroke oil level indicator - no smoke means he's forgotten to fill the two stroke reservoir!

From Greymouth we travelled at various speeds, depending on individual Taste and type of bike ridden.  I found myself towards the front of the fast bunch, and had an enjoyable time riding with the other Laverda on the run, an SFC 1000 ridden by Mike Gillen.  I reminded myself that I could have been at the very front if only I wasn't still running the bike in.  I was keeping it below 6,000 rpm (150 km/h in top) most of the time, so as to give the others a chance...  (well, so I told myself, anyway!)

We went back along the road we'd been on the previous evening to Stillwater, before crossing to the other side of the Grey River and along the less busy northern route to Ikamatua.  This road is like many on the 'Coast, with large scoria chip embedded in a tar base, very grippy and confidence inspiring, as well as free from the slipperiness left by car and truck exhausts, due to very low traffic volumes and lots of heavy rain.  The roads are well kept, with minimal signage and some interesting corners, so we had fun at speed through the farmland and regrowth bush that typifies much of Grey River Valley. 

From Ikamatua the road rejoins the main road to Reefton, from where the broad sweeping roads and dense temperate rain forest of the Rahu Saddle leads through to Springs Junction.  A fast ride through the Saddle found the fast bunch arrive at Springs Junction, at the entrance to the Lewis Pass, well ahead of the main bunch, many of whom decided to stop at the Ikamatua Pub for light refreshments.  After a long rest and refreshments we got back on the road just as the next bunch came in.  We left them to it and charged on over the Lewis Pass towards Hanmer Springs. 

The Lewis is an interesting road, as the countryside through which is passes changes dramatically once across the summit.  Suddenly you are into the arid high country which exists in the rain shadow of the Southern Alps.  From dense dark greenery to brown dusty mountain tussock in a matter of a few hundred meters, the road on the eastern side is too much of a temptation to resist, with long sweeping corners and good visibility for much of the distance towards the Hanmer turnoff.  We had a strong warm dry wind at our backs so it was easy to cruise at elevated speeds, while being moderately comfortable that there were no speed cameras or approaching unmarked police cars ahead. 

On this stretch we'd have been lucky to see ten cars come the other way over a distance of 50-60 kms, it being a quiet Saturday around noon.  With the engine feeling more run in, I allowed myself the luxury of some more revs and at times the needle was up around 180 km/h.  With the others ahead of me, I figured that they would 'sweep the roads clean' of any enforcement problems, and it looked like there were none around anyway, so it was just a great blast!

Hanmer is a lovely little alpine village, with hot pools and many adventure tourism things to do, so after checking in to the motel most people went for a wander around to see the sights, before heading out to dinner at the very busy and cheap Alpine Village Bistro.  Afterwards we sat and shot the breeze outside the motel, sitting on the grass in the warm autumn air, before piling off to bed. 

The next morning we all went our separate ways, with some heading back north to Picton and the ferry home to Wellington, others off to Dunedin, with others staying on in Hanmer. 

All in all we had a great weekend, with a great bunch of riders on all manner of machines, with awide range of ages - the oldest was 74, the youngest my daughter Nell at 13 riding pillion.  We're looking forward to another ride with this crew later in the year, probably November, when their next rally is planned for somewhere in the South Island. 

Copyright Steve Carr, 1999-2007

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