Just before the turn-off to Arthur's Pass, Hokitika makes for a good stop to enjoy the West Coast Feeling before heading inlands. Well, maybe not directly at the coast, because the sandflies are still a problem there – but the little town has it's charme with some old buildings, museums and an undisturbed view at the sunset.
A little bit back into the countryside it hides a real treasure: Hokitika Gorge, an amazing river, spanned by a swingbridge and boasting with an out-of-this-earth color. Similar to the stunning turquoise-blue of Lake Tekapo. The river is fed by the Glaciers and colored by their minerals. I almost couldn't believe it when I first rounded the corner. New Zealand is just amazing.
The most popular way over the alps (and supposedly the most beautiful) is Arthur's Pass. Starting on the West Coast we had some misty-grey weather and low hanging clouds wavering around the hills while we drove further into the mountains.
It changed between rain and sunshine from there, giving us some amazing views on the peaks around the highway whenever the clouds opened up. On Arthurs Pass you really feel like driving through the heart of the alps, although the weather was nice and warm.
There is also a railway line going parallel to the highway, one of the few in the country that actually serves as “public transport” on a larger scale, though I doubt people take it for anything other than the views.
We met quite a few Keas on the way, too and had a short stop at New Zealand's most popular Bouldering area: Castle Hill.