Much of the route runs along the bottom of the Southern Alps firstly on SH 72, then SH77 and finally SH73 until I turn left, south of Sheffield, on to SH73 to go over the Alps.
I had intended to bypass Methven until I read it’s Maori name was Piwakawaka, meaning fantail, one of my favourite birds and was also home to New Zealand’s first (unofficial) Police dog.
The bronze dog statue at the entrance of the Mt Hutt Function Centre celebrates ‘Rajah the Wonder Dog’ who was owned by Police Constable Robbie Robertson and lived in Methven from 1929 to 1936. While he was never an official Police Dog, his skills made him the perfect companion. Amongst Rajah’s claims to fame were his almost psychic ability to retrieve items hidden around Methven, understanding 52 commands and receiving an invitation to show off his tricks in Hollywood USA. Rajah’s work mostly consisted of finding weapons and other notable items, and he was also infrequently used to locate remains. During his time in service, Rajah only failed once in finding his objective – the body of a woman believed by police to have been the victim of foul play and dumped along the railway line that was still under construction at the time. However, it was revealed a few years later that the body he was looking for had been embedded inside a concrete pillar.
When Rin Tin Tin died in 1932, a representative from the now defunct Fox Film Corporation proposed that Rajah be used as his replacement. The family ultimately declined the offer, citing that it was too big a move and instead chose to put Rajah to work doing performances around New Zealand, including in Christchurch and Timaru. Rajah was also able to continue working as a police dog.
The road follows the foothills of the Southern Alps, on the Canterbury Plains until Darfield. The Canterbury Plains are New Zealand’s largest area of flat land, with straight roads cutting across a mosaic of paddocks. This area 40 kilometres west of Christchurch, where seven roads converge, is known as Charing Cross. I’m not going there, though it’s not far off my route. I think a land based photo wouldn’t have the same impact!
At Darfield I turn inland after a stop for photos. Darfield the epicentre for the 7.1 (10 kilometre deep) earthquake in 2010, the first one causing damage to Christchurch (40 kilometres to the east), followed by the 6.3 February 2011 one, centred 10 kilometres south east of Christchurch, in which 185 people perished. Dasha and I visited Christchurch in April and the damage is still evident. I was staying in Christchurch during the 2010 quake and will not forget the sounds, like a train coming through the wall nor physically being unable to get out of bed. It occurred at 4.35am.It was dark and cold.
I have to stop at Springfield, population about 220 🙂
The town has a Gothic Revival architecture church dedicated to Saint Peter, designed by the architect Cyril Mountfort. It was the birthplace of Rewi Alley, notable for his work in China in the mid 20th century. There is an extensive memorial dedicated to him, located in a small reserve off the main road. It includes a large stone carving and a number of panels giving details of his life.
On 15 July 2007, a statue of a giant pink doughnut was erected to promote the upcoming movie, The Simpsons Movie. It was subsequently set alight and destroyed by an arsonist on 25 September 2009. A tyre painted pink was used as a substitute until it was replaced with a concrete version unveiled on 1 July 2012
From Springfield the road begins to climb steadily at first and then steeply up to Porters Pass 945.5 metres (3100 feet) above sea level, 18 km (11 miles) from Springfield). This is the highest point on the road.
Castle Hill is easily recognisable by the huge rock formations on the hillside. A signpost on the left shows the start of the track, there is a small car park. Keep walking past the smaller rocks near the road until you reach the more majestic formations further on. There are all sorts of shapes as though a giant sculptor has been at work creating arches and weird prehistoric animals so large that the spectator feels insignificant.
The Bealey and the moa!
As you drive into the hotel car park (where I hope to be staying) note the moa, the large bird depicted on your right, to remind us of the story of the group including Paddy Freaney, the owner of the hotel, who claimed a few years ago to have found a surviving moa and produced a photograph to substantiate their claim.
Accommodation: The Bealey
12858 West Coast Road
Arthur’s Pass National Park
Phone +64 3 318 9277