Christchurch to Geraldine Road Trip

Mt Hutt Skifield

The Southern Alps provide a pristine playground for New Zealanders and nowhere more so than at Mt Hutt, an easy two-hour drive from Christchurch. Travelling south the road hugs the foothills to the quintessential country towns of Geraldine and Fairlie, before ascending into Mackenzie country where the turquoise-blue waters of Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki contrast sharply with the dry, rocky hinterland. SH80 leads to Mount Cook, NZ’s highest mountain, and to the rumbling Tasman Glacier, with its lake embedded in a vast lunar-like landscape. Further south the popular lakeside resorts of Wanaka and Queenstown, both situated beside sparkling lakes in a stunning alpine setting, provide endless opportunities for adventure activities. We take three days to explore the route from Christchurch to Queenstown and begin the journey with an unexpected snowboard lesson at Mt Hutt. We buy new jumpers in Geraldine, spend the evening with locals at a country cinema, enjoy a scenic flight over Mt Cook, taste 500-year old ice from the Tasman Glacier, sunbathe in Wanaka, explore Arrowtown and relax on the shores of Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu wondering where we should begin!

It’s 10 am at Mt Hutt, and Bob and I have miraculously caught the tail end of what has been a wonderfully long ski season. Two and a half hours ago we left Christchurch and now – quite unexpectedly – we’re in a snowboard class on the slopes of Mt Hutt. We watch in awe as others sashay skilfully past, totally at ease with their boards.

We haven’t connected with ours in quite the same manner, but fortunately there are several other beginners sharing the same dilemma. However the younger members of our group are picking it up depressingly fast. Our instructor, James Harding, is patient even though it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks. “Focus on where you’re going and your board will follow,” James tells Bob. It’s good advice, and when the lesson ends we feel confident of the basics.

The mountain air and exercise has worked up an appetite and so we drive back across the rushing Rakaia Gorge to the Terrace Downs High Country Resort, nestled in the foothills of the Southern Alps by the Rakaia River. The championship 18-hole links style golf course sports nine lakes and 70 bunkers but we’re not here for a round, rather to enjoy lunch and après-ski in the clubhouse restaurant where everyone’s welcome. Our table overlooks the course and mountains and after dining on rich venison we head downstairs to the spa pools which feature massive bi-fold windows framing views of the mountains – and nine holes of golf!

Refreshed we leave and drive to Geraldine, a pretty town nestled beside the Talbot Forest on the banks of the Waihi River. Our first port of call after checking into our accommodation is at the Giant Jersey, where made to measure garments are knitted in fine Perendale, Mohair or Merino wool. After a cool morning on the slopes Bob decides he needs a new jumper.

Fortunately Michael and Gillian Linton’s shop boasts around 1000 pre-made jerseys on its shelves, so there’s plenty from which to choose.

“Do you think that would fit?” Bob teases Gillian pointing to a colossal jumper that is pinned to the wall. It was made in 1991, and the Lintons were later awarded a mention in the Guinness Book of Records for the largest ever.

“It’s the only jersey we have that really is ‘one size fits all’,” laughs Gillian as we leave.

Geraldine is full of artisans. We visit Chocolate Fellman’s on the main street. Here qualified chocolatier, Rene Fellman, makes the finest chocolate using specially imported gourmet couverture. Bob’s eyes boggle at the array on offer which includes a Kiwi classic – chocolate fish!

Many of Geraldine’s creative products come in edible form and so – munching chocolate fish – we visit Talbot Forest Cheese where cheesemaker Paul Fitzsimons crafts his tasty wares, followed by Barker Fruit Processors and the Honey Corner Shop.

In the end we taste so many samples that dinner is an in-house snack before we depart to watch an art house comedy screened on an old Ernemann Model II projector at Geraldine’s classic country-style cinema.

It’s run by Barry and Anthea McLauchlan and we’re greeted on the doorstep by ‘Reverend Barry’ as he’s known around town. He ushers us inside and offers a choice of seating: a cozy couch downstairs, or a regular seat up top. We choose a two-seater and watch as tracksuit wearing country-types fill the room, and the movie begins.

About halfway through, it suddenly flickers, then stops. Thinking the projector has broken down Bob whispers, “Let’s go,” just as ‘Reverend’ Barry booms out “INTERMISSION!” and in rolls the wine and cheese.

It’s really kind of bizarre and Bob’s absolutely delighted, “What a great idea,” he says, “We should do this back home!”

Later on as we bid newly-met friends farewell Bob thanks Barry who’s standing on the steps waving farewell. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had at a cinema!” he says. “Ah good,” says Barry, “country folks round here like a bit of a catch up.”