Up until the mid-1930s, travelling around New Zealand was still an adventure. In fact, as late as 1950 when the Dicks and the Dickettes moved from Auckland to Dunedin, I can remember my father poring over his book of Shell Road Maps of New Zealand to try and plot a safe route for the huge 1935 Wolseley limousine that was to be our transport as we switched cities.
But back to the mid-thirties; the main route from Christchurch to Dunedin was via what was called the Main South Road, no matter if you were heading south, or north. I never figured that out. If you were in Ashburton heading for Timaru it made sense for the road to be called the Main South Road, but if you were in Timaru, heading for Ashburton …?
The road south of Christchurch was mostly gravel but the route was pretty much settled, with one notable exception. Between Hinds and Winchester, the Main South Road took a huge sweep inland, almost to the foothills of the Southern Alps, to a small town called Arundel and then back to the east coast again via Geraldine.
While major rivers like the Rakaia and (further south) the Waitaki had been bridged, albeit with structures that initially carried both trains and cars, crossing the Rangitata (and the Orari) rivers had been put on hold ‘until later’ – probably because the Rangitata needed two bridges as it was split with a large island. So the road planners headed inland where both rivers were narrower and easier to bridge. It wasn’t until the mid-thirties that the twin bridges across the Rangitata and that across the Orari on the present route were completed.
Apart from that loop out to Arundel, the Main South Road was as unexciting back then as it is today.
Today, on SH1, you pass manicured farmland turned green by pivoting irrigators, but back in the thirties, this was still wild country, untamed; scrub and gorse covered, what was called the Trans-Rakaia Desert.
Today, motorists wanting to visit the tourist traps of the lower South Island no longer have to do the five-hour drive from Christchurch to Dunedin and then another three or four to Queenstown (or Wanaka) – they can use the ‘inland route’.
When leaving Christchurch, punch ‘Queenstown’ into your satellite navigation and the route will take you down SH1 to Winchester, turn right, towards Geraldine, but just as you are in sight of this very pleasant town, Madame Google will tell you to turn left and thence through ‘Beautiful Valley’ (actually SH79) to Fairlie and on through Tekapo and the Lindis Pass (SH8) to the area of New Zealand that, sadly, is rapidly becoming the Las Vegas of the South Pacific.
All of which is one reason I prefer to coddiwomple and use maps, my inbuilt sense of direction, curiosity, and which way is my nose pointing, to get around the country.
Instead of punching ‘Queenstown’ into the navigation system, five minutes over a cup of coffee and a book of maps would show you a far more interesting way to get to Geraldine (and beyond) – it’s SH72, or, rather more intriguingly, the ‘Inland Scenic Route’.