Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


SEASONS IN the southern hemisphere are opposite of ours, of course. This turns out to be very convenient for those wishing to do winter tire testing in July and August, and there’s no better place for this than the South Island of New Zealand. It’s also a great place to fit in a few days of early retirement, something I’ve been doing, on and off, most of my life.

South Island, New Zealand, has spectacular vistas. This one is along State Route 8 on the way from Christchurch to Wanaka.

Tire testing is done at Waiorau Snow Farm, a facility midway between Wanaka and Queenstown, about 280 miles southwest of Christchurch.

Once outside Christchurch, South Island’s largest city, it isn’t long before the traveler confirms that there are more sheep in New Zealand than there are people.

One of the winter challenges of this drive is the Omarama Lindis Pass. Weather deteriorated as I approached it, and the road through the pass got snowed-in.

It wasn’t bad east of Omarama Lindis Pass, but higher up the road was closed for about 12 hours.

Through the wonders of Google Maps, you can see the road up to the Snow Farm. Place yourself on Cardrona Valley Road halfway between Wanaka and Queenstown. Bring magnification sufficiently high to show side roads. Turn onto Tuohys Gully Road and then take the first left.

This 9.0-mile gravel road to the Snow Farm was also the venue for the Race to the Sky, an event held each Easter weekend between 1998 and 2007. I’ve been there only in the winter, so have driven it only on hard-pack snow—and ice.

Not a bad view at work: tire testing at Waiorau Snow Farm.

My free time on this particular trip was spent visiting Akaroa, a tiny community on the Banks Peninsula, about 50 miles southeast of Christchurch.

With vistas such as this, it’s a challenge to keep eyes on the road, and the correct side of it too. State Route 75 to Akaroa.

You can’t miss it: Get on State Route 75 and drive the twisties to their terminus.

Akaroa was originally a whaling port, but then colonial squabbles arose.

In 1838, Jean-François L’Anglois took possession of the place for France (though I can’t help but feel his surname only complicated matters). Back home, he encouraged a boatload of his countrymen to sail there.

Akaroa Harbour.

However, travel occupied them from March to August 1840, by which time the British had already fought the local Maoris and, thus, claimed ownership of their own. The French decided to stay on anyway, and to this day there are local signs—and family names—of both heritages.

The website mentions this Akaroa Supply Store. When I was there, the building also housed Café de la Mer.

What of the indigenous Maoris? There were plenty of bad times, but these days Maori/Pakeha (i.e., non-Maori) relations seem amiable indeed. It’s helped along, I believe, by a droll sense of humor that’s part of both cultures.

An example: Our tour guide, a Maori, kept pointing out venues where brilliant Maori cheftains vanquished inept colonials.

“Did the colonials win any battles?” I asked.

“Not on this bus, mate,” our guide replied with a smile. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2012

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This entry was posted on October 1, 2012 by in Just Trippin' and tagged , , , .
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