Arthur's Pass is the highest pass over the Southern Alps. Long before surveyor Arthur Dudley Dobson found his way over the pass in 1864, it was known to Maori hunting parties as a route between east and west.
The eastern side of Arthur's Pass National Park is characterised by wide, shingle-filled riverbeds and vast beech forests. The western side of the park, where wet weather is more common than dry, has deeply gorged rivers flowing through dense rainforest. Down the middle of 'the great divide' is an alpine dreamland of snow-covered peaks, glaciers and scree slopes.
Most people arrive in Arthur's Pass National Park by road - a spectacular piece of extreme civil engineering involving viaducts, bridges, rock shelters and waterfalls redirected into chutes. When Arthur Dobson first encountered the precipitous Otira Gorge, the pass was almost impassable - he had to leave his horse at the top and lower his dog on a rope.
Another way to experience Arthur's Pass is on the TranzAlpine Train from Christchurch. After your scenic train journey you can spend the day exploring Arthur's Park National Park, walk through New Zealand native forest, enjoy lunch at a cosy cafe, and look for cheeky kea. A return train departs Arthur's Pass at 4pm and arrives back in Christchurch at 6pm.
The park includes many peaks over 2000 metres - the highest is Mount Murchison at 2,400 metres. All the main valleys of the park are deep and steep sided, with the U-shaped profile typical of glacial action. Above the sub-alpine shrublands, there are enchanting alpine fields with wild flowers.
The village at Arthur's Pass is the starting point for many short walks. The entrance to the historic Otira rail tunnel can be seen here - an epic engineering feat through 8.5 kilometres of rock.
The Department of Conservation provides 30 hikers' huts and 'Basic' shelters (bivouacs) within the park, linked by an excellent track system. Find out more about this accommodation here. Arthur's Park village offers a good choice of accommodation styles - from backpacker lodges to hotel rooms.
The city of Christchurch is just under two hours drive from Arthur's Pass village, on the eastern side of the Southern Alps. On the western side of the mountains, the town of Greymouth is an hour's drive away.
Short and long walks
Walks invariably begin at the edge of the highway and take you to amazing natural attractions. The Devil's Punchbowl Falls, Bridal Veil Track, Historic Village Walk, Temple Basin and the Dobson Nature Walk are some of the recommended short walks. Full day walks include Cons Track, Avalanche Peak, Mount Aicken and Mount Bealey. You'll probably meet the park's most famous inhabitant - the kea, a comical alpine parrot famous for its inquisitive nature.
The Temple Basin Ski Area is located on the slopes of Mount Temple above Arthur's Pass. The skifield is open each winter from late June to early October and caters for all levels of skiing. In recent years, it has become very popular with snowboarders.
Arthur's Pass National Park is a mountaineering mecca, offering a huge choice of classic climbing routes, including specialised challenges for ice climbers and rock climbers.