Arthur's Pass - An unexpected surprise

Cindy Banville writes about her Sunday day trip to the Southern Alps.

It is Sunday 8am and I wake up under a grey Christchurch sky. I look at the weather forecast for Christchurch and Arthur’s Pass National Park and see it’s going to be a better day up in the mountains. Perhaps I should escape for the day?

At 10am, I’m ready to go. I quickly stop at Coupland’s bakery to get some supplies. Then I hit the Great Alpine Highway which leads me to Arthur’s Pass ninety minutes later.

The sky is clearing above the mountains, the sun is shinning in Springfield, this is going to be a great day!

After an hour’s drive, I arrive at Castle Hill. The place is crowded with people! Castle Hill is a popular place for climbing, but was also a shooting location for the famous film The Lord of the Rings. I carry on, but promise to return as this is not today’ plan.

I make it to Arthur’s Pass, the heart of the Southern Alps. This small alpine village of 50 inhabitants or so is located 920 metres above sea level.

Popular in summer for its numerous tracks, Arthur’s Pass is absolutely charming in winter with the snow and smoking chimneys. I must find a good track, so I stop at the department of conservation (DoC) office to take a look at different options.

I end up choosing the Bealey Valley – a 4-hour return track located 3 kms north of Arthur’s Pass village. The track departs from a tiny car park, quite difficult to find if no cars are parked there already.

So I gather my things – food, water and camera – and venture into the forest for the next couple of hours. Within the first five minutes, I reach a bridge where I have a beautiful view over the river cascading downstream.

For the next ten minutes or so, the trail is relatively easy since I have to walk on a wooden platform. I make my way up the valley along the river, stopping from time to time to refresh myself with pure water flowing down from the mountain.

During a break, what a surprise it is to see the Devil’s Punch Bowl Falls behind me. This magnificent waterfall, towering 131 metres high, is a must see during a visit to Arthur’s Pass.

This easy walk – 45-minute return – also starts from a car park located directly in the village of Arthur’s Pass.

I continue my journey spanning rocks and roots and then suddenly the most exciting thing happens to me. I see something white in the distance. What’s this? Foam caused by waterfalls?

I realise minutes later that it is actually snow! Originally from Canada and having not seen snow for three years, I feel like a child again! I am so excited to be able to touch the snow, but even more surprised to see it as we are in the middle of summer!

I finally reached the snow and sit comfortably for lunch with magnificent views over the valley. With my sandwich in hand, I can hear a woman yelling nearby.

I turn around and understand that she’s seeing a Kea, an alpine parrot living in the high country of the South Island. The Kea flies directly towards me, or more likely my sandwich, and sits next to me, begging for some food which he never got.

I couldn’t ask for better – a stunning view over the valley, accompanied by a Kea staring at me! A few minutes later, I leave him behind and make my way back to the car park.

Back in the car, first thing I do is to remove my hiking boots and settle down comfortably behind the wheel.

I drive a few kms towards Christchurch and stop in the Bealey Valley for my afternoon tea where I enjoy my favourite Canadian chocolate bar my sister sent me a week before, surrounded by a splendid view. Whilst having my snack, I can see the TranzAlpine heading back to Christchurch.

A few minutes later, it is my turn to go home, head full of unforgettable memories. What a beautiful day…

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