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All about Arthur's Pass National Park
Sometimes one of our ‘forgotten’ national parks, but Arthur’s Pass is an awesome piece of country, really easy to get to and just in the right spot to make it a perfect stopover for anyone travelling across the Southern Alps between the West Coast and Christchurch. Whichever way you travel, on the world famous TranzAlpine or over the ‘Great Alpine Highway’, it’s classic Kiwi High Country. Also, it’s one of the best places in New Zealand to see our crazy native parrot, the Kea. If you want to see what these guys get up to search for ‘Kea destroying police car’ on YouTube and you’ll see what we mean!
Here’s our guide to Arthur’s Pass - How to get there, some itinerary suggestions, weather, what to do and our Kiwi tip.
Our favourite thing to do in Arthur’s Pass
Check out the Kea at the Otira Lookout. The viaduct and the old road are pretty impressive, the Southern Alps all around you awesome, and when the Kea are around riding the wind or playing the fool, it’s NZ in a nutshell. Honourable mention is the Visitor Centre in the village, check out the old stage coach and imagine the brave folks teetering over the old road on that!
Other things to do in Arthur’s Pass
Arthur’s Pass is the least developed national park in the country, and with strict ‘no-fly’ rules above, you’re guaranteed to have the Great Outdoors to yourself in solitude.
Short walks from the village:
The Punchbowl Falls, the Bealey Valley, the new Arthur’s Pass walking track, the Bridal Veil Track and Temple basin. You can actually walk all the way from the village up to the Dobson memorial on these tracks now.
Lots of options, from day walks like the Bealey Spur to overnight challenges like the Goat Pass. For something way off the grid, hike to the hot springs at Otehake Gorge (a real tough track, this one). Check out the Arthur's Pass info page on the DOC website for more.
A real challenge, with a steep climb of 1,100m / 3600 feet from the village, but the most popular day hike / climb in Arthur’s Pass because you start right at the village and the views are awesome.
The Coast to Coast:
Once a year in early February the endurance athletes come out and take over the park, running, kayaking and biking all the way from the West Coast, over Arthur’s Pass and on to Christchurch. Roads are open that weekend, but if you can you probably want to plan your trip for another time.
Kiwi Favourites in Arthur’s Pass
The road over the pass is one of the highest in New Zealand, you’re literally crossing the backbone of the southern alps here. What that means is it’s super easy to see the alpine flowers in full bloom. There are only two or three places in the country you can pull off a main road, walk for just a few minutes and get that perfect Mount Cook Lilly photo with the Southern Alps in the background. Here, it’s too easy! The new Arthur’s Pass walking track, from the Bealey Valley carpark up to the Dobson memorial is a beautifully made brand new track and up near the pass you’re absolutely surrounded by Lillies in full bloom. Spring (October - November) is the best time for alpine flowers.
How to fit Arthur’s Pass into your South Island Itinerary
Unless you’re a keen hiker and want to get out into the real wilderness to camp or overnight in huts, then we reckon the best way to see Arthur’s Pass is to stop over on your way between the West Coast and Christchurch. Don’t try to travel too far in one day, from Punakaiki to Christchurch (or the other way) with a stop in Arthur’s Pass is just about right. Your day will be a pretty memorable one, wake up to the sound of the West Coast surf crashing on the beach, head up the stunning Otira Gorge and across the viaduct, get out in the mountain air for a short walk then grab lunch in Arthur’s Pass then catch the TranzAlpine or take the ‘Great Alpine Highway’ through to the Garden City of Christchurch. There aren’t many countries you can squeeze all that into a single day, here in NZ, easy as!
Suggested itinerary for visiting Arthur’s Pass
Stay the previous night in Punakaiki, get up early check out the Pancake rocks and blowholes at high tide, head south and inland for Arthur’s Pass, definitely make the stop at the Otira lookout (best Kea spot around) and for walkers or flower lovers, Temple Basin or the Bealey Valley, both just before Arthur’s Pass village. Stop in the village for lunch and coffee (we love the ‘Wobby Kea’!) before continuing east to Christchurch.
If you’re on a tour or have a driver, and have plenty of time, you can catch the TranzAlpine back to Christchurch (a few more details below) or make the excellent drive on State Highway 73. There are so many stops a long the way, our favourites are the Waimakariri Valley View, Lake Pearson, Cave Stream and of course Castle Hill / Kura Tawhiti, and one last stop in the high country at Porters Pass! The section between Arthur’s Pass and Springfield is only 80 km / 50 miles but there’s so much to see you could take half a day to do this and you wouldn’t regret it!
How to get to Arthur’s Pass National Park
From Christchurch by Train:
Ranked of the world’s best rail journeys, for train spotters, the TranzAlpine is the perfect way to start a South Island trip. It departs Christchurch at 08.15 am and arrives at 10.52 am. You’ll need to be on a tour or have an onward ride arranged, there are no transport or rental cars in Arthur’s Pass!
From Greymouth by Train:
The TranzAlpine makes one trip a day, across the alps to the coast and back, the morning train turns around in Greymouth and departs again at 2.05 pm and gets into Arthur’s Pass at 4.28 pm. If you do this you’ll need to have transport or accommodation arranged in advance.
From Christchurch by Road:
It’s not called the ‘Great Alpine Highway’ for nothing, one of New Zealand’s most scenic roads! Last stop for coffee is Springfield before you climb up to the Porters Pass and on into the High Country. The section between the two passes, Porters and Arthur’s, is stunning! See our favourite spots above, take your time, you’ll love it. It’s 150 km / 95 miles from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass, you can do this in 2 hours, but why would you? Take half a day to make all the stops, this is what you’ve come all the way to New Zealand to see!
From the West Coast to Arthur’s Pass by Road:
A lot of people make the trip from Franz Josef to Christchurch in a day, meaning almost no time in Arthur’s Pass. We always stay in Punakaiki, which is much closer, giving you all the time you need to see all the stops. Punakaiki to Arthur’s Pass is 140 km / 90 miles, two hours in a straight run but you’d be crazy not to allow a bit more time for the stops just on the western side of Arthur’s Pass - the Otira lookout and the new Arthur’s Pass walking track are our favourites. Greymouth and Hokitika are also really easy little jaunts up to Arthur’s Pass, 95 km / 60 miles from Greymouth, 100km / 62 miles from Hokitika.
Tours to Arthur’s Pass
Multi day tours travelling from Christchurch to the West Coast will all pass through Arthur’s Pass. A lot of tours don’t stop, so make sure you find one that does. Day tours from Christchurch include trips travelling up on the TranzAlpine and combining with a jet boat ride, farm visit and 4WD trip for a great High Country Experience.
Access to Arthur’s Pass National Park is all from the main road, State Highway 73, there’s no other way to get into the park. Even if you’re up for the challenge of some of the overnight hikes in the park, all the access roads head off from SH73.
Arthur’s Pass Village
People call it a ‘town’, but that could be a stretch. Last count, the permanent population was around 27 (Source: Our mate Graeme)! There are two cafes, a couple of lodges, the national park visitor centre and the train station, that’s about it. The locals all live in ‘cribs’ around the village, and quite a few Christchurch people have holiday houses here too. It’s New Zealand’s only real alpine town, and unique in that it’s totally surrounded by national park. It’s the surrounding scenery you want to come to see, not the town itself.
Arthur’s Pass Weather
The Southern Alps are the barrier that keeps the West Coast green and the Canterbury Plains dry, when the westerlies roll in they drop their rain on the Pass and cause a hot dry wind over the plains (ask Cantabury folks about the Norwester, they hate it, ruins their golf!). Driving from coast to coast over Arthur’s Pass can take you through a real Kiwi ‘Four Seasons in One Day’, it’s fun to watch. Ask your guide or keep an eye on the weather in the pass if you’re keen to get outside.
Arthur's Pass Average Temperatures:
• Summer, December - February. High: 68F, 20C. Low: 52F, 11C.
• Autumn / Fall, March - May. High: 64F, 18C. Low: 45F, 7C.
• Winter, June - August. High: 54F, 12C. Low: 37F, 3C.
• Spring, September - November. High: 61F, 16C. Low: 43F, 6C.
Arthur's Pass rainfall days:
The highest rainfalls months: December, June, October with an average of 17-19 rainfall days.
The lowest rainfalls months:
July, February, January with an average of 11-14 rainfall days.
Something you didn’t know about Arthur’s Pass
It’s not Middle Earth, but it’s Narnia, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' was filmed around Cave Stream and at Flock Hill Station, in the high country not far from Arthur’s Pass. Also, the most recent Moa sighting in New Zealand was near Arthur’s Pass in 1993, funny story that one, it goes like this: ‘There was an Irishman called Paddy...'
Kiwi Tip for Arthur’s Pass
If you’re travelling over the pass, the village itself is your Wifi oasis. Either side of Arthur’s Pass for an hour at least either way there’s no mobile coverage. There is now coverage at Castle Hill, but if there’s anything urgent you need to do, take care of it before you leave or stop over in Arthur’s Pass.
Visiting Arthur’s Pass with MoaTrek
We reckon spending the night in Punakaiki, checking out the Pancake Rocks, palm trees and a final night’s sunset on the beach is the perfect last night, before crossing the alps for the short walks and alpine flowers at the pass, all the best stops along the Great Alpine Highway before a late afternoon arrival into Christchurch is the perfect way to round off your New Zealand ‘Trip of a Lifetime!’
At MoaTrek, we're all proud Kiwis and have a lifetime of holiday memories from all over New Zealand, including plenty of trips over Arthur's Pass to the Coast and back! We've bottled a lifetime of holiday memories into our New Zealand small group tours, find out more about us or drop us a line now to talk about your New Zealand 'Trip of a Lifetime'!
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