Arthur's Pass National Park

Arthur's Pass National Park is located between the West Coast and Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand in the stunning Southern Alps - Kā Tiritiri o te Moana.

As the first of New Zealand's South Island national parks, and third on a national level, it was established in 1929.

In a region of New Zealand that is dominated by a landscape of high mountains, steep gorges, and wide rivers, there are contrasts of scenery and flora.

The western side is covered with wet lush rainforest in contrast to the vast dry beech forests and shingle riverbeds to the east.

Across the divide between east and west, Arthur's Pass, there is an alpine environment with glaciers and snow covered mountain peaks. To transport you from one side to the other there is an historic highway that runs through the park, and an historic railway.

TranzAlpine, Arthur's Pass, South Island - Photographer: Roy Sinclair
TranzAlpine Train Arthurs Pass, South Island - Photographer: Roy Sinclair

The road through Arthur’s Pass came to completion in 1865 by workmen who laboured through the winter with such basic tools as picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. Due to the gold rush this road needed to be built as fast as humanly possible to create a passable route from the South Island West Coast where the gold was found through to Christchurch on the other side of the Alps. However, the weather in this region can be totally unpredictable and often this road has to be closed due to weather conditions changing rapidly.

Of the passes that cross the Southern Alps, Arthur's Pass is the highest. Although originally known to the Maori as a main route between west and east, a surveyor called Arthur Dudley Dobson managed to find a way across in 1864... and I guess it was named after Arthur! Although, as the story goes, Arthur did have problems with Otira Gorge and ended up having to leave his horse behind and his poor dog had to endure being lowered down by rope.

There are many other peaks in Arthurs Pass National Park that reach heights of over two thousand metres, the highest of which is the two thousand four hundred metres Mount Murchison. As well as the typical steep sided valleys of the park there are alpine fields full of wild flowers, shrubs, and plants.

Southern Alps, Canterbury, New Zealand Travel, View from the East
Southern Alps New Zealand Travel, Canterbury, South Island, View from East

Activities in Arthur’s Pass National Park

Many of the shorter walks through the park start at the village at Arthur’s Pass. Short walks taking you to some of the many natural attractions of the park generally start from the road and include: Dobson Nature Walk, Temple Basin, Bridal Veil Track, Historic Village Walk, and the Devil’s Punchbowl Falls walk. Among the longer one day walks there are: Mount Bealey, Avalanche Peak, Mount Aicken, and Cons Track.

For longer walking tracks involving over night stays, there are thirty hike huts and shelters provided by the Department of Conservation. The system of park tracks link the between the hut and shelter locations. Enquire with the Department of Conservation about hut bookings, particularly in the summer season when Arthurs Pass National Park is a popular place to visit for New Zealanders as well as international visitors.

There are ski slopes above Arthur's Pass that cater for all levels of skiing and snowboarding experience, such as on Mount Temple where the Temple Basin Ski Area is situated. The ski season here is open between late June and early October.

For climbing and mountaineering, Arthurs Pass National Park has a fantastic choice including; ice climbing, rock climbing, and many climbing routes. Some of these activities are very specialized and those visitors without the appropriate level of climbing experience will need to enlist the services of a local climbing company and/or guide.

These types of alpine regions can be challenging even for the most experienced mountaineers, so be aware of the New Zealand Outdoor Safety Code before embarking out into the park.

Arthur’s Pass Accommodation

To get to Arthur’s Pass village from Christchurch by driving takes approximately two hours. The western coast town of Greymouth on the other side of the Alps is only around one hour drive away. Once you get to the village you will find a wide range of accommodation to choose from that includes backpacker lodges and hotels. In the height of the summer season be sure to book your accommodation to prevent disappointment.

Snow Covered Trees Along a South Island Pass, Southern Alps New Zealand
Snow Covered Trees Along a South Island Pass, Southern Alps New Zealand

Southern Alps, South Island, NZ Travel, View from the East
Southern Alps, South Island, NZ Travel, View from the East

Arthurs Pass National Park Location

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