Arthur’s Pass National Park is snuggly tucked In the middle of the Southern Alps of New Zealand, right in the heart of the South Island between Canterbury and the West Coast. This is one of the many stunning national parks New Zealand has to offer.
You can have a 2-hour drive to the national park either from the east, from Christchurch, or travel for approximately 1h20min from the west, from Greymouth, both rides offer stunning views with many viewing platforms along the way. The road to the park is a spectacular piece of extreme civil engineering involving viaducts, bridges, rock shelters and waterfalls redirected into chutes.
The east of the national park is dominated by mountain beech forest and shingled riverbeds, whereas the weastern side of the Arthur's Pass National Park is dominated by dense rainforests with many shrubs, tree ferns, mosses and lichens, and fast rivers running along deep overgrown gorges.
With the and that extends over 1,185 sq.km., the national park has plenty to offer. The Park enjoys quite unique endemic flora and fauna that include the mischievous Kkea, a mountain parrot, and the endangered great spotted kiwi. It also has an accessible ski field, a range of walking tracks from short easy ones to demanding climbs, two mountain biking tracks, wonderful waterfalls and hunting grounds. This national park can please any visitor any season regardless of the level of stamina and fitness. However, it is always worth making sure you are prepared before you arrive not to lose a single minute of your wonderful stay here.
With a population of less than 100 people in Arthur’s Pass village, groceries and petrol can be very expensive, so make sure to stock up before you come to the last urban settlement in the area. Still, don’t fret if you forget something, the convenience store, and the petrol station will have you covered.
Speaking of the necessities, Arthur’s Pass has approximately 200 rainy days per year, so a good raincoat or a waterproof jacket is a must then nothing will stop you from exploring the stunning subalpine forest tracks and enjoying the many water features that the park has.
This park is a mountaineer’s delight with many peaks over 2,000 meters a.s.l. (6,562ft), the highest being Mount Murchison (2,400m). Coupled with that, there are 28 mountain huts scattered across the park. You can stay there overnight and not waste time when trying to reach the glaciers, gorges and pretty alpine tarns. All the main valleys of the park are deep and steep-sided, with the U-shaped profile, narrow rocky ridges and ice-smoothed bedrock, this is the legacy left by the last major Ice Age.
Beware that Arthur's Pass mountains have a challenging, quite rugged terrain, not many of the rivers that you will need to cross have bridges, and seemingly innocuous streams can get dangerous to wade in heavy rain. Weather conditions can also be a challenge as they change very quickly. So be prepared with warm clothing (even in the summer months), a map, and a compass. The high mountains of the park are not a place for the inexperienced.
If you, your family and friends fall in the non-mountaineer category, do not worry - Arthur’s Pass National Park caters for those with unassuming demands. There are many easy and accessible walks, as well as some challenging walks for those who want to do some hardcore hiking.
The Devil’s Punchbowl track is easy and can be done in 1 hour each way. This walk will mesmerise you with many endemic birds, including the kea and the great spotted kiwi. Please don't feed the kea - they can become dependent on begging and lose their ability to find food for themselves. At the end of the walk, you will be left stunned by a beautiful waterfall that plunges 131 meters down into the canyon. Although the Devil’s Punchbowl walk is easy, it does have a number of staircases that will make you cover a 90-meter elevation gain (approx. 295 feet).
If you have very young kids and need to take a buggy, or if the stairs are too challenging for you physically, how about trying some of the other easy strolls such as the Old Coach Road forest walk. This easy 30-minute walk starts at Greyneys Shelter, approximately 6km north of the Arthur's Pass village. Although the walk is suitable for all-terrain buggies, some buggies and wheelchairs may struggle at times. The Old Coach Road track takes you back in time to the 1860’s when people had to cross this dangerous terrain to get from east to west, or vice versa. The most peculiar thing about this walk awaits you at the northern end of the track, where a handrail has been placed so that you can shut your eyes and let your other senses get you through the forest.
Another easy walk is the Dobson Nature walk, a route that will allow you to experience a rich variety of subalpine and alpine plants, including herbs, tussocks, shrubs, and flowers. Mind you that New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere, so the seasons are reversed here. The alpine flowers are in bloom from November to February. This walk is approximately 15 minutes one way, it starts at the Temple Basin car park.
Walking, hiking or climbing mountains are not the only activities that this beautiful national park can offer. Skiing is a very popular sport here in New Zealand. In Arthur’s Pass National Park, there is only one ski piste, Temple Basin. However, in less than a 3-hour drive you can reach Craigieburn Range with 5 ski runs .
Temple Basin is located 5 km north Arthur’s Pass village and caters for all types of skiers, from inexperienced to advanced ones. Skiing might be rather a dangerous endeavour in these parts as there are many boulders and rocks strewn on the slopes, yet, those runs are usually undertaken by experienced skiers. For beginners there are long gentle slopes covered with fluffy snow.
Please beware, there are no chair lifts to take you to the lower ski lifts or the lodge. There is however a cable lift to take your gear up. With no gear to carry, why not enjoy a 45-to-60-minute climb to the lodges and lower lifts, where you will enjoy stunning views and surprisingly, even some flora during a skiing season, which will never let you forget your ski experience in Arthur's Pass National Park.
For all you crazy bikers, the national park has two mountain biking tracks, Mount White Road and the Poulter Valley, to meet your needs.
Mount White Road is perfect for a beginner wanting to experience something new. The track from Mount White Bridge to the Poulter River takes approximately two 2 hours each way and passes along tussock flats bordering the Grand Waimakariri River.
The Poulter Valley is more advanced and thus is not recommended unless you have at least an intermediate level of experience riding in the backcountry. The ride is uneven at times and there are some streams you will have to wade. The area is subjected to flooding and avalanches from time to time. So, ensure you plan your trip properly, notify some people about your planned adventure and talk to the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre staff about the weather update before you set out. When you get to the track, the scenery is breathtaking and you will even get to cross some farms to experience the true New Zealand. The ride takes approximately 3h20min each way.
The Canterbury region is drained by three large river systems: the Rangitata, the Rakaia, and the Waimakariri, all known for their salmon fishing. Numerous smaller trout rivers and streams flow into these rivers, many of which played a role in the Middle‑earth setting in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The spring-fed streams feeding into these systems in the high country are of particular interest for fly fishermen, as is Mt Cook, located further to the south. Christchurch is a popular location for anglers to begin and end their trip with. From here, it's easy to connect with roads that lead to the West Coast via Arthur's and Lewis Pass - a mecca of pristine rivers and streams. Mind you, that you need to obtain a fishing license for freshwater fishing. The fishing rules and the amount of fish you are allowed to catch is regulated by recreational fishing rules that vary with the region. Check the official website for the details of your future awesome fishing experience.
Fancy a night stroll into the forest? If so, keep your eye open for glow worms. They inhabit the small fissures in the forest floor. If a day trip into the forest is more your thing and you want to catch your own lunch, why not try hunting for deer, boars and chamois. Arthur’s Pass National Park has been divided into two hunting grounds, the west and the east. Both hunting grounds are dominated by large scree slopes, steep gorges and wide rivers, so if you go hunting please ensure you have some hiking experience as well, have an up-to-date weather forecast and come warm clothing (even in the summer). Last but not least, a hunting permit is a must.
Why drive when you have an option to relax while being swished to Arthur's Pass village in luxury and without hassle? The TranzAlpine train, described as one of the greatest rail journeys of the world, can take you from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass and beyond. The journey is the mixture of vast open spaces and narrow intermountain passages.
You can travel in the closed carriages that allow you to enjoy the breathtaking views in comfort (warm in the winter and cool in the summer), or go to the open air viewing platform located at one end of the train, it allows you to take as many pictures as you want without the windows acting as barriers.
The train allows you to travel in style, with huge panoramic windows and a roof skylight lining the closed carriages you can experience amazing views of the magnificent South Island. The comfortable seats that can recline to about 40 degrees have loads of leg room to cater for everyone, including those who are tall. If you are travelling as a family or with a group of friends, you can sit in one of the 4 seats facing each other around a table, and enjoy the experience as a group.
In the middle of the train, you will find a cafe-bar carriage stocked with tea, coffee, wine, beer, snacks and even some hot meals (heated in a microwave oven), all at reasonable prices. Ensure you have cash when boarding the train. Sometimes the card machine does not work if the train is out of the cell phone coverage, which is plenty of time.
There are many types of accommodation suitable for all budget needs in the national park and village. If you are climbing high mountains, or go mountain biking or hunting, stay in one of the 28 huts scattered across the national park. Barker Hut is the closest to Mount Murchison. This hut has 10 bunk beds with mattresses. The hut also offers water supply, toilets, hand washing facilities and heating with fuel available.
If you are riding the Poulter Valley Track, stay at the Poulter Hut which has 10 bunk beds with mattresses. The hut also offers water supply and toilets.
If your desire is to stay in the ski field to ensure you make the most of your day, Temple Basin ski area has a variety of modern bunk rooms designed to house 4 to 10 people. The backpackers hostel has been made to meet all your needs including dinner, bed and breakfast. All you need to bring is your own sleeping bag and a towel.
If what you want is to stay and explore the delightful Arthur’s Pass village, you will not be short of accomodation options:
Arthur’s Pass Alpine Motel, located in the village, has warm, spacious, clean, and cozy rooms and cabins with plenty of amenities and a fully stocked kitchen to make your stay comfortable. The owners have great knowledge of the area and an extensive movie library, which will allow you to relax after a day full of endeavours. The motel also has a range of books and games that will allow you to pass the time on too wet days/nights. The hotel is very close to restaurants and bars, but this community is small so be prepared to have most establishments close early. The motel offers free Wi-Fi and a free parking.
The Wilderness Lodge Arthur's Pass, located approximately a 15-minute drive from the village, sits on a 4,000 acre farm and nature reserve surrounded by spectacular views. The rooms are spacious and very clean. The lodge has its own restaurant with some delicious local food. The best part of this lodge is the many activities they arrange including a favourite New Zealand experience of sheep shearing. The price per night at this lodge is rather steep. However, the price includes accommodation, dinner, breakfast and two short but guided activities daily.
Arthurs Pass Village B&B, located in the village within a walking distance of restaurants and bars, is a fully restored historical cottage providing great homemade breakfast and dinner. The owners are very knowledgeable about the area. The B&B is small, so you know the shared kitchen and lounge won’t be crowded.
Although Arthur’s Pass National Park has many things to explore and do, there are areas around the national park worth visiting as well.
Castle Hill, located approximately 51 km south of Arthur’s Pass, has special cultural, historical and spiritual significance to the Ngai Tahu people. Hidden amongst the large boulders scattered across the field are traces of charcoal drawings. The drawings are believed to have been made by the Waitaha, the first people to travel through this area. Like Arthur’s Pass National Park, the Castle Hill area provides for many activities, viz. skiing, hiking, walking, climbing, mountain biking, caving and fishing.
The Craigieburn Range, located approximately 100 km kilometers south of Arthur's Pass National Park, has 5 ski fields for you to explore.
Arthur’s Pass National Park really does have many activities to fill your days with excitement and your life with wonderful memories.
The beauty of this national park is in its pristine and mainly unexplored territory, the backcountry tracks and facilities allow you to have a glimpse of this gem among other national parks in New Zealand.
To ensure that you do not put your or anyone else's life at risk, please ensure that you: