Arthur’s Pass is a small service town for The Arthur’s Pass National Park, which is situated between Canterbury and the West Coast in the South Island of New Zealand. State Highway 73 passes over Arthur's Pass, connecting Christchurch with Greymouth. It is the highest of only three roads crossing the Southern Alps, The scenic Tranzalpine Express train also crosses through The Arthurs Pass National Park.
Maori had used Arthur's pass as a walkingroute to collect greenstone (jade) from western river beds. Arthur Dobson, whom the area is named after, was the first European to find this route through the Southern Alps in 1864.
Arthur’s Pass National Park is in the heart of the Southern Alps. Its high mountains with large scree slopes, steep gorges and wide braided rivers, straddle the ‘back bone’ of the South Island. It’s a park of contrasts, with dry beech/tawhai forest in the east, rainforest on western slopes, and a historic highway and railway running through the middle. Arthur’s Pass (1929) was New Zealand’s third national park and the first one in the South Island.
Arthur's Pass (920 m) lies on the main divide on the watershed between the Waimakariri and Taramakau Rivers, and is the lowest pass, and the only crossing for motor traffic, between the Lewis and Haast Passes. A railway tunnel over 5 miles long was completed beneath the pass in 1923, and this route still constitutes the only rail link across the South Island, carrying a large proportion of the coal and timber produced on the West Coast to Lyttleton Port near Christchurch. Today the TranzAlpine is rated as one of the best railway journeys in the world, traversing a variety of landscapes from plains to tussock grasslands, braided rivers, steep gorges, and spectacular mountains. The journey can be taken as a return day trip to either Greymouth or Arthur’s Pass. A five hour stopover at the pass gives visitors time to explore the National Park. For those who want to stay awhile there is ample Arthur’s Pass accommodation and a restaurant, café and bar.
The mountain ranges of Arthur’s Pass National Park have been a climbing Mecca since 1891. Climbing is a popular activity in the park. Mt Rolleston (2275 m) is a popular climb for all mountaineers. Mt. Rolleston is a fine peak 3.2 km west of the pass, it dominates the scenery in the area, and especially so from Temple Basin, a popular ski field overlooking the pass. Within the Park the terrain varies from low hills capable of being climbed by almost anybody, to heavily glaciated peaks and steep face routes only for experienced climbers. The local heavy rainfall, exceeding 5000 mm per year, maintains a thick cover of beech rain forest on all the lower slopes.
There's something for every walker in Arthur's Pass, from short strolls through beech forest suitable for families, to a strenuous climb to the summit of a mountain with panoramic views for those with experience seeking a challenge. Recommended half day walks are Devil’s Punchbowl, Bridal Veil, Bealey Valley and Dobson Nature Walk. The high tussock covered slopes are carpeted with wild herbs and alpine flowers and the Southern Alps form a dazzling backdrop of serrated ridges and eternal snowfields.
Mountain biking is permitted only on formed roads within national parks. The Mt White Road traverses tussock flats bordering the grand Waimakariri River, with wide sweeping views up the valley and around 25 km of unsealed road. Allow about 2 hours from Mt White Bridge to Poulter River, one way.
When in the park keep an eye out for the Cheeky Kea, and also in the park are the endangered great spotted kiwi “roroa”. New Zealand’s largest kiwi, The Great spotted kiwi is a rugged mountaineer, But there is only about 17000 living today, most are in the Arthur’s Pass area.
Arthur’s Pass National Park is rugged and mountainous, with weather that can change rapidly with little warning. All visitors should be prepared for wet and cold conditions, even in summer.
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