Arthur's Pass National Park
An astounding alpine wilderness straddling the great divide
Arthur's Pass is the highest pass over the Southern Alps. Long before surveyor Arthur Dudley Dobson found his way over the pass in 1864, it was known to Maori hunting parties as a route between east and west.
The eastern side of Arthur's Pass National Park is characterised by wide, shingle-filled riverbeds and vast beech forests. The western side of the park, where wet weather is more common than dry, has deeply gorged rivers flowing through dense rainforest. Down the middle of 'the great divide' is an alpine dreamland of snow-covered peaks, glaciers and scree slopes.
The park includes many peaks over 2000 metres - the highest is Mount Murchison at 2,400 metres. All the main valleys of the park are deep and steep sided, with the U-shaped profile typical of glacial action. Above the sub-alpine shrublands, there are enchanting alpine fields with wild flowers.
Most people arrive in Arthur's Pass National Park by road - a spectacular piece of extreme civil engineering involving viaducts, bridges, rock shelters and waterfalls redirected into chutes. When Arthur Dobson first encountered the precipitous Otira Gorge, the pass was almost impassable - he had to leave his horse at the top and lower his dog on a rope.
The village at Arthur's Pass is New Zealand's highest town, and the starting point for many short walks. The entrance to the historic Otira rail tunnel can be seen here - an epic engineering feat through 8.5 kilometres of rock.
Arthur's Pass Alpine Motel (www.apam.co.nz Freecall 0800 900 401) offers good value accommodation $85 (double winter rate) $105 (double summer rate). All units have a bathroom and kitchen. Family units and units with fires are also available.
The Department of Conservation also provides 30 hikers' huts and 'Basic' shelters (bivouacs) within the park, linked by an excellent track system. Arthur's Park village offers a good choice of accommodation styles - from backpacker lodges to hotel rooms. Around the park
The city of Christchurch is just under two hours drive from Arthur's Pass village, on the eastern side of the Southern Alps. On the western side of the mountains, the town of Greymouth is an hour's drive away.
Short and long walks
Walks invariably begin at the edge of the highway and take you to amazing natural attractions. The Devil's Punchbowl Falls, Bridal Veil Track, Historic Village Walk, Temple Basin and the Dobson Nature Walk are some of the recommended short walks. Full day walks include Cons Track, Avalanche Peak, Mount Aicken and Mount Bealey. You'll probably meet the park's most famous inhabitant - the kea, a comical alpine parrot famous for its inquisitive nature.
The Temple Basin Ski Area is located on the slopes of Mount Temple above Arthur's Pass. The skifield is open each winter from late June to early October and caters for all levels of skiing. In recent years, it has become very popular with snowboarders.
Arthur's Pass National Park is a mountaineering mecca, offering a huge choice of classic climbing routes, including specialised challenges for ice climbers and rock climbers.