Guide to Arthur’s Pass National Park

Arthur’s Pass is a small, but fantastic National Park along the West Coast road on the South Island in New Zealand. In only 2 hours from Christchurch you can find yourself surrounded by beautiful talus sloped peaks, bunches of wild yellow flowers, and wide braided rivers. There’s several short but worthy day hikes in the region and it’s a fascinating area to drive through and picture the historic highway/ railway that ran through it connecting the 2 different sides of the South Island. While hiking in the area be sure to keep an eye out for kea, the only alpine parrot in the world, that live in the mountains here.

Where to hike:

The Devils Punchbowl Waterfall

Distance: 2 km, time: 1 hour

A short and sweet hike that leads to one of New Zealand’s most spectacular waterfalls. It’s an easy-moderate trail with wooden steps, bridges, and beautiful beech forest. See my post here for more details.

Bealey Spur Track

Distance: 6 km, time: 4hours RT

Best done in fine weather, this track has beautiful views of beech forest, grasslands and subalpine scrub, and the nearby braided river. The most climatic part of this hike is at a cliff with dramatic views down on Bruce Stream. We were unfortunately rained out of this longer hike but if I was ever back in the area, it would be near the top of my list.

Castle Hill

Also known as Kura Tāwhiti Conservation Area, castle hill is an easy stop along the West Coast road from Christchurch. Its interesting landscape of limestone rock eroded into massive boulders makes for a photographer’s dream scale (tiny humans). It’s also great for comparing to film spots as nearby LOTR scenes were filmed as well as the Chronicles of Narnia. There’s no real track here so choose your track- make your own- hike, climb, be free.

Avalanche Peak

Distance: 3 miles/ 5km RT, Elevation: 3600 feet/ 1100 m, Time: 6-8 hours

Yet another hike that we lost to foul weather on our trip, Avalanche peak gives you astounding views of Arthur’s Pass as a whole- the surrounding peaks, the rivers- and you view it all from the top. It also gives you almost a sure fire meeting with Kea, but the drawbacks are this is a VERY challenging hike with steep exposed scrambles and should only be attempted by very experienced hikers.

Where to stay:

Luxury: The Wildnerness Lodge at Arthur’s Pass- from $290

Stunning mountain view rooms and the rate includes both dinner and full breakfast. The rate also includes free activities around the farm such as guided walks on the property and in depth explanation of sheep farming in New Zealand.

Midrange & Budget: YHA Arthur’s Pass– from $37/ bed in a dorm or $98 for a private double

The YHA hostels never fail around New Zealand and they provide a nice range for budgets. They also usually have full facilities for cooking and hanging around making for a fun atmosphere and cheaper eating budget.

Where we stayed: Mount Somers hut. $72 We opted to get a jump on our next day’s serious driving by staying in Mount Somers instead of Arthur’s Pass. It was so much cheaper and was a great little private hut for just the 2 of us. The bonus was the washing machine as well!

Where to eat in Arthur’s Pass:

Your options are limited in Arthur’s Pass National Park for food with only 2-3 cafes that mostly serve takeaways and all day breakfast. While the cost is reasonable for the demand in the area, I’d recommend stopping in at a grocery store in Christchurch before beginning your road trip out west. We bought sandwich supplies and made out own to save costs here but we couldn’t resist a coffee in the Wobbly Kea Café.

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If you’re a fan of waterfalls, mountain passes, and Lord of the Rings, than the Devil’s Punchbowl hike is for you. It’s a shorter hike that leads to the base of a 430 foot (131 m) roaring waterfall and is situated right off the main road through Arthur’s Pass to the west coast. The hike itself will only take you 1-1.5 hours RT and will take you across 2 beautiful bridges and through lush vegetation. It’s a safe hike rain or shine with the steepness of the trail being negated by slip protected stairs.

Trail information:

Distance: 1.8 miles/ 3km RT
Elevation gain: 200 feet
Time: 1 hour + for exploring

Parking Area: 140 West Coast Road

The drive from Christchurch is a beautiful one. At only 2 hours, it packs in some beautiful farm lands, mountains, braided rivers, and interesting rocky hills (ie. Castle Hill). From Christchurch, take highway 73/76 (13.9km) until it turns right and becomes old West Coast Road. You’ll follow that all the way (133.5km). You’ll know you are getting close when you cross the long 1-way bridge across the Waimankariri River and the turn off will be on your right just on the other side of town. (Look for Punchbowl Road)

Don’t use google maps as it will take you just past the turn off for the actual parking lot (speaking from experience) At the trailhead there are some portapotties but otherwise no facilities. You’ll start out walking up river to a visible bridge. You’ll cross 2 long bridges in short succession and follow the trail from there as it heads up wooden boardwalks and multiple stairs. There aren’t any trail splits or conflicting signs making this a very easy trail to follow.

About our hike:

As we drove from Christchurch, we noticed clouds overhead and high winds in the area which deterred us from our longer hike of the day- the Bealey Spur track. However we were not deterred from hiking to the Devils Punchbowl since for one, it is considered inspiration for some of the waterfalls used to create Rivendell in the Lord of the Rings and for two, it’s just an incredible looking waterfall.

Once at the Trail head, we practically ran against strong winds to the crossing of the first bridge which has no wind protection. Aka it kind of sucked. Once we were across those bridges however the trees broke the wind for us making for an easy, albeit wet, hike. It only took us 30 minutes up and though thoroughly drenched at this point, we still took a few minutes to stand at its base and take it all in before a quick 30 minute jaunt back to the car.

I can only imagine how resplendent this waterfall is in the sun, but for now I’ll take our memories of running across bridges to find shelter from the wind, learning my rain jacket was not indeed water proof, and gazing up at the tallest waterfall of our trip.

See also my articles on:

Guide to Arthur’s Pass National Park

Guide to hiking Mount Sunday

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