SH73, 6, 93 km, 1.5 hours
Arthur’s Pass—walks, skiing
The highway enters the park at the Bealey Bridge over the Waimakariri. Klondyke Corner, the prominent forested corner on the opposite bank, has a camping ground and picnic area. Arthur’s Pass village is located in the forested Bealey Valley 160 km from Christchurch. The DOC visitor centre has information and excellent displays on the park’s natural and human history. A Cobb & Co coach takes pride of place at the centre, which is a short distance from the railway tunnel (completed in 1923) that ended the era of horse-drawn transport over the pass. Take note also of the displays explaining the challenging construction of the viaduct and cantilevered section of road just west of the pass, before you drive through it. Of the short walks near the village, I would recommend the Devil’s Punchbowl Track (1.5 hours return). The Wobbly Kea is the pick of the village’s cafés.
From the village SH 73 enters the alpine zone as it winds up the pass (920 m). There is a superb lookout up the Bealey Valley. Although Maori have been using the pass for centuries, the memorial near the highpoint is to the explorer Arthur Dudley Dobson who was the first European to cross it, in 1864. The view of Mt Rolleston from the steep Temple Basin skifield track (3 hours return) is one of the best in the park. A more sedate but rewarding short walk can be enjoyed in the Upper Otira Valley which is peppered with alpine flowers in summer. NB: This is an alpine region and walkers should be equipped for mountain weather.
The descent into the Otira rapidly brings you to a vastly different milieu of huge boulders, rainforest and a dark, foreboding valley which is leavened in summer by bright displays of rata. The painter Petrus van der Velden’s bleak representations of the valley in the 1890s (one of which is hung at Christchurch’s Robert McDougall Art Gallery) will seem familiar when you’ve been here in a storm. Below the gorge, Otira settlement is an untidy collection of railways-related buildings and a pub. From Otira, the highway turns west at Aickens where the Otira River meets the wide and braided Taramakau.
Like Springfield, Jacksons Hotel, 18 km from Otira, has long been a travellers’ rest, and offers whitebait sandwiches, gourmet pies and cosy couches. From Jacksons, Greymouth is 62 km away via Kumara Junction and SH 6, or about 75 km via Moana and Lake Brunner.