Drive-through wilderness: Arthur’s Pass National Park

By: Road Trip


Drive-through wilderness: Arthur’s Pass National Park Drive-through wilderness: Arthur’s Pass National Park
Drive-through wilderness: Arthur’s Pass National Park Drive-through wilderness: Arthur’s Pass National Park

Arthur’s Pass National Park is one of New Zealand's few drive-through wilderness areas. And the best part is the numerous places you can park up and enjoy a short walk into the heart of it.

Arthur's Pass is the highest pass over the Southern Alps. It was a popular east-west route for Maori hunting parties long before 1864, when surveyor Arthur Dudley Dobson found his way over the pass.

As you drive along SH73, consider also the incredible feat of engineering that went into creating the alpine crossing. Many are the hair-raising tales of caravan trips across this daunting landscape, where steep inclines, terrifying descents, avalanches, and unseasonable snowfalls often made for a treacherous journey.

All that changed for the better when the Otira Viaduct opened in 1999, reducing the fear factor considerably, leaving caravan owners rejoicing and brake-shop owners out of pocket.

The alpine landscape, traversed by dramatic rivers, is still prone to floods and unseasonal snow, but RV owners can now take a walk on the wild side with considerable ease on any of the many well-paved tracks close to the main road.

Things to see and do

Otira: the next small village along the Arthurs Pass road, built to house workers building the Otira tunnel in 1923. If you fancy owning a small village, including the pub, houses and fire station, Otira is for sale – for offers over $1 million only!

Taipo Valley: a great scenic mountain bike on a rough farm track.

Kea watching: the fun-loving native New Zealand alpine parrot is often seen in the village, especially near the store. Enjoy watching their antics but please do not feed them.

Jacksons Retreat: 30km west of Arthur’s Pass village, this award-winning campground offers great access to a multitude of walking tracks and water activities.

Otira Viaduct: take the detour to the car park overlooking this incredible piece of engineering.

Devil’s Punchbowl: a meandering path across the Bealey River near Arthur’s Pass Village takes trampers to the 130m high waterfall.

Power house: built in 1909 to generate electricity for the construction of the Otira rail tunnel.

Bridal Veil Creek: the 1.5-hour walk is well worth the time.

Where to eat and drink

The Wobbly Kea: a great place to stop for food while in Arthur’s Pass.

Arthur’s Pass Store and Café offers a bottle store, groceries, fuel supplies, and internet.

Arthurs Chalet: a fully-licenced café and restaurant with a B&B.

Need to know

The i-SITE is right in the heart of Arthur’s Pass village, less than 200m from the railway station. It is open daily and offers charming wildlife displays, maps etc.

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