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Arthur's Pass National Park

The journey is the thing. Nowhere in New Zealand does this Homeric phrase resound more than at Arthur's Pass, where the way itself is the marvel. Highway 73 is one of the park's prized features. Humble bipeds need only point a car west from Christchurch to enjoy heady mountain vistas.

You don't need to be a mountain goat or a kea to get properly alpine. Arthur's Pass offers richly diverse landscapes: the beech forests and tussock grasslands of the eastern slopes give way to snowcapped mountains and wildflower fields; dense rainy forests dominate the west. Established in 1929, Arthur's Pass was the South Island's first national park and the home to the kea, a mountain parrot, and the rare great-spotted kiwi. Follow in the footsteps of ancient Māori hunters, 1860s gold rushers, and 1990s road workers who constructed the 440-meters (1,444-foot) Otira Viaduct. Each of the many twists and turns reveals another photo op: waterfalls, fields of wildflowers, dizzying drops. And it's all easily accessible from Christchurch.

BEST TIME TO GO

November through March bring gorgeous wildflowers to the park. Ski at Temple Basin from late June to early October. Remember: with 2,000-meter (6,562-foot) peaks, the weather in the park can change for the worse anytime at this altitude.

Fun Fact

The enormous moa, a native New Zealand bird, has long been extinct. But according to Paddy Freaney, the former owner of the Arthur's Pass Bealey Hotel, a moa popped up in a nearby valley! Despite Paddy's photographic evidence (a blurry image of a large running bird), many scientists remain dubious of his claims.

Best Ways to Explore

The journey is the tar-sealed thing

Driving offers the flexibility to stop for hikes and sightseeing when you please. The road, extensively revamped in the 1990s, is a feat of engineering, particularly the Otira Viaduct. Five thousand cubic meters of concrete were used to create the viaduct on a steep unstable foundation in an area prone to flash floods and earthquakes. As you navigate the turns, spare some thoughts for the men who spent backbreaking years creating it.

Stretch your legs

Everything from 10-minute strolls to multiday hikes are available in the park. We recommend the Punchbowl Falls Track (one hour return from Arthur's Pass Village) and Dobson Nature Walk (30 minutes return), which follows a lovely loop at the summit of Arthur's Pass. Marvel at brilliantly colored alpine lichen splashed across boulders and cliff faces. Kea, wrybill (with bent beaks), and green bellbirds populate the park. Lucky visitors will spot the roroa—or great-spotted kiwi—that roam the steep terrain.

Choochoo from "ChCh"

Take to the tracks and relax onboard the TranzAlpine Scenic Journey. It takes you from Christchurch ("ChCh" to locals) to Greymouth in 4½ hours, through 16 tunnels and over 5 viaducts. The train has an open-air carriage which provides breathtaking views of the plains, gorges, valleys, and beech forests.

Up you go

There are plenty of ways up the peaks of Arthur's Pass. Mountain climbing in the area is prone to changeable weather and many routes involve river crossings, so check in with the Department of Conservation before any endeavor and make sure you are up to the challenge.

Eco-Stays

As a guest at the luxurious Arthur's Pass Wilderness Lodge, you're invited to "walk the walk" and help remove invasive plants on nature hikes, and you're also welcome to do your own thing and take advantage of the extensive trails throughout the property. The owners are passionate about the conservation of this alpine environment and eager to share their knowledge with you. The lodge itself is built of local stone and wood. There's no need to worry about your cuisine's "food miles"—the delectable slow-cooked lamb on your plate was raised on the farm out the window. A more wallet-friendly but equally environment-conscious accommodation is the Mountain House Backpackers. The operators practice "responsible tourism" down to the last detail, using compact fluorescent lighting, organically based cleansers, recycled paper products, and non-native firewood. They also initiated and run the recycling effort for the entire town.

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