Arthur’s Pass National Park – Guide for Backpackers
Live the “high” life in highest mountain pass.
In some parts of the world, it is not advised to leave your bags unattended due to thieves. In Arthur’s Pass National Park, the baggage handlers are the devious kea parrots! These alpine parrots will peel away anything they can get their beak around. A favourite amongst the parrots are car windscreen wipers and rubber seals. All in all, they are a highly entertaining bird, native to the Southern Alps.
The Southern Alps divides the east and west of the South Island, but Arthur’s Pass is the main connection between the two coasts. In fact, it is the highest pass in the Southern Alps. One way or another, backpackers try to find an excuse to travel through Arthur’s Pass to see the astonishing landscape, whether it is part of a road trip or onboard the TranzAlpine Express. Find out in our guide exactly why it is worth staying in Arthur’s Pass for a while.
Things you can’t miss in Arthur’s Pass National Park
- Travel in New Zealand’s most scenic mountain pass by train or road.
- Bike along the renowned Poulter Valley Track.
- Ski and snowboard on the challenging slopes of Temple Basin ski field.
- Take a short stroll to some incredible waterfalls.
- Hike to the rugged peaks.
Arthur’s Pass village
For backpackers, Arthur’s Pass village is the perfect base for your time spent in this incredible national park. The village is nestled in the middle of the national park along the highway. The small settlement has a number of backpacker hostels and campsites. It is a good place to stop for a coffee when passing through on the scenic highway. You can also stop off here on the TranzAlpine train (see below).
The scenic route
Just try to take your eyes off the view from the window of the TranzAlpine Express. One of the world’s most scenic train journeys, the TranzAlpine winds through the mountain pass following the Waimakariri River. The train, operated by KiwiRail, is specially designed to encapsulate the view from different angles, such as huge windows, even some on the train ceiling. Not a single mountain peak can be missed! The TranzAlpine is the connection between the West Coast town of Greymouth and the city of Christchurch in the east. Check out more details about the train journey in our article: Train Network in New Zealand.
Those with a car can take the just as scenic highway through Arthur’s Pass. The road workers will appreciate you using this road. In 1986, the original road took less than a year to build while battling the ever falling snow. Then in 1998, work on the Otira Viaduct took 2 years. Workers fought through the elements to get the job done, with 1 fatality.
Mountain biking in Arthur’s Pass means traversing through some incredible mountainous scenery while taking on some challenges. Serious bikers should head for the Poulter Valley Track. Bike access is just between the Mt White Road and the Trust/Poulter Hut. The 13km journey is along a 4-wheel-drive (4WD) track and across river terraces. The difficulty ranges from grade 2 to grade 3.
For an easy peddle, just take the Mt White Road along tussock lands and the Waimakariri River.
Mountain biking is only permitted on formed roads and unsealed (gravel) roads within the national park. Plus, don’t be surprised if a kea parrot starts pecking at your bike into dismantlement.
The ski field
With snowy mountains in winter, there’s powder to shred. Temple Basin is a ski field for the adventurous! The runs and lifts might not be as well developed as some other ski fields in New Zealand, but the off-piste is something else. Plus, the natural terrain is the perfect playground for freestylers.
When you are ready to pull away from Temple Basin, there are 5 more ski fields to choose from the in Selwyn – the Canterbury district that Arthur’s Pass is apart of. Check out the best ones in our TOP list: 10 Best Places to Ski and Snowboard in New Zealand.
Short walks in Arthur’s Pass
You don’t have to walk far in Arthur’s Pass to see some stunning features. By features we mean loads of waterfalls.
This 10min stroll is to a viewing platform overlooking the magical Avalanche Creek Falls. Start next to the visitor centre in Arthur’s Pass village.
Devils Punchbowl Falls
This huge waterfall tends to steel the limelight, as it is a popular spot for visitors. You can drive to the waterfall car park just after the Arthur’s Chalet. It is a 1 hour return through forest and over bridges until you get to a platform to take in the 112m falls.
Arthur’s Pass Walking Track
Guess what. More waterfalls! This 1h20min track is often described as a walk that captures the best of Arthur’s Pass National Park. The track takes you through varying alpine vegetation to Bridal Veil Falls and views. You can continue the walk to the Dobson Nature Walk then the summit of the pass for epic mountain views. Start this walk from the Devi’s Punchbowl car park.
We could easily spend a whole day exploring Arthur’s Pass with views of jagged mountain peaks. The longer walks in this national park tend to be more adventurous by involving a bit of clambering and steep climbs.
As the only well-signed walk to a summit and easy to access from the Arthur’s Pass village, Avalanche Peak is a popular day walk. Those who take the 1100m climb are rewarded with the view of miles of mountains. You’ll notice Crow Glacier and Mt Rolleston. There are two routes to the summit, Scotts Track and the Avalanche Peak Track. Scotts Track captures the best scenery along the way. The walk is 6-8 hours return.
The remaining walks are signed up to where the forest ends, then you are on your own to reach the mountain peaks. It is only recommended to climb to the summits in good weather conditions. Otherwise, these walks provide excellent bush walks up the mountain. It’s best to have a some alpine hiking experience before you attempt to navigate to the summits.
Start at the Devil’s Punchbowl car park. The Mt Aiken detours about 15 minutes up the Devil’s Punchbowl Track. The steep climb goes through forest until the forest comes to an end. This takes 3-4 hours to return.
Zigzag through the forest to reach the ridge you need to take to climb get to Mt Bealey. The 3-4 hour return trip starts from a car park on the south side of Rough Creek.
If you have more time in Arthur’s Pass National Park…
- Go fishing in the high-country lakes and rivers. In particular, Lakes Pearson and Lyndon.
- Listen to the great spotted kiwi calls. In winter, you can sometimes hear them in the village.
- Put your mountaineering skills to the test from climbing low hills to glaciated peaks.
- Armed with a hunting permit (and a gun), go hunting for deer, pigs and chamois.
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