Grasmere Lodge, New Zealand
Grasmere Lodge, New Zealand

Arthur's Pass National Park Hikes

The adjoining Arthur’s Pass National Park of 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) and Craigieburn State Forest Park, covering 44,200 hectares (109,000 acres), have a number of marked hiking trails for walks of all fitness levels.

Arthur’s Pass National Park
Arthur’s Pass National Park is in the heart of the Southern Alps/Kâ Tiritiri o te Moana. Its high mountains with large scree slopes, steep gorges and wide braided rivers, straddles the main divide – the ‘back bone’ of the South Island – between Canterbury and the West Coast.

It’s a park of contrasts, with dry beech/tawhai forest in the east, luxuriant rainforest on western slopes, and a historic highway and railway running through the middle. Arthur’s Pass was established in 1929 and was New Zealand’s third national park and the first one in the South Island.

Park Features

Natural highlights

There is a striking difference between the habitats on either side of the main divide. Mountain beech/tawhai dominates eastern slopes. To the west is mixed podocarp rainforest and red-flowering râtâ, with a luxuriant understorey of shrubs, ferns and mosses. Above the bushline, snow tussock and alpine meadows can be seen quite easily on a short walk off the road, at the summit of Arthur’s Pass.

Look out for the kea – alpine parrots famous for their inquisitive nature. The endangered great spotted kiwi/roroa – the ‘mountaineer’ of kiwi – are also found in the park along with more common forest birds like bellbirds/koromiko and fantails/pîwakawaka. The open braided rivers of the Waimakariri and Poulter provide nesting grounds for birds such as wrybill/ngutu parore and black-fronted tern/tarapirohe.

Culture and history
The passes through the Southern Alps were used by Mâori to trade pounamu/greenstone from Westland to Canterbury. Mâori told explorers of the location of Arthur’s Pass.

Arthur Dudley Dobson surveyed the pass in February 1864. When gold was discovered on the West Coast, the rush to link Christchurch with the West Coast gold fields saw the road built in less than a year, a remarkable feat of pioneer road building. But it was never an easy crossing through rugged terrain and unpredictable weather; even today the road is often closed because of rock fall, slips or snow.

The Otira rail tunnel took a little longer, and was completed in 1923. The viaduct, built in the Otira Gorge over 1998–99 to minimise the hazards of road travel, is a major engineering feat.

Did you know?
The road across Arthur’s Pass was built in less than a year (1865), during a bitterly cold winter. A thousand men with axes, picks, shovels, crowbars and wheelbarrows, rock drills and explosives worked in the rugged terrain. They would often spent a whole day clearing snow, only to find the next morning they had to do it over again. Over 100 years later, the Otira viaduct was built to replace this section of road, and workers again suffered through wind, rain and snow to get the job done. Started in January 1998 it was completed two years later in November 1999; one worker died during the project.

Arthur’s Pass National Park Short Walks

Millennium Walk

Time: 10 min return
This easy walk starts beside the Visitor Centre. Follow the path along the base of the hill towards the village. Small trout are often seen in Avalanche Creek from the historic bridge. From here, the path goes up to a viewing platform overlooking the Avalanche Creek Waterfall, which is lit at night.

Village historic and interpretive walk
Time: 1 hr 30 min round trip
This leisurely, easy walk takes you around Arthur’s Pass village to historic sites. At each site photographs show you how the village used to look in the early 1900’s. A pamphlet for this walk is available from the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre.

Devils Punchbowl Waterfall
Time: 1 hr return
The top of this spectacular fall (131 metres) can be seen from the main road, but a walk to the base of the waterfall is well worth doing in any weather, any time of the year.

A signpost just north of the Chalet Restaurant points to the carpark where the walk starts. The track goes up the side of the Bealey River and over two footbridges before zig-zagging up steps through the mountain beech forest to the waterfall's base. Return the same way.

Bridal Veil
Time: 1 hr 30 min return
This easy valley walk starts from the same carpark as the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall walk. After the first footbridge over the Bealey River, the track goes left through mountain beech forest. There is a view back to the village from a lookout, 20 minutes from the track start. Most of the track gradient is gentle, with a short steep section descending to cross Bridal Veil Creek about half way along.

Dobson Nature Walk
Nature walk loop
Time: 30 min return
This track, on the summit of Arthur’s Pass, offers a good introduction to the sub-alpine and alpine plants of this area. The alpine flowers are in bloom from November to February. An excellent self guided natural history booklet for this walk is available from the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre.

The evenly graded track passes through a variety of alpine herbs, tussocks and shrubs. It also gives good views of the surrounding mountains.

To Otira Valley
Time: 1 hr 30 min return
When Lake Misery is low, you can carry on from the Nature Walk past the wetland area and through tall red tussock to the Otira Valley track.

Old Coach Road
Time: 30 min return
This pleasant forest walk starts and finishes near Greyneys Shelter, 6 km south of Arthur’s Pass village. It follows a gently graded section of the century-old coach road and leads back to the shelter on a more recent track. The Coach Road was cut into the hillside to avoid the Bealey riverbed, which is prone to floods.

You can still see sections of old rockwalling along one part of the track. It is suitable, but challenging for people using wheelchairs and for young children. At the northern end of the track there is a rope handrail. You can use it for guidance, so shut your eyes, and use your other senses as you move through the forest.

Cockayne Nature Walk
Time: 30 min return
The loop track starts from the carpark at the end of the side road behind Kellys Creek Shelter. It winds through the diverse podocarp-broadleaf forest of the West Coast. It climbs up over a small hill and comes back out near the shelter. A short connecting track leads back to the carpark. The track is named after Dr Leonard Cockayne, a renowned botanist, who provided the original inspiration to create Arthur’s Pass National Park.

Arthur’s Pass National Park Half Day Walks

Bealey Valley
Time: 3 - 4 hr return
This is an attractive well-graded walk through mountain beech forest to the base of Mount Rolleston. The track starts from a car-park three km north of Arthur’s Pass Village on SH 73. Jack’s Hut, an historic road worker’s hut, is just across the road.

The track is bridged across the Bealey River at ‘The Chasm’. It then goes through a tussock clearing and into the forest again before reaching the river. From here you can scramble up the river-bed to go further up the valley. Avalanched snow often collects at the head of the valley in winter and remains throughout the year. This forms a false glacier which is undercut by the Bealey River flowing below it.
Warning: Avalanche debris collected at the head of the valley may be unstable. Large rocks and chunks of ice can fall at any time. Do not walk on the avalanche debris.

In winter when there is avalanche hazard do not go past the avalanche warning sign in the Upper Bealey Valley.

Otira Valley
Time: 2 hr return to the footbridge (unmarked route beyond)
The track leaves from a car-park beside SH 73, just north of Arthur’s Pass summit.This relatively easy graded track follows up a deep alpine valley on the northern side of Mt Rolleston. It climbs over an old glacial moraine, then follows the contour through subalpine scrub and tussock to the Otira River foot-bridge. On a good day this is an awesome walk to view the summer alpine flowers.
Warning: The track finishes at the foot-bridge. Travel past this point requires map reading and route finding skills. For experience alpine trampers and mountaineers only.
This track is subject to avalanche hazard in winter.

Temple Basin
Time: 3 hr return
This track starts from above the bush-line at the SH 73 roadside car-park, five km north of Arthur’s Pass township. A nature photographer’s dream, the track zig-zags up the hill to an open tussock basin and the Temple Basin Ski Club buildings. On a clear day you get magnificent views of Mt Rolleston across the valley.

Arthur’s Pass National Park Day Walks

Bealey Spur
Time: 4 - 6 hr return
The track starts from the end of Cloudesley Road, off the main highway near the Bealey Hotel, 14 km south of Arthur’s Pass Village.

This walk is often a good choice when north-westerly winds are bringing rain to Arthur’s Pass - being further east, it is drier in these conditions. The track also appeals to many walkers because it is more gradual than most of the alpine tracks around Arthur’s Pass Village, and it does not climb above the bush-line. It is also well marked and is suitable for reasonably fit people who are well equipped.
The track climbs gently up the spur, through mountain beech forest. In summer look out for red flowering mistletoe near the start of the track. At one point there is a dramatic view down to Bruce Stream—take care with children. Higher up, the track passes through tussock grasslands and subalpine scrub, and passes near several tarns. There are expansive views of the Waimakariri River Valley and surrounding mountains.

The track ends at an historic hut, once used by musterers in the days when this area was farmed for sheep.

Carroll Hut
Time: 6 hr return
This track starts at Kellys Creek Shelter beside SH 73, three km north of Otira Village. It is a steep climb through rata/kamahi forest and subalpine scrub. This leads onto the tussock grasslands which surround the hut on the Kelly Range. On fine days there are good views from the saddle behind the hut looking down the Taramakau River to the West Coast.

Avalanche Peak
Time: 6 - 8 hr return
This is the most popular day walking peak at Arthur’s Pass. It is the only peak in Arthur’s Pass that is marked by a poled route to the summit. The climb is 1100 metres from the village and, on a fine day, you will be rewarded with fine views of the surrounding peaks, particularly of Mt Rolleston and the Crow Glacier on its southern face. There are two tracks to the summit, Scotts Track and Avalanche Peak Track, both of which start from Arthur’s Pass Village.

If you wish to climb to the bush-line only, Scotts track is the best local track for views, particularly of Mt Rolleston, the highest peak near Arthur’s Pass Village. You also get an excellent view of Punchbowl Falls 10 minutes up from the start of the track.

Be sure to take the map and Arthur’s Pass: Avalanche Peak Route Guide available from the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre.

Warning: In winter this track is subject to avalanche hazard. In winter conditions you must carry snow and ice climbing equipment and know how to use it.

Mountain climbs
There are several mountains immediately surrounding Arthur's Pass Village which offer a steep and challenging walk to the bushline.
The tracks end at the bushline. You should only proceed further if:
• You have left your intentions at the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre
• You are experienced in tramping in New Zealand conditions
• You have a map, compass, route information and navigation skills
• You are well equipped with a rain jacket, warm clothing, and food and water
• You have checked the weather forecast

Mt Aicken
Time: 3 - 4 hr return to bushline
This track begins from the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall carpark. The turnoff is signposted 15 minutes up the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall track. The track passes an old pipeline that fed an electricity generator used during the rail tunnel construction. The track then climbs steeply to the forest edge.
Note: Routes beyond the bushline are not marked. For experienced alpine trampers only.

Mt Bealey
Time: 3 - 4 hr return to bushline
This track starts from a small carpark on the south side of Rough Creek. A tramping track zig-zags through the beech forest onto the main ridge leading to Mt Bealey.

Note: Routes beyond the bushline are not marked. For experienced alpine trampers only.

Mt Cassidy (Cons Track)
Time: 3 - 4 hr return to bushline
Steep! This track follows a steep crested ridge from the north side of Punchbowl Creek. The track ends at the bushline where there are good views of Arthur’s Pass village.

Note: Routes beyond the bushline are not marked. For experienced alpine trampers only.

Plan and prepare
Be safe and beware - this is mountain country
• Tell someone where you are going. You can record your name and intended walk on a Search and Rescue action card at the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre. These must be cancelled on your return by crossing off the card, or by phoning the Visitor Centre.
• Take warm clothing and raincoat, sunhat and sunscreen, something to eat and drink and strong footwear. Mountain weather can change quickly.
• Take a map - available from the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre. Boots are recommended footwear.
• Check the weather forecast before you go.
• Walking on tracks and routes above the bushline (the upper edge of the forest) is recommended only in good weather conditions. The routes are mostly unmarked and you need good visibility to find your way. Above the bush line you are exposed to the severity of the mountain weather.
• When snow covers the ground routes will be less obvious and there may also be a danger of avalanches - snow climbing equipment is recommended.
What to expect on a tramping track:
• Challenging day or multi-day tramping/hiking
• Track is mostly unformed with steep, rough or muddy sections
• Suitable for people with good fitness. Moderate to high level backcountry skills and experience, including navigation and survival skills required
• Track has markers, poles or rock cairns. Expect unbridged stream and river crossings
• Tramping/hiking boots required

Craigieburn Forest Park

Craigieburn Forest Park extends from the Waimakariri River to the Wilberforce River - with braided rivers, beech valleys, tussock grasslands, alpine screes and rugged mountain peaks over 2300 metres high.

It is a place of extremes with the sheltered valleys and lower slopes clothed almost entirely in mountain beech, whilst forces of erosion have crumbled the mountain tops to create Craigieburn’s characteristic rock screes.



The forest is mostly mountain beech/ tawhairauriki, which has easy identifiable small leaves that end in a point, like a ‘peak’. It is thought that millions of years ago much of the forest that covered the ancient landmass of Gondwanaland looked like the forest of Craigieburn. Fossils of beech trees have been found in Antarctica and descendants survive in Chile, Australia and New Guinea. Above the bush-line there is alpine scrub and tussock grasslands. Scree plants are sparse but well suited to an incredibly harsh environment of bright light, temperature extremes, moving shingle and drying winds.

During summer you might find skinks (a type of ‘snake-like’ lizard) on the mountainside, plus the occasional spider, scree weta, armour plated grasshopper, black scree butterfly, kea and the scarce New Zealand falcon/kârearea.

Visitors to the park might see these naturally inquisitive birds. They are the world’s only alpine parrot.
Please do not feed kea, but let them look for their natural foods (berries, roots, shoots and insect larvae). Feeding attracts kea to areas of human use, such as carparks, picnic and camping areas, where they may damage cars, tents and personal gear.

Remember, kea are fully protected.

Pest plants and animals
Old experimental pine tree plots are a feature on the lower slopes around Craigieburn. Pine seedlings – wildings – from the now abandoned trials, are spreading through Craigieburn Forest Park. Wilding pines and some of the trial plots are slowly being removed.

Craigieburn Forest Park Walking Tracks
Nature Trail
Time: 20 min return
This pleasant walk through mountain beech forest begins at the Environmental Education Centre. You can have a close look at different stages of beech tree life and what grows on the trees - lichens, mosses and a small insect which secretes honey dew (a small droplet of sweet liquid that birds feed on). Between late December to February the red flowers of native mistletoe/pikirangi can produce patches of blazing colour in the tree canopy. Common native forest birds living in this area include rifleman/tîtîpounamu, bellbird/korimako, tomtit/miromiro and grey warbler/riroriro.

Bridge Hill Walk
Time: 10 min one way
From the lookout car park follow the track to the summit. From Bridge Hill there are panoramic views of Castle Hill Basin and the Torlesse Range in the east; look for the distinctive Torlesse Gap ‘notch’ in the ridge. The Craigieburn Range in the west rises to a high point of 2194 metres at Mount Enys.

Hut Creek Walk
Time: 1 hr return, 1.2 km
This walk begins from the Environmental Education Centre and ends by the lookout car park. It passes through an area that was used for trial planting by the Forest Research Institute from 1956 to the mid 1970s. Return to the car park by walking back along the road.

Dracophyllum Flat Track
Time: 45 min one way, 1840 m
A popular picnic site, this sheltered clearing is covered by red-brown Dracophyllum, native tussock and a host of small herbs and ground covering plants.

The track leaves Jacks Pass and gradually descends to Broken River, which is crossed on a pole bridge. The clearing is 5 minutes up through mountain beech.

Lyndon Saddle
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes one way, 2.3 km

Beginning by the shelter at Craigieburn picnic area, the track crosses Cave Stream and grassy terraces before sidling steeply through regenerating mountain-beech forest to Lyndon Saddle.

Helicopter Hill
Time: From Lyndon Saddle to Helicopter Hill summit - 30 min one way, 500 m
From Lyndon Saddle the track climbs along a steep ridge with open screes between the beech forests. The top of Helicopter Hill (1256 m) is covered with tussock and low hebes and grasses. From here there are spectacular views of the Craigieburn and Torlesse ranges and the limestone landscape of Castle Hill Basin.

You will also pass patches of felled pine trees that are gradually being cleared from the hill, as this is a major take-off site for wind-blown pine seed to be dispersed across the Castle Hill Basin. Please help by pulling out any pine seedlings you come across.

Lyndon Saddle to Broken River ski field road
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes one way, 2.7 km
From Lyndon Saddle, this track leads down through low glacial terraces with some tall attractive beech forest to reach the Broken River ski field road. From here it is a 20 minute walk down the road, next to the meandering Cave Stream, to the Craigieburn picnic area.

Lyndon Saddle to Craigieburn Valley Track
Time: 15 min one way, 625 m
From Lyndon Saddle the track sidles across an open Dracophyllum and tussock-covered face and drops through beech forest to the Craigieburn Valley Track. Here you can either turn left towards Craigieburn Valley ski field, or right to reach the start of the Craigieburn Valley ski field road, (15-20 minutes).

Craigieburn Valley Track
Be aware of avalanches
Time: From junction on Craigieburn Valley ski field road to ski field huts 1-2 hours, 4.5 km
Circuit return via ski field road 2-3 hours

The track begins beside the Craigieburn Valley ski field road, 1.5 km from the highway, and follows through mountain-beech forest until it emerges in alpine tussocks near the ski field huts and car park. From 1948 until the road was built in 1961 this was the only access to the Craigieburn Valley ski field. All the materials for the early huts and tows were carried by club members up this track.

Craigieburn Forest Park Tramping Tracks

Camp Saddle
This is a mountain tramp and people should be prepared for extremes of weather. Take a topographical map and compass.

Access to Camp Saddle can be from various directions, but crossing from Broken River to Craigieburn Valley skifield road is the easiest route.

Apart from magnificent views, this tussock and scree saddle offers many interesting botanical specimens. Growing among the rocks are tiny plants that have adapted to the harsh environment – including celmisia, gentians and edelweiss.

Broken River Skifield Road to Camp Saddle
Time: 1 - 2 hr one way
The Broken River skifield road is the easiest way to get to Camp Saddle. From the locked gate and carpark where the road crosses Camp Stream, walk 1 km to the signposted track (opposite the ski club tractor shed). A wide four-wheel drive track narrows as it climbs steadily towards the saddle.

Camp Saddle to Lyndon Saddle
Time: 1 - 2 hr one way
From Camp Saddle continue southeast along the well-defined ridge. After an hour descend steeply down a scree slope. Stay on the left of the scree to join an unmarked track through the beech forest to Lyndon Saddle. It is much easier to go down scree than scramble up it, so this trip is better done as a descent.

Craigieburn Valley Track to Camp Saddle
Time: 2 hr one way
From the Craigieburn Valley skifield carpark continue along the four wheel drive road to the bottom of the ski tows. From there cross a small stream and follow the Craigieburn Valley track through beech forest until it emerges onto a scree and scrub slope. Here you can see Camp Saddle clearly. Scramble up through the tussock and soft scree to the Saddle. This is also an easy descent route.

Ski field basins
During the summer months there is walking access up to the ski field basins of Broken River and Craigieburn. These areas are harsh and alpine, and should be treated with respect. Beyond the bush-line there are no marked routes.

Take a topographical map and adequate clothing for the extremes of weather.

Fit trampers will be able to gain access up onto the main ridge and rocky peaks, which give superb views of the backcountry from Arthur’s Pass to Mount Cook.

Less fit walkers will enjoy the lower bush and tussock slopes. All buildings are private skifield property and should not be entered.

Broken River Skifield Basin
Time: 2 - 3 hr return, locked gate to huts
From the locked gate you can walk up the ski field road all the way to the accommodation huts, and up to the rope tows. There is also a bush track beside the inclinator (goods lift) which zig zags directly up to the huts, and a pleasant return can be made down the vehicle road.

Time: 4 - 5 hr return, ski field basin and main ridge

From the Broken River ski field huts there is a vehicle track that sidles up to the tussock basin, and there are obvious routes up onto the main ridge and onto Nervous Knob.

There are superb views down into the Hamilton-Harper catchments and on a fine day you can see forever ........ well Aoraki/Mt Cook anyway.

Craigieburn Skifield Basin
Time: 5 - 6 hr return to main ridge
From the locked gate it is an easy walk up the road to the lower Craigieburn ski field huts (about 30 minutes). The access road continues up the steep valley and fit trampers can reach the 1923 metre Hamilton Peak.

It is possible to traverse the ridge to Nervous Knob and down into the Broken River ski field basin, but this is for experienced trampers and climbers only. You must arrange transport to make this crossing

Plan and prepare
Be safe and beware - this is mountain country
• Tell someone where you are going. You can record your name and intended walk on a Search and Rescue action card at the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre. These must be cancelled on your return by crossing off the card, or by phoning the Visitor Centre.
• Take warm clothing and raincoat, sunhat and sunscreen, something to eat and drink and strong footwear. Mountain weather can change quickly.
• Take a map - available from the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre. Boots are recommended footwear.
• Check the weather forecast before you go.
• Walking on tracks and routes above the bushline (the upper edge of the forest) is recommended only in good weather conditions. The routes are mostly unmarked and you need good visibility to find your way. Above the bush line you are exposed to the severity of the mountain weather.
• When snow covers the ground routes will be less obvious and there may also be a danger of avalanches - snow climbing equipment is recommended.
What to expect on a tramping track:
• Challenging day or multi-day tramping/hiking
• Track is mostly unformed with steep, rough or muddy sections
• Suitable for people with good fitness. Moderate to high level backcountry skills and experience, including navigation and survival skills required
• Track has markers, poles or rock cairns. Expect unbridged stream and river crossings
• Tramping/hiking boots required

Cave Stream Scenic Reserve
A 594 metre long cave within Cave Stream Scenic Reserve is one of the most outstanding natural features in the Canterbury region.



The reserve is in a high country basin - a low depression bounded by fault-lines along the Craigieburn and Torlesse mountain ranges.

Karst topography is the name given to a limestone landscape. Rain water combines with soil elements (primarily carbon dioxide) to produce a weak acid, which over time trickles into joints and cracks, dissolving the limestone.

The cave has formed with the limestone dissolving over time, diverting Cave Stream from its original surface channel. The abandoned channel is left as a dry valley near the upstream end of the cave.

The form of the limestone bluffs is characteristic of solution weathering of limestone. Depressions in the ground’s surface, or sinkholes, can be seen from the carpark. They are typical in a karst region.

A line of three sinkholes can be seen on the river terrace near the carpark immediately above the cave. These have let water in to enlarge a joint that runs down the cave’s length, and are responsible for some of the vertical development of the present cave.

The terraces upstream of the cave inlet were formed many thousands of years ago by a glacial fed river.

The vegetation of the reserve has been greatly modified. Original plant life would have been low forest of tôtara, broadleaf/pâpâuma, kôwhai and other small leafed shrubs. Burning, over-sowing with introduced grass species and grazing has left introduced grasses as the main vegetation. The only remaining areas of original vegetation are an assortment of native species in the limestone bluffs and crannies. Large shrubs found here include mountain wineberry/makomako, matagouri, mingimingi/Coprosma propinqua, a fewHebe cupressoides, Helichrysum intermedium, and porcupine shrub/Melicytus alpinus. There are also a few ferns and smaller shrubs including the characteristic limestone fern/Asplenium lyallii, the fern Cystopteris tasmanica and a threatened native forget-me-not/Myosotis colensoi.

There is an abundance of invertebrate fauna in and around the limestone reserve.
In the “dark zone” of the cave, a rare species of arachnid, the cave harvestman, is found. This feeds on insects and other small cave creatures. It is known to live only in this cave and one other on the West Coast.

Evidence of Mâori occupation in the Cave Stream area includes rock-art, artefacts and signs of seasonal camps.

On the ridge above the reserve an old Mâori backpack was found in a small rock shelter. It is made from flax, with a wooden frame, and has broad straps. Intricately woven flax over the frame could stretch in both directions to accommodate the pack’s contents. Finding this pack confirmed traditional knowledge that Mâori used packs, similar to the modern day pack, for carrying loads. The pack is estimated to be 500 years old and can be seen in the Canterbury Museum.

The first European to explore the area was Joseph Pearson, in 1857. Pearson was commissioned to select land for Joseph Hawdon, who took up the original Craigieburn (including Flock Hill) and Grasmere runs. Hawdon was also responsible for the naming of many local features.

Cave entrance tracks
Time: 30 min return for each track
Two short tracks lead from the reserve carpark to the cave entrances. The track to the upstream entrance goes north, through a diverse karst (limestone) landscape of solution holes, rillenkarren (water-grooved rocks) and sculptured rock formations.

The other track leads to the edge of a terrace overlooking the outflow entrance of the cave. It drops down the face of the terrace to the junction of Cave Stream and Broken River.

Please observe the warning signs about entering the cave - it has claimed lives. You must be properly equipped if you plan to walk through the cave.

The limestone formations nearby were the setting for the filming of “Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”.

Going through the cave
The cave passage meanders and twists in pitch darkness for 594 metres between the two entrances. It takes approximately one hour to go through. There is a three metre waterfall at the inlet end. If care is taken, fit, inexperienced cavers can go through.

Caving parties should have at least two reliable lights per person plus spare batteries, warm polypropylene or wool clothing, and sturdy footwear.

Cavers are recommended to enter the cave at the outflow end and walk against the flow of the stream. There are several small waterfalls to climb. To assist climbing out the inlet end of the cave, a rung ladder ascends beside the waterfall. A chain and steps help to get along the overhang ledge to the exit.

Scour holes, terraces and small waterfalls can be seen while going through the cave.

Plan and prepare
Watch the water level in the cave. It varies and can be quite deep in places. Normally the deepest section (at the first corner from the cave outlet end) is just above waist level on an adult. If the stream is abnormally high, with the water dis-coloured or foaming, do not attempt to enter.

Any snow on the nearby mountains will mean the water will be near freezing (i.e. very cold!) Watch your party for signs of hypothermia.

This cave walk is not suitable for small children.

Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area
The grand limestone rock battlements of Kura Tawhiti led early European travellers to name the area

Castle Hill.
Climbers, families, students, scientists and travellers have always been drawn to this spectacular place, to explore its natural, cultural, historic and recreation values.



Tôpuni - a symbolic cloak of protection

This area has special significance to Ngâi Tahu, with ties that stretch unbroken from distant ancestors to present generations.

Kura Tâwhiti literally means “the treasure from a distant land”, referring to the kumara that was once cultivated in this region. Kura Tawhiti was claimed by the Ngâi Tahu ancestor Tane Tiki, son of celebrated chief Tuahuriri. The nearby mountains were famed for kakapo, and Tane Tiki wanted their soft skins and glowing green feathers for clothing to be worn by his daughter Hine Mihi.

Such stories link Ngâi Tahu to the landscape. The traditional knowledge of trails, rock shelters and rock drawings, and places for gathering kai (food) in the area known as Kura Tawhiti form an integral part of past and present tribal identity.

Kura Tawhiti has Tôpuni status, which is a legal recognition of the site’s importance to the Ngâi Tahu tribe. The term comes from the traditional custom of chiefs extending power and authority over areas or people by placing a cloak over them.

The existing status of the land as a conservation area is unchanged, but Tôpuni status ensures that Ngai Tahu values are recognised, acknowledged and respected and Ngai Tahu take an active role in management. It recognises Ngâi Tahu mana whenua and rangatiratanga and symbolises the tribe’s commitment to conservation.


Sculptures in stone

The geology of the rocks at Kura Tâwhiti is tertiary limestone, mudstone, sandstone and tuffs. Limestone is formed from layers of organic sediment, deposited in deep oceans far from land. The layers are compressed into soft, soluble rock.

The area was once under a large, shallow inland sea that began to infill some 30 million years ago. Pressure over time caused extensive uplift and folding and faulting of the Torlesse and Craigieburn Ranges.

Thrust up from their origin, the limestone rock was eroded by water into these distinctive sculptured landforms, called a karst landscape.


Hidden treasures of Kura Tawhiti

Kura Tâwhiti is a refuge for hidden treasures - some of the rarest and most endangered plants in Canterbury. Once covered in tôtara and tall shrubs, the area was cleared 600 years ago by fire and has been grazed for almost 150 years. Tussock and pasture are now the norm, with one lone, surviving tôtara nearby.

Two very rare plants that prefer to live in limestone landscapes have hung on at Kura Tawhiti. These are limestone wheatgrass (Australopyrum calcis subspecies obtatum) and a tiny 3 cm high sedge (Carex inopinata). A shrubland restoration project within the reserve hopes to recreate the habitat for these botanical treasures.

Castle Hill buttercup
Kura Tâwhiti is also the site of the first reserve in New Zealand established specifically to protect a plant. Dr Lance McCaskill led a remarkable conservation effort in the early 1950s to save the Castle Hill buttercup, increasing numbers from 32 plants in 1948 to more than 300 today. The reserve has important scientific value as the longest running plant-monitoring project in New Zealand, and has also protected the Castle Hill forget-me-not (Myosotis colensoi).

Kura Tawhiti is an ideal place for exploring and picnicking.

Code of conduct for Kura Tawhiti
Visitors here to enjoy this intriguing landscape are asked to help protect these values by following the code of conduct.
• Please stay on the access track - the paddocks are private property
• Please use the provided toilet facilities
• Refrain from digging holes or disturbing the ground surface - wahi tapu (sacred places) are here
• Avoid trampling on endangered plants - use open spaces between rock outcrops rather than the bases of rock faces
• Respect fenced areas
• Take all rubbish away with you
• Please do not mark the surface of the rocks
• Consider others in the area
• Rock climbers please follow the climbing code of conduct.

With thanks to the NZ Department of Conservation for some of this information.

State Highway 73 · Cass · Canterbury · Private Bag 55009 · Christchurch · New Zealand
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