Arthur's Pass Area Guide
Otira Viaduct, Otira Gorge, with Southern Rata trees
flowering, February - © Naturespic.com
The journey from the east to the west coast through Arthur's Pass is spectacular by road, or rail, and the TranzAlpine train, which makes the journey across and back each day, has an open-air viewing carriage to make the most of the views. The steep, winding road is sometimes closed in winter because of snow, and in 1999 a zigzag section of road 10 kilometres west of Arthur's Pass Village, which was prone to landslides, was replaced by the Otira Viaduct, a triumph of engineering, the long sweep of the viaduct suspended 100 metres above the valley floor.
The village is spread out along state highway 73, and the Department of Conservation (DOC) Visitor Centre is one of the first buildings on the way into town from the east. It's an excellent place to stop for information about the National Park and the staff will advise on walking tracks in the area and provide updated weather reports.
The stone Arthur's Pass Alpine Chapel, 150 metres west of the Visitor Centre, is also worth visiting, its large triangular window behind the altar framing a view of the Avalanche Creek Falls.
To fully absorb the magnificent alpine landscape it's best to take one of the short walks around the park, but be wary as the weather can change rapidly to cold and wet conditions, even in summer. One of the most popular short walks is the one-hour return track to the Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall. The top of these spectacular falls (131 metres) can be seen from the main road, but a walk to the base of the waterfall is well worth doing at any time of the year. To see an interesting false glacier, take the Bealey Valley track, a four-hour return walk through mountain beech forest to the base of Mount Rolleston and up the Bealey River to the head of the valley. Here avalanched snow often collects in winter and remains through the year, forming a false glacier, which is undercut by the river flowing beneath it. The strenuous climb 1,000 metres up to Avalanche Peak is well worth doing for the panoramic views it offers but should only be attempted by the fit and well-equipped in good weather.
On walks and picnic stops watch out for the mischievous alpine parrot, the Kea, which may well try to steal your lunch, peck away the rubbers from around your car windows, or destroy unattended hiking boots.
In winter, Arthur's Pass is close to several ski-fields of which the closest is the club area, Temple Basin, four kilometres west of Arthur's Pass Village, which has floodlit skiing at night and good back-country runs for snowboarders.