An astounding alpine wilderness straddling the great divide.
Arthur’s Pass is the highest pass over the Southern Alps. Long before surveyor Arthur Dudley Dobson found his way over the pass in 1864, it was known to Maori hunting parties as a route between east and west.
The eastern side of Arthur’s Pass National Park is characterised by wide, shingle-filled riverbeds and vast beech forests. The western side of the park, where wet weather is more common than dry, has deeply gorged rivers flowing through dense rainforest. Down the middle of ‘the great divide’ is an alpine dreamland of snow-covered peaks, glaciers and scree slopes.
The park includes many peaks over 2000 metres – the highest is Mount Murchison at 2,400 metres. All the main valleys of the park are deep and steep sided, with the U-shaped profile typical of glacial action. Above the sub-alpine shrublands, there are enchanting alpine fields with wild flowers.
Most people arrive in Arthur’s Pass National Park by road – a spectacular piece of extreme civil engineering involving viaducts, bridges, rock shelters and waterfalls redirected into chutes. When Arthur Dobson first encountered the precipitous Otira Gorge, the pass was almost impassable – he had to leave his horse at the top and lower his dog on a rope.
The village at Arthur’s Pass is New Zealand’s highest town, and the starting point for many short walks. The entrance to the historic Otira rail tunnel can be seen here – an epic engineering feat through 8.5 kilometres of rock.