Arthur’s Pass National Park forms the mid-point of Highway 73 between Christchurch and Greymouth. The small alpine village on the bank of the Bealey River is set on one of the early Maori green stone trading routes, and offers a wealth of outdoor activities including skiing and native bush walks complete with waterfalls and wildlife. Watch out for the rogue-ish antics of the alpine parrot kea, hear the song of the bellbird (korimako) and see flittering fantails (pīwakawaka) in the native bush. The endangered great spotted kiwi also live in the park.
Another noteworthy area is Castle Hill and Cave Stream Scenic Reserve between Arthur’s Pass and Christchurch.
Castle Hill or Kura Tawhiti is of special cultural, spiritual and historical significance to the South Island Ngai Tahu Maori, who have a caretaking role in the land. Traces of 500-year-old rock art are hidden amongst the 40-million-year-old limestone formations which cover the land.
The spectacular rock crown, named for it’s resemblance to a ruined castle, is just a few minutes walk from the road, making it a perfect family excursion. There is a mystical air about the land, and the caverns and overhangs create some surreal acoustic effects. Castle Hill has a number of rock climbing and bouldering routes and climbing faces. Remember that this is a reserve of cultural significance, and follow the Castle Hill Basin ethics guidelines.
Cave Stream Scenic Reserve is a darling of the caving world. Limestone outcrops surround the car park and picnic area, and the cave entrances gape like portals into the underworld. The cave is accessible to anyone, so long as they have a reasonable level of fitness and can cope with being underground for a period of time. Safety procedures must be adhered to, and weather conditions checked before entering the cave. The water can be extremely cold, and weather can change abruptly in the mountain areas. You will need strong shoes, good warm clothes, and a torch with spare batteries.
Tackling the cave is an exhilarating and somewhat daunting experience, and is often undertaken as a team building activity. The cave mouth at the lower end is remarkably like walking into the gaping throat of some gigantic fossil beast. An icy stream runs through the cave, and the walls are damp and smooth. Almost immediately you find yourself in total darkness, surrounded by the rushing sound of water and an overwhelming sense of adventure. Scrambling over rocks and up small steppes to the small pool at the upper end takes about 20 – 30 minutes. There is a rung ladder from the pool to assist your re-entry to the outside world.