This may sound strange, but if you’re visiting New Zealand’s South Island, you should take a drive along the Arthur’s Pass (Highway 73). Connecting the west coast from Kumara Junction to Christchurch, Arthur’s Pass is both functional as it is an iconic wealth of attractions. Though you can literally spend several days exploring all that the passage has to offer, here are 3 must-stop points you can prioritize if you’re simply passing through.
Otira Viaduct Lookout
About ~80km from the west coast, you will arrive at Otira, and come upon a viaduct that hovers above a gorge and cuts across two mountain ranges – Mount Rolleston and Mount Temple. The brilliant Kiwis must’ve realized that the structure and surrounding area is absolutely stunning, and decided to build a perfect lookout point where you can take in the scenery. Though a quick attraction, it’s certainly worth a stop even just to stretch out your legs.
There’s nothing more refreshing after a long drive than the cool touch of waterfall mist on your face. The Devil’s Punchbowl is located just a few kilometers down from Otira Viaduct, and there’s a large carpark to accommodate the at-times large influx of inquisitive hikers.
After a brisk 30-minute hike (FYI there are several sets of paved staircases to climb), you’ll arrive at a wooden landing and be greeted by a babbling creek that leads up to the falls. Unfortunately you can’t get too close to the fall (lest you risk getting hurt), but you can still enjoy the view and cool down from your short hike. This area also provides access to the lengthier Arthur’s Pass Walking Track, which can range from 1-4 hours round trip depending on how ambitious you’re feeling, so you can certainly pair this with a longer, more challenging hike as well.
This isn’t usually the case, but I saved the best for last. Castle Hill is a curious patch of land smack dab in the middle of Arthur’s Pass, comprised of rows of flowery hills laden with uniquely shaped boulders.
The hills are surrounded by seemingly endless waves of pristine grassy meadows, with just specks of livestock scattered about the fields. After a short, but relatively steep hike, you will find yourself standing on a hill amidst strange looking boulders, overlooking the valley below.
It really was one of our favorite “random stops” during our entire trip, as it felt like a giant playground and given we didn’t have much of an agenda really, it felt liberating to just roam and take in the genuine New Zealand experience.
- Jacksons Retreat – this deserves a mention as it was hands down our favorite holiday park stay during our entire trip. The owners were extremely friendly and helpful, and the facilities (bathroom, showers, kitchen) were the cleanest and most modern we’ve encountered, which was much appreciated. It also had a short hike to a mini waterfall and a glow worm trek in the evening, which were nice bonuses to enjoy during the stay.
- Avalanche Peak – to be upfront, we did not have time (or the ambition) to complete this hike, but this is a highly challenging hike located near Devil’s Punchbowl. The estimated hike duration by the New Zealand DOC is 6-8 hours, and from speaking with other travelers during our trip, the hike has averaged on the upper end of that range. Despite the seemingly grueling hike, everyone who has completed it said it was well worth it for the experience and amazing views garnered once at the peak.
- Lupin Fields – You’ll run into a myriad of these fields in seemingly random places all throughout Arthur’s Pass. As mentioned in my other posts, these flower-plants are native to the area and do make for striking photo subjects, especially in a sunset backdrop!