Alpine Gardens Short walks in beech forest and plant communities above the bush line in the main mountain divide.
In the heart of the Southern Alps you will find Arthur’s Pass National Park (114,500 hectares). It is situated on a historical road between Canterbury on the east and the wild West Coast. High mountains with large scree slopes feature along with wide braided rivers and steep gorges.
Arthur’s Pass National Park was the first one in the South Island and the third oldest in New Zealand after Tongariro and Egmont, and it is celebrating its first 75 years in 2004.
Creation of a national park
Land in the Upper Waimakariri and Otira Valley was set aside “for national park purposes” as early as 1901, thanks to the campaigning of eminent Christchurch botanist Dr Leonard Cockayne. But the park was not officially gazetted until July 1929, after a large public meeting voted unanimously for its creation, and lobbied the government for support. Arthur’s Pass was New Zealand’s third national park after Tongariro (1894) and Egmont (1900).
Natural, cultural and historic features
The Arthur’s Pass area has long been used by those travelling coast to coast. Maori travelled in search of pounamu (greenstone) and trade. European sought ways through to the West Coast on the lookout for new opportunities and resources. When gold was discovered on the West Coast traffic across the Alps increased dramatically. But it was never an easy crossing; the weather was not at all predictable and flooded rivers were always a danger. Even today the road is often closed with slips and a new viaduct was built on the western side to minimise the hazards.
There is a striking difference between the habitats on either side of the Main Divide (the mid-line of the Alps). To the east the forests are almost entirely mountain beech. To the west the situation is more complex with a variety of podocarp species, beech, kamahi and kaiakawaka all present. Alpine plants grow in profusion above the bush line and this is one place where they can seen quite easily on a short walk off the road.
Look out for the park’s most famous inhabitant – the kea. Kea are alpine parrots famous for their inquisitive nature and the damage they can wreck if encouraged too close to human habitats. Great spotted kiwi / roroa are also found in the park along with more common birds like bellbirds/koromiko and fantails/piwakawaka.
Arthur’s Pass village lies in the centre of the park 154 kilometres from the city of Christchurch in the east (2 hours drive) and 100 kilometres from Greymouth in the west. (11/2 hour’s drive)
The main road between Greymouth and Christchurch, State Highway 73 goes right through the park and the village of Arthur’s Pass. Winding in places it is one of the country’s most scenic routes.
The Tranz Alpine train also stops at Arthur’s Pass. Regular bus services operate between Greymouth, Hokitika and Christchurch.