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Castle Hill, Kura Tawhiti Reserve, Canterbury attraction

  • 3 minutes

Canterbury, South Island, NZ

Explore the twisted, gnarly rock forms of Castle Hill, Kura Tawhiti Reserve. The scenic Castle Hill is a mustdo when exploring inland Canterbury. The reserve is framed by the Southern Alpine range with the high country tussock and open spaces. Castle Hill is a favourite spot for photographers. Nature has sculptured limestone into distinctive rock forms stimulating the imagination.

Castle Hill Kura Tawhiti Reserve can be visited on a day trip from Christchurch. Canterbury inland scenic route: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo – Best Bits. For visitors short on time the best way to get to Castle Hill Reserve is on a guided tour combined with a thrilling rail journey to Arthurs Pass.

Torlesse range, Castle Hill, New Zealand
Torlesse range, Castle Hill, New Zealand

Castle Hill, Kura Tawhiti Reserve top sights

  • Observe the glorious butter yellow flowers,Castle Hill buttercup is extremely rare (less than 100 recorded plant sightings) and do not pick any part of the plant. A lot of work has gone into protecting it
  • Enjoy the short easy 1.5 km walk around the reserve
  • This area is an excellent bouldering location, and climbers enjoy the challenging landscape testing their abilities

Rain, wind and time has created the fantastical rock forms. The rocks are composed of tertiary limestone, mudstone, sandstone and tuffs. Over time the layers are hardened and compressed into soft soluble rock which can be partially dissolved by rain and wind action.

New Zealand’s active tectonic plates cause extensive uplift and folding and faulting of the Torlesse and Craigieburn Ranges. The Castle Hill Kura Tawhiti rocks are exposed and eroded and defined as a KARST landscape.

Over 600 years ago fire destroyed the large forest cover of Totara trees and bush. Now the high country is characterised by tussock and pasture and exposed eroded rocks of Castle Hill.




Dr Lance McCaskill in the early 1950s, pioneering work resulted in a reserve to protect a single plant. The Castle Hill buttercup (Ranunculus paucifolius). The Castle Hill buttercup is is only found within the 6 ha reserve (a naturally rare ecosystem of gently sloping limestone debris) which was recently re-fenced to protect the plant from being consumed by hares. Other factors that have led to the buttercup’s dwindling numbers include being crowded out by invasive weeds, trampled by livestock and stolen by collectors.

Where is Castle Hill, Kura Tawhiti Reserve located?

Take state highway 73 from Christchurch. Stop in Springfield for a selfie with a massive pink Doughnut, pass the Torlesse Tussocklands Park and continue onwards. Approximately 80 minutes from Christchurch or 95 km. The Castle Hill Kura Tawhiti Reserve is in the Waimakariri Basin, Canterbury.

Castle Hill Kura Tawhiti is a great day trip from Christchurch. Check out Day Trip From Christchurch to Arthur Pass – Best Bits for details.

The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe battle scene.




Unusual giant limestone rock formations in Castle Hill, South Island New Zealand
Unusual giant limestone rock formations in Castle Hill, South Island New Zealand
  • Two very rare plants that prefer to live in limestone landscapes live in the reserve. These are limestone wheatgrass (Australopyrum calcis subspecies obtatum) and a tiny 3 cm high sedge (Carex inopinata).
  • Castle Hill buttercup, once only 32 plants in 1948 is now more than 300 today. The reserve has important scientific value as the longest running plant-monitoring project in New Zealand, and has also protected the Castle Hill forget-me-not (Myosotis colensoi).
  • Tremendous spiritual value to local Maori iwi (tribe). Maori rock carvings and art from the earliest Maori explorers are now protect.

Code of conduct for Kura Tawhiti

  • Drones are prohibited over the Kura Tāwhiti Reserve.
  • Please stay on the access track – the paddocks are private property
  • No dogs, no fires, no camping or overnighting at the rocks
  • Please use the provided toilet facilities
  • Refrain from digging holes or disturbing the ground surface – wahi tapu (sacred places) are here
  • Avoid trampling on endangered plants – use open spaces between rock outcrops rather than the bases of rock faces
  • Respect fenced areas
  • Take all rubbish away with you
  • Please do not mark the surface of the rocks
  • Consider others in the area
  • Rock climbers please follow the climbing code of conduct
Castle Hill Kura Tawhiti Reserve, Canterbury
Castle Hill Kura Tawhiti Reserve, Canterbury, NZ

Kura Tawhiti (Castle Hill) is an extremely popular place for climbing and bouldering. There are a large number of bolted climbs within the reserve.Nga-i Tahu wish to encourage respect for their association with Kura Tawhiti. A rock-climbing code is in place, and rock climbers are asked to be aware that to Nga-i Tahu, climbing the outcrops denigrates their tapu status.

Bealey Spur, Arthur's Pass National Park, New Zealand
Bealey Spur, Arthur's Pass National Park, New Zealand

What to do nearby Castle Hill, Kura Tawhiti Reserve, Canterbury?

  • Explore Arthur’s Pass National Park
  • Discover the charms of Springfield
  • Embark on an inland Canterbury road trip on state highway 73

There are toilets near the car park. There are no shops and cafes. Carry your own water and snacks. Carry your rubbish with you as you leave the reserve. Castle Hill Kura Tawhiti is part of nzjane’s 8 Off The Beaten Track Places – Best Bits to explore.

Are you fascinated by New Zealand’s geology, then check out Geology, rocks, NZ fantastic natural sculptural landscapes and start exploring.


Best Bits travel guide is published by Owned and managed by PacificJane Ltd.


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