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Day trips

Great Alpine Highway 73, day trip to Arthurs Pass

  • 3 minutes

Canterbury, South Island


The Great Alpine Highway is a day spent exploring natural landscapes from impressive karst rock formations to alpine scenery where resident keas (alpine parrots) herald visitors a welcome. The study contrasts the inland Canterbury rolling farmland to dryer higher plains and valleys of Waimakariri Basin into the high alpine Arthur’s pass. This is a marathon day hence the early start to squash everything into the day. Depart from Christchurch between 7.30 – 8.00am

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


  • Classic kiwi pie from award winning bakery
  • Karst landforms nature sculpture masterpieces at Castle Hill Reserve
  • Arthurs Pass walks including Cockayne Nature Walk & Devils Punchbowl waterfalls
  • Arthur Pass village walks
  • Otira Gorge viewing platform
  • Watch keas (alpine parrots) and enjoy unique native vegetation



Winter is stunning with snow drifts, the sense of peace and alphine cliffs coated with snowflakes however the road can be impassable and closed to traffic due to extreme winter weather.


A snack for the road

AT  Sheffield Pies: Home Page


Springfield highlights

  • Breakfast at The Taste of Kiwi
  • Photo / selfie of ‘The Simpsons doughnut’


Offering great coffee, fish and chips, homemade soup, classic kiwi pies and gifts and plenty of gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options, they aim to make Taste of Kiwi the place to stop on your journey through to Arthur’s Pass. A few seconds off state highway 73 in Rubicon Street. Nothing like a classic Aussie/Kiwi breakfast to get the day going.

Taste of Kiwi Cafe, Springfield menu

Depart Springfield for Castle Hill Conservation Reserve.



(approximately 95km from Christchurch)

Visit duration 30 – 55 minutes

Unusual giant limestone rock formations in Castle Hill, South Island New Zealand
Castle Hill

In the Waimakariri Basin, Canterbury High Country is a karst landscape with extraordinary rock formations, outcrops and cave system. The limestone rock forms of Kura Tāwhiti / Castle Hill Conservation Reserve. Visitors are drawn to the arresting scenery. Your imagination can fly with the rock shaped natural sculptured forms. Children will love the idea of clambering over boulders and rocks. For further information check Castle Hill Conservation Reserve

  • Length: 1.4km track
  • Duration: 30 – 50 minutes


Arthurs Pass offers opportunities for families, all terrain buggies, and small kids to get outdoors and experience a high alpine environment. There are several stunning walks where your footsteps follow the original coaching road to waterfalls and glorious alpine scenery.

Arthurs Pass highlights

  • Devil’s Punchbowl walk – Waterfall buffs must do, an easy walk 1km walk a stunning 131m waterfalls, keas (parrots)
  • Old Coach Road walk is a leisurely 30 minute walk
  • Cockayne Nature Walk Walking time —30 minutes return (800 metres) This rough loop track winds through the diverse podocarp broadleaf forest of the West Coast
  • Arthur’s Pass Historic Walk Walking time —1 hour 30 minutes full round trip, or just do part of it This leisurely, easy walk takes you around Arthur’s Pass village to various historic sites
Kea alphine parrot Arthurs Pass, New Zealand
Kea alphine parrot Arthurs Pass
  • Arthur’s Pass Walking Track Walking time —1 hour 20 minutes one way (3.4 km) This walk links a series of tracks providing the chance to walk from Arthur’s Pass village to view the Dobson Memorial at Arthur’s Pass summit. The walk presents the best of Arthur’s Pass with diverse alpine vegetation, waterfalls, wetlands and rich history, interspersed with stunning views of the mountains. The track gradient is generally gentle, with some steep steps either side of Bridal Veil Creek
Devils Punchbowl falls in Arthurs pass National park, New Zealand
Devils Punchbowl falls in Arthurs Pass National Park


Consider bringing a picnic and snacks from your favourite Christchurch deli or finds along the way. Arthurs Pass is a premium tourist attraction and major route to the West Coast, South Island. Business is totally reliant on visitor traffic and goods are trucked considerable distances from major Canterbury supply depots. This means pricing will reflect distance and the issue around freshly sourced produce.


Otira Stagecoach Hotel is a heritage hotel with antiques throughout the hotel and outside artfully placed stagecoaches and horse wagons perfect for an impromptu selfie. The hotel is recognised as a museum. The boutique hotel offers accommodation, meals. Nearby is an art gallery housed in a former post office. Otira, in the late 1860’s was the construction site during the massive engineering works building the northern approach to the pass through the Otira Gorge. The modern viaduct lookout viewing area gives visitors an opportunity to view parts of the original road, the sweeping views of the gorge and the continuing efforts to protect the road from winter storm hazards. Completed in 1999 by McConnell Smith Pty Ltd, the 440 metres (1,440 ft) four-span viaduct carries State Highway 73 over a stretch of unstable land, replacing a narrow, winding and dangerous section of road that was prone to avalanches, slips and closures.

The Otira viewing area is well known for its kea visits. Please do not feed the cheeky parrots. They are an endangered species. The clever parrots have summed up visitors as a soft touch for snacks however it does them no good. The population is being closely monitored by DOC and looking for ID bands on their legs.

It’s a long day and you are tempted to find out what is further down the alpine route. West Coast, gold mining heritage trails and the wild west coast surfing beaches where seals rest. That’s another trip for another day.


Christchurch to Arthurs Pass: 149 km 2 hour drive one way, state highway 73


The Otira Gorge road had a well-established reputation as hazardous, being in places extremely narrow and passing over steep geologically unstable hillside frequently subject to slips. Now its hazards have been significantly reduced with part of the original road having been replaced with a spectacular 440m viaduct.  The original road was cut from sheer rock faces in the winter of 1865. The sign ‘Death’s Corner’ marks a lookout over a spectacular curving viaduct that spans the gorge where deaths occurred during construction.

In the 19th Century travel through the Gorge was slow.

According to the Imperial Album:


After a long haul upwards of 1000 feet from the shingle bed of the Bealey, the coach passes the dividing stake between Canterbury and Westland, on Arthur’s Pass, at an altitude of over 3000 feet, and shortly afterwards the truly magnificent and colossal gorge of the Otira is unfolded before us. Looking skywards and to the rear we see the mighty Aiguilles of the Otira glacier frowning thousands of feet above us, while in front and on both sides we are surrounded by densely-wooded mountains rising to an altitude of 7000 feet. Then down from the Pass we descend into the gigantic yawning ravine. Along a narrow zigzagged roadway, which in places is hewn out of the rock-buttresses, which follow shear down to the surging river below, that struggles round and between the mighty boulders. What a wealth of foliage! Mica mica, veronica, and the scarlet blossoms of the rata; and then the silken cascades ; that seem always to have chosen the steepest places to come down for the sake of the leap ; After descending, at a lively pace, through this colossal grandeur and beauty, the coach halts at a depth of 1,500 feet at the Otira hotel.

In 1868 Civil Engineer and Surveyor James Wylde sent to his children an account of travelling from Christchurch to the West Coast by coach.

Source NZ Places Otira Gorge


A superb Department of Conservation brochure to assist with bird identification and where to ‘observe’ the kea and other birds. Bird watching: Arthur’s Pass National Park – Canterbury.


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