What’s so great about Burkes Pass: things to do and see
Heritage settlement has witnessed travellers for over 700 years leaving a rich legacy of human occupation.
Pre-European Maori regularly travelled through the area to the rich plains of the MacKenize basin on hunting expeditions. By the 1880’s New Zealand’s wild west had arrived with swaggers, gold miners and sheep rustlers passing through. Pastoral farming and the established route through to MacKenzie country cemented the town’s beginnings as a wayside hotel for travellers. Today visitors relish the heritage feel, the sense of timelessness and open spaces where mountains and valleys jostle for attention.
Location: State Highway 8, mountain pass settlement
Who turned up and settled in Burkes Pass?
Te Kopi Opihito (Burkes Pass) was a Maori route on the journey to the Mackenzie basin and West Coast. Several names emerged from 1880’s from Clulee, Cabbage Tree Flat and Three Creeks with Burkes Pass (early settler Michael Burke) the name of the area today. The town is on the banks of the Opihi River. The town is a waystation for travellers with visitors enjoying the historic settlement. Burkes Pass is 550 metres above sea level with a crisp alpine climate. Life sprung up around the hotel. For more than half a century adventurers, swaggers, settlers and gold miners passed through the town. At its peak 1890 to 1910 was a population of 143 and a three-teacher school.
- Sir William Hamilton, jet boat inventor is buried in the local cemetery (of Irishman’s Creek Station)
- Dr Charles Dick, first medical superintendent of Princess Margaret Hospital, Christchurch
- Musterers, shepherds and Maori travellers who left their mark on the landscape
- Historic passageway for pre-Euorpean Maori to the MacKenize district and its plentiful supply of birdlife and eels in the streams.
- Notorious alleged sheep rustler, James McKenize who used the route to take sheep to the Otago goldfields. This was the alternative route to the MacKenizes pass. He is not actually buried in the local cemetery.
- Heritage walk including the oldest Union Church in New Zealand, St Patrick’s.
- Three Creek gallery, collectables and memorabilia gift shop
- Kids scavenger hunt created by Burkes Pass Heritage Trust
- Cemetery with its stories of settler lives
The heritage walk includes a replica red Musterer’s Hut featuring an original fireplace, a livery stable, schoolhouse, stone and cob huts and a blacksmiths. St Patrick’s church is available for hire for weddings.
Where to take the best selfie
- Three Creeks Art & Gift shop
- Weather beaten vintage cars parked against buildings.
- St Patrick’s church as a background
- Scavenger hunt
- Extraordinary collection of objects in Three Creeks shop
- Visit Burke Scenic Reserve and find golden speargrass while telling the story of a very, rare weevil
What keeps the place going?
- A perfect stop on the way to the MacKenize plains, Tekapo and beyond. A great wayside break on the way to the Mt Dobson ski field. Allow between 1 hour to half a day whilling away time exploring the small town.
Best time to go
- 100 (2018)
It is tempting to linger in Three Creeks shop wondering if you really need the object you have fallen in love with.
TRAVEL PACK INFORMATION
- The Burkes Pass Scenic Reserve, administered by the Department of Conservation, is a former stock droving reserve one kilometre to the west of the pass. The ecological values are threatened by introduced rabbits, lupin, broom and wilding conifers.] Burkes Pass is home to the critically endangered Canterbury knobbled weevil which lives on speargrass. It has only been found in a three hectare site at Burkes” Wikepedia.
- Almost one hundred years ago, in 1922, a small weevil living amongst the Speargrass of the Canterbury region was seen for the last time. Eighty years later, 2002, it was assumed extinct by invertebrate societies but deemed a nationally critical status by the Department of Conservation due to lack of data in order to state its extinction. Two years later, in 2004, the Canterbury Knobbled weevil, Hadramphus tuberculatus, was rediscovered by Canterbury University student, Laura Young, at Alpine Burkes Pass scenic reserve near Lake Tekapo in the South Island of New Zealand. It is considered one of New Zealand’s rarest (1) with a nationally endangered status by UICN (2).
- Burkes Pass scenic reserve and golden speargrass is where the last H. tuberculatus population has been found. Hadramphus tuberculatus Wikipedia
- Burkes Pass weevil factsheet brochure, PDF
Unique journeys, the adventure is worth it.