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12 EPIC Things to do in Arthur’s Pass, NZ

12 EPIC Things to do in Arthur’s Pass, NZ

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Once used as a Maori trade route where jade was brought through the mountains, Arthur’s Pass serves a bit of a different function today – impressing all the lucky tourists who visit every year! In my eyes, a stop by Arthur’s Pass is easily one of the top things to do in New Zealand. Like the jade that once traveled through it, Arthur’s Pass really is a hidden gem (pun most definitely intended!).

But back on topic, this mountain pass highway takes you from the east coast to the west coast of the South Island right through the Southern Alps. If you’re driving from Christchurch to Hokitika, chances are you’ll be heading this way.

Along this route, the views are truly spectacular, and the many attractions and things to do on Arthur’s Pass will keep even the most adventurous travelers busy. Seriously, this highway is super underrated in my books!

With so much to see and do, it’s best to plan ahead. While you might not be able to do everything, I hope that by reading my guide, you’ll be able to choose the activities you want to do, and create the ultimate Arthur’s Pass itinerary!

Below I’ve listed the 12 best along with photos, info, and more. That way, you can focus on the road with all your stops planned out ahead of time.

Need wheels? For rental cars, I always book with Discover Cars since the website is so easy to use with great prices. For motorhomes and campervans, I really like JUCY/Star RV because of their huge selection and multiple depot locations that make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. Plus, if you use my exclusive discount code DTRAVEL24, you’ll save 5%! This discount is only valid for bookings made before June 30, 2024, with travel dates before Dec 21, 2204. You can browse JUCY and Star RV’s availability here and apply the discount code at check-out.

About Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand

Bailey on Arthurs Pass, NZ
The walking tracks on Arthurs Pass are the main highlight!

As one of New Zealand’s 13 national parks, the word is out that Arthur’s Pass is worth visiting! Traveling over the pass and through the national park is Highway 73, also known as the Great Alpine Highway/West Coast Road. The highway winds its way through the mountains from Christchurch all the way to the West Coast, hitting Arthur’s Pass Village and all the epic things to do in this blog along the way.

Climbing up to over 900 meters (2,953 feet), Arthur’s Pass is the highest pass over the Southern Alps. The highway itself is an example of great engineering involving bridges, viaducts, and redirected waterfalls. It is without a doubt one of the best road trips on the South Island.

The actual pass is 45 kilometers (28 miles) long, so it doesn’t take that long to drive. However, when traveling from Christchurch, it takes around 3 hours to drive over the pass and hit the West Coast. I highly recommend stopping along the way to enjoy some of the sights, and for this you will need at least 5 to 6 hours.

For the ultimate flexibility, I’d suggest renting a car in Christchurch (I use Discover Cars) and then spending a few days on the drive staying in campsites or hotels along the way! Personally, I love staying in Arthur’s Pass Village, which is the ultimate launchpad to discover the area.

Because Arthur’s Pass is a mountain pass, it is subject to poor road conditions, especially in winter. There are around 3 major snowfall areas on the highway with the potential to make conditions undrivable. It’s important to check road conditions before you leave, carry snow chains in winter, and be prepared for things to change.

Arthur’s Pass has been closed for extended periods of time before. Not just in winter, either, rain can cause slips. So, have a plan in case this happens to you, and make sure to check ahead to see what the current conditions are.

Of course, most people will travel the pass without an issue, and the only thing you’ll most likely encounter is cloud cover! If you get a clear day, enjoy it, they don’t happen all that often!

Related Read: People drive through Arthur’s Pass when road tripping from Christchurch to Punakaiki. Find out all about this road trip, including a detailed itinerary!

Things to do on & around Arthur’s Pass, NZ

1. Hike Arthur’s Pass Walking Track

Bailey walks along the Arthur's Pass Walking Track
Bailey walks along the Arthur’s Pass Walking Track

This wouldn’t be one of my blogs if I didn’t include at least one hike! It’s fitting then that one of the most popular things to do on Arthur’s Pass is to get outside and go for a walk (maybe now you see why I like it so much). One of the best trails, suitable for most fitness levels, is the Arthur’s Pass Walking Track.

The 6.8-kilometer (4.2-mile) return track starts from Arthur’s Pass Village at the Devils Punchbowl Parking lot. With an elevation gain of 284 m (932 ft), it’s a gradual climb until you reach the Dobson Memorial at Arthur’s Pass summit. Along the way, you can view amazing waterfalls, beautiful streams, Arthur’s Pass Summit, mountain views, and even Bridal Veil Falls (which I mention below!).

All up, it only takes around 2 to 3 hours to hike the trail, and it’s suitable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. It’s one for the camera, especially if you’re blessed with a clear day.

2. See the famous Devil’s Punchbowl

bailey stands on the viewpoint at the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall along Arthurs Pass, NZ
Devils Punchbowl Waterfall
Bailey looks out at the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall on Arthurs Pass
Devils Punchbowl Waterfall on Arthurs Pass

If you want to visit the most ferocious waterfall in New Zealand, then look no further than the Devils Punchbowl. The name alone should get you excited, but if that doesn’t, then the fact it’s a 131-meter (430 feet) tall waterfall should – that’s more than two Leaning Tower of Pisas stacked on top of each other!

The waterfall is accessed via the Devils Punchbowl Walking Track, which is short and sweet with a small elevation gain (be prepared for a few stairs) and takes around 20 minutes each way. Once there, you’ll be amazed at the falls and might even get a little wet. Regardless, this waterfall is super cool and definitely worth it for the photos.

One thing I love about this activity on Arthur’s Pass is that it’s perfect for almost any weather. In fact, Arthur’s Pass is often cloudy, but that doesn’t take away from this experience. And the rain? Well, that makes it even better! This is easily one of my favorite hikes on the South Island.

3. Hike Avalanche Peak

Bailey at the summit of Avalanche Peak in New Zealand
I made it to the summit!
Bailey at the summit of Avalanche Peak on Arthurs Pass, New Zealand
Avalanche Peak on Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand

Speaking of my favorite hikes in New Zealand, the Avalanche Peak Route is another one on that list! However, by no means is this 6-kilometer (3.7 miles) trail easy, in fact, most people take 5 to 6 hours to walk the 6 kilometers up and back down! The reason? The steep terrain and huge elevation gain of over 1,110 meters (3,642 feet)!

Those who do tackle this monster, get to witness arguably the best panoramic view of the Southern Alps, and you get my blessing to brag about this to all your family and friends back home.

The trail can be hiked in a loop or up and back the same trail and starts just across the road from the Devil’s Punchbowl parking lot. The trail is technically a loop, however many people go up and back the same way. The full loop is around 9 kilometers (5.6 miles), and I recommend going clockwise for a steeper but quicker ascent, and then a slightly easier way down.

Avalanche Peak sits at 1,833 meters (6,014 feet) above sea level, and the trek up can actually be dangerous if you’re not experienced or prepared. Please do not attempt this hike in high winds, rain, or in winter (without the right experience).

Honestly, when I did it the weather conditions were ideal (a bluebird summer day!), but even then, I needed to be prepared. There isn’t much shade along the trail, nor are there places to fill up your water bottle. So make sure to bring plenty of sunscreen, a hat, and water. Also, at the top it is usually much colder than it is down in the village, so bringing a windbreaker is also a good idea!

Remember, it’s more of a scramble than a hike, so some scrambling experience is highly recommended! I got mine tackling the Rocky Mountains back home, so although no walk-in-the-park, I knew what to expect.

4. Visit Arthur’s Pass Village and Visitor Center

Arthurs Pass Visitor Center, New Zealand
Arthurs Pass Visitor Center, New Zealand

Arthur’s Pass Village is in the center of the highway and sits not far from the summit of Arthur’s Pass. If you plan on doing any of the above hikes, you’ll be visiting the town anyway, so why not get out and take a look around?

The first thing you should do is check out once you’re in town is the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Center. Here you can get up-to-date weather info on all the hikes, as well as other ideas for things to do and safety information. It’s a great way to get comfortable with the area and have any questions you have answered by a local.

Next, why not get some food!? After a long drive, you must be hungry. That said, there aren’t too many options here, in fact, there’s only one place to pick from! There used to be two, but my local favorite, the Wobbly Kea, shut its doors a few months ago, leaving behind one champion.

Arthur’s Pass Cafe and Store remains open and serves great coffee and food. It’s also the only place to pick up other supplies and snacks you might want! If you’re low on fuel, you can also grab some here for the road ahead, but you will pay a premium for it.

5. Take in the views on the Bealey Spur Track

Bailey on the Bealey Spur Track on Arthurs Pass, New Zealand
The views are incredible!

The Bealey Spur Track is one hike those making their road trip over Arthur’s Pass an overnight adventure should not miss.

This 6-kilometer (3.7-mi) one-way hiking trail takes you high above the river valley to the Bealey Hut. Although the trail has an elevation gain of over 600 meters (1,969), it is gradual and not overly difficult. This is a good option for those who want a longer, more challenging hike than the waterfall trails in Arthur’s Pass Village, but aren’t quite up to the challenge of Avalanche Peak – it’s a good middle ground!

You can stay in the Bealey Hut on a first-come, first-serve basis and it’s completely free. With that said, it’s an old hut with six bunk beds, so there are only very basic facilities (it’s more of a shed rather than a hut).

All up, the hike takes around 4 to 5 hours, and the views are magnificent on a clear day!

6. Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls Arthurs Pass
Bridal Veil Falls Arthurs Pass, New Zealand
It’s not the largest waterfall!

I wasn’t sure whether I should include this next attraction on this list, however, understanding some people won’t have time to hike the longer trails, I thought I should!

Putting it simply, the Bridal Veil Falls is a waterfall along the Arthur’s Pass Walking Track that I mentioned above. The waterfall is 108 meters (354 feet) tall and is often compared to the Devil’s Punchbowl, however, Bridal Veil Falls is nowhere near as impressive in my opinion.

The walk to the falls takes only 20 minutes each way at most, so it’s a great track for those who are short on time. With that said, I’d recommend hiking to the Devil’s Punchbowl instead, unless you’re going to hike the full trail to Arthur’s Pass summit.

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7. Stop at Otira Viaduct Lookout

Bailey at the Otira Viaduct Lookout on Arthurs Pass, NZ
Otira Viaduct Lookout on Arthurs Pass, NZ

There are plenty of places to pull over and admire the views on Arthur’s Pass, but few are as spectacular as the view of the Otira Viaduct. Remember all the impressive engineering I mentioned at the beginning of this blog? Well, this huge bridge is 440 meters (1,457 feet) long, and it’s the only reason driving Arthur’s Pass is possible.

From the parking lot just off Highway 73, you can hop out and get some great photos of the bridge as well as the surrounding landscape. Although only a quick stop, it’s a must on EVERY Arthur’s Pass road trip, so don’t miss it!

8. Avalanche Creek Falls

Avalanche Creek Campsite on Arthurs Pass, New Zealand
Avalanche Creek Campsite on Arthurs Pass, New Zealand

Another attraction suited to those who are short on time, Avalanche Creek Falls is located at the very start of the Avalanche Peak Route walking trail and is a beautiful place to visit. The falls are not that impressive (compared with the others) but with only a 5-minute walk between you and the falls, why not go for a look?

I myself usually get lunch or a coffee in town and walk over to the falls to enjoy it. The surrounding forest is so beautiful and with the sound of the water, you can’t even hear the highway!

If you’re looking for somewhere to camp for the night, then the Avalanche Creek Shelter Campsite is a pretty good option to choose from. It’s located just off the main road from Arthur’s Pass Village, right next to the visitor’s center – talk about convenience!

Bookings are required for this campsite, with a one-night stay costing $10 NZD per adult and $5 NZD per child (5-17). A $10 NZD booking fee is also applicable, and you can book your site over on their website.

9. Drive up to Temple Basin

Views from Temple Basin in summer
Come for the views at the very least!

When winter rolls around, one of my favorite activities is to strap on my skis and hit the slopes. Thankfully, there are tons of epic places to go skiing in New Zealand.

While it’s no Cardrona or Mt Hutt, Temple Basin is the local ski joint, and it’s still a cool place to ski and snowboard, with epic views and good runs. I myself have never skied here, but I would love to someday! If you’re braving Arthur’s Pass in the winter, definitely reward yourself with some fun on the slopes here.

Being one of the less popular ski slopes (mostly due to it being a little bit out of the way), the season passes here are really cheap, and super early bird passes are only $160 NZD! Day passes are also only $85 NZD, and compared to ski fields in Queenstown and Wanaka, that’s super affordable.

With that said, it’s also a summer destination. In fact, you can hike up to Temple Basin from the parking lot on Highway 73 around 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) from the village. The trail zigzags up to the ski area and on a clear day, you can enjoy magnificent views of Mt Rolleston. All in all, it’s around a 3-hour return journey and is considered moderately challenging because of the steep terrain.

10. Explore Kura Tawhiti / Castle Hill Conservation Area

Bailey walks on a path at Kura Tawhiti Castle Hill Conservation Area
Bailey walks on a path at Kura Tawhiti Castle Hill Conservation Area
Kura Tawhiti Castle Hill Conservation Area
It’s an easy walk!

Next up is one of the most famous places to visit on the South Island! Kura Tawhiti or Castle Hill Conservation Area is a unique attraction in New Zealand that everyone driving Arthur’s Pass should see. Kura Tawhiti even has Topuni status!

The rock formations at Kura Tawhiti formed many years ago and were once under the ocean. Over the years, limestone rocks formed and were then eroded away into the unique shapes you see today.

Kura Tawhiti is located on the eastern side of Arthur’s Pass, around 90 kilometers (59 miles) from Christchurch. This attraction is well-signposted and very hard to miss.

From the parking lot, there is a well-defined walking track you can enjoy that leads through the boulders. It takes anywhere from 40 to 60 minutes to explore the area and the 1.4 kilometers (0.9 mi) each way. The walking track is considered easy, with only gradual uphill sections. You also don’t have to walk the entire thing, just walk as far as you want and then turn back.

Fun Fact: Topuni status means a chief has placed a cloak over the area. Tōpuni status, therefore, means Ngāi Tahu values in the conservation area are upheld. You can read more about it here.

11. Cave Stream Scenic Reserve

Bailey at Cave Stream Scenic Reserve on Arthurs Pass New Zealand
Cave Stream Scenic Reserve!

I must admit, I was a little nervous before visiting this next attraction on Arthur’s Pass! The Cave Stream Scenic Reserve is exactly as the name suggests, a 594-meter (1,949 feet) cave with, you guessed it, a stream running through it. Despite being a little anxious when I first went in, this really is one of the coolest attractions in Arthur’s Pass, and one you won’t read about on many blogs.

Although unique, it’s not for the faint-hearted and does involve some difficult terrain not suited to children or those with knee/hip problems. Accessing the cave is done by following a stream, and depending on the weather it can get pretty deep (around waist-deep in some places).

Along the way, you’ll climb over rocks, and having someone who is fit and strong is recommended to help others (I had my partner with me, and he helped others in the cave).

There are two entrances, so if you plan on walking through, be sure to walk against the current. Otherwise, you’ll be in for a traffic jam or two! It takes around 1 hour to traverse the cave and there are a few ladders you need to climb. It’s also important to bring one flashlight per person and never go alone.

During winter, the water is freezing, so it’s not recommended to enter the cave. You should also check all signs before entering, as sometimes the water is too high and access to the cave is therefore closed. This is especially true in the spring or after lots of rain.

Thankfully, you don’t need to walk through the cave to enjoy it. Instead, you can walk to the entrance and just enjoy the first part of the cave. This is what a lot of people did while I was there!

The entire landscape here is beautiful, so be sure to get out and walk around. The cave is located only 5 minutes from Castle Hill Conservation Area.

12. Lake Pearson

Bailey at Lake Pearson on Arthurs Pass, New Zealand
Picnics here are so peaceful!

Our final quick stop on the road trip over Arthur’s Pass is Lake Pearson, a small wildlife refuge that’s a beautiful place to stop to stretch your legs or enjoy a bite to eat (if you packed a lunch). I love sitting on the shore of Lake Pearson and enjoying the magnificent views of the mountains and, if I’m lucky, even getting to see some wildlife.

If you’re visiting on a calm day, the reflections here are stunning! There are also toilets at Lake Pearson, so keep that in mind if you need to go on this journey.

For those with a campervan, tent, or motorhome, there is a DOC campsite at Lake Pearson. You can camp here for $10 NZD per night per person (adult). You must book in advance to secure your spot, though.

Alternatives to Driving Arthur’s Pass

The view from the TranzAlpine Train to Greymouth
Take in the views from the comfort of your carriage!

If you didn’t rent a car for your travels in New Zealand, then another fantastic option to experience the best of what Arthur’s Pass has to offer is by going as part of a tour!

This TranzAlpine train experience is widely known as one of the most scenic train journeys in the world, and if taking in all these incredible views from the comfort of a cozy train cabin sounds like a dream come true, then this really is an unmissable activity.

Starting your full-day adventure (about 10 hours) in Christchurch, you’ll hop aboard the iconic TranzAlpine train, which is worth a few photos in itself. After your scenic journey, your guide will pick you up from Arthur’s Pass National Park to take you in a van to some of the attractions that I mentioned above. Expect to see the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall, Otira Viaduct Lookout, and Castle Hill!

This tour really is the best option if you don’t have your own set of wheels. It costs just $395 NZD per person and should be booked online here well in advance (it’s very popular and often does fully book!).

Where to Stay Along Arthur’s Pass

The Bealey Hotel Arthur's Pass
The Bealey Hotel! Photo credit: Bealey Hotel

Accommodation in Arthur’s Pass is very limited, however, there are a couple of places to stay that transform this already incredible road trip into an epic overnight adventure. Here are a few of my favorites options!

Arthur’s Pass Alpine Motel – $

The most budget-friendly option available is the Arthur’s Pass Alpine Motel. This cute motel is located right in Arthur’s Pass Village and comes with basic facilities at very affordable prices. They even have family chalets!

Rooms here at Arthur’s Pass Alpine Motel start from around $135 NZD per night, which is particularly good if you’re traveling as a couple or with your family. You can check availability and book your room in advance here.

The Nook – $$

Another gem that’s located right around the corner from the village is The Nook. This is an Airbnb-style apartment that has fantastic reviews, it’s basically an entire apartment that boasts some pretty amazing views of the valley below, which is something I’m sure we can all get behind.

As this is standalone accommodation, it often books out pretty far in advance, so make sure to take a look and reserve your spot ahead of time! A stay at The Nook starts at around $200 NZD and can be booked online here.

The Bealey Hotel – $$$

If you’re looking for a little more luxury, then consider staying at The Bealey Hotel! It’s around 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from Arthur’s Pass Village but sits on the edge of the Waimakariri River. The rooms here are pretty nice and the views are nothing short of spectacular!

With an on-site restaurant, as well as barbecue facilities and free parking, a stay here at The Bealey Hotel costs around $215 NZD per night, but can drop to around $175 NZD if you book in advance.

There are also a few DOC campsites along Arthur’s Pass. I mentioned above about Lake Pearson, but there is also Avalanche Creek Shelter (best located), Hawdon Shelter Campsite, Klondyke Corner Campsite, and Mistletoe Flats Campsite.

Related Read: Continue on your road trip towards the town of Hokitika where you can explore a variety of attractions.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey smiles at the camera on the Avalanche Peak Trail
Thanks for reading!

There you have it! All the epic things to do in Arthur’s Pass. This list is the reason I love this place so much, and every time I go on a road trip, I try to make a detour through this amazing mountain pass. Trust me, you’ll absolutely love Arthur’s Pass.

Thanks so much for reading! I really hope this guide has helped plan your upcoming trip to Arthur’s Pass. If it has, then check out some more of my blogs. I have so many more in-depth articles on New Zealand, including road trips. I’ve also listed some of my most popular guides for you to check out here:

One Week Queenstown Itinerary: How to Spend 7 Days in Queenstown

40 Best Hikes on the South Island of New Zealand

The BEST Time to Visit New Zealand – Weather & Activities

suzie Griffith

Friday 27th of May 2022

Thanks Bailey. Such an interesting blog. Just spent about 2 hours reading and noting stuff for our trip in Feb 23. So very helpful and honest. Thank you.

Luis

Friday 6th of May 2022

Thanks for all this clear and useful information! Amazing blog and nice photos that can convince anyone to visit every single place you mention.

Deise Andreato

Wednesday 11th of August 2021

OMG! Your blog is amazing! It is so complete and it has so many more - and useful - information than any other website I have researched from! I will travel the South Island for a week in October and I found here all the information I needed and much more! Thanks for sharing your experiences, obrigada!

Bailey

Thursday 12th of August 2021

Hey Deise!

Thank you so much for the kind words it really means a lot to hear that!

I am so excited about your upcoming trip and even happier that you found my info helpful in planning it! I really hope you have the most amazing time exploring the South Island!

Thanks Bailey

Thanks Bailey