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There are many epic highways in New Zealand that even without stopping are bucket list experiences. One of the best is Arthur’s Pass.
This mountain pass highway takes you from the east coast to the west coast of the South Island traveling right through the Southern Alps. It’s most commonly driven from Christchurch to Hokitika. Along the way the views are 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 spectacular!
With so much to see and do it’s best to plan ahead. Unfortunately, most can’t do everything, however, by reading my guide to the best things to do in Arthur’s Pass, you’ll be able to choose the activities you want to do.
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!
About Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand
Arthur’s Pass is actually a national park located in the Southern Alps. 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, 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 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. With that said, those who plan on stopping along the way will need at least 5 to 6 hours. Better yet, spend a few days on the drive staying in campsites or hotels along the way! Personally, I love staying in Arthur’s Pass Village so I can explore 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.
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 thru Arthur’s Pass when road tripping from Christchruch 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
One of the most popular things to do on Arthur’s Pass is to get outside and go for a walk/hike. One of the best trails, suited to most fitness levels is 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. From there, it’s a gradual climb until you reach the Dobson Memorial at Arthur’s Pass summit. Along the way, you can view waterfalls, beautiful streams, Arthur’s Pass Summit, mountain views, and even Bridal Viel Falls (which I mention below!)
All up, it only takes around 2 to 3 hours to hike the trail and it’s suited to anyone with a reasonable level of fitness.
2. See the famous Devils Punchbowl
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 tall waterfall should!
The waterfall is accessed via the Devil’s Punchbowl Walking Track and is short and sweet with a small elevation gain that 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.
One thing I love about this activity on Arthur’s Pass 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 the best hikes on the South Island.
3. Hike Avalanche Peak
Avalanche Peak Route is one of my favorite hikes in New Zealand. 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. Those who do tackle this monster, get to witness arguably the best panoramic view of the Southern Alps!
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. I myself was short on time and went up and back down the same way for a shorter option. The full loop is around 9 kilometers.
Avalanche Peak sits at 1,833 meters 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.)
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
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 the above hikes, you’ll be visiting the town so why not get out and take a look around.
The first thing you should do is check out 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! Now, there aren’t many options, in fact, there are really only two places and they’re right across from each other. My favorite though is the Wobbly Kea. This cute cafe serves really good food and my personal favorite is their tomato soup. It’s perfect on a cold day in Arthur’s Pass.
The other place is Challenge Arthur’s Pass Cafe and Store. This place serves great coffee and food too and is also the only place to pick up other supplies and snacks you might want.
5. Take in the views on Bealey Spur Track
The Bearly Spur Track is one hike those making their road trip over Arthur’s Pass an overnight adventure should not miss. This 6-kilometer (each 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 it is gradual and not overly difficult. 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 so there are only very basic facilities.
All up the hike takes around 4 to 5 hours and the views are magnificent!
6. Bridal Veil Falls
I wasn’t sure whether I should include this next attraction on this list, however, understanding some people won’t have time to hike longer trails I thought I should!
Bridal Viel Falls is just a waterfall along the Arthur’s Pass Walking Track that I mentioned above. The waterfall is 108 meters tall and is often compared to the Devils Punchbowl, however, Bridal Viel Falls is nowhere near as impressive.
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.
8. Stop at Otira Viaduct Lookout
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 Otira Viaduct. This huge bridge is 440 meters long and it’s the only reason driving Arthur’s Pass is possible.
From the parking lot just off Highway 73, you can get 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!
7. Avalanche Creek Falls
This is another attraction suited to those who are short on time. Avalanche Creek Falls is located at the very start of the Avalanch 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!
9. Drive up to Temple Basin
Temple Basin is the ski field located on Arthur’s Pass. During the winter, it’s a cool place to ski/snowboard with epic views and good runs. I myself have never skied here but I would love to someday. Season passes are really cheap and super early bird passes are only $160 NZD! Day passes are also only $65 or weekend and $55 weekdays. Compared to ski fields in Queenstown and Wanaka, that’s super cheap!
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 from the village. The trail zig-zags up to the ski area and on a clear day, you can enjoy magnificent views of Mt Rolleston. The trail takes around 3 hours return, and is considered moderate because of the steep terrain.
10. Explore Kura Tawhiti / Castle Hill Conservation Area
Next up is one of the most famous places to visit on the South Island. Kura Tawhiti or Castel Hill Conservation Area is a unique attraction in New Zealand that everyone driving Arthur’s Pass should see. Kura Tawhiti even has Topuni status!
Fun fact: Topuni status means a chief has placed a cloak over the area. Tōpuni status therefore means Ngāi Tahu values on the conservation area are upheld. You can read more about it here.
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 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 (each way) walking track is considered easy.
This is certainly one of the highlights when driving Arthur’s Pass.
11. Cave Stream Scenic Reserve
I must admit, I was a little nervous before visiting this next attraction on Arthur’s Pass! Cave Stream Scenic Reserve is exactly as the name suggests a 594-meter cave with you guessed it, a stream running through it. 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 must 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. It takes around 1 hour to traverse the cave and there are some 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.
Thankfully, you don’t need to walk through the cave to enjoy it, and 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 but I myself just had to go inside!
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
Another quick stop on the road trip over Arthur’s Pass is Lake Pearson. This small wildlife refuge is a beautiful place to stop to stretch your legs or for a bite to eat (if you packed a lunch.) Sit on the shore of Lake Pearson and enjoy the magnificent views of the mountains and even some wildlife. If you’re visiting on a calm day the reflections are stunning! There are also toilets at Lake Pearson so keep that in mind!
For those with a campervan, tent, or motorhome, there is a DOC campsite at Lake Pearson. You can camp here for $8 per night per person (adult). You must book in advance though.
Where to Stay along Arthur’s Pass
Accommodation on Arthur’s Pass is very limited, however, there are a couple of places to stay that make this road trip an epic overnight adventure. The most budget-friendly option 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!
Another place located near the village is The Nook. This is an Airbnb-style apartment that has fantastic reviews. There is only one room here though so you do need to book well in advance!
For the more luxurious travels consider staying at The Bealey Hotel. It’s around 10 kilometers from Arthur’s Pass Village but sits on the edge of the Waimakariri River. The rooms here are pretty nice and the views are spectacular!
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.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
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 book 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 is what most budget backpackers get 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! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
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.