As one of our last stops before heading down to Christchurch, we planned to go to Castle Hill. Castle Hill or Kura Tawhiti in Maori is a conservation area with hundreds of limestone, sandstone, and mudstone rocks, scattered around in different sizes and shapes. The area is popular with locals and tourists for bouldering and climbing.
Castle Hill Conservation area is just off Highway SH73, only about and hour and a half from Christchurch and shortly before Arthur’s Pass. We parked our car and walked toward the rocks. Some of the boulders were huge, with people on top looking like specks from below. There were tunnels and crazy shaped rocks, and we could see how it would be a great spot for bouldering. We saw a few people walking around with crash mats and a couple at the far end of the park climbing around.
The whole Castle Hill Conservation Area seemed a bit out of this world and was fun to explore. We walked between the different rock formations and climbed up on a few of them. We were there on a warm and sunny day and there were tons of other people around. A few just to explore, others having a picnic between the rocks.
Cave Stream Reserve
Just a five minute drive from Castle Hill is the popular Cave Stream Reserve. We saw similar rock formations to Castle Hill there, but the main reason to visit is a cave that can be walked through. The cave is almost 600 meters long and a stream runs through it, hence the name of the park. We had read online that the water could get about waist deep and would be freezing cold, but it was a relatively warm day outside so we decided to go for it anyway. It’s recommend to enter the cave downstream and then work your way up to the opposite end.
We walked about 10 minutes to the entrance and had to wade through some pretty deep water to get into the cave. We tried to climb around the deeper sections, but at some point we just had to go in. The water was freezing, but luckily it was only waist deep for a short time before reaching up to our knees for the rest of the way. The cave looked like a narrow canyon with high walls in some parts and more than once we had to climb up some smaller waterfalls to continue on. At one waterfall the water was incredibly powerful, so it took some time and effort to climb over it. After about an hour inside the cave we could see the light coming from the exit. To get there we had to climb up some metal steps that had been built into the rocks next to a 3 meter high waterfall and then crawl along a small ridge for a few meters. That was one of the best parts of the cave, but the whole walk is a great experience and a lot of fun, despite the freezing cold water. Be aware if it has been raining a lot the water levels might be too high, but there a plenty of warning signs and a map of the cave at the parking lot to check out before you go.
Arthur’s Pass Walking Track
Another 30 minute drive from Castle Hill and Cave Stream took us to Arthur’s Pass Village, where a few hikes start from. We only planned on spending half a day here, so we decided on a shorter hike, which was supposed to be very nice according to the DOC website. Arthur’s Pass Walking Track is almost 7km round trip with barely any altitude gain. We parked our car at the Punchbowl parking lot and set off on the trail from there. Before walking the actual trail, we headed down a short detour to Devil’s Punchbowl Falls, a beautiful 112 meter high waterfall. We didn’t know it yet, but this waterfall turned out to be the highlight of our hike at Arthur’s Pass.
After leaving the falls we headed onto the trail we had come to walk. For the most part the trail lead us through the forest and after 20 minutes we reached a lookout over another waterfall. Bridal Veil Falls looked nice, but they were very far from the path and there didn’t seem to be a god way to get any closer. After another 30 minutes the trail came out next to the highway and lead to the final lookout over Arthur’s Pass that we had read about. It took a half hour to reach the lookout from the highway, which turned out to be a small clearing surrounded by bushes with a few signs. The spot wasn’t very high up, nor were the views over the pass very nice. It looked out over the road and you could see a bit of the mountains, but it was a big stretch calling this spot a lookout. There are probably other nicer walks in the area which would be good on a sunny day, but we can’t recommend walking Arthur’s Pass Walking Track unless you enjoy mostly forest and don’t expect much from the final viewpoint.
Finally at the end of our time in New Zealand, we headed on to Christchurch to sell our trusty camper van, endure the magnitude 7.8 earthquake of 2016, and happily fly onward to start our six month travels in Southeast Asia!