Readers' pick: Arthur's Pass

01:03, May 31 2012


Distance: 162km

Back in the 1860s, surveyor Arthur Dobson identified a route for a road through this harsh, mountainous terrain.

To this day, it's hard to travel through the pass without sparing a thought for the men who built the road.

They laboured in difficult terrain, in a climate that often mimics that of Alaska, and they often paid the ultimate price for their employment.

The most recent accidental death of a worker in Arthur's Pass was in 2000, during the construction of the impressive Otira Viaduct.


The 440-metre-long viaduct tames and secures a passage through the unstable and steep scree slope on the western side of the pass - and what a marvellous piece of road engineering it is!

Completed early in the 21st century, it's New Zealand's equivalent of the Millau suspension bridge in the south of France, or the Forth road bridge in central Scotland.

Dobson can rest easy in his grave now that the last great engineering challenge of the road that bears his name has been overcome.

The surveyor was always aware of the difficulties of building a road through the spectacularly steep Otira Gorge, and knew that it was chosen only because "no better route could be found".

When his road was first completed in 1866, a stagecoach would take upwards of 36 hours to traverse its length, and travellers often had to allow for weather events that would extend the travel time out to a week or more.

These days, it's possible to do the journey between Kumara Junction and Springfield in two hours.

However, there are so many distractions along the way that it's hard not to take three.

These include the cheeky keas lurking at the rest areas near the top of the pass, the 1868-vintage hotel at Jacksons, and the reflective serenity of Lake Pearson after the often violent weather at the summit of the pass.

As you travel from the luxuriant rainforest of the West Coast, through the treeless tussock of the pass, and down into the pastoral landscape of Canterbury, you'll find it all adds up to an excellent pick by our readers.