150th milestone for Arthur's Pass

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 17/03/2014

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Mid Canterbury Selwyn

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Hundreds of people have crowded the tiny South Island village of Arthur's Pass for the 150th anniversary celebrations of the transalpine route's European discovery.

Arthur Dudley Dobson, with his younger brother, Edward, reached the saddle of the Bealey Valley on March 12, 1884 - a discovery that led to the construction of a rough dray route through the Otira Gorge.

It allowed road access from Christchurch to Hokitika's gold fields. The first coach crossed the pass two years later.

Dignitaries joined about 200 people on the weekend to celebrate the milestone at Arthur's Pass.

On Saturday, an official opening was held for a new 4-kilometre walkway from the village to the top of the pass.

Ngai Tahu kaumatua Sir Tipene O'Regan told the crowd that his iwi's ancestors regarded the route, later named Arthur's Pass, as a one-way trip to the West Coast because it was "almost impossible to come back this way carrying pounamu because of the requirement to swim with your load of rock".

Other Pakeha turned it down as a possible route but Dobson, who had been told about it by Ngati Waewae chief Tarapuhi, was unperturbed.

O'Regan paid tribute to Dobson and other key Pakeha surveyors, who were respectful of Maori culture and had the imagination to establish passes across the main divide.

He reminisced about trips as a youngster across Arthur's Pass in his family's 1937 Chevrolet.

"My father would wind down the window at the top of the corkscrew and he'd say 'Get out of the car, boy. Smell the coast'."

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- Canterbury

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