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Hike in Arthur's Pass on the South Island, New Zealand

Arthur's Pass, New Zealand


Added by Wendy Zhao

For those who feel the calling of the high mountains yet are short on time: see the magnificent Southern Alps of New Zealand from the high mountain ridges of the Temple Basin track. Although not as popular as the Avalanche Peak trail (6-8 hours journey), this track takes much less time (2-4 hours) but climbs almost just as high (i.e., rewarding physical challenge)Because the track (i.e. trail) starts a bit higher in elevation than the popular Avalanche Peak trail, you will be above the tree lines and enjoy great views right from the start. The terrain is composed mostly of low bushes and decorated with mountain streams, waterfalls, and rugged rocky peaks in the backdrop

Arthur's Pass National Park sits ~2 hours east of Christchurch. It is the second worthwhile stop (Castle Hill is the 1st stop) for those driving from Christchurch to Queenstown via the northern alpine route (e.g. the drive runs through Arthur's Pass, Haas Pass, Fox Glacier)

Although not ideal, I only had one afternoon to explore Arthur's Pass. I arrived at the Visitor Center first and intended grabbing a map to hike the much longer Avalanche Peak. But given timing and the cloudy weather, the rangers there recommended Temple Basin instead. This turned out to be the perfect hike given how little time I had! It allowed me to optimize for great views, a physical challenge, and a chance to really get to know the terrain. [Just as an aside, if you are planning a trip to New Zealand, I highly recommend making the trip longer (at least 1-2 weeks) and giving 1 full day to this park.]

The Temple Basin track trailhead is located right outside of the Arthur's Pass village that houses a train station, the visitor center, and various shops. There is a trail that leads from the village to the Temple Basin trailhead (this path also passes the trail to Devil's Punchbowl waterfall), although I would recommend driving to save some time. Park in the Temple Basin parking lot and find the well-marked signed up the track. Note that the first part of the trail is composed mostly of small rocks, so make sure you wear shoes with solid padding and keep on chugging forward

The trail is quite easy to follow. It starts off on a wide path and climbs quickly up the mountain side. As you climb, the view of the valley and surrounding mountains will greet you and encourage you to continue upwards. Look out for waterfalls and streams, as well as the interesting plants on the roadside.

After about 40 min - 1 hour, you will reach two ski houses sitting in the middle of the mountains. In the summer, the ski houses are closed. Many people choose to stop and turn back here. However, there is an option to continue up higher on an unmarked, although clearly walked-upon trail that lead to the top of the ridges. This path starts just behind the higher ski house. Make sure that you are careful about staying on the path made by the hikers before you, especially on the way back down. Also note that the trail gets a bit steeper at this point so tread carefully!

If you continue on from the Ski Hut, you will soon reach a section lined by steel bars and ropes going upwards. This is to help you go up and down the steeper mountain side (composed mostly of rocks). It's bit of a scramble. I used the ropes to pull myself up, but in some parts, I found it easier to just walk up on the grassier sections. As the ropes end, you will find that there is a trail sitting right above it, carved into the mountain side. From there, the trail goes left around the mountain and becomes relatively flat. There are actually wire "fences" that line the outside of this path.

As you continue around the mountain, you will soon spot another hut and windmill below you nestled beneath the peaks. However, our path is going up. Towards the end of this flat trail, you will start to notice on your right that there is a path climbing up the mountain side that have been worn out by prior hikers. Follow this up - there will be some scrambling and basic climbing. Stay balanced and continue on!

The view from the top of the ridge is fantastic. You can see the snowy peaks of the Alps and surrounding mountain ridges. There is an option to continue along the ridge to the highest peak, but I did not venture further. You'll see rock piles laid out by those who came here before you. Enjoy the view, take some time lapse of the mountains if there is a cloudy day, and celebrate your ascent up this rugged mountain side!

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