Best Christchurch day trip – Arthur’s Pass, Kura Tawhiti & more

 

This guide is for anyone wishing to take a scenic day-trip from Christchurch.

One of the best days I had in New Zealand was spent road-tripping from the South Island city of Christchurch. Here’s an overview of that Christchurch day-trip, including:

  • Why day-trip?
  • Why road-trip?
  • Suggested day-trip route
  • Where to stop

 

Why day-trip?

There are so many great places to visit within the vicinity of Christchurch. If you’re travelling on a budget or simply enjoy the comforts of having a ‘home base’, it makes sense to visit some of these places in a single day from Christchurch. Then you can return to the city in the evening, make use of the wonderful dining options and rest up in your accommodation of choice.

 

Why road-trip?

More like, why not road-trip?! In general, road-tripping is fun, flexible and cheap when done in a group.

In terms of this route specifically, the flexibility of road-tripping is key because there are many awesome places to stop. Without a car (or van/motorbike), you simply wouldn’t be able to visit these spots!

Plus, the only alternative to road-tripping on this route would be a NZ$139 (£71/US$90) sightseeing train from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass. Granted, it does look amazing, but I think I’ll stick to a car thanks!

a car crossing a bridge over a river
River crossings are fun – this is why you road-trip!

 

Suggested day-trip route

My suggested day-trip route is a simple return trip to Temple Basin from Christchurch. Along the way, it stops at key places such as Kura Tawhiti, Arthur’s Pass and Devils Punchbowl – see next section for more details.

Distance: 306km (153km one-way)

Driving time: 4.5 hours (>2 hours one-way)

Christchurch

Kura Tawhiti

Arthur’s Pass

Devils Punchbowl

Temple Basin

driving route from christchurch to temple basin
The route displayed on Google Maps

 

Where to stop

Whilst driving along this route, these are my favourite places to stop. Here are all the details:

Kura Tawhiti

Located in the Castle Hill Conservation Area, Kura Tawhiti is a sacred site consisting of some epic limestone rock formations. Carved by water over millions of years, the limestone has been sculpted into an array of unique outcrops and bulges, left exposed as one giant cliff face.

Nowadays there are footpaths that weave in, out and around these rock formations, allowing people to explore all the nooks and crannies at their leisure. By walking round the sides of sheer faces, you can even come out on top of some of these rocks.

The site is easily accessed from the main road. There is a signposted car park with plenty of space (situated on the left hand side when coming from Christchurch).

protuding large rock formations at the edge of a field
The funky rock formations – can you spot the people?
panorama of fields, mountains and looming clouds
A panorama from the top of the rock formations – can you spot the people on the path for scale?!
Arthur’s Pass

Although technically a National Park, Arthur’s Pass also has a small settlement to its south – home to a visitors centre, petrol station and some accommodation options for those wishing to extend their trip.

My favourite part of the National Park is at one of the official entrances. Route 73 enters the park in an area of beautiful landscapes; the road crosses the glacial waters of the Waimakariri River in dramatic fashion, surrounded on all sides by steep snow-capped peaks.

Note: Driving across this bridge is simply not enough – be sure to pull over once across and take a few minutes to appreciate your surroundings. Take a walk down on the river bed and dare to dip your toes in the fresh cold water!

Aside from plenty of walking tracks, Arthur’s Pass National Park is a great place for bird-watching. It is home to a host of weird and wonderful birds, including the rare great spotted kiwi which can (very) occasionally be seen around the Devils Punchbowl area (see below). For more birding information, visit the Department of Conservation website here.

a carved sign saying arthurs pass national park
The start of Arthur’s Pass National Park
purple flowers bordering a dry river bed with mountainous background
This is the riverbed of the Waimakariri River
Devils Punchbowl

Devils Punchbowl is an impressive waterfall within Arthur’s Pass National Park. It’s accessible via a short walking track from a dedicated car park. Although short, the walking track has a seemingly endless amount of stairs!

The Devils Punchbowl car park is located just off the main road (Route 73). Coming from Christchurch, it’ll be on your right just after you pass the Arthur’s Pass National Park visitors centre.

Up at the falls, there is a wooden viewing platform and also a chance to look back over the valley. On your way along the track, keep an eye out for the rare great spotted kiwi. For more information, check out this page on Devils Punchbowl.

man standing in front of a waterfall
Me @ Devils Punchbowl waterfall
Other ideas

If you have time, there are a number of scenic walking tracks within easy reach of the main road. Examples include the Bealey Spur track (5hr return) and Temple Basin track (3hr return). Click here for more walking information from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation website.

Lake Pearson has a large car park so could be a nice place for a picnic.

 

 

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