History

Maori often passed through the Waimaka-riri basin. Signs of their early occupation are evident in the Hawdon valley, where the forest was burnt by hunting parties. The highly prized pounamu (greenstone) on the west coast lured them occasionally across Arthur's Pass, and often through the easier route over Harper Pass.

In September 1857, Edward Dobson travelled up the Hurunui River as far as Harper Pass, and possibly into the Taramakau valley, before turning back. However, it was 20-year-old Leonard Harper who, in the same year, became the first European to cross the swampy saddle and descend the Taramakau River to reach the west coast.

Edward Dobson didn't get a pass named after him but his son, Arthur, did. In March 1864, 23-year-old Arthur Dobson and his 18-year-old brother Edward journeyed up the Bealey valley and camped above the tree line. The next day they crossed what is now Arthur's Pass and descended a short distance into Otira Gorge. Another of Arthur's brothers, George, was later commissioned to find the best route from Canterbury to the west-coast gold fields, and it was George who first referred to the pass as 'Arthur's Pass'.

Whilst George Dobson was selecting the 'best' route across the island, two parcels of gold were sent from Hokitika to Canterbury. A gold rush followed, and in just one

1 Arthur's Pass Village p219

2 Arthur's Pass National Park Tramps pp222-3

3 Harper Pass (Map 1) p231

4 Harper Pass (Map 2) p233

5 Harper Pass (Map 3) p234

6 Cass-Lagoon Saddles Track p236

1 Arthur's Pass Village p219

2 Arthur's Pass National Park Tramps pp222-3

3 Harper Pass (Map 1) p231

4 Harper Pass (Map 2) p233

5 Harper Pass (Map 3) p234

6 Cass-Lagoon Saddles Track p236

week in March 1865, 1000 people poured over Harper Pass on their way to the west coast; 4000 people made the trip between February and April. The gold rush and the poor condition of the Harper Pass track intensified the efforts of Christchurch citizens to build a dray road to the west coast. Work began on the Arthur's Pass road, and by 1866 the first coach drove from one side of the South Island to the other.

The Otira rail tunnel was completed in 1923. The next year alpine train excursions began, and became so popular that 1600 day-trippers from Christchurch poured into tiny Arthur's Pass village in a single day. Alarmed at visitors removing plants and cutting trees for firewood, residents began petitioning the government to turn the area into a national park. In 1929 Arthur's Pass became New Zealand's third national park, behind Tongariro and Eg-mont, and in 2004 celebrated its 75th anniversary as one of the country's greatest alpine parks.

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