What I want you to know – but hope you don’t tell any fucking tourists – is that Arthur’s Pass is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand.
Sitting halfway between the West Coast and Christchurch, it’s an easy trip from either. Yet it remains relatively quiet as most people seem to see it as a place to stop-off in, rather than to explore.
Those that only rush through will miss out on so much.
When you escape from the village, you’ll find quiet trails. Few people around to bother you. Despite some of the walks being stupidly easy.
One such trail is the Bealey Spur Track, which our HelpX host insisted we do. Not wanting to argue we took his advice and didn’t regret it for a second.
The Bealey Spur Track
Since coming to the South Island my oft repeated catchphrase has been: “Look at that view!” Around every corner there is something beautiful to marvel at. In consequence, I can grade my hikes based on the amount of times I utter the phrase.
The Bealey Spur track made me say the words an average of every five minutes. Look at that view! Look at that view! No, seriously, Jamie, are you looking at that view?!
Before you even step foot on the trail, you’re surrounded on all sides by mountains. The valley is wide meaning that even though they tower high above you, you still get an expansive view. Climbing the Bealey Spur just increases the satisfaction.
I say climb, but the Bealey Spur is an easy hike. Long, but easy. The elevation is marginal, over around 6 kilometres meaning there’s barely any noticeable ascent.
We invited another HelpXer, a French girl named Anaïs along with us on the hike. She had come to do the work exchange in Arthur’s Pass without her own transport and I know from experience how crap that can be.
You can easily find yourself stuck in the same place, especially if you’re in a rural area. So it seemed only polite to invite her along on the hike, for a ride in The Bloody Legend.
Having somebody come on our hike made me a little anxious. I was always stopping asking her if she wanted to continue. I felt like we were perhaps dragging her along. I started to worry that her feet might be hurting and she was only continuing out of politeness. But I don’t think she would have had much to complain about. Because. Well. LOOK AT THAT VIEW!
Low on the trail, we weaved our way through a deep beech forest. These forests are calm and as green as I’m sure is possible. The leaves of the trees are small but dense, when you look up at them the light comes through them like a kaleidoscope. They move back and forth in the wind creating a swishing sound much like the ocean. It’s a calming influence during a hike. But I’m always listening out for birds.
Arthur’s Pass is famous for its kea. The world’s only alpine parrot. We never managed to see any outside of the town where they hang out pretty much permanently at the local cafe.
They’re sneaky little buggers. Hiding underneath nearby bushes, or on top of the buildings. Waiting for a moment when they can jump out and steal a tourist’s sandwich.
Our HelpX host, Geoff, had plenty of funny stories about the birds. Like the time a man sat down to eat his burger, only to realise he’d forgot to get some napkins. Off he went inside, only to come back to an empty plate. A kea having swooped in to steal his lunch.
Despite their naughty tendencies, they are beautiful birds. Their green feathers almost look like they’re painted in watercolour. The different shades keep them well camouflaged while in a tree or even hiding under a bush.
On the trail though, there were no kea as they usually prefer to stay higher when in the wild. Instead there were dozen of brown creeper, bellbirds, fantails, and rifleman. This means nothing to you, but to me I was snapping away every few minutes with my camera. I’ve got a serious love for New Zealand birds.
As we plodded with ease through the forest, it started to thin out into bushes. Brief glimpses between the leaves showed us that we had somehow climbed quite high. Soon enough the bushes started to thin out leaving us in a tussock field.
Walking through a tussock field with shorts on can be a little uncomfortable. The long reeds can get quite sharp, but the views more than make up for the discomfort. Tussock is so low lying that the mountain opens up and you can see off into the surrounding area.
“Look at that view!” I shouted.
Onwards and upwards. Through the tussock field. By this point it was midday and the sun was beaming. I was sweating buckets but didn’t care. We reached the top of the field to be shown an almost complete view of the valley below.
“Look at that fucking view!”
Arthur’s Pass is a place so beautiful that it makes me disgusted. Such places shouldn’t exist because they spoil everywhere else in the world. How could anywhere else compete?
At this point in the hike, the temptation to turn back reared its head. There was still about an hour or so left. A hike through a wetland opposite some tarns (small lakes!), ending at an old hut. But I knew that nothing else could top the view we had, so why bother with all the effort?
Yet, it seemed bad form to turn back before the end, so we pushed on. Back into a calm beech forest soaked with mud. Logs were lain down and we skipped between them trying not to lose balance and fall into the ankle deep mud.
Soon we found the source of all the muck as the forest made way for the wetland. Smooth pools lined the sides of the track, which was now up on a board-walk. In the distance there were some large, clear lakes. I picked up my camera to take a photo when I had to admit to Jamie that there was too much going on. Beautiful lake, beautiful mountains, beautiful trees. It was too hard to get it all into a decent picture (but, I tried!)
It wasn’t much further to the hut, which was…just a hut. A complete anti-climax. We were expecting fireworks – or the view to end all views. Instead we got a hut in a small clearing. Our spirits were unchanged. We had the whole trip back to marvel at Arthur’s Pass again.
We ate a lunch of cold pancakes with nutella. Perfect hiking food. As we ate, we saw a small movement from the bush beside us. A small mouse was peering with hunger in his eyes.
Arthur’s Pass is the only place I’ve been to where you can easily see mice running around during the day. Due to the lack of predators in the park their population is always booming, meaning you can see them running around much like birds. Our French friend took pity and threw the mouse a nut which it snatched with gratitude, running back into the bush to eat.
Soon we were heading back down. More utterances of those words. “Look at that view!” Jamie sighed.
But seriously. Look at it!