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Introduction

The grand limestone rock battlements of Kura Tawhiti led early European travellers to name the area Castle Hill.

Highlights

Climbers, families, students, scientists and travellers have always been drawn to this spectacular place, to explore its natural, cultural, historic and recreation values.

Place overview

Activities

  • Climbing
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      Climbing

      Kura Tawhiti (Castle Hill) is an extremely popular place for climbing and bouldering. There are a large number of bolted climbs within the reserve.

      Ngāi Tahu wish to encourage respect for their association with Kura Tawhiti. A rock-climbing code is in place, and rock climbers are asked to be aware that to Ngāi Tahu, climbing the outcrops denigrates their tapu status.

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      About this place

      Nature and conservation

      Landforms

      Sculptures in stone

      The geology of the rocks at Kura Tāwhiti is tertiary limestone, mudstone, sandstone and tuffs. Limestone is formed from layers of organic sediment, deposited in deep oceans far from land. The layers are compressed into soft, soluble rock.

      The area was once under a large, shallow inland sea that began to infill some 30 million years ago. Pressure over time caused extensive uplift and folding and faulting of the Torlesse and Craigieburn Ranges.

      Thrust up from their origin, the limestone rock was eroded by water into these distinctive sculptured landforms, called a karst landscape.

      Castle Hill buttercup.
      Castle Hill buttercup

      Plants

      Kura Tāwhiti is a refuge for hidden treasures - some of the rarest and most endangered plants in Canterbury. Once covered in tōtara and tall shrubs, the area was cleared 600 years ago by fire and has been grazed for almost 150 years. Tussock and pasture are now the norm, with one lone, surviving tōtara nearby.

      Two very rare plants that prefer to live in limestone landscapes have hung on at Kura Tawhiti. These are limestone wheatgrass (Australopyrum calcis subspecies obtatum) and a tiny 3 cm high sedge (Carex inopinata). A shrubland restoration project within the reserve hopes to recreate the habitat for these botanical treasures.

      Kura Tāwhiti is also the site of the first reserve in New Zealand established specifically to protect a plant. Dr Lance McCaskill led a remarkable conservation effort in the early 1950s to save the Castle Hill buttercup, increasing numbers from 32 plants in 1948 to more than 300 today. The reserve has important scientific value as the longest running plant-monitoring project in New Zealand, and has also protected the Castle Hill forget-me-not (Myosotis colensoi).

      History and culture

      Tōpuni - a symbolic cloak of protection

      This area has special significance to Ngāi Tahu, with ties that stretch unbroken from distant ancestors to present generations.

      Kura Tāwhiti literally means “the treasure from a distant land”, referring to the kumara that was once cultivated in this region. Kura Tawhiti was claimed by the Ngāi Tahu ancestor Tane Tiki, son of celebrated chief Tuahuriri. The nearby mountains were famed for kakapo, and Tane Tiki wanted their soft skins and glowing green feathers for clothing to be worn by his daughter Hine Mihi.

      Such stories link Ngāi Tahu to the landscape. The traditional knowledge of trails, rock shelters and rock drawings, and places for gathering kai (food) in the area known as Kura Tawhiti form an integral part of past and present tribal identity.

      Kura Tawhiti has Tōpuni status, which is a legal recognition of the site’s importance to the Ngāi Tahu tribe. The term comes from the traditional custom of chiefs extending power and authority over areas or people by placing a cloak over them.

      The existing status of the land as a conservation area is unchanged, but Tōpuni status ensures that Ngai Tahu values are recognised, acknowledged and respected and Ngai Tahu take an active role in management. It recognises Ngāi Tahu mana whenua and rangatiratanga and symbolises the tribe’s commitment to conservation.

      Getting there

      Bounded by the high mountains of the Torlesse Range to the east and the Craigieburn Range to the west, the limestone tors of Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area dominate the Waimakariri Basin, Canterbury.

      From Christchurch take SH73 towards the West Coast. Kura Tawhiti is beside the highway in the Waimakariri Basin, about 80 minutes from Christchurch.

      Know before you go

      Code of conduct

      Visitors here to enjoy this intriguing landscape are asked to help protect these values by following the code of conduct.

      • Stay on the access track - the paddocks are private property.
      • Use the provided toilet facilities.
      • Refrain from digging holes or disturbing the ground surface - wahi tapu (sacred places) are here.
      • Avoid trampling on endangered plants - use open spaces between rock outcrops rather than the bases of rock faces.
      • Respect fenced areas.
      • Take all rubbish away with you.
      • Do not mark the surface of the rocks.
      • Consider others in the area.
      • Rock climbermust follow the climbing code of conduct.

      Contacts

      Arthur's Pass National Park Visitor Centre
      Phone:      +64 3 318 9211
      Address:   State Highway 73
      Arthur's Pass
      Email:   arthurspassvc@doc.govt.nz
      Full office details
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