Exploring Arthur's Pass
The passes through the Southern Alps were used by Māori to trade pounamu/greenstone from Westland to Canterbury. Māori told explorers of the location of Arthur’s Pass.
Arthur Dudley Dobson surveyed the pass in February 1864. When gold was discovered on the West Coast, the rush to link Christchurch with the West Coast gold fields saw the road built in less than a year, a remarkable feat of pioneer road building. But it was never an easy crossing through rugged terrain and unpredictable weather; even today the road is often closed because of rock fall, slips or snow.
The Ōtira rail tunnel took a little longer, and was completed in 1923. The viaduct, built in the Otira Gorge over 1998–99 to minimise the hazards of road travel, is a major engineering feat.
The road across Arthur’s Pass was built in less than a year (1865), during a bitterly cold winter. A thousand men with axes, picks, shovels, crowbars and wheelbarrows, rock drills and explosives worked in the rugged terrain. They would often spent a whole day clearing snow, only to find the next morning they had to do it over again.
Over 100 years later, the Ōtira viaduct was built to replace this section of road, and workers again suffered through wind, rain and snow to get the job done. Started in January 1998 it was completed two years later in November 1999; one worker died during the project.
Stagecoaches ran a regular service across the Southern Alps from 1886 to 1923 on New Zealand’s first and most dramatic alpine road. The Arthur’s Pass coaches were New Zealand’s last horse-drawn coach service.
In 1923 the rail tunnel broke through the mountains, spelling the end of the line for the Wild West days of backcountry travel.
Jacks Hut is a rare surviving example of a roadman’s cottage. Built in 1879, the hut is located on New Zealand’s highest altitude main highway. It was restored in 2004.
All early highways were maintained by roadmen who lived with their families in cottages placed along the section they were responsible for. As the motor age and mechanisation arrived, the roadman role disappeared.
March 1866: The Coach Road officially opened over Arthur's Pass, linking Canterbury and the West Coast.
1879: Jacks Hut was built near Rough Creek, Arthur's Pass, as a roadman's hut.
1909-1910: The hut was shifted to its present site below the summit of Arthur's Pass.
1923: The rail tunnel opened and the coaching era was over. Jacks Hut is bought by Grace and Guy Butler.
1928: The hut was done up "as a family crib".
1951: A garage was built, which was later converted to a store room/extra bedroom.
2004: Jacks Hut restored.
Jacks Hut is located on the east side of SH73, about 5 km towards the West Coast from the township of Arthur's Pass.
There is a car park on the opposite side of the highway, at the entrance to the Bealey Valley Walk.
The Arthur's Pass Walking Track follows alongside the highway, starting at the end of Arthur's Pass village, and coming back onto the highway beside Jacks Hut.