Craigieburn Forest Park
Located in the Canterbury region
IntroductionCraigieburn Forest Park extends from the Waimakariri River to the Wilberforce River - with braided rivers, beech valleys, tussock grasslands, alpine screes and rugged mountain peaks topping 2300 m.
It is a place of extremes with the sheltered valleys and lower slopes clothed almost entirely in mountain beech, whilst forces of erosion have crumbled the mountain tops to create Craigieburn’s characteristic rock screes.
Find things to do and places to stay Craigieburn Forest Park
There are opportunities for climbers in the park.
The two ski field roads give 4WD access to the upper valley basins.
You need to be aware and take account of other road users, including mountain bikers, at all times.
Both the Broken River ski field road and the Craigieburn ski field road are short interesting drives in summer. Both are unsealed, narrow and winding.
There is an attractive picnic area beside Cave Stream on the Broken River ski field road, just off the main highway. Known as the Craigieburn Picnic Area, this sunny sheltered spot has an open shelter, picnic tables, information signs and grass river terraces for camping.
From the shelter there is a circuit road that passes Jacks Pass and the Environmental Education Centre, and continues onto the lookout carpark on the saddle. This carpark is the starting point for two short walks.
Two ski clubs operate fields within the park – Broken River and Craigieburn Valley. During winter the roads can get snowed under so you should be equipped with chains.
Craigieburn Forest Park is in Canterbury, beside highway 73 between Christchurch and the West Coast.
About 110 km from Christchurch on Highway 73 towards Arthur’s Pass, is a signposted side-road to the Craigieburn Picnic Area on the Broken River ski field road. Access to Craigieburn Valley is another 1 km further along the highway. Both ski field roads have locked gates further up valley during the summer.
The summer climate of Craigieburn is usually hot and dry, but in winter snowfalls are common.
In all seasons the weather is changeable, and special care should be taken on routes above the bush-line.
Weather forecasts are available from DOC Visitor Centre at Arthur’s Pass.
No fires are permitted within the Craigieburn Forest Park, except in designated fireplaces. Check with DOC concerning restricted or total fire bans.
Pamphlets and maps
- Craigieburn Forest Park: Day Walks
- Cass Saddle – Lagoon Saddle Route Guide 12
- NZTopo50 maps BV20, BV21, BW20, BW21
There is an emergency phone at Castle Hill village, about 10 km on the main highway towards Christchurch.
For walking advice, maps, weather information and informative displays contact the DOC Visitor Centre at Arthur’s Pass.
Wasp populations reach high numbers from January to March – wear light coloured clothing and carry antihistamine cream/tablets as a precaution.
Thieves targeting cars at Arthur's Pass
There have been reports of cars being broken into and disabled at track ends.
- Don't leave valuables in your vehicle.
- Consider using more public parking sites – ask at the Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre for alternative options.
- Report any suspicious activity to police on +64 3 363 7400.
The forest is mostly mountain beech/ tawhairauriki, which has easy identifiable small leaves that end in a point, like a ‘peak’. It is thought that millions of years ago much of the forest that covered the ancient landmass of Gondwanaland looked like the forest of Craigieburn. Fossils of beech trees have been found in Antarctica and descendants survive in Chile, Australia and New Guinea. Above the bush-line there is alpine scrub and tussock grasslands. Scree plants are sparse but well suited to an incredibly harsh environment of bright light, temperature extremes, moving shingle and drying winds.
During summer you might find skinks (a type of ‘snake-like’ lizard) on the mountainside, plus the occasional spider, scree weta, armour plated grasshopper, black scree butterfly, kea and the scarce New Zealand falcon/kārearea.
Visitors to the park might see these naturally inquisitive birds. They are the world’s only alpine parrot.
Please do not feed kea, but let them look for their natural foods (berries, roots, shoots and insect larvae). Feeding attracts kea to areas of human use, such as carparks, picnic and camping areas, where they may damage cars, tents and personal gear.
Remember, kea are fully protected.
Pest plants and animals
Old experimental pine tree plots are a feature on the lower slopes around Craigieburn. Pine seedlings – wildings – from the now abandoned trials, are spreading through Craigieburn Forest Park. Wilding pines and some of the trial plots are slowly being removed.