7 July 2021 | Written by Bachcare Holiday Homes

A Guide to New Zealand’s Castle Hill

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Overview of Castle Hill in New Zealand

castle hill
Credit: Wikicommons

Castle Hill is a majestic landscape with geological, cultural, and spiritual significance. This iconic setting was used as the backdrop for a battle in the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. This area is known as one of the world’s best bouldering locations, and climbers flock here to challenge their skills.

All About Castle Hill NZ

Location and Getting There

Christchurch to Castle Hill

This captivating spot is about 90 kilometers, or a one-hour 20-minute drive away from Christchurch. It is located between Darfield and Arthur’s Pass, close to State Highway 73.

Castle Hill is part of the Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area. The Torlesse Range is to the east of Castle Hill, and the Craigieburn Range is to the west.

Castle Hill’s Geology

castle hill
Credit: Flickr

The array of limestone boulders is reminiscent of a castle in ruins, hence the name “Castle Hill.” Christchurch Cathedral in Christchurch used Castle Hill limestone to construct the front of this imposing Cathedral.

This area was covered by a large inland sea millions of years ago. Sediment compression formed limestone rocks. The sea began to retreat about 30 million years ago. Pressure caused uplifting, folding, and faulting in the area and created the Torless and Craigburn Ranges.

When the sea retreated, limestone was left. Water eroded the limestone into the rock formations seen today. These limestone formations have been shaped into a wonderful collection of high rocks, towers, slabs, and arches. Castle Hill itself sits at about 700 meters (2296 feet). The limestone landscape is also known as a Karst landscape.

Plants of Castle Hill NZ

view from behind at castle hill new zealand
Credit: Maxpixel

Castle Hill has some of the most endangered plants in the South Island. The area was filled with plants and shrubs, but a fire 600 years ago cleared the area. Livestock then grazed the area, further damaging the vegetation.

This area was the first reserve to be created to protect a plant. The Castle Hill buttercup grows only in this area, and currently, only 67 plants survive. In 1954, the “Reserve for the Protection of Flora and Fauna” was established. In 1987, it was re-named the “Lance McCaskill Nature Reserve” to honor Lance McCaskill’s work in the 1950s to protect the Castle Hill buttercup.

Other rare plants in the area include the limestone wheatgrass and a three-cm high sedge.


the rockface of castle hill
Credit: Flickr

Ancient traces of 500-year-old charcoal drawings can be seen on some of the limestone rocks. It is assumed that the Waitaha people, the first people to travel to this area, left these historic drawings.

On a nearby ridge, a backpack estimated to be about 500 years old was found. This backpack was made from flax, stretched over a wooden frame, and had broad straps. The backpack confirms that Maori used traditional packs for carrying items. The backpack can be seen in the Canterbury Museum.

The Ngai Tahu people revere this site and named it Kura Tawhiti. Kura Tawhiti can be translated as “the treasure from a distant land.” The area was designated the Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area in 1998 to ensure that Ngai Tahu values are respected.

Walks Near Castle Hill NZ

view from the carpark, castle hill nz
Credit: Pxfuel

After arriving at the carpark, follow the track for about ten minutes. You’ll soon see the rocks rising from the hilltops and understand how Castle Hill got its name. Some of the limestone rocks are as tall as 50 meters (164 feet). The track continues to loop around the rocks. Bring a picnic and enjoy the day out with your family. You might even spot some of the ancient charcoal drawings.

The limestone boulders and towers attract climbers from all over New Zealand. Climbers and boulderers tackle the limestone formations without harnesses or ropes, just their skills, and their confidence.

Cave Stream Scenic Reserve

cave stream
Cave Stream: Wikicommons

Cave Stream Scenic Reserve is located nearby. It’s on State Highway 73 between the Broken River road bridge and the Craigieburn Forest Park entrance. There are more limestone formations here, and adventurous hikers will find a long cave with a stream running through it.

Intrepid hikers can slosh through the entire 362-meter (1,187-foot) long cave. The cave ends with a deep pool that drops off to a three-meter-high waterfall. A ladder allows hikers to climb next to the waterfall, and a chain helps hikers exit over the ledge.

This walk is pitch black and not for people with a fear of the dark or claustrophobia. However, it’s suitable for fit and confident hikers and cavers. It should take about an hour to complete the hike.

Hikers should make sure that it’s not raining or flooding as extra water makes the hike dangerous. Walk against the flow of the stream, and always check the local weather report and conditions before venturing inside.

Craigieburn Forest Park

cragieburn forest park
Credit: Pxfuel

Craigieburn Forest Park is another popular nearby place for hiking in the summer or skiing in the winter. Like Castle Hill, it’s located along State Highway 73. The park features a network of trails. There are also ski field roads to give further access to ski trails. In this area, hikers will see attractive mountain peaks reaching 2,300 meters (7,545 feet). In addition, hikers will delight in river views, grasslands, beech valleys, and alpine screes.

Why You Should Visit

castle hill new zealand
Credit: Flickr

Castle Hill is a national treasure. It’s filled with stunning landscapes and is perfect for hiking no matter what the season. If you love the outdoors and want to check out one of New Zealand’s best-kept secrets, head to Castle Hill.

Best Time to Visit

In the summer, the area is perfect for hiking, climbing, and relaxing with a picnic. Winter changes the area into a beautiful snow-capped landscape.

Enjoy Your New Zealand Holiday and Visit Castle Hill

Castle Hill offers visitors an opportunity to immerse themselves in one of New Zealand’s most unique landscapes. While in the area, enjoy scenic drives, hiking, or biking in this unspoiled area.

Stay at a cosy Bachcare home and enjoy an outdoorsy holiday.

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