New Zealand’s Southern Alps form one of the most mountainous landscapes in the temperate world. The highest peak, Mt. Cook, rises 3,724m (12,217ft) and is just one of the peaks that make up this 600km (372miles) chain of mountains. The Southern Alps has been a formidable barrier for travel across the South Island from the Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea. Today, there are three road passes and three tracks only for hikers.


Harper Pass (elevation 962 metres or 3,156 feet) was the first alpine pass between Canterbury and the West Coast. Maoris used it in their search for greenstone. The first European negotiated the pass in 1857 and the leader of the second party to follow him on the dangerous route later that year, Canterbury MP Leonard Harper, gave the pass its name. Harper Pass remained the only way over the Southern Alps for some years. When the West Coast gold rush started in 1864, it became heavily used with over 2000 miners trudging through dense forests and negotiating the track’s dangerous rivers with pack horses in the first few weeks of the gold discovery. Harper Pass is the lowest of the four Southern Alps passes and remained well used until October 1865, when gold finds began to dry up and it fell out of use. The gruelling 75km (47miles) Harper Pass Track was restored in the 1930s and takes 5 days to walk and is today part of New Zealand’s long distance tramping route which spans the entire country. read more