Craigieburn Forest Park is a protected area in the South Island of New Zealand.
One of its boundaries lies in part alongside State Highway 73 and is adjacent to the eastern flanks of the Southern Alps.
The Broken River Ski Area and the Craigieburn Valley Ski Area lie within its borders. As with all other public land in New Zealand the Department of Conservation carries out administration for conservation and for regulating commercial activity.
Craigieburn Forest Park extends from the Waimakariri River to the Wilberforce River and contains braided rivers, beech valleys, tussock grasslands, alpine screes, and rugged mountain peaks over 2300m high. There are tracks and huts throughout the park but all the best day walks are concentrated in a small corner close to State Highway 73. Amenities here include picnic sites, a shelter, camping areas and the Environment Education Centre. Two skifield roads give access up to the upper valley basins.
A small separate part of the Forest Park is the area of beech forest, known as Thomas Bush, located behind Castle Hill Village.
About 110km from Christchurch on State Highway 73 towards Arthur’s Pass is a signposted side-road to the Craigieburn picnic area on the Broken River skifield road. Access to the Craigieburn Valley is another 1km further along the highway. Both skifield roads have locked gates further up valley during the summer.
Flora and Fauna
The forest is mostly mountain beech which has easy to identify 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 descendents 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.
Old experimental tree plots are noticeable on the lower slopes around Craigieburn. Pine seedlings- wildings- from the now abandoned trials are now spreading through Craigieburn Forest Park. Wilding pines and some of the trial plots are being removed.
Weather and Walkers
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. Tell someone of your intended route and expected time out and make sure you follow theOutdoor Safety Code. Note there is no cellphone coverage in the Castle Hill Basin area although there is an emergency phone at Castle Hill Village (located in the red telephone box near the Castle Hill Drive- Trelissick Loop intersection at the village entrance)
Visitors to the park might see these naturally inquisitive birds. They are the world’s only mountain 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.
Dogs are presently allowed in the Forest park, but they must be kept under control at all times. Kiwi and ground feeding birds are very vulnerable to dog disturbances.
No fires are permitted within Craigieburn Forest Park, except in designated fireplaces.
Forest Drives and Picnic Areas
Both the Broken River skifield road and the Craigieburn skifield 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 skifield 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.
Within Craigieburn Forest Park is a network of roads and dual purpose tracks popular for mountain biking. Biking is permitted only on ski field access roads and the bush tracks sign-posted ‘open to cycling use. Be aware at all times of other vehicles on these roads. These are shared-use tracks. Follow the mountain bikers code: respect others, respect the rules, respect the track.
Two ski clubs operate fields within the Park- Broken River and Craigieburn Valley. Visitors are very welcome during the winter months, though the roads can get snowed under and drivers should be equipped chains.
Hut Creek Walk (Walking time 1 hour return)
This walk begins from the Environmental Education Centre and ends by the lookout carpark. It passes through an area that was used for trial planting by the Forest Research Institute from 1956 to the mid 1970’s. Return to the carpark by walking back along the road.
Nature Trail (Walking time 20 minutes return)
This pleasant walk through mountain beech forest begins at the Centre. You can have a close look at different stages of beech tree life and what grows on the trees- lichens, mosses and a small insect which secretes honey dew (a small droplet of sweet liquid that birds feed on). Between late December to February the red flowers of native mistletoe can produce patches of blazing colour in the tree canopy. Common native forest birds living in this area are titipounamu/rifleman, makomako/bellbird, tomtit and graywarbler.
Bridge Hill Walk (Walking time 20 minutes return)
From the lookout carpark follow the track to the summit. From Bridge Hill there are panoramic views of Castle Hill Basin and the Torlesse Range in the east; look for the distinctive Torlesse Gap ‘notch’ in the ridge. The Craigieburn Range in the west rises to a high point of 2,195 metres at Mt Enys.
Dracophyllum Flat Walk (Walking time 1-2 hours return)
A popular picnic site, this sheltered clearing is covered by red-brown Dracophyllum, native tussock and a host of small herbs and ground covering plants. The track leaves Jacks Pass and gradually descends to Broken River, which is crossed on a pole bridge. The clearing is 5 minutes up through mountain beech.
Lyndon Saddle and Lyndon/Helicopter Hill (Walking time 3-4 hours return)
This excellent circuit track to Lyndon Saddle and Lyndon/Helicopter Hill begins by the shelter at the Craigieburn picnic area. The track crosses Cave Stream and grassy terraces, and then sidles steeply through dense regenerating mountain beech forest.
The saddle has a four way junction and the track to Lyndon/Helicopter Hill climbs along a steep ridge with open screes between the beech forest. In parts the track is not clearly marked, but the route is obvious.
The top of Lyndon/Helicopter Hill (1262 metres) is covered with tussock and low herbs and grasses with some stands of exotic pine trees on the lower slopes. This is a superb viewpoint for the Craigieburn and Torlesse Ranges and the limestone landscape of Castle Hill Basin.
Back at Lyndon Saddle an alternative track leads down though low glacial terraces with some tall attractive beech forest, and reaches the Broken River skifield road. It is about 20 minutes down the road and back to the shelter following the meandering Cave Stream.
Lyndon Saddle to Craigieburn Valley Road (Walking time 30 minutes one way)
From Lyndon Saddle the track sidles across an open Dracophyllum and tussock covered face and drops through beech forest to the Craigieburn Valley track, then down to the road.
If you can arrange transport to pick you up on the Craigieburn skifield road this is an easy crossing walk, about 2 hours one way. Otherwise you can walk down the Craigieburn Valley skifield to the main highway and back along to the Craigieburn picnic area (about 3-4 hours circuit).
Craigieburn Valley Track (Walking time 1-2 hours one way, 2-3 hours return)
The track begins beside the Craigieburn Valley skifield road, 1.5km from the highway, and follows through mountain beech forest until it emerges in alpine tussocks near the skifield huts and carpark. From 1948 until the road was built in 1961 this was the only access to the Craigieburn Valley skifield. All the material for the early huts and tows were carried by club members up this track. Return down the skifield road.
Apart from magnificent views, this tussock and scree saddle offers many interesting botanical specimens. Growing among the rock are tiny plants that have adapted to the harsh environment- including celmisia, gentians and edelweiss.
This is a mountain tramp and people should be prepared for extremes of weather. Take a topographical map and compass. Access to Camp Saddle can be from various directions, but crossing from Broken River to Craigieburn Valley skifield road is the easiest route.
Broken River Skifield Road to Camp Saddle (Tramping time 1-2 hours one way)
The Broken River road is the easiest way to get to Camp Saddle. From the locked gate and carpark where the road crosses Camp Stream, walk 1km to the signposted track (opposite the ski club tractor shed). A wide four-wheel drive track narrows as it climbs steadily towards the saddle.
Camp Saddle to Lyndon Saddle (Tramping time 1-2 hours one way)
From Camp Saddle continue south-east along the well-define ridge. After an hour descend steeply down a scree slope. Stay on the left of the scree to join an unmarked track through the beech forest to Lyndon Saddle. It is much easier to go down scree than scramble up, so this trip is better done as a descent.
Craigieburn Valley Track to Camp Saddle (Tramping time about 2 hours one way)
From the Craigieburn Valley skifield carpark continue along the four wheel drive road to the bottom of the ski tows. From there cross a small stream and follow the Craigieburn Valley track through beech forest until it emerges onto a scree and scrub slope. Here you can see Camp Saddle clearly. Scramble up through the tussock and soft scree to the Saddle. This is also an easy descent route.
Skifield Basin Walks
Craigieburn Valley Skifield Road
During the summer months there is walking access up to the skifield basins of Broken River and Craigieburn. These areas are harsh and alpine, and should be treated with respect. Take a topographical map and adequate clothing for the extremes of weather.
Fit trampers will be able to gain access up onto the main ridge and rocky peaks, which give superb views of the backcountry from Arthur’s Pass to Mount Cook. Less fit walkers will enjoy the lower bush and tussock slopes. All buildings are private skifield property and should not be entered.
Broken River Skifield Basin (Walking time, locked gate to huts 2-3 hours return)
From the locked gate you can walk up the skifield road all the way to the accommodation huts, and up to the rope tows. There is also a bush track beside the inclinator (goods lift) which zig zags directly up to the huts, and a pleasant return can be made down the vehicle road.
Tramping time skifield basin and main ridge 4-5 hours return.
From the Broken River skifield huts there is a vehicle track that sidles up to the tussock basin, and there are obvious routes up onto the main ridge and onto Nervous Knob. There are superb views down into the Hamilton-Harper catchments.
Craigieburn Skifield Basin (Tramping time 5-6 hours to main ridge return)
From the locked gate it is an easy walk up the road to the lower Craigieburn skifield huts (about 30 minutes).
The access road continues up the steep valley and fit trampers can reach the 1923 metre Hamilton Peak. It is possible to traverse the ridge to Nervous Knob and down to into the Broken River skifield basin, but this is for experienced trampers and climbers only. You must arrange transport to make this crossing.
For walking advice, maps, weather information and informative displays:
Arthur’s Pass Visitor Information Centre
Department of Conservation, Waimakariri Field Centre
PO Box 8
Phone (03) 318-9211, fax (03) 318-9271
Department of Conservation Website: www.doc.govt.nz
Pamphlets and Maps:
Cass Saddle- Lagoon Saddle Route Guide
Craigieburn Forest Park Map NZMZ 214/17 (1985)
Infomap 260 K34 Wilberforce
The New Zealand Forest Service had used the area as an experimental forestry area and there is now an environmental issue with the spread of wilding conifers.