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Exploring Castle Hill, Canterbury

Exploring Castle Hill, Canterbury

The Lord of the Rings wasn’t the only fantasy franchise filmed in New Zealand. The Chronicles of Narnia was also shot here, and if you’re anything like me that doesn’t excite you in the slightest. I watched a bit of one of those movies and wasn’t a fan. Why am I writing this? Well, Castle Hill, roughly halfway between Christchurch and Arthur’s Pass (you’ll pass right by when driving to the West Coast) was a filming location for one (or some) of the Narnia movies. Now we have that little bit of information out of the way we can get on to the real point of this post – what is Castle Hill and what does a visit there look like? Keep reading to find out!

Castle Hill (AKA a place with lots of rocks)

From the Castle Hill car park, you’ll walk down a dusty track headed towards (and flanked by) hills full of rocks. There are big rocks, small rocks and, if you look hard enough, probably a rock that has a slight resemblance to a rock-based celebrity (The Rock, Chris Rock, Sam Rockwell etc). The rocks are of the limestone variety (that’s as much science-based research as you’ll get on here) and are popular for climbers (you probably shouldn’t attempt an ascent without proper gear though). The area holds cultural significance for local Maori, who used to grow kumara there (kumara is a sweet potato thing found in NZ – I’m not a fan in case you were wondering).

Once at the end of the “low” trail the path starts to climb up the hill. Various tracks diverge off this and you can explore the area as extensively (or quickly) as you like. Be careful though – I slipped over while walking down a seemingly innocuous bit of track. It’s a lot of fun exploring the various sections of Castle Hill. You’ll pass by heaps of huge rocks and you’ll also see some awesome views over the surrounding countryside. It’s one of those places where there is no real “route”, meaning one you get onto the actual hill you’ll be able to find your own surreal slice of peace and quiet even on busy days.

There isn’t too much more I can say about Castle Hill – it’s a big area full of rocks basically and that’s either going to sound really cool or really boring, depending on your tastes. To me, it’s an interesting piece of nature and is an easy place to visit while journeying to the West Coast. I’d even recommend it as a day trip from Christchurch (it’s around 90 minutes away) if you wanted to escape the city for a day.

Getting to Castle Hill

Castle Hill is on the main road (just before Arthurs Pass) between Christchurch and Greymouth / the West Coast. The car park is right next to the main road and you could have a quick walk around and be back on the road in 30 – 40 minutes. That’s one of the great things about travelling in New Zealand (South Island especially) – there’s almost always somewhere scenic to stop on the way to wherever you’re going.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Two Week New Zealand South Island Itinerary

Other things to do nearby

A short distance from Castle Hill you’ll find the Cave Stream Area. There’s a scenic loop track which takes you down to a cave – you can walk a little way into the cave but you’ll need torches, swimming gear etc if you want to explore it fully. It’s worth a look either way though. From there you’ll drive through Arthurs Pass (awesome scenery and a great waterfall) and then eventually end up on the West Coast.

Have you visited any interesting rock formations in New Zealand? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.