A morning without an alarm wake-up call is like gold-dust to me, and usually occurs on those hallowed Sundays when I don’t have work or exercise classes or other commitments to get up for. But after an unseasonably early cold snap in April, it was too much temptation to fore-go my beloved lie-in to make the most of a forecasted sunny autumnal May Sunday. Christchurch itself was shadowed under low-lying cloud when I set off early in the cold morning, and it was nearly an hour of driving through cloud and fog before the blue sky and sunshine was seen. But 2hrs to the west of the Garden City, nestled in Arthur’s Pass National Park, the sky was cloudless and it was a gorgeous day.
State Highway 73 is rightly classed as a scenic highway, and traverses the Southern Alps on its way to the west coast. Crossing between the Big Ben Range and Torlesse Range at Porters Pass, it continues past the popular stops of Castle Hill and Cave Stream Scenic Reserve; the reflective waters of Lake Pearson; and eventually hugging the wide expanse of the Waimakariri river bed. Without much warning, the little settlement of Bealey Spur nestled amongst the trees comes in to view on a hillock, and from here the Bealey Spur Track starts. The car park for this walk is next to the highway at the bottom of the road that leads up through the settlement. By the highest house in the settlement, the path starts heading off through the forest.
The early track trudges through the beech forest, with no real view to speak of and the path at this time of year was quite muddy in places. After a while, the trees open up, and the steep slope of Mt Bruce comes in to view with the sound of the rapids of Bruce stream heard down below. A couple of spots allow for a fantastic view of this neighbouring mountainside, but with a sheer drop to the river below, some caution is required near the edge. Further up the track, the taller vegetation opens up more and the first views back down on the Waimakariri river valley are achieved.
Crossing a landscape of tussock and alpine plants, the stony path follows the line of the spur, gaining altitude in a relatively gentle manner. Around the halfway mark for the hike, a fantastic viewing point is reached overlooking Turkey Flat and Klondyke Corner where the road turns to follow the Bealey river up towards Arthur Pass village, 14km to the north. After a brief spell through more beech trees, and reaching 1000m (3281ft), a boardwalk leads across an open alpine section where a collection of tarns can be found. With the sun quite low at this time of year, a couple of the smaller tarns, still in shadow, were covered in a thin layer of ice. In the distance, Mt Bealey and Mt Stewart, covered in snow, peaked above the horizon.
Rounding the smaller tarns before skirting past more beech trees, the path climbs again to another stunning viewing area again looking over to Mt Bealey and Mt Stewart across the Waimakariri river valley as well as looking down on the largest of the tarns. This is the last of the viewing areas before the track disappears into the forest again, emerging only once the Bealey Spurs hut is reached at 1230m (4035ft) altitude. The hut itself is classed as historic, having been built in 1935, and sits at the edge of the clearing which marks the end of the hike. Bealey Spur itself can be hiked for a further 1.5hrs one-way but the track is unmarked and therefore this section requires some experience in back-country off-piste hiking.
Whilst the hut itself acts as a good location for a stop-over (and indeed it can sleep 6 people), the lack of view meant that most of the hikers I came across this day, opted not to stay there for any length of time. I ate my lunch in peace and solitude before making the return journey. This time, on the way down, the full view of the valley is evident in front of you, making for just as enjoyable a walk down as the way up. Taking my time, the whole walk took just over 4hrs return, and despite mud and stones, the track itself is of a reasonably good quality. Heading back to Christchurch on the scenic highway, the autumn yellow on the leaves by the river brightened up the already gorgeous drive home.