Couple on the boulders at Kura tawhiti, South Island, New Zealand
New Zealand New Zealand Stories

From the LOTR straight to Narnia: a day visit to the Castle Hill and Cave Stream Reserve in Canterbury

October 10, 2018

As great as everything was before, after the engagement it just got so much better! Or it might as well be just the every waking moment spent together day after day living in a tiny space of our van that has brought us so much closer and made our bond even stronger. Anyway, our adventures just kept getting better and better having my dreams coming true – travel through Middle Earth and how about the adventures in Narnia!? I know, I know, but what you gonna do – I just love all the fantasy and fairy tales and am not ashamed to admit it (good old silly me). And it just seems New Zealand is home to many of those fairy tales come true!

The majestic Castle Hill site from the Narnia movie scenes

Doesn’t it look magical? It just immediately takes me to Narnia!

Mountain peaks observed from top of Castle Hill

Mountains are calling and we have to go. Hard to believe that while you enjoy heat and sunshine at Castle Hill, just going 30 km into Arthur’s Pass you can be faced by freezing winds and temperatures as low as 0 C during the night (it was 28 C at Castle Hill that day though).

Castle Hill


The next day after the engagement, we both woke up fresh and super-in-love, looking forward to our new adventures. And, well, those adventures, lucky for me, turned out to be going to Narnia – another one of the fantasy worlds I’ve been dying to visit. In other words, we went to the Castle Hill – the filming location for the battle scenes of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”.

Ruta on top of the rocks screaming her lungs out "For Narnia!"

For Narnia and for Aslan! And for another Narnia fan – my beloved sister Dalia!

Travel couple at Castle Hill in New Zealand

It is actually even more amazing in real life!

Castle Hill, Canterbury, New Zealand

Kura Tawhiti

Castle Hill is located next to Arthur’s Pass and just about 90 km from Christchurch on the State Highway 73. It was given the name of “Castle Hill” due to the limestone boulder formations resembling a run-down medieval stone castle, though, of course, there have never been any castles over here. The place has actually quite a significant historical, spiritual and cultural meaning to the Maori tribe of Ngai Tahu who names it “Kura Tawhiti” in Maori language meaning “treasure from afar”. Thus, the Conservation Area has a special designation as Topuni to ensure Ngai Tahu values are recognized and respected.

Do not be surprised that not all of the area is publicly accessible as well as there are restrictions on dogs, drones, and bikes. This was actually quite pity, as it would have made an excellent location for flying a drone, but we have to respect the local customs, so we just enjoyed ourselves instead.

Algirdas standing on top of an egg-shaped boulder at Castle Hill, New Zealand

Don’t those boulders look just like dinosaur’s eggs?

Guy walking on the path towards Castle Hill limestones

Walking towards the glorious boulders of Castle Hill

Hot-spot for bouldering

Since the location is easily accessible and is right by the highway, there usually are quite a few visitors. However, it is still easy to feel all alone in Narnia just by heading off the beaten track and getting lost in between those huge boulders, looking for alternative routes and making your best attempts at amateur rock climbing. Needless to say, Al did way much better than I did but still it was a lot of fun (and I was carrying the camera on my neck)!

I guess there is no surprise, the place is extremely popular among the bouldering enthusiasts – you’ll find some there any given day just trying to conquer these gorgeous limestone rocks. Professional or not, anyone will find here a rock to climb – just working it out and finding your own solution for getting on to the top of the hill. Just please be cautious and find a rock according to your own capabilities – safety first!

Guy jumping over the rocks

Algirdas went for a run and jump marathon over the boulders – he was like a kid on Christmas morning

Guy standing on gigantic boulders at Kura Tawhiti conservation area, New Zealand

Castle Hill can make you feel quite tiny

Anyway, if you’re anywhere around Christchurch or traveling through Arthur’s Pass, make sure to swing by the Castle Hill and you sure won’t regret it. If you’re in a hurry, the main track can be walked in 20 min return. However, I highly suggest spending there at least a few hours. Just pray for a decent day (we’ve been blessed with a sun rolling in the sky), grab a basket and a blanket for a picnic and make your own way through the labyrinth of limestone boulders!

More of Ruta catching wind in her hair on the rocks at Kura Tawhiti

I never want to leave this place! Can I stay longer? Please…

Algirdas' feet hanging down the cliff over Castle Hill's boulders

It would make quite a long drop down

Places to visit in Canterbury, New Zealand

Can you see how tiny people on the track look from the top of the Castle Hill? The view is sure worth the climb!

Cave Stream Reserve

As fun as the bouldering was, located just 2,5km from the Castle Hill, the Cave Stream Reserve hike was an experience like no other. To this day, this probably was one of the most exciting ‘hikes’ we have done and one of my favorite spots in New Zealand. Well, maybe not hike but a caving track more likely. Though before adventuring inside the cave, make sure you are well prepared for it as this moderately easy track can become extremely dangerous when unprepared for the conditions.

Prepare for the conditions

Although the track is moderately easy and rather short (600m through the cave takes around 30 min – 1 hour), you should always check for the conditions present and consider whether it can be attempted. Watch the water level: normally the water at the deepest point (at the lower entrance to the cave upstream) is just above waist level for an adult. If the water level is abnormally high, the water is foaming or discolored, leave the adventure for a better day and do not attempt entering. Also, watch if there are any snow on the surrounding mountains as it means the water will be nearly freezing cold.

Since we did it in summer on a sunny day during a very hot week, the water level was rather low, and the air and water temperatures were quite alright to withstand even going in wearing shorts (but the outside temperature was around 28 C on that day). Though at the end we actually felt quite chilly and were so happy for bringing our fleece jackets along. Keep in mind the conditions can be very different after heavy rain (flooding the whole cave) and during colder days.


Adventure through the stream in a cave

There are two ways to do the track – going upstream or going downstream. Though we highly recommend doing it upstream with a nice surprise at the end of the track!

It will take you just around 5-10min from the carpark to the entrance of the cave – just follow the track zig-zag track down to the river on the left until you reach the very obvious entrance to the cave. Before heading here, make sure everyone in your party has a torch (headlamp preferably as you’ll need your hands free for scrambling around the rocks in the water) and good sturdy water shoes (or any sturdy sneakers you don’t mind getting completely soaked).

You must be prepared to get wet, as just at the entrance you’ll have to emerge into the water up to your waist, though going further the water will usually be around knee-deep. So, unless your phones and cameras are waterproof, I would suggest leaving them behind in the car. Or, if really tempted to bring them along, make an investment in getting yourself a decent quality dry-bag. Since we didn’t have one, we only managed to get some GoPro footage, though, it was rather dark for any decent shots.

The entrance to the cave is usually where most of the unaware tourist crowds turn around as they just stop by at the carpark completely unaware and unprepared for descending into the stream up to their waist. Once inside the cave, you’ll hike in the water up to your knees for around 600 m up the stream. Since the cave is pitch-dark, a torch is an absolute must! We saw some people going through with their phones (even dropping one in water) but the rocks are slippery, and you need to use your hands to balance yourself or climb up some rocks. So, if you value your phone, I suggest you get yourself a headtorch or at least a torch you don’t mind getting wet. I don’t want to spoil too much what to expect, so better go there and see for yourself. Though I can assure it is entertaining and is actually one of my favorite experiences in NZ and it was completely FREE!

The marking of a peak at Castle Hill

The peak of the Castle Hill and something from those coming before

Arthur's Pass mountain peaks can be admired from top of Castle Hill, New Zealand

The view of Arthur’s Pass from the top of Castle Hill

How to prepare for hiking Cave Stream Reserve

Check the Conditions

As already mentioned above, check the conditions – water level, weather and water temperature, the color of water, etc. Avoid the cave before and after heavy rains or, if the water is really cold. If it seems cold entering inside, consider you’ll have to spend 1 hour in that water! Do not attempt the hike if the conditions are harsh – safety first as there have been accidents.

Be prepared with enough light

Not only have a torch, but ideally have a spare light per person. If not per person, at least have one extra light per party and grab some extra batteries. The cave is really pitch dark, and actually, one of our torches were rather weak and was too dim in the cave. Have good light, preferably headlamp, which you should make sure is well charged before you go in.

Wear warm clothes and sturdy shoes

You should wear wool or polypro clothes and avoid wearing jeans and cotton as those only will make you feel colder when wet. If you have, consider wearing thermal bottoms, wool or fleece jacket and a rain jacket. If you don’t have any, you can actually get some decent ones at Kathmandu or some other outdoor gear shop as there are plenty of them in New Zealand. Should you have a wetsuit, it is not required but highly advisable during colder weather. As for shoes, choose water shoes or trainers. Also, make sure dry clothes and shoes ready to change in after the hike.

Grab snacks/chocolate bars

Better be ready than sorry but in case you may get stuck inside for some reason, have some quick snacks for extra energy.

Don’t go alone and don’t leave anyone inside alone

It is easy to slip, get hurt and fall under water easily drowning, so as adventures going alone might seem, find a companion for adventure. If anyone is hurt, make sure to provide first aid and send someone else to get help, or get them out but do not leave anyone alone as hypothermia can be fateful.

Be careful and cautious, look after yourself and your party!


Back to Reality in Christchurch

One of the things about magical worlds that make them so special is that you can’t stay there forever. I guess it just makes moments spent there so much more valuable. Thus, here we were absolutely content with our adventures and the came for us to leave Narnia and magical streams behind as we got back ourselves to the reality in Christchurch. But what ironically a nice reality for a contrast this really was.

Do you know that feeling how on a daily routine you’re just dying to go on an adventure and can’t stand the thought of a day sent at home in front of a TV? I guess there can be an opposite reaction when you spend months and months on a road moving from campsite to campsite never knowing where you gonna wake up next. Suddenly the thought of staying in a house with a takeout and some wine in front of a TV sounds rather appealing. So guess what, that is exactly what we did. On this short day trip to Christchurch, we saw absolutely nothing but the inside of the Airb’n’b apartment we have rented, ordered in some Thai food and feasted by the TV watching ‘Let’s Be Cops’.

It may sound funny, but you have no idea (or do you?) how great this was and how much it has helped us to reset ourselves for more of nature’s beauty that was waiting ahead. That is our secret to happiness – contrast. The more contrasts you experience, the more you appreciate either end of it. Contrasts are the answer to life.

Until next time, though make sure to share your “contrast experiences” in the comments – we would love to hear them!

Couple selfie at Castle Hill

Well, how could we have left without a selfie?


By the way, if you have never tried Airb’n’b and would like to try it out, you can use our link and get €30 towards your first booking. It really is great, and we often find you can book a private room through Airbnb for the price of a dorm bed in a hostel at the same city, at least when booking for a party of 2 or more people. Should you decide to use it and book accommodation, we would also get a €15 credit from the website, at no extra cost for you.

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Ruta & Algirdas

We're Ruta & Algirdas - storytellers, world travelers, photography, and filmmaking enthusiasts. Our best days are spent admiring planet Earth - exploring, tasting, breathing in all it has to offer. Let's spend a year living vanlife in New Zeland, a winter enjoying Saigon's culinary hem gems, or a weekend exploring contrasts between urban jungles and mountain peaks!

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