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Cave Stream Scenic Reserve



The Cave Stream Scenic Reserve sits among spectacular limestone outcrops, with views of the Craigieburn and Torlesse Ranges.

A 362 metre long cave within the reserve is one of the most outstanding natural features in the Canterbury region. The open country is ideal for picnicking and gentle short walks.

Please note: Camping is prohibited within the reserve. The closest campsite is in the Craigieburn Forest Park at the Craigieburn Picnic Area, 5 km towards Arthur’s Pass.

Further information can be found on the Department of Conservation website here and the DOC brochure on Cave Stream downloaded from here


How To Get There

Private transport:

The reserve is on State Highway 73, between the Broken River road bridge and Craigieburn Forest Park entrance.

Public transport:

At least two minibus companies service Highway 73 from Christchurch and Greymouth. Pick-ups and drop-offs must be pre-arranged.



From the carpark two tracks lead to the cave entrances. A short trail goes north to the upstream entrance, through a diverse karst (limestone) landscape of solution holes, rillenkarren (water grooved rocks) and sculptured rock formations. The other track on the southern side leads down to Broken River followed by a short walk along the river bed to the junction of Cave Stream and Broken River at the cave outlet.


Going Through The Cave


The cave passage meanders and twists in pitch darkness for 362 metres between the two entrances. The cave ends in a deep pool with a 3-metre high waterfall. A ladder of iron rungs in the rock climbs up beside the waterfall and a chain and step help the crawl along the overhang ledge to the exit. If care is taken, fit, inexperienced cavers can go through.

You need to take...

  • One torch per person, plus spare batteries. You may want to tie it around your neck so your hands are free.
  • Warm tops (wool or propylene is best).
  • Shorts or long-johns (wool or propylene). Jeans are dangerous!
  • Strong, secure footwear. Running shoes are good.
  • Have clothing to change into when you finish.

Before you enter the cave...

  • Check the weather forecast. Do not enter the cave during heavy rain. Look for signs of flooding: discoloured or foaming water, debris in water, sounds of rocks rolling.
  • Check the water levels. In normal flow, the deep pool at the first turn from the outlet end is waist-deep on an adult. Check the water level on your group here.

WARNING: Do not attempt to enter if the stream is high and the water discoloured or foaming.

Going through the cave...

  • Enter at the outlet end of the cave and walk against the flow of the stream. It is easier and safer.
  • The cave twists and turns in total darkness and is rough underfoot. You may need to help members of your group to climb several small waterfalls.
  • To assist climbing out the inlet end of the cave, a rung ladder ascends beside the waterfall. A chain and step help to get along the overhang ledge to the exit.
  • Allow one hour to walk through the cave.



Cave Stream Images


The reserve is in Castle Hill Basin - a low depression bounded by fault-lines along the Craigieburn and Torlesse mountain ranges. The name “Castle Hill” comes from the castle-like forms of the prominent limestone outcrops.

Karst topography is the name given to a limestone landscape. Rain water combines with soil elements (primarily carbon dioxide) to produce a weak acid, which over time trickles into joints and cracks, dissolving the limestone.

The cave has formed with the limestone dissolving over time, diverting Cave Stream from its original surface channel. The abandoned channel is left as a dry valley near the upstream end of the cave.

The form of the limestone bluffs is characteristic of solution weathering of limestone. Depressions in the ground’s surface, or sinkholes, can be seen from the carpark. They are typical in a karst region.

A line of three sinkholes can be seen on the river terrace near the carpark immediately above the cave. These have let water in to enlarge a joint that runs down the cave’s length, and are responsible for some of the vertical development of the present cave.

The terraces upstream of the cave inlet were formed many thousands of years ago by a glacial fed river.



The vegetation of the reserve has been greatly modified. Original plant life would have been low forest of totara, broadleaf/kapuka, kowhai and other small leafed shrubs. Burning, oversowing with introduced grass species and grazing has left introduced grasses as the main vegetation.

The only remaining areas of original vegetation are an assortment of native species in the limestone bluffs and crannies. Large shrubs found here include matagouri, mountain wineberry/makomako, Coprosma propinqua, a few Hebe cupressoides, Helichrysum intermedium, and Melicytus alpinus (porcupine shrub).

There are also a few ferns and smaller shrubs including the characteristic limestone fern Asplenium lyallii, the fern Cystopteris tasmanica and a threatened native forget-me-not Myosotis colensoi.



There is an abundance of invertebrate fauna in and around the limestone reserve. In the “dark zone” of the cave, a rare species of arachnid (spider), the cave harvestman, is found. This feeds on insects and other small cave creatures. It is known to live only in this cave and one other on the West Coast.



Evidence of Maori occupation in the Cave Stream area includes rock-art, artefacts and signs of seasonal camps.

On the ridge above the reserve an old Maori backpack was found in a small rock shelter. It is made from flax, with a wooden frame, and has broad straps. Intricately woven flax over the frame could stretch in both directions to accommodate the pack’s contents. Finding this pack confirmed traditional knowledge that Maori used packs, similar to the modern day pack, for carrying loads. The pack is estimated to be 500 years old and can be seen in the Canterbury Museum.

The first European to explore the area was Joseph Pearson, in 1857. Pearson was commissioned to select land for Joseph Hawdon, who took up the original Craigieburn (including Flock Hill) and Grasmere runs. Hawdon was also responsible for the naming of many local features.

Castle Hill Run was taken up by the Porter Brothers in 1858. Their homestead was near the quarry on the Porter Heights skifield road. In 1864 Porters sold to Charles and John Enys and Edward Curry. John Enys was one of the earliest authorities on New Zealand moths and butterflies while Charles Enys was a talented watercolour painter.

In the coaching era Castle Hill Hotel was a popular tourist destination until it burnt down in 1904.


Further Information

For walking advice, maps, weather information and informative displays:

Arthur's Pass Visitor Information Centre
Department of Conservation, Waimakariri Field Centre
PO Box 8
Arthur's Pass
Phone (03) 318-9211, fax (03) 318-9271

Department of Conservation Website: www.doc.govt.nz