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January 2011 Issue
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Remarkable natural spectacle

90 minutes return
Marked and signposted access over the footbridge over the Bealey River at the northern end of the village
Arthur’s Pass National Parkmap
Devils Punchbowl Falls, Arthur’s Pass National Park

Deep in the gulch of Arthur’s Pass, not far from the highway that cuts north-south across the Great Divide is a remarkable natural spectacle – Devils Punchbowl Falls.

At 112m high, these falls are a major attraction for all-comers to The Pass, as it is affectionately known to those who live at the village or frequent its rugged topography. Though readily viewed through the trees on SH73, there is no substitute for walking in to the base of the cataract to marvel at its splendour and taste the spray.

The walk is short and sharp, and has recently been upgraded to the standard tourists have come to expect when visiting natural wonders of this order. This has been achieved by constructing a wide staircase over the course of the old rocky trail to access the base of the falls. Steep flights of stairs, bridges, board walks, and a final viewing platform make the trek in as much an adventure as the final destination with airy views of the Bealey Valley through the canopy.

At the official end of the walk, a large canopy perched on the edge of Devils Punchbowl Creek rises from the forest floor and grants an unobstructed vista of the mighty drop of the falls – it’s mesmerising. A powerful jet of water spills from the lip of the creek, pulsing out between solid rock walls crowned with forest and smeared with ferns and mosses. As water cascades down the face, rivulets fan out to broaden the cascade from a single jet into a river surging into the pool at the base of the cliff.

Gusts of wind carry spray far down the valley and up into the trees lining the ridge above and liberally coating anyone keen enough to clamber up the final few metres from the platform to the fall’s base.

Devils Punchbowl Falls drain a large basin set between the ridges of Mts Cassidy Blimit and Aicken. This basin, known as a hanging valley, once contained a glacier, a tributary of the much greater Bealey Glacier, which flowed to meet the Bealey where the falls currently stand. This gives some indication of the depth of the ice which once submerged much of the valley here and far downstream before it joined with the mighty Waimakariri Glacier.