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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 1 (April 2, 1934.)


Mr. R. S. Odell, in a treatise on the well-known Arthur Pass National Park in the Southern Alps, has done some very creditable research work in tracing the names of many of the features to their sources. Here is a selection from the very interesting chronicle:—

The Torlesse Range as seen from Springfield, South Island, New Zealand. (Photo, J. D. Pascoe.)

The Torlesse Range as seen from Springfield, South Island, New Zealand.
(Photo, J. D. Pascoe.)

When the gold rush to the West Coast began in 1863, and the need became apparent for better communication across the mountain range than the Teramakau Saddle offered, the Canterbury Provincial Government set its surveyors to find the passes which led from the Canterbury valleys to those of the West Coast. The valleys of the Waimakariri tributaries promised best, but Mr. T. Cass, Chief Surveyor, writing to the Provincial Secretary on 27th March, 1863, said:—“I have personally very little doubt on the subject as I have frequently questioned Maoris, and they have invariably answered that there was no pass in that direction. Had such been known to their ancestors when the country was more thickly populated the fact would have been handed down to the present generation among their other traditions.”

This letter is surprising, for the pass at the head of the Otira was certainly known to the Maoris. The chief, Tarapuhi, who was paramount on the West Coast, made several trips across the island (via the Teramakau Saddle) and he knew about this pass, for he told Leonard Harper about it in 1857, and that gentleman was only prevented from exploring it by bad weather and lack of food. Tarapuhi also described the pass to Arthur Dobson, for when the latter discovered it, in 1864, he recognised it as the one described by Tarapuhi.

Even before this, in 1848, the West Coast Maoris told Thomas Brunner about a pass into the Waimakariri, and from this information Brunner indicated it on his map. But it was a long time since any Maoris had crossed this pass, the way over the Teramakau Saddle was so much easier. Tarapuhi told Leonard Harper that not during his lifetime had the pass been crossed.

In 1928 the Honorary Geographic Advisory Board determined that the name for the National Park should be Arthur Pass National Park. This was in pursuance of a policy of refraining from using possessive endings in place names. The action met with some criticism from the people of Canterbury, who felt that the honour due to Sir Arthur was being in some way lessened, and perhaps some resentment that existing names could be changed so arbitarily. This latter sentiment, however, is due to a misapprehension, for no existing name was changed. A territory was given a name for the first time. The Pass, the Township, and the Railway Station, are still Arthur's.