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With fewer than 150 homes and no public services to speak of, Castle Hill is hardly your typical tourist destination. Yet over the years, word has traveled to urbanites in search of adventure in the wide-open Canterbury high country. Now considered to be the epicenter of New Zealand’s South Island climbing scene, the Castle Hill basin, located between the Torlesse and Craigieburn mountain ranges, is a magnet for rock climbers lured by its signature limestone formations, some 30 million years old. Today, it’s a natural playground for adventure seekers drawn to the area’s four ski fields, while Craigieburn Forest Park and Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park attract visitors for caving, hiking, fishing, and biking a growing number of mountain biking trails.
Located approximately 55 miles northwest of Christchurch, Castle Hill is about an hour’s drive from Christchurch Airport (CHC), which serves New Zealand as well as Australia and Asia. Alternatively, Auckland Airport (AKL) is open to more destinations, though travel between Auckland and Christchurch would warrant an internal flight. The drive from Castle Hill Village to Christchurch takes a little over an hour. Due to its small footprint, Castle Hill Village has no public transportation, or services of any kind for that matter, including gas stations. Visitors should plan to fuel up accordingly in neighboring towns.
Castle Hill experiences a fairly comfortable summer and a cold and windy winter; it remains partly cloudy year-round. Warm weather typically lasts from early December through mid-March, with average daily temperatures in the mid-60 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooler season lasts from early June through late August, with daily temperatures averaging in the mid-50s. The coldest days can drop to just above freezing, and wind chill is a huge factor, especially when venturing up into the mountains. Always be sure to check local forecasts before heading out for hikes, as swift changes in temperature can occur at higher altitudes.
Located on the outer ring of the “castle” of limestone boulders is the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve. Just minutes from the heart of Castle Hill Village, the 1/4-mile-long cave has two separate entrances, each preceded by a short walk. Heralded as one of the most outstanding natural features in the region, the cave ends as a small pool fed by a waterfall. Be sure to avoid during heavy rain, as it is known to flood.
This recently finished hiking, biking, and skiing track connects Castle Hill to nearby Texas Flat on the Cheeseman Ski Field Road, a distance of 4.6 miles. Popular with mountain bikers as well as area hikers, the ridgeline track passes through the basin’s beech forest and passes Waterfall Creek.
Perhaps Castle Hill’s biggest draw is the 173-square-mile Craigieburn Forest Park, located just northwest of town over Mount Enys. Two major ski areas — Broken River and Craigieburn Valley — lie within its boundaries, and outside of ski season, it’s a popular destination for hikers and walkers, mountain biking buffs, and nature enthusiasts of all ages.