The road between Otira and Arthur’s Pass in the South Island’s Southern Alps used to be narrow, winding and dangerous, often prone to avalanches, slips and closures. It was always spectacular. In order to eliminate some of the challenges of driving the route between the small (former) railway settlement of Otira and the Arthur’s Pass summit , a 440 meter long viaduct was built over the Otira Gorge. The road to the viaduct from Otira rises sharply and passes through several avalanche shelters and around a series of sharp corners. Still climbing, the viaduct passes 35 meters above the Otira River offering great views of the surrounding mountain peaks – on a fine day – shortly thereafter reaching the Arthur’s Pass summit. Clearly, this wasn’t a fine day! The viaduct opened in 1998.
Motorists towing caravans have always been discouraged from using this crossing between Canterbury and the West Coast, and even after the opening of the new viaduct this is still so. Despite plentiful warning signs and the lack of stopping areas, drivers need to be on the lookout for the occasional thoughtless tourist in their campervan stopped in the middle of the road on an uphill sharp corner – taking photographs!