Otira is a small township fifteen kilometres north of Arthur’s Pass in the central South Island of New Zealand. It is on the northern approach to the pass, a saddle between the Otira and Bealey Rivers high in the Southern Alps. Otira means “o” (place of) and “tira” (the travellers).
Otira was originally a stop on the Cobb and Co stagecoach run from Canterbury to the West Coast. The Midland Line was extended from Stillwater to Jacksons in 1894 and then Otira in 1899, when the pass was navigated by coach from Otira until the railway tunnel opened in 1923. During construction of the tunnel, Otira housed about 600 workers and their families.
The township is principally old Railways housing, much of which was constructed in Hamilton and shipped south to be assembled on site. As well as the railway station, there is a fire station, 18 houses, and of course the Otira Stagecoach Hotel.
On the “town” side of Otira (as opposed to the village side) the old post office still stands as does the postmaster’s house. The post office has been refurbished into an art gallery, “John Burns Gallery of Modern Art”. The complex exhibits world class art which is a surprise to many visitors, housed as it is in the middle of the southern alps.
Close to the town are two major feats of civil engineering: the Otira Railway Tunnel and the Otira Viaduct. The Otira viaduct is to the south of Otira, between Otira and the Arthur’s Pass summit. Completed in 1999 by McConnell Smith Pty Ltd, the 440 metres (1,440 ft) four-span viaduct carries State Highway 73 over a stretch of unstable land, replacing a narrow, winding and dangerous section of road that was prone to avalanches, slips and closures.