All passes were used by the Maori iwi (tribe) Ngāi Tahu at first, who were searching for greenstone, food sources and trading routes from west to east coast. They later shared their tracks with early European explorers.

Following Captain Cook's call, first European settlers that came to the region were shepherds in Canterbury. With the discovery of precious metals, coal and timber on the west coast during the 1860s, a new pathway through the northern Southern Alps was demanded which needed to withstand all gold rush driven coaches and wagons.

In early 1864, the brothers Arthur and Edward Dobson crossed the Waimakariri River and rode towards Mount Rolleston searching for an appropriate route to reach the west of the South Island. As they returned, Arthur Dobson explained that the route was challenging for them and their horses. However, he also mentioned the possibility of cutting through the head of the gorge to build a pathway. A year later, his father, Edward Dobson senior, picked up on his idea and ordered the construction of a road cut through the rock. The road was completed in 1866.

One of the main businesses that benefitted from the road was the stagecoach service. Tourism followed soon after, which developed relatively early compared to the rest of New Zealand. Arthur's Pass was established as the third national park of New Zealand in 1929.
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